Crazy About Chukars

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Holy Moly, how did nearly a full chukar season slide by without any more diatribe from me on this blog-log?  While I would like to claim I am crazy about hunting chukars, and I am, my preference would be to claim that too much time was spent behind a shotgun than a keyboard. However, the truth is chasing chukars isn’t just a little jaunt up the hill, so it isn’t like I am after them everyday.  So there is ample down-time, to write.  I’m just not that crazy about writing. For me, writing is a bit painful and the agonizing attempt  to  render much of the adipose out of brevity is ever the frustrating challenge. It would be wonderful if only that word laden fat was as easy to burn off, as is the extra weight when climbing the steep chukar slopes.

Writing is more like having some sort of addiction that urges one to want to write some kind of story.  The fix is complete once the story if finished, but once more experiences make more stories, the addiction to write them down returns again.  In truth, I much prefer making the story, than writing about it.  But in the telling, is the chance to relive the tale again and savor the experience, warts and all,  as well as share with others.

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Since it is a new year, I decided to force myself to sit down and try to come up with some new idea or twist on chukar hunting. It is often said (mostly by chukar hunters themselves) that one must be crazy to be a chukar hunter.  But, just what does that mean exactly? It has a tendency to get lost in the backwash of all the other crazy happenings in an ever-escalating troubled world we live in.  All the religious fundamentalist fighting over having the only legitimate ticket into lala land, added to all the rebel rousing militia-misfits battling over public vs private, “rights fights,” about who has the more legitimate ticket to be on real land, topped off  by true mental madness of those driven to mass murder by who knows what trigger, taken collectively,  indeed seems to paint a pretty insane world.

Surely, there must be some natural reason for all this mayhem of the human mind. What might that be? Some evolutionary biologists, archaeologists, and psychosociologists have a few theories for this madness.  It may all have begun as a food thing.  As the human population increased, so did competition for finite natural resources, and thus various limiting factors  developed when carrying capacities of nature’s box was exceeded. Genetics, natures blueprint for making sure everything fits inside the box, sometimes works in strange ways.

While survival of the fittest is the general rule, it would seem that natural selection would weed out the gene for mental illness (crazy), as those that are so inflicted have a tendency to have fewer off-spring. Yet “crazy” still persists, as their more sane siblings often make up for the deficit and have more progeny. Thus a sort of paradox arises when it comes to natural selection and what gets selected for, or not, in the gene pool.

A similar paradox might be said of chukar hunting. It would seem like the gene for crazy would promote more chukar hunters, but survival of the fittest rules here, because those not in good enough physical shape to make the arduous task required to reach chukar habitat, despite being crazy, are soon weeded out.

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While standing at the bottom of a magnum trench, like the Salmon River Canyon,  knowing that birds are high and those ugly cliffs and side slopes far above are where I need to go, does seem a bit crazy. But once one foot gets placed in front of the other one, before you know it the river is far below.  Hunting mode kicks in and after being on the hill, all those other cultural and societal problems get lost in the background.

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Negotiating the terrain, while itself is contributing to more personal positive health, the focus changes to take in the smaller detail of the more immediate world. One careless stumble can avalanche into chaos and in some cases even death.  Of course, along with the plus side of health for those who don’t slip or get unraveled, comes the frustrating aging parts, too.  One of those aggravating revelations that denial can’t deny, is the  keenness of eyesight that diminishes deceptively incrementally with time.

How I have come to  know this is by such things as looking closer at what I initially thought was chukar poop, but turned out to be a partially leached out snail-shell of similar size and coloration. Then comes that crazy thought gene again, with absurd ideas that bubble to the surface.  You know, like wondering if I can hear the sound of chukars when I pick  up one of those snail shells and put it to my ear. It would be like hearing the sea in a conch shell (sea shells) when finding one when strolling along a sandy ocean beach and unable to resist putting it to my ear, or so it seems.

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Ok,  granted a chukar call would work much better, but finding a snail-shell in such weird places does strike my more curious nature.  Like, what kind of snail is it, how did it get here, and why? Ironically, near as I have been able to key it out, the snails in the Salmon Canyon are called Salmon Coil (Helicodiscus salmonaceus). Even more fascinating is that they are hermaphroditic – which simply means one snail shares a common male and female gonad internally and thus is capable of self-fertilization.

When I first discovered them high on the steep slopes so far away from water in the river that looks more like a trickle from such great distance, I thought maybe birds had dropped them there.  A slugs pace would take eons of generations to reach such altitudes. It reminded me of my river running days amidst the glaciers of Alaska and learning about nunitaks (island of rock or small landmass  in the middle of a vast ice field) and how they could harbor small mammals like the alpine pika. How did they get there and continue to survive? Did a pregnant one get dropped by a bird, too? Or did they get isolated by ice flows before they were surrounded by glaciers, yet still able to survive?

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Of course, the mystery deepens as I look closer at the snail shells and it occurs to me how their near spiral design is similar to a faraway galaxy. While all planets spin around the sun and their own axis in the same direction, not so with galaxies or some snail shells. They are an example of chirality, which describes anything that has a symmetry that is not a mirror image of itself, but rather contains a right or left-handedness. It is all related to mathematics and the “Fibonacci” in nature. (google it for some interesting revelations about nature and numbers).

Crazy round-about questions are suddenly interrupted by the sudden flush of a  chukars and is all it takes to bring me back to my senses. Where is that dog, anyway? On point where she should be, of course, while I am side-tracked by my own brain and holding snail shells to my ear.

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Earth to Gary. Pay attention I tell myself, as birds are out of range before I can lift to shoot.  Those birds have plenty enough advantage for me to contribute even more by getting lost in my own thoughts.  Continuing on, Sugar points a few more coveys and I miss a few more hard shots, and an easy one, too. But, other things grab my attention in the process, like a herd of bighorn sheep scrutinizing a four legged potential predator as she advances their direction, and two golden eagles in tucked-wing-dive-mode-locomotion hot on the tail of a terrorized chukar kicking in the after-burner trying to make its escape. It’s downright awesome to watch and reminds me of how susceptible I am to dropping my jaw and becoming totally spell-bound.

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Watching first hand the predator-prey relationships that animals live with everyday reminds me, that yes, survival of the fittest is the name of the game, and  is the dominant gene-theme to continue forward with in raw nature.  It is easy to forget that when the “crazy” gene surfaces and is not pounded back down into the dark recesses of wherever those things reside. Sometimes denial is a good mechanism for suppressing our sub-surface recessive or oppressive “c” genes. I wonder if it is just coincidental that both crazy and chukar start with the letter “c” ??

Meanwhile…
Just another day in chukar paradise.

(For me and Sugar, not so much for the chukar)

How about you? Think about joining us:


Chukar Safaris on Salmon River

give me a call: 208: 628-3523
http://www.doryfun.com

 

What’s The Point?

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What’s the point? That is the point. For me, hunting chukars is mostly about when my dog goes on point. I’m not sure why, but that moment in time  where the nexus exists between yourself, dog, and chukar is like drinking from the nectar of nirvana. It is that ultimate place where the true flavor of the nectar is tasted at its fullness.

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The exciting thing about the point, aside from the sheer beauty of it all, is that you never know where it will occur or what will happen next when it does. Anticipation of the flush, which is up to the hunter, once the dog goes on point, is still one step shy of igniting dynamite with wings.  Not knowing which step will be the fuse to light the charge, is like working through a mine field with potential triggers everywhere.

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Did I mention terrain so steep even a dog must rope up?

Often the terrain is so challenging, that even when the fuse ignites that cloud of feathers, footing is so bad, that poof of a shotgun blast isn’t even possible. Ever been hanging on to a tuft of cheat grass pitched to a 45 degree slope, in the snow, hoping not to turn into a human toboggan as chukars launch right in front of your face? Or how about the birds you just somehow walked through the middle of, only to hear them beating air behind you gleefully getting away before you can turn and take aim?

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Of course, the real beauty of it all is often the background behind your dog that is the contrast that makes you appreciate the true depth of the entire experience. Rugged landscapes, sometimes as rough as the one you are standing in while taking the picture, gives mute testimony  to what crazed hunters will do to follow their dog.  The nectar is addicting, and the more you get, the more you want, and the higher you will go. Or, at least that it is how it all works inside my head.  It might not be the same for the dog, as they have the ability to be much more focused than us human types. And when they come to full point, that is the true beauty of it all. It brings precise vision to what chukar hunting is all about.

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For a good hunt (but not this year)
Keep us in mind for next season:

Gary Lane
Wapiti River Guides
http://www.doryfun.com

or more nature oriented posts:
– Nature’s Apprentice – 
https://wapitisriversedge.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/scorpion-medicine/

A River/Chukar Guides Second Worse Nightmare

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Any time a guide is hired by the consumption oriented sportsmen, there is always an additional pressure  to deal with that guides leading non-consumption oriented trips do not have to endure. Both types of guides still have all the other responsibilities and risk assessment angst that comes with the territory, but wanting to catch a fish or shoot an animal or bird by those seeking a guide service to increase their chances for such, increases the pressure to “produce.”

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Most true sportsmen that are not green around the gills know that when it comes to hunting and fishing, the planets do not always line up, and the compass needle can sometimes go south when it comes to how nature unfolds. What we want and what we get do not always come into good alignment.  That is a given in the real world when it comes to chasing after something that can be quite aloof and fleet of foot.

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However, as a chukar hunting guide, or even a scenic/whitewater type guide, I have always been self-conscious about painting an accurate  picture  as possible of expectations to any potential guests when they inquire about a trip.  Having people show up with false expectations is my second worse nightmare as a guide. (number one nightmare is another story).  There are a few of those blow-hard truth bending culprits in the outfitting industry, just like any other subjective service oriented business that also has a few stereotypical high pressure type car salesmen.  That kind of bad actor is something I never wanted to be and carefully guard against ever becoming.  Even when it is tempting to embellish a bit when business is slow, I watch myself closely. In fact, one time years ago a potential multi-day guest declined to sign up for a trip because I would not guarantee him he would be shooting a box of shells each day and getting limits of birds most of the time. And that was when the bird season was very good.

That was ok though,  as these types of people are often highly critical and hard to please. Disappointing results are a common occurrence for those with faulty high expectations. And who wants to be around grumpy complainers?

With that in mind, I always try to evaluate potential results with as much precision to real world potential as possible. Unfortunately, I sometimes miss the mark farther than I like to admit to.  Living close to nature most of my life, I have always felt fairly attune to what is happening on the ground. But, sometimes (often actually) the more I learn the more I realize I don’t know.  Mystery uses the unknown as bribery for the curious. It is the carrot by which nature keeps us outdoor enthusiast wanting ever more. But, often, just when we think we have things figured out, well….

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This past chukar season again brought me back to my knees as my observations and resulting predictions did not prove out to line up very well.  During the summer, as a whitewater guide, I paid attention to all the new hatches of chukars  that we encountered during our floats. It was looking like the low numbers of birds the past couple of years were now turning around. After all, chukars have large clutches and with good chick survival can bounce back fast.

Though I didn’t mention it to my whitewater guests, I was thinking ahead to fall, giving chukars an out loud, verbal warning that I would soon be back, while simultaneously secretly celebrating the potential of some good hunts to come. But, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum,  or not so funny might be more apropos. Between late summer and early fall something in nature must have happened to change the mix.   What I thought was shaping into a decent season, turned out to be  much less than that.

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Unfortunately, it was not until I had several guests on the hill, whom were in shape, had good dogs, and the abilities to go everywhere I suggested (often into the nosebleed zone) that my own expectations hit me in the face with an unseen left hook.

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Ya, we got into a few birds, but not even close to what I expected. My anticipation was not of a banner year, but at least a fair one.  But certainly not a poor one, as it seems to be unfolding to be. This is one of those situations that makes  a guide to loose hair or turn it grey.

In Idaho, the aerial chukar surveys by the department of fish and game no longer are a part of management. So, there is no official science to back up guesses for the status of each seasons future bird population.  Not having this to rely on anymore, we can only go by what we see ourselves and what others see we share our observations with.  Based on my own encounters with good  (not great) numbers of hatches, as well as the opinion of a few fellow guides, I believed we would have a decent season, worthy of encouraging guests to sign up for.

Looking through the lens of hindsight, I sometimes wonder about my analysis of information shared by others about bird numbers. As a wildlife biologist, before guiding, I try to apply my scientific learnings during my evaluations when it comes to analysis. One thing comes to mind here that I often question is an ecological term called “shifting baseline syndrome.”  This is where expectations are reduced and become the new norm.  It is an acquiescence  of a newly accepted sustainability bar.

Perhaps Einstein’s Theory of Relativity comes into play here, too. Unfortunately.

Now that I am in an older age category myself, I realize that often I am talking to guides many years younger than me. So, going back to my experiences in the old days, seeing many groups of birds in every other little draw crossed, and sometimes even having chukars fly over my head in numbers like a plague of grasshoppers, my norm for “good numbers” may be quite different from guides whom did not see those long-ago days. They may have a new norm, so when they say good numbers, it doesn’t line up with what I consider good. Shifting base line, my best guess.

While I can still cover the same productive grounds of yesteryear, though perhaps at a slower pace than my younger days, not being able to covering landscapes afoot should not be a factor.  So, it isn’t because I can’t do the same things I did in the past to find good numbers of birds.

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Of course, there is the thought that perhaps younger folks cover more ground to find those reported larger numbers of birds. But, then again, that only reinforces the movement of the goal post idea.  Another similar idea is the possibility that birds are changing habits and occupying places that were not their previous normal hang outs. This is kind of like elk seeking steeper ground in wolf country (harder for wolves to make a kill there) and changing their normal behavior (adaptation).  I doubt this factor,  however.

What about disease? I know very little about this, or if there us much current research being conducted in this arena right now??

My best guess to date, is a change brought about by drought conditions as it relates to insect survival and integrity of plant nutritional values (plant/grasshopper/unknown insect relationship?) Food, water, and shelter are the three legs of habitat requirements for all wildlife.  Eliminating water and shelter, that leaves some sort of food related thing.

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What about birds being displaced by range fires? Yes, we did have a huge fire that burnt up about half of our good chukar habitat for this season (will be great next year). But the other side of the river where I figure birds could easily escape the large conflagration, was still a bit of a biological desert. Thus, bringing me back once again to some fall/drought/plant/insect dynamic – food factor.

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I will continue working on finding possible answers, meanwhile, dogs will lead me onward. You can’t catch a fish if you don’t put your hook in the water, and you can’t find chukars in the middle of your living room. But, I will revise my game plan for reporting, with a day by day, more closely scrutinized situational  methodology when it comes to sharing information with folks who inquire about going chukar hunting.

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In the absence of good science,  subjectivity creates a large campfire story in the hunting and fishing world. Educated guesses is the next best tool.  Any ecologist, biologist, botanist, entomologist, or veteran chukar hunter out there in cyber world with any ideas/opinions about this? I am certainly open.

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My other blog and last post (for those so inclined):

Chukar Crucible in Nature’s Deep Freeze – 5 Day Solo Trip on Salmon River

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About to turn age 65 early February, what to do?  Looking around at friends whom have checked out early, why not celebrate my still going strong by doing a solo winter float to chase chukars down the Lower Salmon River?  My dogs would kiss me for such access to Nirvana.

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Thoreau’s line: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them,” kept running through my mind  and made me realized there is still much music to be played.  Stagnation is all about becoming a dullard and I’m just not ready for a life without song yet, and probably never will be.

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But why Salmon River?

With several solo winter trips notched  in my gunslinger psyche  on Oregon’s Grande Ronde River and one through Hell’s Canyon, shortly after the “Green Room” at Granite Rapids was named (I was on that naming trip, too),  I simply never got around to doing such a float down my backyard river.   So it seemed only appropriate I was now old enough to let my more adventuresome side out of the box again.  With only one way to keep the primordial adrenalin glands working properly, and  as any biologist worth their salt can tell you, that old Darwinian axiom about “use it or lose it,” always applies.

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And, why solo? Well, finding other crazy enough hunters that want to hike their guts out climbing steep ugly slopes for  furious flying birds with far less meat than an elk, is hard enough, let alone braving winter extremes to execute such self-inflicted punishment.

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Besides, it isn’t that I don’t like people, but as a guide, most of my time is always spent adjusting everything to satisfy other people’s interests.  Sometimes it’s nice just worrying about my own wishes.  Traveling solo assures total self-gratification and the river’s lonely sound of solitude.   No competition for campsites, fishing holes, or hunting grounds, is another rarity of welcome freedom.

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Once intellectually committed, not to an insane asylum, but to the trip, then what? Planning is ground zero,  especially when traveling alone in remote country with no satellite phone under severity of error that is like standing at the brink of a black hole.    So, topping the list for a round-trip ticket into  the cold chukar crucible this time of year is choice of boat.  As an outfitter, I have many, and hard boats are my favorite and long time specialty. Unfortunately, the degree of risk for potential flips or romancing rocks goes up dramatically in a dory or driftboat. Righting an over turned craft of any kind by oneself in icy water is thin to thinner with dogs climbing your back and  hypothermia  squeezing  insidiously at your soul.  I’m doing this trip for comfort, not survival.

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Flip potential and nemesis number one in my mind is a rapid called Bodacious Bounce. In only very low flows does a menacing back curling wave appear, like hungry jaws in the unavoidable middle of this substantial drop.  A hairline cheat run exists to the left side that requires precise oaring and timing, but one missed stroke here is like landing on the loaded cylinder in a game of River Russian Roulette. Only the bullet here is a big bad swim and no trail to hike out. Having two dogs along that jump away from waves when they should be high-siding, also doesn’t help.

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Then there is Snowhole Rapid.  It isn’t an easy place to have a clean run in a dory at low water, either.  Many steep pour-over holes barely covering the rocks require extra-precise maneuvering with tiny leeway for error.  Though I’ve threaded the needle cleanly several times in warmer weather, it is still a duress filled run with tight-wire stress and enough draining tension to empty a lake. Who needs more of that?

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To sleep better at night, my decision boiled down to bringing my larger 19’ Aire baggage raft.  I liked the idea of being high, dry, and having less likelihood of a flip.  My dogs could bounce around shadow boxing with the waves all they wanted without throwing my trim off, too.

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Paying close attention to weather is another key ingredient to successful winter trips.   Timing is of the essence to have a relatively problem free adventure. Thinking back on my previous winter runs on the GR, in my early 20’s, I remember the ice bridge crossings, jagged edges of ice rosettes, and unusual conditions when arctic cold turns the river into a consistency that felt more like being trapped in the middle of snow-cone ice that is moving at a caterpillar’s pace.  It was a race against time before the river could morph into solid ice and secure my stay for much longer than planned. Eating fish and moss all winter is not very appealing.

Soloing the Snake through Hells Canyon in my mid 30’s, was an epic story itself. Where rocks were a problem on the GR, mammoth sized rapids was the feared devil in Hell’s.  Also, the phrase, “when Hell freezes over” takes on much more significance when trying to get a hard boat down the deepest canyon in North America when it is not “hotter than Hell.”

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What could the Salmon Canyon have in store?

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With  more than a dozen ice bridges between Riggins and Wind River as I prepared for my journey,  I had to be sure none existed  at the lower end.  However, with 425 miles of free-flowing river, the Salmon slices through enough distance that geology transmutes the canyon into several different geomorphological sections. Each is affected differently by influence of elevation, aspect, and weather.

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From North Fork to Riggins the river flows due west, but when it reaches Riggins, turns immediately north until the last 5 miles, where it changes west again to collide with the Snake.  The lower end does not ice up as often and melts off earlier when it does.    Learning that there were no ice bridges in the lower gorge, in addition to a favorable long-range weather report, was my green light to go.

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Boat of choice finalized, having other essential gear for the most extreme conditions and a sudden emergency is also crucial.  The difference between comfort and keeping the grim reaper at bay is made by astute attention to detail and advanced prep for potential uncertainties. Traveling solo also adds greater danger with far less wiggle room for being dumb when situations go south.  My northern experiences boating solo and doing commercial trips in Alaska, also taught me to be on guard at all times to the nuances of nature, because often that is where weird things like to hide out.

Ever heard of a jökulhlaup? This is an Icelandic term for outburst floods caused by glacial lakes being breached and sending a disjointed tsunami down the river course that is fed by these mega ice plugs.  Camping on higher ground is essential when floating some places in the far wilds of the Last Frontier.

It is always the small things that seem at first to be quite innocuous, that often have a sleeping demon just below the surface.  It is surprising how much a simple episode can escalate into a tidal wave of tragic wipeout. One missed oar stroke, poor entry, or catching a wave wrong; breaking a leg on a high  ridgeline; falling down in a patch of prickly pear cactus; burning a hand cooking dinner;  falling off a frosty raft and getting wet in water intended for coffee;  and so on.  Karmonic vigilantism lies in wait for the disrespectful and unaware, so fine tuned weariness is always required.

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With game on, under cerulean sky and a low slung sun, my two Weims and I were off and running in my big red raft. The dogs love it as they can remain dry and have a high platform to ogle at all the surrounding chukar landscape.  It is a bird dogs dream boat.

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Frost covered every rocky shoreline and sandy beach that lived in zones of the all-day shade.  Isolated from  sun, the inner sanctum of the canyon was coated with mold-like tendrils of white ice, called verglas. It was like floating through  nature’s freezer box.  I half expected to see packages of elk burger and salmon fillets stacked in rows along each side of the river.

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 The sheer beauty of the gorge stripped of her summer clothes, is outrageous enough to make even an envious lover jealous.  A low hanging winter sun creates long shadows across the viewscape and marbles the terrain with sharp contrasts that simply are not possible any other time of year.  It conjures up various moods, as if some ancient shaman was stirring up mystical magic and sprinkling it generously over all the world.

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Excessive chasms inspire deep thoughts, about as much as high ridges inspire lofty ones.  Finding ones self alone in the middle of such largeness and solitude while hunting chukars makes me feel my smallness..  It unleashes my mind to be wild and free as if being blown by gale force winds and whipped across infinite horizons to be absorbed  by the far off hinterlands.  Getting so lost is the best way to find yourself.

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Living in the Land of Oz can’t last forever, as I was reminded when  chukars  rudely burst  into the sky and triggered me back into the real world.  When chasing ninja chukars, also known as “devil birds,”  during the winter in steep canyons it is quite important to consider how much snow accumulates, where, and in what condition it is.  Footing is treacherous enough in good conditions, but downright dangerous when snow freezes hard after a slight melt. Elk, deer, and cow carcasses can sometimes be found in gullies after taking a slip on steep side slopes in such extremes.  Unlike clawed animals, they can’t just turn over on their bellies and dig themselves a self-arrest. A tragic end for them, but lucky for ravens, magpies, and coyotes.

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When I wasn’t hunting chukars, which were hard to find,  I was dodging rocks and avoiding splash. In the process,  I did see a few bald eagles, 3 or 4 otters, 10 whitetail deer, and an assortment of ducks, geese, and birds. But, no elk. Not even in the upper reaches of the canyon  did I see one anywhere.  Where were they? And where were all the chukars that normally fill this riverine niche?

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My theory is that during mild winters the lower elevations are in the shade far too long during the day while birds can enjoy wind-swept ridges in the sun for far longer periods of time. Food, cover, and water is all there. They don’t need to get to the river for critical water like they do when it is hot. Nor do they need to leave the heavenly heights for food and can bask above while laughing at me far below.  They innately seem to know that negotiating through  layers of edgy lava flows can be demoralizing and the tortuously rugged steepness will wear me out before getting to their level of refuge.  Did I mention the canyon is a mile deep in places?

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So though I did have chukar for dinner, the conditions were not that great for good hunting. But they were nice for making an off beat outdoor adventure down the canyon much easier. Sure it was cold, but in a tipi style tent accommodated with heater and plenty of blankets, it was a cozy affair.  Unfathomable numbers of stars sparkled like diamonds dancing in a frigid sky, despite the inevitable pee break that was usually needed in the middle of the night. Did I mention ice box canyon before?

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While my primary goal was chukar hunting, another aspect I enjoy about solo running,  is the ease to become so thoroughly absorbed by such  moments smack dab in the middle of nowhere (or everywhere)  that one can get lost in time.  Since I have never had a wrist watch since high school, and due to the nature of my lifestyle and allergic reactions to strict schedules and time tables, I often don’t know until I need to know, what day it is.

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Such was the case by the time I got to Blue Canyon, not too distant from trips end.  It is one of my favorite places and its vertical cliffs are so steep and narrow, it is more like being far enough in the bottom of a well to see the stars in the middle of the day.  Though not able to see any constellations, it did allow for much pondering. I like that feeling of getting all swallowed up by great natural beauty and getting lost in space and time. Day what?

On the last day as I was pulling into the take-out, I reminisced about my more youthful days that helped make this type of journey possible. Having a track coach dad helped, , whom taught me early on, to always get up when I fall down, and that finishing the race is far more important than how fast you run it.   Never say die, and keep on keeping on, soon became my life-time mantra.

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Of course, I was also thankful that I was a distance runner and wrestler in those days, too. In my profession and in the crucible of chukar hunting world, endurance sports make a big difference.  65 isn’t my IQ, though it helps for running after chukars, but it is proof that doing things like this is possible to do and still live to tell about it, despite age. Keep on, keepin on, even if death is an inch or mile away.

dscn2242

Note: Anyone who would like to see video footage of our run through Snowhole Rapid can go to: https://www.facebook.com/Riverdoryfun

Gary Lane
Wapiti River Guides
www.doryfun.com

Chukar Hunting Isn’t About the Chukar

11 Comments

pittsburg landing oct 23, 2013 006

At first, as you gather your gear to ready for the endurance performance lying in wait, you might think it is about hunting down the elusive chukar. But, in reality it is far more than that.  It is ironically more about the hunter than the bird.  Sure, we dress our delusions in all kinds of appropriate garb, from blistering  “see me from a thousand miles off” blaze orange, to thick-skinned gators for counteracting ominous rattlesnake fangs, and go about the business of putting one foot in front of the other.  Then we leap forward into challenging terrain meant more to accommodate an assorted disarrayment of miscellaneous  personality disorders, than common sense.

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Like the Tuhumarra runners, who run for the sheer joy of running, chukar hunters hunt for the joy of the hunt.  Getting  birds is only a mild side attraction that happens during a grueling confrontation with the self, as that is always the result when the extremes of mother nature rears its head. You don’t have to be crazy to hunt chukars, but it helps.

 

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It is not often easy to start oneself at the foot of any kind of precipitous slope.  But the real trick is how to get the momentum to move in the  beginning. Yet even when you find the right pull-cord to ignite that internal switch, there is still  that need to find enough courage to yank on the line. Sometimes, shutting your eyes is all it takes, other times all kinds of procrastinating mechanisms keep running in the background of our cerebral computer, so finding the right key to unlock access to them is ultimately required.  Whatever method finally works,  then it pretty much is about putting in the time, and repetition of increasing the amount of time one puts in. The more you add, the better you get at adjusting to the physical demands, and quelling those demons of the mind that always surface to tell you to go back home to a warm fire and comfortable recliner. Getting those wanton images of comfort  repressed, is no easy task as they keep permeating the mind like those nuisance computer pop-up ads that invites an angry smack-a-mole response.

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This might be more of a common  problem to those of us who hunt a lot; more than just a weekend warrior battleground; or are at least old enough to have already bagged  a vast number of heavenly treks to the skyward lairs of the ninja chukars.  So we, or I, in my case, sometimes find it hard to get all charged up with the enthusiasm like we did in our youth or when we were novice hunters.  When every thing is fresh and new, there is always more energy associated with the magic of anticipation.  Not knowing all the harsh realities that come with naïve exuberance helps motivate the uninitiated. While it takes a bit more to so thoroughly excite those juices of electricity for the more experienced veterans.

 

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More often that not my biggest help in getting motivated are my two weims. If I just mention the word “chukar” their ears perk up, tails go full throttle, and they stare me down with that can-we-go-now look, that just can’t be ignored.  Like kids excited for a trip to the carnival, I can’t say no. So before I know what happened, they are kenneled-up and on  our way to chukar-land.  Be it by rig or boat, lookout chukars, here we come. As if those rascally birds need any kind of warning once our presence is on their turf, they practically know when we are there before we do. But, all the same, we play on their board, their game and forget about the small print that spelled out the real rules we soon learn first-hand on the slopes.  For such a small bird there sure is a lot of ruthless ninja-ness to them.

Soon my attention is all on the dogs.  As their noses do their business they eventually find the money.  And nothing is so beautiful as seeing them on point and testing birds, or more accurately being tested by the birds.  The next test is for me to get in front of them to flush birds and get something on the ground for their next phase of the hunt.

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However, admittedly my  first objective is to get the “if-I’m-only-quick-enough” photograph, and this often means sacrificing  good shots or an opportunity to down a bird.  Sometimes I even hesitate to tell friends about my skirmishes with these devil birds, as they already think it crazy to hike to such extremes and then return home without a bird or any trace of the feathers.  What to show for?   But I am not married to having preconceived numbers to satisfy, or some sort of symbol to represent my hunting prowess or lack thereof. It isn’t about the chukar, it is all about the hunt, the dogs, the views, the falls, the challenges, the feelings of being alive that always comes with the evoked inspiration of special places.

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So, that’s ok, the old proverb about great rewards come with great difficulty is also true.  And, once I find myself out on the hill again, soloing silently in  solitude and never knowing  what new drama nature has in store still makes me thankful every time I go.  And in reality, those are all the things, rather than the actually killing of a chukar that stir my juices and get me going.  A sip of that lingering thought is the catalyst required for me to lower that  first foot down, so the other can be lifted up to seek the lofty stratosphere enriched with that  rarified air so invigorating to the soul.

chukar sugar jan 2, 2014 046

Gary Lane
Wapiti River Guides
www.doryfun.com

Copper Canyon of Chukarville

2 Comments

 

chukar roger dec 26, 2013 094

No, as far as I know, there are no chukars in the Copper Canyon, where the greatest ultradistance runners of all time  eek out a living in the Lost-World like remoteness of the deepest canyon in Mexico.  Though deeper than the Grand Canyon, it isn’t as deep as the Salmon River Canyon, where I spend most of my time hunting chukars.

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However, as I spend most of my time yo-yoing up and down some of the most precipitous chukar terrain in North America, I often feel like a Talaharara runner, who need and have the physical prowess and endurance required to scale such grandiose exotica terra firma as their beloved Copper Canyon.

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Another reason I can identify with those crazy indigenous people who run such torturous courses, is that I chase chukars for the same reason they  insanely push the limits of human kind.    As odd as it might seem when you think about the endurance and internal toughness that such endeavors require, love of running and hiking is what brings a smile to those who know deep inside what the entire affair really is all about.

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As an elder huntsman  chukar chaser, an old runners motto that I like to apply to my hunting endeavors is:  “you don’t stop running because you are too old, you get old because you stop running. ”  Though I may not be running up these steeply inclined obstacle courses, the challenges are not much different,  only the  pace.  Yet pacing is what it is essentially all about, which reminds me of another quote by Ken Mierke that I often think  about  when the going gets tough: “Nearly all runners do their slow runs too fast, and their fast runs too slow.”

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So when my breath gets out of tune with my steps on  treacherous ground that leads ever upward where the neck must be bent far back on the shoulders to see the goal above, I think about balance. Adjusting between fast and slow during acclivity and declivity is the ticket to chukar land,  as dictated by physio-inclinations and geomorphology. Ok, fancy words for steep-sum-bitch, act accordingly.

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So for those of you chukar hunters in the elder huntsman upward age category, here is another encouraging thought to consider the next time you take to the hills, it is all about a state of mind. Take into account  some of the recent science from the runner’s world of those ultra marathoner athletes. Studies show that starting at age 19, most runners get faster until they peak at age 27. But, the rate for slowing back down to that 19-year-old level isn’t the same 8 years. In fact, it isn’t until age 64. Sounds unbelievable, doesn’t  it? Note: I write this at age 64, just so I can celebrate appropriately, before another birthday.

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The amazing thing  is, this rate of endurance change  is not the same case for any other human sport, except running. Thus, in my mind is prima facia evidence that we are made for endurance. Thank goodness for that, because chukars require such worthiness of endurance for anyone crazy enough to pursue  them. It also makes me glad I was a distance runner in high school and college, though only one marathon, because it helps me tremendously now for chasing birds.  So, while I was never an ultramartathoner, or even an ultra runner, I do like to think of myself as always in training to be an ultrachukar hunter.  And when I think about the 97-year-old marathon runner still pounding the ground,  it gives me hope that I can continue chasing these little feathered demons for a good long while yet. And also, to continue guiding  those too, whom are similarly afflicted with   such ambitious addictions. May the chukar be with you. Keep on keeping on.

Dave Baum chukar sept 20 and 21 009

Gary Lane
Wapiti River Guides
www.doryfun.com

Go Ugly Early – Say Exochukarologists

1 Comment

nov 22, 2013 chukar pass hunt 008

As an exochukarologist, one who looks for intelligent chukar life in the outer spaces of terra firma, an old tenant can sometimes lead to finding birds in low population years.  “Go Ugly Early”.  What does that mean to chukar hunters? How about “Go Up Early?” If you can’t find birds at lower elevations, point your telescope skyward to higher positions in the far off heavens above.  Metaphorically at least.

Put one step in front of the other and begin that long climb early. It is much easier to go up when you are fresh and have not already exhausted energy at lower elevations, then discover birds calling from far above.  Naturally, if you can camouflage your ascent as much as possible to keep your approach hidden from those eyeballs lording over everything from high above, do it. Favor the side opposite birds when climbing direct ridgelines. Use rocks, cover, gullies, and any kind of terrain to modify your climb in ways to be undetected. Otherwise, your climb may have to be higher than originally estimated. I hate it when that happens.

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Yep, those little birds are ever wary and always alert to potential danger.  So keep your voice to yourself as much as possible, too. Chukars can hear about as good as your dog can smell. Oh, and try not to yell at your dog, if possible, because you will be talking to chukars at the same time.  The idea is to be smarter than the prey. Unfortunately, it is sometimes hard to overcome emotion with a more tempered self-restrained behavior, when situations arise that challenge your sensibilities.  How dogs like to test your limits, often oh so painfully. You know, like when your dog gets out of sight and you don’t know if she/he is on point, or chasing a rabbit around the hill. What to do? Call out, or not? When to hold, when to fold?

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There are a lot of good reasons not many hunters are lining up to chase after chukars. But, going high, when starting from the bottom of some giant canyon, is one of the major ones. Being somewhat  masochistic might be another one, or so it seems, at hunts end where muscles tighten up with  annoying aches and pains.  And sometimes the sanity question surfaces when one realizes that calories gained from the number of birds bagged (say only two, for example) and eaten later, will be less than the calories used getting those birds to begin with.

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But, back to my previous post where I was complaining about not finding many birds this season, and comparing the search like looking for ufo’s or other intelligent life in outer space. My hunt yesterday changed all that. At least for one day, anyway.  In about 4 hours of hunting/climbing,  (that’s  3 hrs climbing to 1 hour hunting) I encountered around 75-100 birds, comprised of  several flocks and  lots of singles or doubles getting up all around me.  Number wise lots of potential.   Not that I did great with the potential, as reality was a little different scenario. Often birds got up behind me and I could not turn around fast enough. Sometimes  I was compromised in negotiating ugly foot positions,and they flew by as I was off-balance and out of whack with the turf. That is, if sketchy edges with dire consequences of falling through space off of them,  counts as turf.

Did I mention the part about good shooting, but bad hitting? Or of birds getting a jump on me as I was trying to photograph Sugar on point? Then enduring dirty looks from my dog wondering why no birds were falling on the ground, after my gun make the big noise.

Well, once in awhile I manage to please my dog.  And since I need to lose some weight anyway, the calorie balance after the hunt usually turns out to be more used than more gained. So that spells a successful hunt, even if the chukars get the last laugh.

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