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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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