Crazy About Chukars

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chukar hunt-sugar-jan 9, 2016 012

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

 

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A River/Chukar Guides Second Worse Nightmare

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Chukar Hunt Oct 13 thru 17 2014 151

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.

 school marm peak dec 17, 2014 375

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….

school marm peak dec 17, 2014 052

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):

The Green Bank Formula For Finding Chukars

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Barb cam November 2013 042

Exobiologits are scientists who look for in intelligence in outer space.  They basically study things that are not even known to exist. How? Statistics. They use a formula which multiplies several strings of estimated numbers together.  It is called the Green Bank Formula and it is  used  to calculate the potential that something (intelligence, in whatever form) might exist.

So, perhaps any avid searcher for hard-to-find chukars, that seem to be in those outer limits,  could be called an exochukarologist.  At least it seems like a good title  for those of us looking for those little ufo-like fluffs of fast flying blurs  during lean population  years. Such are a few of my thoughts when on the prowl for birds that seem not to exist. . But unlike exobiologist who don’t know for sure if something exists, only the possibilities that it might, I have seen chukars before, so know that they do.

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Part of my Green Bank Chukar Formula includes, type of terrain, vegetative condition, weather, birds counted, dropping they leave behind, sightings by others, and listening for sounds.  Like astronomers who beam radio waves into the heavens in hopes of getting a message back from some sort of interstellar intelligence, I cup my ears to the sky for signs  of more earthly sounds  intelligences closer to home.

Unlike intelligence in outer space, smart enough not to reveal themselves to earthlings who show questionable signs of intelligence, chukars are not advanced enough to know not to call out in the wilderness. So that is the first thing I do, before hitting any particular slope. Stand and listen at daylight. The first crack of dawn is too much for  a chukar  to resist at least a few calls to whatever it is they call for at that time of day. But they do, and that is all I care about. Revelation.

Though it is mid chukar season in my neck of the woods, and I am a bit behind in getting my search for them on, previous hunts have shown this to be a challenging year.  Finding chukars has been a bit like trying to find a ufo. Do they exist? Their tracks say yes. The results of my finding them, indicate otherwise.  It’s not easy being an exochukarologist.  Fortunately, I have a four legged secret weapon.

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