Copper Canyon of Chukarville

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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

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Go Ugly Early – Say Exochukarologists

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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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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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Guides Guide for Guides Guiding Chukar Hunters

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Note:  this post was first published on my River’s Apprentice blog: http://wapitisriversedge.wordpress.com/2011/10/  on Oct 26, 2011

For those of you who find yourself trying to organize a chukar hunt, professionally or not, following are a few tricks that have helped me over the years when guiding wing chasers.

As a river guide, with the advantage of floating into remote country to access hunting areas with a little more elbow room, I have ample opportunity to size up guests whom want to chukar hunt. This is especially important for evaluating first time chukar hunters.

They often, despite ample warnings, have no real idea about the consequences of pursuing birds in seriously challenging canyon country.

First of all, chukar hunting is not for everyone. Like in elk hunting, you have to go where the elk are. Well, I consider chukars the elk of the bird world. While often one must go into some deep, ugly canyon hole, to get an elk, one must climb high, rugged terrain to find chukars.  Boiled down, this spells good health and being in reasonable shape, or better.

If birds are at the 4000 foot level, and you can only climb to the 3000 foot level, guess what? You won’t be eating much chukar stew.

Like reading water to negotiate the river, reading people helps when planning a chukar hunt. The old saying: “You can’t judge a book by its cover” has always been highly questionable to me.  A persons physical stature is like the title of a book. It reveals a lot of what might be inside. ( an over – taxed heart, or a great engine) and is an important indicator of what to expect and how to deal with it.

As a long time observer of many things in nature, with well over 50 years of experience doing so, I believe everything your eyes see, will tell you something. So I pay close attention to every guest when I first meet them. Their body size, clothing, how they move, their agility getting in and out of my boat, what comes out of their mouth, attitudes, everything.

After considering all these factors collectively for all whom wish to make the hunt, and not remain at the boat to fish, I plan our initial attack.  Of course, choices are sometimes quite limited by terrain, so options very with each area. If I have people in questionable shape, I will try to go to areas (if available) where I know trails exist to make climbing easier. It is more like using a ramp rather than stairs which require higher foot lifting each step.  Cross country climbing always involves more resistance due to vegetation or negotiating obstacles, thus increasing energy drain more significantly than a trail walk.

Of course gun safety is priority one, before we get out of the boat. Muzzle awareness is critical all day long, From every time a gun is grabbed, rather it is to get in or out of the boat with,  or engage the hill, is of utmost importance to maintain.  Not only for people, but for any dogs helping us find birds.

The first mistake most people make, is wearing too many clothes when they start out. Sure, the morning might be cold in the early hour, but once the climbing begins, that changes fast. In the boat blood is idle, on the hill it percolates and warms body parts. Unless you like to carry heavier shed clothes most of the day, leave warmer stuff at the boat for later. Your body temp will soon  acclimate to the exertion on the hunt.  It is better to carry more water, (for yourself and dog) than extraneous clothes.

As any experienced chukar hunter knows, you seldom get birds hunting them uphill. Unlike most upland game birds, that seek cover for refuge, chukars like to find open rocks or terrain where they can see danger coming. That way, they can run like hell up hill, or dive off the edge and fly like a bullet to safety far below, or across to the next canyon.

My normal game plan is to hike everyone in a group at first, all going straight up, or zigzagging when we can, to gain altitude. Then, depending on each hunter’s physical shape, and/or desires, each one will stop at a designated elevation, until we are all evenly spaced along the slope.  Then the top person will be the lead hunter and key to the intended hunt.

Did I mention the use of radios? I like for each hunter to have one, as it is so much easier to keep track of everyone. It helps to direct people when they get “cliffed out” or terrain challenged, and need eyes from afar to help determine their next move.  Sometimes even quick radio talk can alert hunters for potential action when dogs are getting birdie or on point. Increased anticipation adds more excitement and sometimes more success to the hunt.

 

Once the line is established, and the top hunter (usually the guide, but not always) begins walking, then the next guy in line below, will follow. But, most importantly, each successional hunter down the line should always be behind the hunter directly above, by about 50 yards or so. This allows a broader radius to swing a gun when following a bird for the hunter above, and better safety zone for the hunter below.  Basically, a long diagonal line will be maintained as each person contours around the hill, hoping to slip up on some unsuspecting chukars. Often, more than one gunner gets shooting as birds fly wildly around the hillside in and out of range for various positions on the line.

Because birds often fly back around to the same area we just hunted, we can turn around at the end of our predetermined area boundary, and hunt back through the same area already traversed.  So it pays to observe where birds land once flushed. Other times, hunters continue in a downriver direction to an agreed upon meeting spot, while I go back to the boat and float it down to pick them up.

Once back to the boat, fishing sounds like a great idea. Did I mention thirsty, tired, foot- draggers ready to rest? Or that the next chukar chasing opportunity suggested by the guide is often referred to as a revenge hunt?

 

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