Go Ugly Early – Say Exochukarologists

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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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Ember Chukar Bikini Jan 4, 2013 037

(see the chukar in this picture?)

There seems to be  an awful lot of things that can go wrong when hunting chukars which  can affect ones success rate. At least, mine, anyway.  Not to mention, much funnier to chukars and other hunters around a later campfire, than to me.   However, in self-defense, I spend as much time trying to get photos of dogs-on-point than focus on killing birds. So this often leads to a lot of missed opportunities to shoot, or less than ideal shots when taken anyway.  With camera in one hand and gun in other, then trying to put one down and the other up, before birds are too far out,  often turns into a huge comedy of errors.

Ember Chukar Bikini Jan 4, 2013 005

(see it now?)

One day I managed to climb over a rise and was treated to seeing my dog on point with birds in sight just a few yards ahead of her. About 8 birds were grouped together within inches of each other, looking like prairie dogs curious about an intruder. Normally, I would go for my camera first, but this time they looked like they were about to burst into the air at any moment.  My second thought was about how hard I had been hunting for the last 5 days in a row, and not a lot of birds to show for. With a chance to get a few birds with one shot, ground sluicing entered my mind. I knew that it is always risky and not usually very productive, but this looked just too good to miss.  But miss I did. When the dust settled after my one ground shot, not a feather was ruffled.  It was if my shell had no pellets in it at all. Greed has grave consequences.

I vowed then and there, never to ground sluice a chukar ever again.  Next time, I would wait until they jumped into the air before shooting. My chance came the very next day. Sure enough, I saw the birds in front of my dog on point. (which is not always easy to see). This time I pressed closer to get them to flush. Click. I expected to hear BANG.  Nope.  In my haste at grabbing gear from my driftboat before heading up the slopes,  I had forgotten to load my gun.

Then another time, I was high on the hill (ok, second deepest chasm in North America) at hard-earned elevations to reach to begin with, and what do I hear when I raise my gun and fire? Click.  That sickening sound again, or lack there-of, indicating yet another brain synapse mis-fire.  My excuse? Well, after I shoot at birds, I normally look for spent shells right away. Spent shell case liter on the  hillside is not a history I wish to leave behind. But,  sometimes that means picking them up before loading my gun again. Then I forget to load it, thinking I already did.   I hate it when my brain works (or doesn’t) like that.

Or how about poor footage on steep ground, unable to get off shots because in your shock and engagement with tricky terrain turns into a balance act of trying to save yourself from face-plants on the hillside. Though sometimes face-plants result anyway. Has your shotgun ever went flying through the air in an effort to save yourself from starting a self-imposed human  avalanche down the steep slopes? This is why I don’t use a fancy shotgun.  Simple, ugly, fine with me. No worries when I do dumbly and stumbley on the mountain.

Ember Chukar Bikini Jan 4, 2013 047

(  “I think their up their in the snow zone”  )

Real chukar hunters know how many things can go wrong during the pursuit. Birds jump up when you think the dog is only on past scent, after you have done everything to flush birds and are convinced none are there. Then there are those  other areas on open ground, where it should be easy to see birds, but none are seen, until poof; they suddenly appear in mid-air as if jumping out of a magician’s hat. It’s hard to shoot when your pants are down around your ankles, sort of speaking.

Ember Chukar Bikini Jan 4, 2013 063

( Now that we are up here, I think they are down there.” )

How many times have you finished a hard hunt, after failing to find birds in birdy looking area,  to have them call (really, it sounds more like laughing) loudly to you from where you had just been? Chukars usually do get the last laugh.