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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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.

nov 22, 2013 chukar pass hunt 029

Chukars Last Laugh

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Sugar Snow Chukar Jan 11, 2013 055

Inevitably it always does arrive, that fatal last day. The last day of any season, but in this case chukar season.  It is almost a love/hate affair. That is, I love to hunt chukars. But, towards the end of the season, after grueling climbs up the extreme slopes of the Salmon River canyon, it gets very difficult to push myself for yet another uphill battle.  A battle my heart and lungs take on with the landscape.

Wind River Ember Sugar Jan 20 2013 055

So with mixed emotions my last day with both dogs on the hill was more of the same. Good and bad. Hard, yet rewarding. Dogs not minding as well as think they should, yet making wonderful tandem points, and stupendously long retrieves when birds sail way too far down the slopes. You know, those slopes I keep complaining about. Ones that seem like 45 degrees, and at times really are. And those are the easier ones. Did I mention bony ridgelines, vertical cliffs, and a variety of ugliness that us chukar hunters often find ourselves engaged with?

Sugar, Ember, Barb, me, Jan 12, 2013 016

No wonder people who know nothing about chukar hunting think chukar hunters are so crazy. Heck, even chukar hunters wonder that sometimes.  But once fessing-up to knowing you are crazy means you don’t have to worry about it any more. Just keep pushing those birds, don’t look back, or more precisely down, in most cases. Focus. That is the name of the game.

Lake Ck Ember & Sugar Jan 16, 2013 081

My last day was a typical one, but favored the chukar, and they indeed seemed to get the last laugh. Like when a group came flying straight off the slopes high above, helter-skelter, and my swing, which was more of an  over-the-head-and-turn gymnastics  maneuver, was the perfect recipe for poor shooting success.  After the boom of gun and frustrations of watching birds untouched, I’m sure I could hear some chuckles of happy-to-be-alive birds entertained by my contorted antics on the hill.

Sugar Lucile Cave Hunt Jan 17, 2013 027

But, their entertainment is also mine.  Just seeing the type of flying they can do, like some kind of animated jet plane in a dog fight, is reward enough.  Although, I do sometimes luck out and manage to down one of those feathered Mig like fighters. Yet, a big part of chukar hunting is all of those ancillary shows that  always accompany the chase:  from large bucks, elk herds, fox trots,  coyote yipping, wolf tracks, bobcat scat, otter antics, and soaring eagles, to just mention a few.  And most remarkable is that all this theater takes place in a theater itself that is a good part of the outstanding entertainment.

Wind River Ember Sugar Jan 20 2013 072

(Whoa – Holy “chukar feathers” – how did we get so far up?)

Viewscapes afforded by one of the deepest gorges in North America are utterly breath-taking, yet considerably confounding.  So expansive and  rugged is the terrain, that its bigness makes one feel ever more so small.  A dwarf in the cosmos. It is a vastness of unfathomable comprehension that words never adequately can explain. So, rather, I just simply enjoy it and appreciate it for what it is. Though we humans like to share our pleasures with others, often it has to suffice just to appreciate those things that are truly unexplainable. To just “know” is enough.  Thank you chukars.  You are safe from my gun and nuisance of dogs for another year now. But, be forewarned: we will be back.

Wind River Ember Sugar Jan 20 2013 150

Lake Ck Ember & Sugar Jan 16, 2013 122

Sugar Snow Chukar Jan 11, 2013 044

Lake Ck Ember & Sugar Jan 16, 2013 152

What Do Chukars Think?

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Lake Ck Ember & Sugar Jan 16, 2013 060

Well, it is awfully tempting to dive into some imagined chukar   humor and wonder what kind of diatribe  they might use to poke fun at us hunter’s with.  As if they communicate like us humans do, which they don’t, but we like to anthropomorphize about, that is. Such are some of my thoughts  as I hunt along various terrains with not only my dogs, but my brain as well.  My mind contours the landscape with similar speed as my legs do. Sometimes I even get lost in this parallel world and forget that I am even hunting to begin with. At least until something triggers me back into reality, like  tripping on a loose rock, dog on point, or sudden burst of wings taking to the sky.

Lake Ck Ember & Sugar Jan 16, 2013 050

Also, in my self-talk,  I sometimes try to think like  a chukar in order to find them. But how can I do that, I’m a human, so I can only use human ideas.  It is difficult even trying to understand women sometimes, how would I ever begin to understand a chukar?  Telepathy is out. So is any chance at really communicating with any kind of animals, when us humans can barely communicate with each other.  Our astronomers think about what messages aliens might be sending out through space, yet learning what our own earth creatures have to tell us might be much more valuable.

Lucile Cave Jan 14, 2013 074

But, Earth to Gary, back to birds.  If chukars think, they must not think in words, but what kind of language to they use, if any?  I always wonder how their brains work.  For example: when serious snow hits the high country in an over night storm, but leaves the ground bare on the lower foothill sections, use patterns of chukars can change and adapt to the new situation.

Lake Ck Ember & Sugar Jan 16, 2013 152

So, from a chukars view-point, I wonder if they can see their landscape and differentiate which areas to change to for food and shelter.  Can they see bare ground amidst the snow, like wind-blown open ridges and draws, and make an effort to seek it out.  That is,  as opposed to just stumbling upon it, or never finding it to begin with.  For another example, if a major mountain side contains some snow free zones that can be seen from a far off distance, can chukars see this and fly over to it?  Do they think, hey there is a good place to find food and shelter? Or is that more like an instinct, or some kind of built in survival detector they just know to do?

Lake Ck Ember & Sugar Jan 16, 2013 018

I think about the same sorts of things about big game when I am hunting them. In what kind of ways to they use thought, if at all, about how they negotiate their terrain and survive the elements, including predation?  The natural  law of conservation of energy affects the survival abilities of all critters, but they don’t think about it, any more than us humans think about how gravity affects our movements all the time.

Lake Ck Ember & Sugar Jan 16, 2013 129

Thinking about predation could jeopardize survival, as opposed to acting without thinking about it first.  So immediate dangers that require fast reaction times are better left to the innate “fight or flight” responses for better success potential.

Lake Ck Ember & Sugar Jan 16, 2013 050

What about other abstract things, like a bird  learning about what happens when they fly  off a high  mountain to go all the way to the very bottom. Do they know how much more work will be required to climb back up to the top again?  Could this be any part of reasoning when a bird flies around the mountain so as not to lose too much in elevation, rather than sailing all the way to the bottom? Knowing it will be less energy draining and arduous, than leaving it up to chance alone.

Lake Ck Ember & Sugar Jan 16, 2013 073

What about late in the season when birds get up quicker and farther away from you when they see you coming, than they did earlier in the season? It would seem they have learned that distance is important for survival. It is almost is if they know the range of a shotgun. Or that humans require different strategies than other predators. They hunker down when golden eagles soar overhead, hold tight when dogs are on point, and jump into the air as soon as the two-legged hunters show up. How do they know? How abstract, if any at all, is some of their thought?

Sugar Lucile Cave Hunt Jan 17, 2013 017

As you can see, I may have been out on the chukar slopes a little too long. My thoughts, like my dog sometimes does when in hot pursuit, seems to be getting a little too close to  the edge. Those darned chukars. They can make some of us humans go crazy.  It’s probably just another chukar survival strategy.

Chukar Voodoo

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Ember Manning Br Jan 6, 2013 021

(Nope – no chukars in this picture)

Have you ever had one of those days, or dry spells, where chukars have seemed to evaporate from the landscape, never be to found within the time frame of your hunt?

Ember Chukar Bugle Basin Dec 31, 2012 072

These birds seem to  have some sort of secret power to put a hex on dogs and hunters.  Chukar Voodoo, I call it.  It helps describe all those days where everything works against you, but favors the chukars.  I can picture them dancing around in little bird rituals to help conjure up their secret spells. It includes special sacred adornments, like invisible shot proof plumage vests to ward off all pellets.  Not to mention, special invisible chukar paint that makes their bright colors disappear into surroundings that otherwise should reveal their stark contrast against it.  How can red hide against a yellowish  back ground, otherwise?

Ember Chukar Bugle Basin Dec 31, 2012 080

(Secret chukar spell cast over unsuspecting dogs)

It’s chukar voodoo, I tell you. They have access to powers unseen that help them play tricks on hunters and dogs. It  is a knowledge only birds possess, filled with ancient wisdom of the chukars from long ago.  These tricks of the trade and know-how for being a successful chukar enable them to pass on their  DNA to tomorrows progeny. It  is natures mechanism of control in the dynamic of all predator prey relationships. Ups and downs, help keep tedium and the boredom of sameness at bay.  The middle ground is safest, but all the excitement in the crucible of life takes place at the edges.

Ember Chukar Bugle Basin Dec 31, 2012 037

Voodoo Hoodoo, who likes it, I do.  It is all   part of the magic of dancing with the landscape, reading the language of nature, and enjoyment of the hunt and spirit of adventure. Amps, juice, spice, whatever you call it…all words to help describe our feelings of being surely alive. I love the chukars captivating magic.

Ember Chukar Bugle Basin Dec 31, 2012 084

Golden Eyes, Golden Years.

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No matter ones age, once a few treks to the chukar slopes have taken place, the many trials and errors of trying to find birds always makes interesting experiences not easily forgotten. Some memories are never lost, though in the re-telling of the tale details  get somewhat embellished or distorted by time and unfortunate disintegration of brain cells.

This is my first post of the chukar season for 2012, now nearly 2013. Sorry, to any of you out there whom may be following or reading my accounts of what it means to be a chukar hunter, but I can’t  conjure up great  reasons (excuses)  for being so lax this year in my  blogging.  It isn’t for lack of being out on the slopes chasing chukars, more so about being lazy with my writing.  I guess my constant journalism of all my forays, and fairly regular posting on my other  “Natures Apprentice” blog, has taken most of my energy in the writing department.

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However, out on the chukar slopes yesterday, my thoughts were stimulated  from memories triggered by the snow I was hiking in. That is, along with the fact that one of my best hunting partners is now in physical therapy from a stroke that left him partially paralysed and unable to walk or move his right arm.  He is making progress, but time will only tell if it will be enough for him to resume one of his favorite past times, chukar hunting.  He is tough, made so by chukar hunting, no doubt. So I’m counting on future forays to the nose bleed zone pursuing feathered foe with him after time heals. Most hopefully.

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So, partially, I tell this story as a tribute to him and our long time friendship over the years. I first met him, when he helped drag me and my kayak out of the river, after I got swallowed by a big hole which separated me from my boat. That is another story in itself, not to be told here. However, this initial meeting led to many outdoor river related adventures together over the years.

In chukar parlance, here is one of my favorites. Many years ago, we were on a 10 day trip on Alaska’s Tatshenshini River. This was back before it was very well-known to most river runners at the time. Of course, like everything else, it is more famous and less of a secret these days with social media like the one I am using right here.  Anyway, we were on a  ten-day trip  about  half way through the  journey, doing a lay-over day near a place called “Walker Glacier.” Very beautiful area.

Dave and I were out in the middle of nowhere, hundreds of miles from anywhere, standing on a wide expanse of glacier with miles of gorgeous snow-covered mountain peaks all around us.  Just by chance I had reached inside my long-sleeved shirt  pocket for something and discovered a couple chukar feathers.  It was one of my old hunting shirts, and I’m not sure how those feathers got there, but they inspired me to play a trick on Dave. After all, we were always pulling things on each other, as this is half the fun of adventuring together with your like-minded friends. (in our case, anyway).

Well, I first began with, “Hey Dave, did you hear that?”  “No,” he would reply. Then I would say “I thought I heard a chukar.”  Then we would hike a little farther, and I would repeat  the same thing, cautioning  him to listening for such sounds. Of course I knew he would never hear it, because we were about as far from any kind of  chukar habitat as one could get. Only an idiot might think otherwise, as he so realized once my ruse was up.

But, on with the  story –  when he wasn’t looking, I placed the two chukar feathers on the ice, where I knew he would soon stumble upon them without my pointing them out.  Once done, he was quick to grab them up with a most amazing look on his face. Then he said: “Wow Lane, you were right, there are chukars up here.”  But I just couldn’t keep a straight face, it was just too funny.  Of course, my huge smile, signaled to him that he had been just been had.  It got to him so much, that he swore right then and there, that he would get back at me for that. And he did. But it took about two years and is another story in itself, also better told another time.

So, out stomping around in chukar world, who knows what feature in the terrain will trigger thoughts of  times gone-by and all the interesting experiences that are made along the way.  Although, it is sometimes sad, too, when we think we can keep on doing this forever, but then one day discover that like the birds we chase, our abilities and time is limited too.  Moral of the story – keep on keeping on, while you can, because you never know when  nature will come hunting for you.

Reading the sun in the golden eyes of my dog on point, yesterday  reveals much more than just the beauty of the day or dog.  It seems to be Nature’s way of reminding me about the golden days of old and all those good times now gone by. And all the great comradery along the steep slopes of chukar world.

Chukar Ember Dec 26, 2012 013

Chukar University Field Work

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Ember: “Hey Sugar, do you see any chukars up here?” Sugar: “No, I think that fall, two draws back, when our master-guide hit the ground as his shotgun flew through the air, must have thrown his thinking off.”

Sugar: : “Hey Ember, I think I got some chukar dust in my ear, did he say we had to go up again?”

Sugar: ” Ember, don’t look now, but do you see those two elk behind me?”

Sugar:  “Ember, do you remember reading that chapter in our chukar book about what it means when you see more elk than chukars?”

Ember: ” Ya, I think it said that when  elk are found bedded down in the high country, it is time to get a book on psychology for your master-guide, because he might not  know up from down.”

Ember: ” I’m starting to get a fear of heights. Sugar, whadda think about  getting ourselves down off from here?”

Old guides axiom: When big rivers look small, it means you are too high up and  have entered the oxygen deprivation zone.

Warning:  Hunting chukars in this zone can cause delusions of grandeur.

Rivers make good medicine with us, we make good medicine with rivers.
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