The Beauty of Low Numbers

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When chukar numbers are down, it can be very demanding trying to locate birds because  actually finding them becomes much harder. Duh. No great revelation there. But, such has been the 2011-12 season in the area I mostly hunt, which is north central Idaho in one of the deepest gorges in North America, the Salmon River canyon.

In my traditional places for hunting chukar, habitat is vast and tortuous for human pursuits. My sore joints and muscles can attest quite strongly to that. When one must climb from river level to ridge tops in a canyon of this magnitude, distances and  up-ness is severe.

However, the old saying that a pancake has two sides can apply here. Ironically, there-in lies part of the beauty of this dilemma. When not many chukars are out there in “somewhere land” to find, more knowledge can be gained from fewer numbers. Not to mention a side benefit for those in search of these mighty feathered foes. Often the terrain traversed leads to astonishing vistas of tremendously expansive country. Peering  into the far beyond of such places can penetrate deep into the soul and create a  sensation similar to what a sailor might feel when  lost in a huge sea. It is a place man can  confront his place in the cosmos, and feel  gigantic-dwarfism, or  jumbo-shrimpness, for those inclined to like  such oxymoron’s, to help describe this dynamic.

Longer forays deeper  into ever yet more remote country provide such experiences. But beyond that, and back to the increased learing part,  field time can also fine-tune abilities to find chukars when conditions become extreme and low populations a challenge. It is relatively easy for most experienced bird hunters to find chukars, when number are high, but not so much for the opposite scenario. Those willing to travel far and wide at the expense of low ROI, (return on investment) in terms of red meat in the frying pan,  at least up their knowledge about chukar lore. Expanding horizons  often leads to new discoveries of places birds use, that might have been overlooked before.

It is similar to steelhead fishing when the river gets crowded by other boats. Steelhead habitually use “lies” and learning where these are in the course of the river is a big trick to becoming a better fisherman. If other boats are fishing well-known “lies,” one is forced to fishing other potential areas, not normally fished. Sometimes you luck out and find another niche that you never thought would hold a fish. Thus, the same holds for chukars, because sometimes these birds will have little “hot spots” they habitually will return to, though it might not look like such a spot to a hunter. One such spot I discovered years ago, I now call “chukar pass.”  It almost always holds chukars and I am thankful I stumbled on to this out-of-the-way, hard to get to, secret place.

Lastly, crawling around challenging terrain is a great way to stay in shape, which is even that much more important the older one becomes.  Improving circulation also contributes to better brain function, which is a good thing, because chasing chukars can often make one feel like they are going crazy.  Considering those borderline, insane places we are so willing to go into for such pursuits, more oxygen is greatly needed.

Rivers make good medicine with us, we make good medicine with rivers. For river trip information, please go to our website: www.doryfun.comor Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/Riverdoryfun

Hunting Under Eagle Wings

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Note: this post was first published on my Nature’s Apprentice blog: http://wapitisriversedge.wordpress.com/2011/10/ on Dec 2, 2011

I made my way far up the hill today. Ok, canyon is the better word here, but I use “hill” for slang,  and perhaps a moronic guides poor humor when putting one foot in front of the other in a heavenly direction.  Heavenly, both in beauty and a treacherously steep-ward ascension, that is.     In a chasm over a mile deep, only half way up is still a serious assault on lungs and legs.  But it was at this point that I noticed the golden eagle making circular passes over rims far above me.  It caught my gaze, as I scanned the slopes for the chukars I thought I  heard earlier.

Pausing with me for a climbing break, my two weimies, Ember and Sugar, also tried to  catch their breath.  Their panting made the same sound as chukars make, when far away.  It is surprising how similar the sound is, even for an experienced ear.  Sometimes a squeaky oarlock makes the same such noise and fools me just the same when cruising the river in search of birds.

But,  between dog pants, I could distinctly hear some chukars. Unfortunately, they were way too far above, than I was willing to continue  high enough to pursue.  Besides, they soon shut up when the shadow of Mr. Eagle poured over the terrain, giving a clue to its menacing presence soaring above in search of them.

It reminded me of eagles I had seen in the past, when I was lucky enough to watch golden’s with their wings tucked in a power dive and in hot pursuit of a panicked chukar squawking and fleeing as fast as its wings would take it.  But not faster than the bird of prey, and soon it was a hard-earned meal  for the eagle.

Another time, I had shot a chukar on a very steep, razor back ridge, and before the chukar hit the ground, a marsh hawk came out of thin air, swooped down and plucked that cart wheeling bird in an aerial retrieve before it hit the ground.  But it was worth my losing a meal, as the price of admission to be so grandly entertained.

Watching eagles has always made me wonder what it would be like to fly like one, so had to take an experienced para-wing experts invitation to go flying one day, years ago.  I only made one flight, but it was as thrilling as I had imagined.  I was ready to run out and buy my own wings, but suddenly realized that reading air currents is much harder than river currents. I can look at river currents directly. Wind can only be seen by watching indicators, which often, are not readily observable. That is when I figured I better stick with the river. But it was a great experience to feel what it is like to be an eagle.

I am thankful that I have been witness to so many cool things in nature. My secret? Time and effort.  The more time you spend out smack in the middle of nature, the more opportunities for you to see great things.

A great youtube to visit, to see good footage of a golden eagle (like the one I saw today) set to some beautiful music:

Eagle’s Flight – Karunesh

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-Bo4f78fiM&feature=related

Sorry, I haven’t figured out how to put the Youtube video thing on this post.  Techno challenge.

Rivers make good medicine with us, we make good medicine with rivers.
For river trip information, please go to our website: www.doryfun.comor
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/Riverdoryfun

Chukar Hunting and “The Observers Effect”

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Note: this post was first published on my Nature’s Apprentice blog: http://wapitisriversedge.wordpress.com/2011/10/ on Dec 6, 2012

Events are the catalysts that cause thoughts to be linked from one realm to another. Chukar hunting one day, one such event happened to me as I sat down to rest and weather out a snow storm. I was soon getting hypnotized by a be-zillion flakes of snow whirling past me from the sky. They looked like tiny star fish with many legs, spinning in circles so fast that it almost turned them into white blurs.

Interestingly, it also created the illusion of flying through an asteroid belt by rocket ship,  as an infinity of  flakes zoomed wildly past me.  This thought immediately linked me yet to another previous experience watching boulders on a river bottom, fly by as I was scuba diving in a down stream motion. Intending to see what a steelhead might experience during its migration, I suddenly found myself dodging various sized rocks coming at me intermittently with increasing speed the faster the current became.  Then my mind morphed another thought into yet another recollection of an experience I had felt several times while sitting in my  tipi, looking up at the stars through the smoke flaps. The sensation was also like being in a space capsule traveling through time.

As I rebounded back again to the mesmerizing snow flakes, it seemed I was sucking some of them into my face by some magnetic mental force. I was like a human vortex matrix.  Why were the flakes that landed on me, the chosen ones, while all else missed? Mere coincidence? Or were they simply falling on me because they were pre-ordained by some higher force in the universe ? Could it be my thoughts of influencing the destiny of a few of these flakes, actually determined  where they might fall?

Grandiose thinking, surely. But if one is going to aim a bow, wouldn’t it be better to aim at the  sun and hit only the moon, than to aim at the moon and hit only a rock? I always liked that idea when I initially  heard it, wishing I had thought of it first.

This sense of traveling, yet sitting, and pulling flakes into myself, made me wonder if it was similar to what physicists call: “The Observers Effect.” Basically, it says that an observer can have an effect on that which he observes.

If such is the case, then could I apply this to chukar hunting and finding birds? Would it be possible  in some way , to pull a few birds towards me and my dogs? In the case of chukars, the hunter definitely has an effect on the hunted. But usually the opposite effect intended.  It is more of  a deterrent than an attraction.  So indeed the observer effects the observed. Only, mostly  chukars  run  uphill, fly real fast, and head for the next horizon if they see me and the girls, as soon as we see them or smell their scent.  So much for the “Observers Effect.”  I wonder if I am getting this idea confused with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle?

Rivers make good medicine with us, we make good medicine with rivers.
For river trip information, please go to our website: www.doryfun.comor
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/Riverdoryfun

Two Excuses for Missing Chukars

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Note: this post was first published on my Nature’s Apprentice blog: http://wapitisriversedge.wordpress.com/2011/10/ on Nov 1, 2011

Ember and Sugar are the two main reasons I often see chukars fly away rather than drop to the ground when I shoot.  When I see this mother daughter team of Weimarieners go on point together, it is just too tempting for me to try to get a picture of them. Often I try to get a picture and a shot at birds.  This sometimes works, but most often birds get too much of a jump on me, while I fumble around trying to get camera in pocket and gun to aim. It’s worth it though.

I normally try to get in front of the girls to get a picture, so that if birds do flush, (I make birds  nervous with my photo fidgeting) it was my fault and not the dogs.  After all, it is my job to flush birds not theirs. They are pointers. Sure, I have to endure dirty looks from the girls at time. But they don’t hold a grudge, and soon forget all about it, as they get their noses back to the ground again.

My best success is when I can use only one hand to snap a picture, as it is faster to put the camera into my pocket afterwards. This allows me to have my gun in a better position to more quickly get it into shooting action. It is when I have to use two hands for picture-taking, that costs me more in positioning time. It means I have to put my gun under an armpit or between my legs, to better hold the camera.  Somehow, chukars always seem to know when a gunner is at the most compromised situation, before they jump to the sky.

Fortunately, I do not measure a successful chukar hunt by numbers of birds on the ground.  Sharing some great times with the girls out in the majestic landscapes of chukar world, watching them do what they do best, is a real treat for me.

Rivers make good medicine with us, we make good medicine with rivers.
For river trip information, please go to our website: www.doryfun.comor
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/Riverdoryfun

Chukar Vortex

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Note: this post was first published on my Nature’s Apprentice blog: http://wapitisriversedge.wordpress.com/2011/10/ on Nov 3, 2011

Often while fishing, hunting, or river running, my mind gets off focus and makes its own wanderings. Thoughts often drift back to previous adventures and the weird, whacky things that have experienced  in the past.   Who knows what the trigger point will be to arouse those crazy recalls. Such is the mystery of our minds.

But, the other day out on the hill with the girls, chasing chukars, something sent me back to a day many years before, when an old guide friend stopped by our  outfitter shop, here in Riggins, Idaho, just to say hi. My wife and I were visiting with him, standing in a small threesome of a circle, with only about  five feet of distance between each other.  Note: the small size of this circle.

This kid had helped me on previous guided trips, both for steelhead fishing and chukar hunting. He had his young dog with him and we were talking dogs, chukars, and old times. It was early summer, but we were thinking of the up coming fall season. As we spoke, this lone chukar flew down off the surrounding hillside on the far side of our small town main street shop,  landed on the ground, and quite shockingly right in the middle of us all.   It had no sooner landed, than it soon discovered this might not be the right place to hang out.  So it flushed up and away, as quickly as it had landed, and found purchase on the roof of our shop only a few yards away.  But, even that seemed too close, so it finally headed off to better security far across the Salmon River from us.

What a weird coincidence.  I wonder what kind of stories that chukar told its feathered friends?? At least now during chukar hunting season, we like to refer to our shop as the chukar vortex. After all, we are located right smack in the middle of awesome chukar hunting country.

Rivers make good medicine with us, we make good medicine with rivers.
For river trip information, please go to our website: www.doryfun.comor
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/Riverdoryfun

What do Rattlesnakes and Snow Have in Common?

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Note: this post was first published on my Nature’s Apprentice blog: http://wapitisriversedge.wordpress.com/2011/10/ on Nov 30, 2011

As today is the last one in November, it is perhaps prudent to tell a rattlesnake story or two. Why now? Two reasons. I like to semi- follow protocol of many native storytelling traditions, where only certain stories can be told at certain seasons. Like fish stories when fish begin to arrive, or bird stories when waterfowl begin to migrate, or other when events occur that coincide together.  Reason two, this month reminds me of the time I saw a rattlesnake in November. Yep, November.

Interestingly, I had a doctor from back east call me up to inquire about going chukar hunting.  ” Have you ever been chukar hunting,” I asked.  “Sure have” he answered. “Then you know they are not like flat lander birds, but rather  like the precipitous terrain in nose bleed country” I continued. “Yep, I know, and am readily up for it.”

“One more thing”, he replied,  ”I just broke my ankle about two weeks ago, but have a good walking cast.”  “Are you serious? ” I asked. He sure was, and talked me into letting him go hunting with his friend for a say on the steep slopes of the Salmon River.  So he signed up for a day trip on the 24th of November. There had been snow on the ground for several days, but some had melted off, leaving mostly pocketed patches that appeared  similar to what terrain with measles would look like.

When the day arrived for his trip, and we floated down to where we were to begin our climb for finding some birds, he hobbled out of the boat and tackled the terrain like a peg legged pirate. And, to my amazement, he actually made it to the tops of the ridges and outcrops his buddy and myself were traversing. Not as fast, but he traveled  just as far and hard, as we were pursuing birds. I was flabbergasted and always wondered if he had been using some super pain pills or something.

It was afternoon when we landed on top, where most of the birds were, and though it was freezing when we started our trip in the morning hours, it was sunny and warm by then.  Birds were taking advantage of open ridges where wind and sun had melted snow, where they could also look for foraging. But, so too, did a less likely critter.

“Hey, I found a rattlesnake” he called to me on the radio. I didn’t believe him, so told him to stand guard on the snake until I could get there. It took me a few minutes to reach them, but the snake was coiled, not moving, and just basking in the relatively warmth of the afternoon sun.  Sure enough, it was a rattlesnake. It wasn’t dead, just confused, I guess.  They should be following the logic of bears this time of year, but apparently  there is as much ignorance in rattlesnake world as there is in people world.

Most snakes like a little warmer weather than what November normally provides.  Like last year, when I was hunting with only one dog in October on another guided hunt.  A guest came along who has the sister (Izzy)  to my dog Ember. We had gotten cut off from each other  by going around in different directions around some very rocky terrain, cliffs,  and steep talus slopes.  All of a sudden Ember went on point about five feet in front of me. She was locked on chukars about 30 yards away.  But, for some reason I just happened to look down and see that she was straddle directly over the top of a coiled up rattlesnake. Adrenalin hit the red line in my survival meter. Instinctively, I pushed her forward as hard as I could, while at the same time jumping away from the snake myself.  It worked, and we were both spared a different ending to this story.

Fortunately, we don’t have Diamond Backs or any of the larger varieties of rattlesnakes on the Salmon River. They are Western Pacific Rattlesnakes, and most adults average about  two feet long. Their venom is also not as toxic as most other subspecies, but I still wouldn’t want to get bitten by one, all the same.   But, funny how everything on the mountain starts to look like a rattlesnake, once you have a close encounter with one.

We rarely see that many throughout a season, and I personally cover a ton of terrain, in all seasons, when not floating on the river.  And most try to hide, get away, and will only bite when threatened or mistakenly stepped on. Which reminds me of another story, but the timing isn’t right to tell that one.

Suffice it to say,  hopefully, by not killing any snakes (unless for food) I will continue with my appreciation for brother snakes  real value, and hope the feeling will be mutual. My practice is to live by the motto, ” I won’t hurt you, if you won’t hurt me.”  I’m not sure if snakes have ears, but it doesn’t require a set of ears to hear what I am saying.  Spirit talk requires only an open heart to be heard.

So before November slips away, I have to get this  time appropriate  story in.

Rivers make good medicine with us, we make good medicine with rivers.
For river trip information, please go to our website: www.doryfun.comor
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/Riverdoryfun

Chukar Elk Paradox

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

While hunting chukars on a recent “hike your butt off” climb, I ended up seeing more elk in bird habitat than chukars. The next day I went big game  hunting, and saw more chukars in elk  habitat than I did big game.  It wasn’t the my first time to see deer and elk in chukar habitat, as they do share the same range grasses, forbs, and browse during the winter.  But it was the first time I had seen chukars in dense forest of mixed conifer (Doug Fir and Ponderosa Pine) with Ninebark/ Snowberry/Oceanspray thick shrub understory.

I have seen chukars in areas with sparse trees and edge-line forests, before,  but not that far away from what I always thought of as prime chukar habitat.  (300 yds from nearest bunchgrass slope). They were in 6 inches of snow and trying to get out of the 20-30 mph hour winds that was also freezing my body parts, too. So I thus learned another lesson from chukar world.

Apparently, their behavior (hunkered down to get out of the wind) made more sence than mine – hiking around in the middle of it all.  That is part of the problem of having a higher brain.  Our supposed smarts sometimes gets in our own way.

Rivers make good medicine with us, we make good medicine with rivers.
For river trip information, please go to our website: www.doryfun.comor
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/Riverdoryfun

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