Chukar Hunting Isn’t About the Chukar

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pittsburg landing oct 23, 2013 006

At first, as you gather your gear to ready for the endurance performance lying in wait, you might think it is about hunting down the elusive chukar. But, in reality it is far more than that.  It is ironically more about the hunter than the bird.  Sure, we dress our delusions in all kinds of appropriate garb, from blistering  “see me from a thousand miles off” blaze orange, to thick-skinned gators for counteracting ominous rattlesnake fangs, and go about the business of putting one foot in front of the other.  Then we leap forward into challenging terrain meant more to accommodate an assorted disarrayment of miscellaneous  personality disorders, than common sense.

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Like the Tuhumarra runners, who run for the sheer joy of running, chukar hunters hunt for the joy of the hunt.  Getting  birds is only a mild side attraction that happens during a grueling confrontation with the self, as that is always the result when the extremes of mother nature rears its head. You don’t have to be crazy to hunt chukars, but it helps.

 

chukar sugar jan 2, 2014 072

It is not often easy to start oneself at the foot of any kind of precipitous slope.  But the real trick is how to get the momentum to move in the  beginning. Yet even when you find the right pull-cord to ignite that internal switch, there is still  that need to find enough courage to yank on the line. Sometimes, shutting your eyes is all it takes, other times all kinds of procrastinating mechanisms keep running in the background of our cerebral computer, so finding the right key to unlock access to them is ultimately required.  Whatever method finally works,  then it pretty much is about putting in the time, and repetition of increasing the amount of time one puts in. The more you add, the better you get at adjusting to the physical demands, and quelling those demons of the mind that always surface to tell you to go back home to a warm fire and comfortable recliner. Getting those wanton images of comfort  repressed, is no easy task as they keep permeating the mind like those nuisance computer pop-up ads that invites an angry smack-a-mole response.

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This might be more of a common  problem to those of us who hunt a lot; more than just a weekend warrior battleground; or are at least old enough to have already bagged  a vast number of heavenly treks to the skyward lairs of the ninja chukars.  So we, or I, in my case, sometimes find it hard to get all charged up with the enthusiasm like we did in our youth or when we were novice hunters.  When every thing is fresh and new, there is always more energy associated with the magic of anticipation.  Not knowing all the harsh realities that come with naïve exuberance helps motivate the uninitiated. While it takes a bit more to so thoroughly excite those juices of electricity for the more experienced veterans.

 

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More often that not my biggest help in getting motivated are my two weims. If I just mention the word “chukar” their ears perk up, tails go full throttle, and they stare me down with that can-we-go-now look, that just can’t be ignored.  Like kids excited for a trip to the carnival, I can’t say no. So before I know what happened, they are kenneled-up and on  our way to chukar-land.  Be it by rig or boat, lookout chukars, here we come. As if those rascally birds need any kind of warning once our presence is on their turf, they practically know when we are there before we do. But, all the same, we play on their board, their game and forget about the small print that spelled out the real rules we soon learn first-hand on the slopes.  For such a small bird there sure is a lot of ruthless ninja-ness to them.

Soon my attention is all on the dogs.  As their noses do their business they eventually find the money.  And nothing is so beautiful as seeing them on point and testing birds, or more accurately being tested by the birds.  The next test is for me to get in front of them to flush birds and get something on the ground for their next phase of the hunt.

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However, admittedly my  first objective is to get the “if-I’m-only-quick-enough” photograph, and this often means sacrificing  good shots or an opportunity to down a bird.  Sometimes I even hesitate to tell friends about my skirmishes with these devil birds, as they already think it crazy to hike to such extremes and then return home without a bird or any trace of the feathers.  What to show for?   But I am not married to having preconceived numbers to satisfy, or some sort of symbol to represent my hunting prowess or lack thereof. It isn’t about the chukar, it is all about the hunt, the dogs, the views, the falls, the challenges, the feelings of being alive that always comes with the evoked inspiration of special places.

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So, that’s ok, the old proverb about great rewards come with great difficulty is also true.  And, once I find myself out on the hill again, soloing silently in  solitude and never knowing  what new drama nature has in store still makes me thankful every time I go.  And in reality, those are all the things, rather than the actually killing of a chukar that stir my juices and get me going.  A sip of that lingering thought is the catalyst required for me to lower that  first foot down, so the other can be lifted up to seek the lofty stratosphere enriched with that  rarified air so invigorating to the soul.

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Gary Lane
Wapiti River Guides
www.doryfun.com

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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.

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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

Last Day of the Season

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Jan 31, 2012 was the a last day of chukar season.  My body welcomes the rest from an arduous and long endeavor of such winged pursuit. Following is what helped make my last day so rewarding.

 

Thanks Girls

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.
For river trip information, please go to our website: www.doryfun.com
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/Riverdoryfun

For my Natures Apprentice blog: http://wapitisriversedge.wordpress.com/

Chukar University

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Naturally, like any good parent wishing for a good education for their kids, so too, do bird hunters wish the same for their dogs.  That is why, as the master (more like parent) of two Wiemaraners, I want them to gain all the best training and schooling they can get.

So. part of the curriculum at Chukar University, where I teach, is a great textbook by Pat Wray, entitled “A Chukar Hunter’s Companion.” Not only is it filled full of good facts about every aspect of chukars, and chukar hunting, but good humor too. I’m pretty sure I saw one of my dogs chuckling when she glanced through some wryly worded text.

When we are out on the chukar slopes in the middle of Chukar University, I sometimes have to threaten my dogs when things get tough, for them to go back to the book and brush up on some of their chukar hunting  facts.

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
For my Natures Apprentice blog: http://wapitisriversedge.wordpress.com/

 

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

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