Copper Canyon of Chukarville

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chukar roger dec 26, 2013 094

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.

ice - chukar sugar dec 16, 2013 009

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.”

chukar hunt sugar Dec 19, 2012 036

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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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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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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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.

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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.

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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 Comedy Club

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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.

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(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.

Chukar Hunting In The Twilight Zone

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sugar chuk lone pine Jan 1 2013 041

My dog is on point. Hurry, hurry, gotta get closer. The pointing pose is too much. I gotta get a picture, chance missing birds.  Sugar is out in front of me, good photo angle, birds still holding.  Soon I am  along side of her, with yet another good angle for pictures.  Now I am approaching the chukar twilight zone. That is the area in front of my dog, where I have now found myself, and my job  to flush birds, yet seeing another spectacular picture from a front angle, not often achieved.  I can now hear the music playing of that long ago tv show..do-do, do-do…do-do, do-do – it plays over and over in my head as I try to get photo while anticipating that telling sound of bursting birds trying to escape dire circumstances.

sugar chuk lone pine Jan 1 2013 042

Now, I’m not really a numbers kind of guy or a fan of trophy hunting, but I am an opportunist. You know, like when you have hiked your buns off and worked hard to gain elevation, and suddenly see a bunch of birds grouped close together and chance to get more bang for your buck. Like was the case for me a few hunts ago, when 8 birds were spotted in front of my dog, only yards away, all standing high,  like prairie dogs trying to see what danger lurked near by.  Then came that same music again..do-d0, do-do…as I had suddenly stepped into the Twilight Zone again.

sugar chuk lone pine Jan 1 2013 066

What to do? The birds were poised to do something (like exiting from a four-legged threat) and I thought my chances for a photo were nil. All this despite the fact that it was one of those rarest of opportunities to get  such a grand photo  (more Twilight Zone music please). But, thinking those birds would flush before I could raise my camera, I felt greed creeping in, too. (hate to admit)  With one ground sluicing shot, I might get several birds and make all my effort pay off at the end of the day. All this of course, knowing full well that killing birds on the ground never works very good to begin with. Sure enough, when the dust settled, only dirt remained. Not even a feather was ruffled, and I was only 25-30 yds distant from them. Surely, it was that damn Twilight Zone effect, again. Buyers remorse set in, as I felt terribly guilty about taking such an irresponsible shot, vowing to myself never to do that again.

sugar chuk lone pine Jan 1 2013 067

The very next day, I was back for more,  far up in chukar land after a grueling climb.  Dog went on point.   Out came my camera and clicking finger, ever the sucker for another potential picture (also knowing good shots only come from taking zillions).  Then I suddenly saw birds and that Twilight Zone music started flaring up again. This time, I put camera away and got ready for birds to bust into flight before I shot. (holding true to yesterdays vow).  They jumped up and I shot. Click went my gun. It was empty.  In all my haste to get up the hill after gathering  up gear from my driftboat, I had forgotten to load my gun. Do-do..do-do; do-do..do-do

sugar chuk lone pine Jan 1 2013 035

(What? No shells?)

It’s hard to find a good hunter to point for these days.

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

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