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

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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