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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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(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.

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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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