Angus and I headed to the hills yesterday to see if we could find some chukar. These birds live in steep, rocky, hard to reach places. It is always a workout, and those who hunt chukar regularly are obsessed with it, and in very good physical condition. And their feet usually hurt because of the fact that the birds are never on flat ground but always on steep slopes. They are easy to shoot – if you’re lucky enough to find them – but very hard to hit because they are fast, savvy, and have mastered the art of surprise. But they are very good eating and the activity brings a lot of other fulfilling things to the table, like amazing views and happy, well-exercised dogs.
Angus had never sought chukar, partly because I stopped taking Glenna hunting due to her 20-mile range. She had an incredible nose for birds and could find anything anywhere. But she hunted for herself, and when the covey broke she would spend the rest of the day – literally – chasing each bird down and into the next county. She excelled at making sure there would never be any birds near me.
So I had no idea how Angus would do because he’d never had his nose on these birds and I’d never seen him point anything. I hadn’t done any serious training with him, and didn’t expect much from this outing other than a good workout. But I am very pleased to report that – after he stumbled into a covey and chased a few down – he used his nose to find four coveys and even pointed them. The birds broke because of my approach, and I missed all of the eight shots I took (time to start shooting skeet). But my little dog with tiny feet covered the ground carefully, thoroughly, and successfully while staying close enough to me to make an excellent hunting partner. I couldn’t have been happier with him, and look forward to our next attempt at bagging some of these amazing birds.
UPDATE (Nov. 20): We’ve now been chukar hunting three times. Waiting a week for our second outing was almost impossible. I spent most of my waking hours reading and thinking about chukar and guns and bird dogs. When the day finally came, we headed back up the hill and got into birds even sooner than before. Angus busted the first covey but after that knew exactly how close he could get before locking up and lifting his little front foot as if to say, “I believe I have them pinpointed, sir.” As usual, I whiffed.
Until the last covey we saw that day. He pointed, I flushed and somehow managed the composure to follow one bird, get the line, and shoot. Miracle of miracles, the chukar cartwheeled to the ground, ending up about 100 yards below me down a slope as steep as Carter-era inflation. Angus, following the birds, saw the one I hit and found it at the base of a sagebrush. I never would have found it. He grabbed it with his mouth, looked up at me, and proceeded on a beeline back up to me, grunting with pleasure as he dropped the bird at my feet. Not being particularly religious I had no prayers to recite, nobody or no thing in particular to thank. Just Angus.
It’s weird to underestimate something you adore, but I had vastly underestimated Angus’s natural ability. We’ve been out regularly for a while now, and he’s the quick study I never will be. Last week, despite usually being careful to keep to the ridge tops so as to stay above the chukar, we found ourselves fairly well down a slope. I came around the ridgeline to find Angus pointing, facing up the hill. “Crap,” I thought, “they’re above us and running straight up the hill.” I told Angus to “find the bird” and he heaved his wee frame up the hill after them. I was fried and couldn’t follow, figuring my only chance was that he’d bump a single down toward me. Ten seconds later I heard chukar music and managed to connect on a long crossing shot. A few seconds later Angus comes wheeling downhill, finds the bird, and brings it back to me. “Mission accomplished, sir! What’s next, sir?”
It’s discoveries like this, which might simply be good luck, that make all the other problems of life seem – at least temporarily – so insignificant. But the best part is that Angus, after waiting three years for me to wake up and smell the chukar, is finally doing what he’s wired to do. Maybe he’ll teach me something in his spare time.
Last Wednesday Leslie had a day off and came along for several reasons: she had some new boots she wanted to try out (see her blog about that!), she wanted a good workout, and had agreed to take photos and video. Check ’em out below…