Chukar Wars

It ain't called Hell's Canyon for nothin'
It ain’t called Hell’s Canyon for nothin’

In every chukar hunter’s life there comes a time when he (or she) thinks those devil birds are out to get him (or her). For me, yesterday was that day. Angus pointed, birds rose, and rarely did any fall (just once, to be exact). I can’t say how Angus felt, but I imagined myself one of those magnetic player pieces being pulled across a cheap tin playing field from beneath by a stick with the other half of the magnet. Back and forth. Up and down. Except I had to supply the juice to mobilize across the frozen terrain. Chukar have a call when fleeing closely resembling sardonic laughter.

What does the chukar say? "Chase me, fairly, up this canyon, dummy!"
What does the chukar say? “Chase me, fairly, up this canyon, dummy!”

Angus found us lots of birds. What a treat, and what a nice change from earlier in the season when we’d search for four hours and find one covey. But it was a day of truth. The truth is that chukar like places a human can’t stand with much balance or coordination. Moreover, human movement over this terrain is fraught with peril. Going up is not so bad because if you slip you can just accept the mud facial and dirty pants. But going down – the direction I find myself most often looking when Angus is pointing – is just obscene. I destroyed my left ankle a few years ago in such a scenario. Word to the wise.

Yesterday, I avoided the 5-foot leap off a rock but succumbed to peanut butter mud sliding at the exact instant I busted the covey. I had the dubious opportunity of shooting from one knee while sliding downhill and trying to pick a bird to bead while honoring the visual margin of safety to prevent me from shooting Angus. No dead bird on that one, but no wounded Brittany, either. It’s the small successes that keep me coming back.

Sacrificial token
Sacrificial token

In times like these, great times, times which reinforce for me what I love so much about sharing this pursuit with my precious dog (and my wife), I find myself involuntarily canting “fair chase” over and over in my head. My shitty shooting notwithstanding, this game, this chukar war, seems the fairest of fair chases. I look at others’ blogs or accounts displaying tailgates lined with limits of chukar and wonder how that’s even possible. Maybe it really is only my crappy gunmanship that accounts for my typically light weight bird bag. I think I’ve limited once, back when Idaho’s limit was 6. Maybe I’m subconsciously trying to replicate on the undulations of our bromusy batholith the catch-and-release ethic I learned from childhood on Henry’s Fork.

Fair chase pants
Fair chase pants

Anyway, it doesn’t matter. It’s not a competition. For the effort, it’s a weight loss program even if you limited every time and ate every ounce of every bird yourself. It’s a war, the best war there is. I’m both sad and glad that more people don’t enlist.

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