Partridge Plethora and Paucity

Winter hunting at its finest?
Winter hunting at its finest?

I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many chukar in one day as I saw yesterday.

I also have never seen so many chukar and took so few. Zero to be exact. Not for lack of trying: in 3 hours we hiked about 3-1/2 miles in the snow, climbed 2,000 feet, shot 12 times, all in the 35-40+ yard “wing-and-a-prayer” range. Yes, the birds were busting wild, but also – like Tucker’s Chukars’ Larry wrote recently – it was just really tough to get close to a pointing or creeping dog.

1231151242cAfter driving to burned-off spots in Hell’s Canyon for the past several weeks, places which have been hunted hard by many people (judging from shells and footprints, and the frustrating commonality of wild busts), I thought it would be a good idea to take the boat on Brownlee and find some promising ground where birds might not have been pressured so much. That made for a pretty chilly start, but after surveying several spots from the reservoir, we motored into a bay which looked like it would afford a good hunt for two people starting in opposite directions and working toward each other. After tying up the boat, though, I noticed bootprints in the snow, probably from the day before. I’ve never felt crowded or annoyed by the hunting pressure on Brownlee, or in Hell’s Canyon generally, and I’ve yet to run into another chukar hunter in the years I’ve been doing this. But it struck me as pretty ironic that my plan to find some untrammeled ground had obviously failed despite the extra effort of taking the boat (it was 10 degrees when we left), especially since I’d noticed no boat trailers at the main put-in the last three weeks. Sure, we could have relocated and found a spot that hadn’t been hunted, but it was very cold and windy and we wanted to get moving.

1231151252Which we did, and soon were into lots and lots of day-old bird tracks in the snow. I was amazed to find chukar tracks heading up deep snow drifts to the top of a snow-covered ridge, all of which led to a cluster of big sagebrush. A pair of bald eagles soared overhead against the slate sky. I dislodged a large herd of mule deer as I neared the peak, and then, hunkered even deeper into the bowl, an even bigger herd of elk. Oddly, the bird sign got fresher the farther up the ridge, maybe the result of the hunting pressure from the day before, or maybe just one of those mysteries for which this bird is famous. Or infamous, depending on your perspective.

1231151242aFinally, Angus kind of pointed. Snow seems to have a weird effect on his nose; maybe this is true for all pointing dogs. He’s either way, way extra cautious or completely clueless in it. I can’t draw any conclusions and have no theories. I’m sure there’s a good scientific explanation for his erratic work, but I don’t know it. Sometimes, though, it works out, and on this one I actually got into a decent position for the bust, which was uphill slightly, and – as was to be the case all day – came in at least three waves of birds, followed by one or two singles farther down the slope. I missed all three shots, none of which was high-percentage as the birds were tailing around the curvature by the time I drew a bead on them. Okay, not a bad start. Birds at least.

I chased the remnants of that first covey deeper into the snow toward the termination of the bowl, hoping to send them back down in the direction of my buddy hunting below me and back toward the water. It didn’t work. The birds just kept busting wild and going higher up and eventually out of the drainage altogether. So I turned around and headed toward the undulating, frozen but (treacherous) open south-facing slopes and began seeing lots of sign. In fact, I have never seen more chukar poop scattered over a large area than in this drainage. Most of it was a couple days old, but all was pretty recent. I’d only seen a small covey so far, but knew there had to be larger numbers somewhere.

1231151253They were lower down. I started getting into them about halfway down from the top. Angus was birdy all the time. His tail stump must be sore today from all the oscillating it did yesterday. But the birds were either in totally open ground so it was nearly impossible to sneak up to them, or wedged in spring crevices that amplified our traverse so that they busted before we even knew they were there. Still, every crack held birds, and I must have seen at least 250 chukar during the last hour of the hike. It’s nice to know there are so many birds this late in the year, and I hope they fare well over the winter and into the critical spring season. Think good weather thoughts if you have a moment.

With a month left in the season, it’s hard to imagine much more, or any, decent hunting given the weather we’ve had and will continue having. But I believe I’ll test it at every chance.

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8 Replies to “Partridge Plethora and Paucity”

    1. Hi Kent, I have not tried the Quilomene vests, but James Teasdale’s comment on my previous post (“What’s In Your Vest”) has some grand things to say about their new products.

  1. Bob. I sure do enjoy your posts. Your writing style is remarkable. All the descriptors you use bring back countless fond memories of countless chukar hunts I have participated in throughout hells Cyn!!

  2. Hi Bob
    It’s a relief that someone else is experiencing ‘my’ frustrations. I hunted the John Day river drainage the other day and pushed four coveys. Four shots, no birds. My two Britt’s found and pointed but I couldn’t get in to good shooting position before the bust. No doubt numbers are up a bit but cover is still sparse. Sparse cover means coveys will move/creep in stead of hunkering down when a dog is near. If my dogs see birds creep, my dogs will creep. Seeing and creeping on both sides leads to busting. We still need more cover (rain)…
    Ed

  3. Who are those losers that don’t pick up their empties???
    You aren’t alone; I had four shots yesterday while seeing 8 coveys; but, it was still fun as heck. Just part of the deal this time of year.

    1. Yeah, I’m sure I “forget” or can’t find some of my shells, but I try. I think most do. Heat of the moment? Anyway, my favorite thing is watching the dogs work and seeing birds, so I’m not complaining (although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get pissed when I miss easy shots…). It’s 18 below zero here this morning. Probably won’t be heading out today.

  4. Some things to consider. 1. If your shots are mostly long shots then perhaps you should consider shooting shells that are designed for longer distances. Move up to high base loads or even to faster moving steel loads (1550 fps). Moving to different shells will also lead to new problems to have to deal with. These would be too much for close jumping birds at 20 yards, but for me they are always fine for shooting ducks over decoys. Practice shooting with new loads before trying to hunt with them. Faster moving loads help to make up for longer leads required for distant breaking birds. 2. Think about the clothing you are were wearing. Were you wearing more than normal because it was so cold? Did you use different gloves or hat? Here is a short statement I wrote 2 years ago about what it takes to shoot well consistently. This is number 2 of 16 articles.

    CLOTHING 2 of 16
    The following is a paragraph from a story I wrote back in 2002 about hunting in very cold weather in Nebraska during the month of January. “Early morning temperatures were often well into the minus digits. It was never above freezing. Fortunately we were hunting from heated pit blinds. The heaters were not only nice for keeping me warm, but they also helped my shooting. I was free to swing and shoot without all the bulk of the heavy clothing I wore to the blind. I have found that thick padding on my shoulder changes the length of the trigger pull and sight picture over the barrel. Both of which create missed shots unless I pay special attention to the position of the gun before I shoot. If I hunted in thick clothing more often I would cut the stock down on one of my guns to compensate for the extra padding on my shoulder.”
    The thought behind this story is to encourage you to practice shooting in the same clothes you will be hunting in. Too many times I have watched even experienced hunters become extremely frustrated after missing what would be considered an easy shot. When the error is traced back it often focuses on the gun not being mounted properly on the shoulder because of too much clothing between the shoulder and the butt of the gun. The butt of the gun will often cling to the clothing while you try to place the gun on the shoulder. This leads to all kinds of problems. Practice shooting in the same clothing you be hunting in.

    Have you found a way to reduce the weight of your pack? If you were carrying extra stuff in your pack then that could have added one more problem to have to deal with.

    If you decide to shoot some fast moving steel then use something like 2’s or 1’s. Most upland bird hunters would say these are too large, but they work well for me. These will carry enough punch to knock down a bird at 40 yards. The holes are not so big that it will influence the eating of them. I find these pellets usually go right through even a duck at that distance.

    To miss twelve shoots indicates something is wrong. I don’t think you can just think of it as a bad day. Find the error and correct it for better results.

Chirp away