Been a while. I’ve been out there, with mixed results. Birds somehow await cleaning in my fridge, but it seems the burgeoning populations promised by early outings have eluded me of late. Last weekend, for example, I hiked for six hours without seeing one bird in areas I’ve often previously found chukar. Of the eight or nine birds aging in the fridge, one is a chukar. The rest are grouse, quail, and Huns. Not complaining, just confused. But, as I tell my students, if you’re not confused you’re dead. So it’s okay. I’d much rather be confused.
A favorite cousin and his partner visited us from California recently, and they wanted to see what chukar hunting was like, although just as hikers (they don’t hunt). So we went to an inviting area in Hells Canyon and set out on a game trail. Within minutes, in a brushy draw, the dogs were moving ruffed grouse. Unfortunately, on the way from the trail to the bottom of the draw, Melanie slipped on a mossy rock and fell and broke her wrist. She thought it was a bad sprain, so kept hiking (what a trooper!), keeping the wrist elevated the whole five miles or so, as well as for the next couple days of their visit. I felt responsible, and terrible, for not realizing that I take a lot of things for granted about chukar hunting, probably the most basic of which is that the footing is often precarious. Melanie has twice summited Mt. Whitney so I knew her strength and endurance wouldn’t be a problem, but failed to remember and take into account the difference between trail hiking and mossy scree scrambling. It’s a lesson I will remember .
Speaking of injuries, Angus is down and out for a couple of weeks with one. We run with the dogs on the Weiser River Trail several times a week. The 84-mile gravel trail between Weiser and New Meadows runs along the old P&IN Railroad line, and is a fantastic place to get away from traffic with your dogs. Quail, grouse, Huns, chukar, and turkeys, along with deer, elk, bear, foxes, coyotes, and many other species of wildlife abound on this corridor. So does barbed wire. Angus, like all chukar dogs, has passed under and through countless strands of barbed wire in his career with nothing but a few nicks on his back. But last weekend (these things always happen on weekends, when the vet doesn’t hold regular hours), Angus met his match and somehow tore through skin and muscle on his right shoulder, requiring some reconstructive surgery and 20 stitches. Bad luck for the poor boy.
Angus’s injury has given me a chance to spend some time in the field alone with Peat, which has been good, both for me and for Peat. The last hunt we had with both dogs began kind of hilariously (I said “kind of” for a reason): walking down a ridge in a pretty stiff wind, both dogs quartering about 50 yards in front of us, a small covey of Huns went up between Peat and Angus, startling the dogs. Then another covey of about 15 birds went up behind the dogs, and then another couple smaller coveys to either side of the confused Brits. All told, probably 50 or 75 birds went up before I could get within range. Those were the only birds we saw in nearly 6 miles of hiking. On the way back through that same area, mixed among cows, some of the same Huns went up and I managed to get one, on a nice point by Peat.
The next hunt with just Peat was less comical, with no birds of any kind sighted for the first 2.5 hours. But then, on a low slope in a heavy wind, Peat pointed about 150 yards below me. Because of the scree it took me a while to get down to him, and he was rock solid the whole time. I flushed the birds – a covey of about 15 chukar – but missed. A half-hour later, Peat pointed hard in a thick sea of sage brush, and an enormous covey went up, and I managed to kill one, although Peat could not find it despite running past it on the ground several times. I was grateful I found it (took a while). That’s another thing I’m sort of confused about: when I manage a clean kill both dogs seem to have a really tough time locating the dead bird. Any thoughts out there? A biology teacher friend of mine said it’s because the bird is no longer respirating, which makes sense. I wonder if others can back this up.
I’ll have a short video soon. Meanwhile, here are some random galliformity photos. Enjoy.