Like many of you, I spent much of the summer trying to get in shape for chukar season. I ran about 10 to 15 miles a week, rode my bike, hiked, and — for the first time in a long time — did a little strength training. To be honest, I’ve been a little nervous about it all since — because of the low bird count around here — I’m expecting to do a lot more hiking and a lot less finding. So, on opening weekend we hunted, for our first time, along the Salmon River because we’d heard there were a lot of chukar down there; I wanted to maximize the chance Leslie would bag a chukar on her initial outing as a hunter.
The bird report, from what we saw, was right. We saw plenty of chukar on both days. That report, though, didn’t help me visualize the experience of hunting there. It is steep and rough, nothing to be trifled with. My physical fitness, which I felt was good going in, was not a comfortable match with the terrain. And Leslie — because we “strategically” split up for a while on the first day — ended up hiking farther than I and ascended about 2800 feet, 400 more than my toughest climbing day since I’ve been tracking my chukar hunts. Much of that ascending, for each of us, came in the shape of climbing boulder piles on ridge spines, which was easier than scaling vertical walls to get out of the numerous steep crevices and ravines we ran into all day. I did actually climb a couple walls (the shotgun sling made this possible, if not smart).
Climbing wasn’t the only challenge. After gaining all that elevation, we had to get down, and by then our legs were jellifying, and the old quads (the ones God gave us) began feeling pretty shaky over the loose steep dry rocky terrain.
This all almost sounds like a complaint. It’s not. It was awesome because it was new ground, and the birds were everywhere. The big rocks, though, and our dogs’ dry noses seriously curtailed the number of pointed coveys. I never actually got a shot over a pointed bird on the first day, but it seemed as though I shot all day long at wild-busting birds, or birds that Leslie bumped above me, or vice versa.
And Leslie’s maiden voyage as a hunter was impressive, even though she didn’t bag a bird. She got the first shot of the day off a pointed single chukar that Angus held for a long time, allowing Leslie to get into position and experience the unpredictability of a “sure thing” point. She also learned, the hard way, that footing when shooting pointed chukar is important: when the bird flew, it wasn’t exactly where she thought it was, so she had to move her feet before shooting, and in the process lost her balance (assisted by recoil) and ended up on her ass. I have it on video, but she’s asked me to refrain from showing it to anybody. Maybe later…
The second day just Peat and I hit the hills a bit downstream, which were just as steep but more open than the rocky castles we’d endured on Saturday. Peat pointed many coveys. I shot miserably, though, which greatly irritated me until I remembered I was chukar hunting.
And when we were done, we were loaded with way more memories and lactic acid than dead birds. The fact that we did what we did, to us anyway, confirms we’re not old despite what we might think a lot of the time. Because that is no country for old men, or women.
The question then becomes, since Hells Canyon is easier hiking than the Salmon River “hills,” would we rather hunt closer and find way fewer birds or drive all the way down there and find lots more birds but under much more strenuous conditions? We’ll most likely return to the River of No Return.