No Country For Old Men or Women

Salmon River Breaks

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.

Castles

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).

Going down

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.

Crossing over
Going up

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.

Leslie reflecting on Recoil

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.

Listening to and watching lots of chukar

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.

The river was a great place to relax after the hike.

6 Replies to “No Country For Old Men or Women”

  1. Great job guys. 2800 ft. is a huge hike. That country is unforgiving and when you finally do get to the birds there is no easy shot. I use to want to be more like Bob, now I want to be more like Leslie. Is it politically correct to say “what a stallion”?

  2. Oh, come on, Larry! You’re the poster child for elevation gain in my book! I doubt either one of us could keep up with you! And I think Leslie would have no problem being referred to as a stallion, although I shouldn’t speak for her. I call her a stud all the time, which is what she is. I’m lucky.

  3. Bob, that has to be some of the toughest chukar country in the USA. I hunt around Whitebird where crampons are not needed. Glad to here birds had success surviving the winter and dry summer.

    1. It was a good way to start the season. After idealizing chukar hunting for 8 or 9 months, it was a good reminder that it ain’t a walk in the park. I did go to a spot today that last year had more birds than I’ve ever seen anywhere; one covey of Huns (no chukar) in 5 miles.

  4. I have been in that exact spot on the salmon, climbed from the bottom to the logging roads up top in the timber above the canyons and back down. All for a deer. I did see a few chukar on my climb 2 years ago and grouse in the timber, but it sounds like they had good hatches. That area will make a chukar hunter weak in the quads. I’m impressed. So far closer to home luck has been on my side, we are seeing decent populations top to bottom.

Chirp away