Random Acts of Chukar

Hell’s Canyon

It’s a small world, after all. Leslie and I spent last weekend downstream in Hell’s Canyon. I was excited by the idea there would be loads of chukar there since it’s similar terrain and elevation to the Main Salmon, where we did find loads of birds. Alas, we did not find loads of chukar there, but not for lack of trying. Still, we’re not in this for the bagged bird count, so it was a wonderful experience.

Steep canyon

One of the things that made the trip wonderful was the random encounter with two readers of this blog – a first for me. The first arrived with his camper and jet boat on our second night there, and his friend came later; I met him the next morning as he sported a blaze Chukar Culture hat! Even stranger, one of them had worked with my brother (also a fish biologist in a different state) for years. I weaseled my way into my first jet boat ride ever; I loved it, but Peat puked immediately and was glad when we landed and started hiking.

They hunted on the Oregon side, but dropped me in Idaho and picked me up after I humped it up the slope, vainly searching for birds on the steep, cactus-infested terrain. I finally encountered my first chukar, Peat-pointed, near the bottom of a brushy creek bed, and managed only my second triple ever. Hard-earned birds. I was really touched by the generosity of these two guys in altering their plans to let me come along.

Cactus cactus everywhere

One of the negatives about this terrain was the cactus. It was everywhere, and often mostly covered by cheat grass, which made it hard to avoid. Angus and Peat seemed to have figured out how to dodge most of it, but each still has many tiny spines all over their legs. It makes me wonder how Arizona quail hunters deal with this; you can boot your dog, but spines still stick in their legs. Another negative was the rattlesnakes. We only saw two, but one’s more than enough, especially when it’s in the middle of a huge grassy flat your dogs are bounding through. Peat stopped and looked very birdy, and then suddenly recoiled (better than attacking it). I had to walk right up to the snake even to identify it, that’s how camouflaged it was. I would’ve taken its picture, but the thing freaked me out. I don’t like snakes, and feel grateful neither dog got struck.

Public Land Owner

So far it’s been an excellent bird season, thanks in part to the proliferation of grouse and the proximity of chukar to grouse habitat. I don’t recall ever seeing as many dusky or blue grouse as I’ve seen this year. Mostly, though, this season has begun with lots of new things that have changed things up for me and my appreciation of chukar hunting: my wife hunting for the first time; shooting a lot more at clays and figuring out how to mount the gun properly (it really does make a difference!); trying new spots farther afield than we’re used to. I showed the video below to some students today, and one of them who’s hunted with me and watched lots of our videos asked, “Are you taking more video yourself these days?” In thinking about his question, I realized that having Leslie hunt with me has made me relax a little more about pressing for birds. When she carried only a camera, chukar hunting was mainly about getting birds on point, hustling to pointing dogs, getting in position, damn the torpedoes! Now I want her to experience success and get her first chukar, so when the dogs go on point I pull out my iPhone and take video of her getting into position. That excites me now as much as doing it myself. I like the result. I like more calmly enjoying my favorite activity (plus, if I get into position myself and don’t hit any birds I’m likely to get angry, which makes the experience much less enjoyable for my wife and dogs).

So I guess what I’m really enjoying about this season, compared to past ones which have featured higher bird counts, is learning new ways to appreciate chukar hunting. A friend who doesn’t hunt, and doesn’t really approve of it, asked me recently when I’ll have had enough of the killing and begin carrying only a camera. It’s not a question I haven’t asked myself many times before, but the answer always eluded me. I don’t feel I’m making a transition from gun to camera just yet but wouldn’t rule it out, although it’s hard to imagine doing the physical work required by chukar hunting “just” to take photos of dogs pointing birds. But I am spending more time capturing images than I have in the past, thanks to Leslie joining the armed practitioners. So here’s a record of the first month of the season, for what it’s worth. Enjoy!

15 Replies to “Random Acts of Chukar”

  1. It certainly is “hard to imagine doing the physical work required by chukar hunting “just” to take photos of dogs pointing birds”.
    Reminds me of a January trip to Hells Canyon many years ago with a friend who hadn’t hunted much. Cold, snow on the ridgetops, but a brilliant blue sky in contrast to the usual WIllamette Valley gray soup we were used to. As we sat eating lunch he spoke of the beautiful scenery and proclaimed that it was so lovely that we should come out just for the hiking and the vistas. But then he reconsidered, saying “Hell, if it wasn’t for the chance to kill something we would never be out here. That is why no one else is here”.

    1. Yes. It’s hard to admit that’s the reason: the chance to kill something is the pull, which seems messed up on the surface. To some it’s just plain messed up. But I wonder if it’s the life-or-death-ness of hunting, that kind of seriousness, that outweighs utilitarian reasons such as meat-gathering as the main motivator (especially for bird hunting: we drove 8 hours round trip at 10 mpg, hiked our asses off for three days, subjected our dogs to cactus and rattlesnakes, and came home with less than a pound of meat). Most of us rarely face those lethal scenarios in daily life, so nothing’s as intense? Lots of smarter, better writers have spilled many words trying to figure this out, and it might be one of those unfigurable things. But I do like doing it, and I like thinking about why.

  2. Haha – I cracked a Recoil from Payette just before hitting “play” on the screen. Good Stuff.
    Hats off to Leslie. Public Land Owner, indeed!

  3. It is kind of messed up, but it is what it is. It’s too bad something has to suffer but for me it would be like playing a football game and changing sides as soon as a team gets close to the end zone. How much gratitude would I get if I quit scoring golf once I hit the green? If I played the bagpipes how much fun would it be if you only could hear how hard I was blowing? How much gratitude would one get if after he raised his child to 18 he never got to see them again to know of their success. I could go on and on but my point is I need to complete the process and that includes shooting the bird and having my dog retrieve it. I take lot’s of pictures and take a lot of pride in that but it’s still the point, shoot and retrieve that consumes me. I also love my spring jaunts into chukar country but I never get as excited as I do the morning of a chukar hunt.

    I guess when it comes to chukar hunting I never grew up. Each time I go up the hill I want to complete the process with my dog. Like most I wouldn’t hunt birds if it weren’t for the dog. Sometimes we just have to let go and accept hunting as it is and just get wrapped up in how good you feel when you are on the mountain doing your thing with your dog.

  4. Chukar hunting is something I have been doing every fall and winter of my life since I was a wee lad barely able to keep up with my Dad and his Setters. I hunt birds down in the Great Basin, it is a annual right of passage, for four months out of the year. It is great to find a group of like-minded people, who enjoy wild places, beautiful and rigorous mountains and sharing that experience with dogs and friends a a like. Red legger until the day I die. Our season opens Saturday in Nevada, I hope to share more comments as the season moves forward. Thanks Bob for sharing your adventures.

  5. Great video and it looks like Leslie got a proper intro to trying to take one of these bandit birds over point. Her muzzle control was impressive as she went down!! Thanks again for a cool place to hang out and I will be sporting some of your gear in NV on a month long journey in a couple weeks.

  6. Leslie will be hard pressed to get a Bird without a gun that fits her LOP is to long and as winter comes on with more clothes it will get worse guns are mfg for the average size Man whatever that is. 14 3/8 or 14 1/2 in. LOP I have to cut my guns to 13 7/8 in. to fit me my daughter’s guns are 13 in. but she looks to be smaller than Leslie. LOP is commonly measured from your knuckle of your thumb with the gun mounted to the end of your nose 1 to 1.5 inches. Gun fit can be a shooters worst enemy. Or is it lack of practice? Knowledge with out practice in this sport can make things worse.

    1. Thanks for your comment, James. Leslie actually out-shoots me when we practice, which is surprising since until this August she’d never fired a gun of any kind. She’s 5′-10″ and, although her Benelli 20g might be a little long for her (LOP is 14-3/8), it’s not way off the mark according to the instructor we worked with recently (see my post on that). Most new chukar hunters, like Leslie, are hard-pressed to get a bird for many reasons; gun fit might be one of them, but so is understanding positioning in relation to the dog and probable location of the birds, managing footing with infinite variations, mounting the gun properly, picking out a single bird, and triggering the shot at the right time, not to mention dealing with the adrenaline rush of a good point and making sure you don’t shoot the dog on the flush. The Kid (I’ve written about him many times), who is a crack shot on the range (with a gun that fits him properly), didn’t get his first chukar until his 4th season hunting with me. When we’ve saved up enough money for another lesson/gun fit (probably next summer), we’ll go through that process together; my gun – according to the instructor (who’s a certified fitter) might be a little short… For now, with Leslie, we’re focusing on her gaining the experience and confidence to do in the field what she’s doing well on the range, and it will take time. But she’s really enjoying it. But I appreciate you bringing this to my attention.

  7. Thanks Bob you have excellent points and quite true I am just trying to be helpful. I want to see that first Bird have fun and good good Luck.

  8. Thanks for your great blog and stories from your hunts. I shattered my knee this year on the 2nd of September and cant walk on it until December and am told it will take a while to build the strength back up in my leg, so most likely I will miss all of the chukar season this year. I have been living this years hunting season through your blog and your past videos and since I live in Fruitland a lot of the country that I hunt looks the same. Hopefully you can keep finding the birds and enjoying the dogs work and again thanks for the stories.

    1. That’s such a bummer, Dustin! After what I did to my ankle 6 years ago, I’m constantly worried something like what you suffered will happen to me. I live for chukar season and if it got taken from me I’d be devastated. Thanks for sharing; it’ll stay in my mind and maybe encourage me to post more on the blog. Heal fast!

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