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.
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.
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.
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!