We anticipate a lot things.
The big yellow school bus recently started up its route again driving back and forth on our gravel road twice a day, spewing a cloud of dust behind it. We knew that would happen, just as we knew Bob would be returning to the classroom to teach literature and poetry to rural Idaho High School kids. Days around here are noticeably getting shorter, the air is getting cooler at night, and chukar season starts in a few short days. September 15th to be exact. I always think I’ll have plenty of time to get my body ready, the dogs ready, and to practice shooting, but before you know it it’s time. This approaching season will be my 12th year of chukar hunting. The first ten of those I wasn’t actually carrying a shotgun but instead following Bob and the dogs up and down the mountains and rock outcroppings with my camera in hand, documenting chukar hunting.
My anticipation for the upcoming season always brings excitement and a tangle of emotions. Thinking about being in the thick of things again to witness first hand and intimately the magic of the dogs working up and down the terrain instinctively and methodically and in perfect harmony thrills me. With that it brings the hope that I’ll anticipate the moment right before the birds bust after a long steady point and be ready for it. I also look forward to the elation often followed by sorrow when my dogs carry in their soft mouths a downed chukar or Hungarian partridge directly to my hand. I have deep respect for these birds that live in these brutally dry western desert environments, and I don’t think of killing one as revenge for the hard work and determination it took me to put myself into the position to possess one. Often, I have to remind myself that these non-native game birds were originally introduced for the sole purpose of being hunted. It doesn’t always convince me to feel better about killing one, but I owe it to the dogs every once in a while to allow them the pleasure and reward of retrieving a bird they worked so hard to find for me. I want to think they understand the praise that soon follows.
We know our two Brittanys aren’t perfect text book bird dogs and we also aren’t the best trainers. They’ve adapted to our style of hunting and we rely on their pure natural instinct, prey drive, and good breeding to guide them and pray for the cohesion of dog work and gun handling to happen at just the right time. It’s a beautiful thing to see elegant and well-seasoned Angus being backed by young and quick-footed Peat.
I’m probably an anomaly in the world of chukar hunting: female for starters, and I’m 55 years old and I didn’t handle a firearm for the first time until last year. I have no doubt this tough and mean country with its steep talus slopes will remind me again that I’m another year older. I’m prepared to have to dig deep and push my body to some uncomfortable extremes. I’m up for the challenge. I love the challenge and I’m not afraid to go out alone by myself again which I did a few times last season.
The past couple of years, besides thinking about my age creeping up, I’ve dreaded that quite possibly it might be 11-year-old Angus’s last season, not because he can’t physically do it; we know he can. This past couple of weeks while out grouse hunting he’s been covering more ground and ranging farther than Peat, but he’s slowly going deaf and his eyes are starting to look cloudy gray. I worry that one of these days we might lose him on the mountain. The GPS tracker collar that I was dead set against purchasing and using in the first place because I dislike fussing with too many things has now become a reassurance to find a confused and wandering lost dog.
Lastly, anticipation for the upcoming season also becomes a moment of reflection from past seasons. It’s those great memories that make us hungry for more. The culture of chukar hunting for us is about the beauty of the unhindered landscapes, the hard ascents up into the clouds, the smells of damp sage, the cold harsh mountain winds that remind us we’re alive, the sound of a covey busting, and for that intimate connection and trust we have with our dogs.