Anticipation

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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.

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Tangible gift
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Perfect harmony

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.

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The old warrior, Angus
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Heading up to the clouds
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Downhill traverse
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Mouth to hand
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Rushing to the point
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Fruits of labor

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.

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Sunny south facing slope reflection

 

 

 

 

 

 

11 Replies to “Anticipation”

  1. You’ve touched a raw nerve with the concern about Angus. My Brittany PePe is closer to 14 than 13 and last year was the first year I worried about losing him because of his pending deafness. His eyes too are clouding. I’m in my 71st year and on the hunt he can no longer hear me and I can no longer hear him because my hearing is fading too. That has been the main way we have kept track of each other. Fortunately he starts barking loudly when he can’t find me and that has been sufficient so far.

    We didn’t hunt chukar in Central Washington last year so 2016 was probably the last hunt of that kind for both of us. PePe has had just short of a thousand birds shot over him, nine species, five states from mid-west prairie to mountains and that is possibly as good as it can get for a bird dog. It certainly is as good as it could have been for me.

    I used to imagine my ideal demise as falling off a mountain while sheep hunting but with age and not being mountain worthy any longer I have had to revise that to a major heart attack while riding too hard on a fat bike. A fitting end for PePe would be something of a sudden on a hunt.
    Dennis

    1. Dennis, That’s a lot of shots over PePe. We’ve often wondered if Angus’s hearing loss is due to shooting over the top of him? Looking back at things, we probably wouldn’t of done anything differently. Nine species and five states, PePe has lived a bird dogs dream.

      We don’t wear ear plugs while hunting did you? I’ve often wondered about hearing damage? Bob has some slight hearing loss in his ears.

      I think all of us would love to die while doing something we loved as they say. Last fall, Bob and his brother were driving down a dirt road out in BLM land to go chukar hunting and were flagged down by a guy that had lost his old bird dog while out hunting and was driving around looking for it. They took his name and phone number but never saw the dog. I don’t know if he ever found his dog. The not knowing what happened to your dog is my fear. I wouldn’t mind if Angus fell over dead on a hunt in front of me, doing what he loved, but at least I could bring him home.

      Thank you for the comments on our blog. I hope you and PePe get out some this season to look for birds.

      Leslie

  2. Leslie,
    PePe and I guided ptarmigan hunters on the Alaska Peninsula for five years and that is where 646 of his birds came from. 2011 was the last year there and his hearing loss wasn’t noticeable until the last two years. That was a lot of shooting he was exposed to on the Peninsula and it must have contributed significantly but, as mine also, heredity must be part of it.

    My hearing loss is from exposure over a number of years to jet engine noise, gunshots, chain saws and other tools and I have been wearing hearing protectors for all of these activities for some time except bird hunting. Our shotguns are prewar Continental guns and most have short chambers so we hunt exclusively with low pressure 2 1/2″ loads, mostly RST. They are a gentle load to shoot and because the noise level is low I’ve never felt the need to use hearing protectors when shooting them. With muzzle velocities in the range of 1150 fps, 1 ounce loads are quite effective. A friend and I took 18 pheasant in North Dakota in 2009 over PePe with these loads and only lost one bird in heavy cattails. Your guns may not cycle these shells but my son and I never felt handicapped in Central Washington on our chukar and quail hunts.

    Yes, the fear of getting separated and never knowing what happened makes me cringe.

    Get Bob a prewar Merkel 16 gauge (6 lb 2oz gun and it came out of the shop with sling loops installed) and a case of RST shells for Christmas and you’ll never wonder again whether his shooting is contributing to hearing loss.

    Dennis

    1. Thank you for the education on shotguns. I’m still learning about them. I had to google the Merkel and did find a used one. If I want to get that for Bob for Christmas, I’ll have to come out of retirement and get a part-time job. Lovely gun but expensive. He still fancies his Benelli Ultralight but has been eyeing my Benelli Montefeltro because it can hold 5 shells. I’m not ready to give it up since I’m kinda fond of it too.

      Leslie

      1. Leslie, Does Bob know you are a better wrkter than him? Nice job. I have really missed the blog and videos.

      2. David, thank you, you’re too kind.

        Last year, it was hard getting footage since we’re both out there hunting apart most of the time. One time we had one of Bob’s students come along to carry the video camera. Tons of action but virtually everything on film was unusable when we got home and looked at it. Bob decided he’d carry the camera the next time and not hunt, the same thing, unusable footage. I’ll probably opt to not hunt a few times and try and get some video again. We’ll see, it’s aways a total crapshoot being in the right place at the right time when the covey busts.

        Chukar season is Bob’s most busy time of the year with teaching, coaching cross-country, and a bunch of other hobbies. I’ll encourage him to write more, I miss and enjoy reading his blog posts too.

        Leslie

  3. Incredible post. Loved the pictures and the read. We’ve been enjoying hunting grouse for the last week here in Utah and it’s amazing to see how happy a dog can get when he realizes it’s bird season again. I hope you two (or four) have an excellent season!

    1. Thank you so much for reading the blog post and commenting.

      Yes, the dogs know something is up when you get out the upland packs for the first time of the season and they can smell scents from last season still lingering, It’s hard to contain their excitement. Pretty smart animals, they also know exactly what’s going on while you’re driving down the road to your hunting spot. Enjoy your grouse season and chukar season as well. Good luck.
      Leslie

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