I almost didn’t go hunting on the last day of the season. I woke up tired.
The day before, I’d gone out with the dogs for my fifth hunt in seven days. Overwhelmed by the dread of the looming last day and already missing it, I wanted to take advantage of the unusually pleasant weather we’d been having in this part of Idaho, plus a schedule — or shall I say a lack of schedule — that allows me to hunt in the middle of the week. When I took early retirement from my employer last year, someone told me “The worst thing about being retired is that you never have a day off.” It’s true.
My second to the last hunt of the season was also my 52nd hunt. I know this, because back in September on opening day, as I’d done the previous season, I started keeping track with data off my GPS watch, if I could remember to turn it on. I like to know where I hunted, my distance hiked, how long the hunt was, and elevation gained. When I got back home I’d write it all down with a ball point pen in my hunting journal which is hand lined with a ruler on a paper notebook. Nothing fancy, just the old fashioned way. Bob, who I’ve dubbed the king of gadgets and who one of the UPS guys a couple of years ago called the king of Amazon Prime because of an almost daily delivery of books or some type of high tech gadget, keeps meticulous detailed records of all his hunts on an Excel spread sheet. Besides all the stuff that I like to keep track of he, likes to record how many shots fired, how many killed and bagged, lost birds, shooting percentage, how far each dog ran, averages and totals for each category, and a barrage of other miscellaneous notes.
After losing all the elevation in the truck driving deep down into the canyon and finding the place I wanted to hunt the second to the last day of the season, a place unoccupied and not near anyone else, I parked and left on foot with the dogs heading back up uphill for about an hour to the middle of a ridge. Angus and then Peat bolted in a direction that I didn’t want to go but I followed anyway. A couple of minutes later, my Garmin beeped that Angus was on point 127 yards away. Whenever Angus points, it’s almost always legit. Peat, on the other hand, has a collar that’s so ultra sensitive to him stopping for just a second to pee or to smell something that I’ve found myself often ignoring it when it signals me that he’s on point. I picked up the pace through the deep snow drifts that were tucked between forests of sagebrush, and zigzagged my way down to Angus. Once I found him, Peat soon arrived to back him up. I slowly and quietly inched my way in front of Angus, and the birds busted. One shot, and one chukar went down as we also watched the rest of the covey fly downhill changing direction and then disappearing behind a ridge near us instead of flying across valley and to the opposite ridge.
It took a few minutes for Peat to find the downed bird and we had no plans to give up on it because the day before I’d winged one that flew down hill into a some bunch grass and rocks and the dogs couldn’t find after 30 minutes of searching. While Peat was retrieving the bird, Angus continued to hunt. It was almost like they had an agreement between them that one would stay looking for the one that I shot and retrieve it while the other continued on searching for the scattered covey.
We continued in the direction of where the covey flew, traversing the rocky and muddy sagebrush and medusahead-covered slope. Angus below me with Peat working above me, my Alpha beeped that both dogs were pointing at the same time, on a different covey and not the ones that had just busted. Stopping to stare down at the screen to figure out which dog was closer, Peat flew past me heading towards Angus with a fairly fresh 3-foot-long mule deer leg in his mouth. This was no surprise because one of his many affectionate nicknames I’ve given him over his life time besides “Little F*#ker,” “Little Dummy,” “Crazy Eyes,” “Precious,” or “Sweet Pea,” is the “Garbage Man.” He has this uncanny knack of finding the stinkiest, nastiest, usually dead thing, and either rolling in it or running around with it in his mouth, unwilling to give it up for anything. Our current UPS delivery person last spring, a guy named Sail, was walking up to our house doing a delivery to support bibliophile Bob’s habit that I yelled at the top of my lungs to “STAY CLEAR” while I was hosing off and scrubbing Peat with a skunk concoction remedy for the fourth time after he rolled on a dead skunk near our house.
The big question of the day was whether Peat would drop the deer leg when he got up to Angus. As I fought my way through the sagebrush, I pulled out my phone and was actually hoping to capture what might possibly be the first photograph of a dog pointing with a deer leg in his mouth. To my disappointment, when I got up to both dogs, Peat backing up Angus again, Peat didn’t have the leg in his mouth anymore. He had actually dropped it.
The spooky birds busted below Angus flying downhill before I could get into position in front or to the side of Angus to shoot. This has been the theme for most of January where it’s hard to get near chukar before they bust wild. The dogs and I continued into the direction of both scattered coveys before my Garmin again beeped both dogs on point. Again, both dogs were located in different directions. Peat was closer but I could see him above me pointing downhill below a rocky outcropping so I headed uphill. One single busted from the rocks, and I shot once as the quick flying bird disappeared behind the rocks so fast that I didn’t know if I’d hit it or not. My Garmin beeped again, Angus was still pointing 180 yards below. “You have to always honor the point” was something Bob stressed to me last year, so I headed downhill towards Angus. Wondering where Peat was, I stopped and looked behind me uphill just as I saw him running downhill with a chukar in his mouth. I was so thrilled and surprised at the same time that I’d actually hit that one. Angus who held the bird or birds as long as he could before they probably eventually busted returned to check up on me wondering why I didn’t go down to his point.
The following day, the 31st, closing day, we went one final time. My goal was to head uphill and find a place with views of the surrounding valley. I wasn’t worried whether we’d find more chukar, I just wanted to take it all in. The plants, trees, rocks, and other kinds of birds and animals define my place in this ecosystem.
We headed up a narrow and snowy two-track in a deep valley lined with trees and bushes. Peat in his usual fashion found an animal bone and wouldn’t give it up. I forced it out of his mouth and flung it as far away as possible. I continued on looking at the ground at elk and deer tracks plus Peat and Angus’s tracks in the patches of snow. A paw print that I didn’t recognize at first caught my eye. It was a big cougar track, fairly fresh probably from that morning and heading the same direction. Peat’s body language and routine changed. Instead of running up the trail out of sight a ways and coming back like he normally does he was sticking close to me, running a few feet ahead, stopping and smelling the ground, and continuing on another few feet before repeating smelling the ground again. I watched Angus down by the creek; he wasn’t acting differently, but he’s older and wiser and not the big chicken of the two dogs.
Still, the cat track and Peat’s behavior was a bit unnerving. We continued up the road and I kept Angus closer to me and instead of carrying my gun on my shoulder, I kept my gun in the ready position and carefully listened and looked behind frequently. I could never willfully or ethically kill an animal like a wolf, coyote, or this cougar that I wasn’t planning on using for food but I actually thought about having to kill something to protect myself or the dogs, and this was the first time I felt the dogs or myself might be the prey.
Roles reversed. I now know how the chukar must feel.
20 Replies to “Final Two Days”
Thanks for sharing, Leslie! Congratulations on the two-bagger!
Thank you Mark for reading my post. One of these days, I need to get two birds from the same covey. Over the summer, I’ll need to spend more time working on my shooting.
Congratulations Leslie such a talented person, and exceptional chukar huntress.
Gabe, If it wasn’t for those very talented Sunburst dogs finding the birds, I wouldn’t have anything to shoot. Thank you so much! We look forward to our next one from you one of these days…Leslie
Congratulations on a great season Leslie. 53 chukar trips is a very good year. I’ve always kept track of all those stats that Bob did. It’s been fun looking back at them and seeing how similar chukar hunting still is compared to thirty years ago. Of the last 20 seasons I have seen at least one cougar on 18 of them. Chukar country is definitely their back yard. Thank you and Bob for many great stories.
Larry. I was aspiring to hunt my age, 56 but 53 hunts will do. I now have a new goal for next season. Two of those hunts I didn’t carry a gun but counted them anyway. Living near the chukar hills gave me the chance to hunt often, shorter hunts that averaged about 2-4 hours long. I wanted to hunt with Angus and so we limited the time out there.
I’ve never seen a cougar in the wild but would love to see one at a distance one of these days. Thanks for comment, Leslie
Thanks for your comments, I enjoyed so much. I’m already planning my hunting in October.
Hope Nob is doing well.
What do you both wear in the way of GPS’s, Watches?
Kent, Thanks for reading our blog. October will be here before you know it! Bob is doing great, we’re very pleased with the results of the surgery so far.
As far as GPS watches go..I use a Garmin Forerunner 35 and upload the data to Garmin Express on my laptop at home. Bob uses the Garmin Vivoactive HR model and Garmin Express too. We’ve both had good luck with both watches. Cheers, Leslie
Another good one Leslie Great season. I hope we have an open winter for the birds. Had to bathe both dogs after their romp in the muddy dog park. 77 degrees here today.
You missed a pretty mild winter. I’ve only had to snow blow twice since Bob’s surgery. It was tough pushing that blower around until I realized it had a flat tire on one of the wheels. Neal saved us.
It started raining this weekend and turning into a muddy mess too. We got up to 40 degrees and it felt like a heat wave, I can’t imagine 70. Take it easy, I hope Hannah and Suzie are doing well.
Congrats on a great season. The dogs don’t know how lucky they are!
Thanks Jay. The dogs are living a bird dogs dream but I’m the lucky one! They both bring me lots of joy.
I hope you had a great season too!
Thanks to both of you for taking the time to make these posts. I particularly enjoy the photos because they frequently show the same hillsides where I’ve pursued chukars for the last 27 years.
Leslie, your success with chukars would improve if you were shooting more shells at wild birds. A day of quail hunting once in a while could provide more shots than a half dozen chukar hunts. Repetition, repetition, repetition …. on mounting the Benelli at the flush and swinging on the bird even if its on flat ground with stable footing.
Any seasoned Hells Canyon hunter like you would know those spots. Especially later in the season when it’s harder to get to the more remote areas. I’ve always had mixed feeling about posting photos of where we hunt because our spots might be given away. As you know, there’s tons of different options down there and some are harder to get to than others. The birds move around constantly during the season..it’s a crapshoot anyway. We’ve been skunked on our go to place many of times.
I actually had a revelation on my second to last hunt. I didn’t write about it because my post was getting too long. Bob always said I held my left hand too close in on the forearm but it was natural for me to do this. The result was that I struggled with a slow mount. That day, I consciously forced myself to move my hand further out and it really helped on getting the gun mounted faster. Maybe it helped me hit those last two birds or not? Your suggestion of quail hunting next fall is a great idea. We’ve got enough of them around here.
Looking forward to Sept already, hope to see you again in the autumn.
Last fall when we hunted together, you might have noticed the duct tape on the forearm of my Benelli. That was not repair from a chukar hunt accident. Its there to keep my left hand extended and get the mount hopefully in correct position. I can feel the duct tape bulge even with gloves on. Years ago, I missed 28 straight shots at ruffed grouse before discovering my left hand was too close to the receiver and I wasn’t getting the gun up to my cheek as it should be. I predict more chukars for Peat to retrieve with your minor adjustment to the left hand.
Pretty exciting hunt! I was worried about the potential cat. Glad you came out without further excitement.
nicely written and beautiful photos.. have a great weekend!
Thank you Haris. We appreciate your comments.
Cheers, Leslie and Bob
Just want to thank you for maintaining your blog and the wonderful stories and pictures. Beautiful dogs and country. I make it out to Idaho/Nevada from Iowa, every couple of years. Being a flatlander, an old flatlander, I have to alternate every other day with valley quail or I wouldn’t make it up a chukar slope two days in a row.
I have some catching up to do in your archives that will hold me over till your new fall posts. I hope your rains are plenty and summer not too hot.
Thank you so much! Bob and I both appreciate you reading our blog. Good luck with your season this fall and your next trip out this way. Leslie