It’s on. Unusually cool weather for the opening weekend of chukar season made things more comfortable than normal, if “comfortable” is even legal to use in describing anything related to chukar hunting.
We took the boat out on one of the many nearby reservoirs and found a spot that beckoned. I didn’t open with a triple on the first point as I did last year, but my shooting was better than normal; I’m not sure if it was superior focus, the bottled eagerness from having to wait 8 months to do this again, better positioning on the point (more on that below), unskilled elusive maneuvers by the young and unhunted birds, the new load I’m trying (more on that, below as well), or some of all of that. Or it could just be inexplicable. That would be fine. I like mystery.
Leslie also made a nifty shot on a grouse-sized chukar, off of a swell point by Peat, the latter of whom chose to bypass Leslie and run over a ridge with the bird to bring it to me. I’m pleased he remembered our little chat about how I’d love it if he could help pad my stats this season: birds in the bag divided by shots fired = shooting percentage. Good boy!
Sunday we decided to try somewhere away from the water, and it held birds, too. I ended up with my first three-species bag of chukar, Hun, and quail. The wet spring and not-so-hot summer seemed to have been as easy on the birds as we’d hoped, and I was very pleased with the numbers of birds we saw in both places.
This is not a complaint, because to do so would be stupid, but the percentage of first-year birds in my bag was very big and the birds were very small. Idaho did move the opener a week later this year (sort of), but in my humble opinion, even another two weeks would allow the birds to mature. I think Oregon’s season makes more sense than Idaho’s. But you don’t see me protesting by sitting out the first couple of weeks of our season. Not sure what to do with that.
Most of you probably already do this, but the last couple of seasons I’ve really been trying to make sure I’m below my dogs’ points by a good margin. If we’re climbing that’s obviously not that hard to do, aside from fighting gravity and the curse of aging cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems. But when working a ridge or draws, and the dogs move down and find birds, I try to go really wide and down below the dogs by at least 10 or 15 yards and then slowly (and quietly if possible) close the gap. This has yielded far easier shots at birds than when I didn’t do this: downhill, curling shots with dogs in the way are nearly impossible, at least for me (and please don’t suggest the solution is to train steady to wing; we’re not going to agree on that). Ironically, when I was younger I’d obsess about not losing elevation, even on a point, so I’d go straight down to a pointing dog, and — at least 75% of the time — miss. Giving up an additional 50 feet of elevation in exchange for more humane and makable shots is very much worth it in my book. And I’m spending less on shells as my shooting percentage improves simply because of positioning.
I’m actually not spending less on shells, but buying fewer, more expensive shells. I’ve always shot cheap, lead 1-1/8 oz. 7-1/2 shells, all season, for all birds. My improved cylinder choke also never leaves the gun (except maybe for turkey season). I’ve never claimed to be a ballistics expert, or even that well educated on the matter. I’ve just used what I thought worked for me. A lot of people have suggested that #6 would be better on chukar, so I decided finally to give it a shot, but the only #6 shells I had were steel duck loads, 1-1/8 oz. I’ve only given it two days, but they worked well for me, and I’m going to try this for a while. I’ve wanted to move away from lead if possible, mainly for environmental reasons (not interested in a debate on this, either), but just haven’t done it for whatever reason. I might not stick to it, but I’m happy with the results so far. I also haven’t really done my due diligence and done the patterning and balanced load tests that Joel Loftis, the author and shooting coach (stay tuned for a post very soon on his Chukar Hunter’s Wingshooting Guide, which will be available on our website), recommends; once I do that I might have a completely different take. Still, in two days with lots of shooting I basically doubled my shooting percentage over last year, despite not shooting clays once this summer or pre-season.
So there you have it: an excellent beginning to the long-awaited season. We saw more chukar hunters in boats than I ever remember seeing, and plenty more on and around the hills, which is a good thing if we want to keep this thing going and the public land it happens on accessible. May each of you get out there as much as possible, enjoy the pursuit and your (and your friends’) dogs, and remember that it’s not just about the birds!