The week started off bad. The week also ended with many firsts.
Tuesday started with Angus throwing up his morning kibble in the backyard. Later on, he refused a dog treat from the treat jar. This was a first time in his life that he’s ever not wanted one of those multi-colored square snaps treats. In the afternoon, he still wouldn’t eat or drink water. Just as soon as Bob got home from school we loaded the dogs in the car for a trip down below for both of us to get our annual eye exams, appointments made weeks in advance. Appointments that we didn’t dare miss. Where we live is the upper country, and anytime you drive south down to Weiser, Ontario, or the Boise Valley, it’s called “down below.” Living in the upper country requires many trips for most services like eye exams, tire rotations, trips to the pharmacy, and jury duty, for example but also for groceries that you can’t find in the local market like garam masala for making chukar curry for the students. We also go down below to restaurants that serve a decent selection of IPA’s plus food since we don’t have a restaurant in town that offers this service.
On the drive, I told Bob about Angus’s condition that morning and afternoon. The remainder of the trip it was quiet. After our eye exams, I walked the dogs in the parking lot. Angus peed, a good sign his tumor wasn’t blocking is urinary tract, but he still refused to drink water. We stopped for dinner in Ontario at our favorite place to eat. One of the new beers on tap at Bert’s Growler Garage was an IPA called F* Cancer. Bob ordered it and we sat down, and instead of our usual “cheers” or “slàinte” (meaning “to good health” in Scottish Gaelic) we both said “F*ck Cancer!” As we somberly sat there waiting for our food we decided this might be the end and we’d probably have to call our vet the next day to get an appointment but we also need to ask him who can do dog cremations “down below” when that day comes.
The next morning, Angus was was prancing around and super excited to get his cup of kibble. He gobbled it down and acted normally the rest of that morning. I’m not sure what was wrong with him the day before, but this is probably the start of good days and bad days. I’m not ready for it. Not knowing how he’d be on weekend, I opted out of going out-of-state on a hunting trip with Bob and a friend because, knowing Bob, hunting with him usually results in thousands of feet of climbing and many hours and miles of hiking. It’s not that I’m against doing this, and I do this when I hunt alone, but I was just worried that it might be too much for Angus and I didn’t want to leave him home.
So on Saturday morning, Angus, smelling the scent on my pack from the last hunt, got super amped up while I was putting on my hiking boots and filling my hydration bladder in the kitchen sink. That was a good sign; he was ready to hunt. We drove out of town and I took him to a new place because I try not to go to the same place twice in one season, plus it’s fun to see new country and you never know if you’ll find a goldmine of chukar. I try to find areas far from roads and places where the UTV’s can’t get to but not too remote for my safety in case something happened. The long steep hike up to just below a ridge paid off. Angus’s nose to the ground snorting at the dry earth, tail fluttering — he was super birdy. He had located a covey hunkered down in the grass next to a patch of sage and went on point. I got up to him and didn’t know where the birds might bust because the direction the dog is looking isn’t always where the birds are. Focusing softly, I took one more step in front of him and the covey busted slightly to my right and I managed to hit one chukar. Angus ran down the hill and immediately found the bird and headed up to me with it in his mouth.
Text book chukar hunting moment it seemed to me, that is until just before arriving to me, he changed directions and headed a different direction with my bird. Tail fluttering again, he was onto more birds and he kept going. He eventually stopped and I could see him from a short distance on point again. He still had the chukar in his mouth. I was stunned. The only other time I’d seen something like this before was when Peat went on point last year with a deer leg bone firmly gripped in his mouth. A bird dog pointing with a bird in his mouth was a first for me. I wish I’d taken a photo, but wanted to honor the point by being ready to shoot with the Benelli. The second covey busted wild before I could get up to Angus and I watched them fly up around the next ridge. He turned around and delivered the belated bird right to me, but it still wasn’t dead. Dispatching birds myself is something that I hate to do, and I get teary-eyed almost every time. There’s a saying in the chukar hunting world that goes something like, “The first chukar you kill is for fun, the rest are for revenge.” I think it’s a ridiculous saying. I respect these birds that live in these harsh environments, and killing one is never for revenge.
I put the chukar into my bird pouch and we changed our intended route for the day, and ended up chasing those two coveys that had busted into smaller groups and singles busting wild for the next two hours, at one point going in circles before Angus located and pointed some of them down in a deep draw. The covey went up, I shot once and hit two. I was stunned for the second time in one day. This was a first time I’d seen this, something that I’d never even seen Bob achieve. It was either pure luck, my shooting is improving, the new shot gun shells Bob loaded for me are the ticket, or the tenacity of a bird dog that will never give up. Maybe it was a combination of everything and my stars were aligned that day.
The following day after Bob finished grading student papers we decided to head out with both dogs to go look for birds. It was a little late in the day, but after some intense negotiating on where to go, and weighing the pros and cons we decided on a place we hadn’t been to in a couple of years. Angus had a slight abrasion on one of his pads from the day before so I wrapped it up and covered both back feet with some dog booties we’d bought a few years ago and never used. This was a first for Angus; in all his years of hunting rough chukar terrain he’s never had to wear booties or have his feet taped up. He took to wearing those dog socks like he’s worn them all his life, unlike Peat, who isn’t a fan of booties.
After the long drive to get to the starting spot, we only had a few hours of daylight left. Our goal of the day was to cover as much ground as possible but hunt close to each other so the dogs could work together as a team. If you’ve never witnessed a dog honoring another dog’s point, it’s a beautiful thing to see. Within 12 minutes of the hunt, Peat bolted in a straight line like he was running for his life. As most of you know, when you hunt with your dogs a lot, you learn their body language and whether or not they’re hot on wild birds. Sometimes there are subtle nuances, but with Peat it’s usually more forceful and you better damn book it in his direction because he’s about ready to point. Angus is more methodical about it, and if he doesn’t check back in with you within 2 or 3 minutes during his circular rotation he’s usually on birds.
Much of the terrain where we were hunting was wide open without much sage and antelope bitterbrush, which gave both of us good views of the dogs working all the nooks and crannies. The dirt from not having rain for a few weeks was dry as a bone and the green-up from early season was already drying out. The dogs worked together taking turns pointing, but getting to either dog meant usually going a long way down a steep hill. It was challenging because of all the loose rocks underneath the grasses. After dropping halfway down to the bottom where Angus was pointing a covey of chukar with Peat backing him, I was almost temped to pick up and throw a rock downhill below me to get the birds to bust so I wouldn’t have to go any further. The covey busted and I got off two shots but only hit one bird. Peat retrieved it and ran past me and up the hill to give it to Bob.
One of the many highlights of the day for me was seeing a huge black bear hauling ass away from me down the mountain towards the creek. This was the first time I’d seen a black bear while chukar hunting this season. I watched it until it faded away behind some trees at the bottom. I felt bad that it had to burn so much fuel doing so when winter hibernation is just around the corner. A herd of mule deer also busted single file from the thick brush in a different draw a few minutes later. I watched them bounding away until they also disappeared as if I’d never seen them.
After a lot of vertical feet gained, lost, and gained again in just over 7 miles we were all pretty tired when we got back up to the vehicle. Bagging a few birds that day was bonus, but the late afternoon light illuminating the golden hillsides, the full moon starting to rise over the mountains, and the time spent together on that day was what made it perfect. What a great way to end the week! During the hunt, I remember saying to Bob, “If today was Angus’s last hunt ever for the rest of his life, what an amazing life and two days of hunting he’s had.” It’s days like this that will be ingrained into my soul for the rest of my life.