Some things are rituals. It was never discussed on Saturday but over the course of the last four months it was customary or tradition that we’d bird hunt on every Sunday.

Last Sunday morning while sitting in front of the wood stove drinking coffee and looking out the living room window toward the mountains, Bob said, “Let’s go for a hike after I get done grading papers. Just because the season is over doesn’t mean we can’t go for a hike. Besides, we all need some exercise.” I agreed wholeheartedly.

I grabbed my upland bird pack from the garage and transferred things from it to my day hiking backpack. It was always a practice during hunting season that I’d have a mental check list of things to add to my pack so not to forget something important. It was routine to fill my hydration pack with water, look to make sure my gloves were still in there, to add some dog treats and snacks. Of course this time I didn’t need to worry about packing enough shotgun shells or to remember to put my shotgun in the back of the pickup. One ritual we didn’t break this time was to bring GPS collars for the dogs. Bob accidentally forgot the collars once so as we would drive away from our house, I would always ask him if we have the dog collars. We don’t really need GPS collars if we’re not hunting but Angus is deaf and senile sometimes and it’s comforting knowing we could track him if he wanders off, which he did a couple of times this season.

We drove through town and past a couple of churches with parking lots packed full of big pickups and cars. We’d always joke on our way down to the canyon on a late Sunday morning that we were going to the 24-Hour Church of HELLS Canyon.

It was a beautiful February afternoon. We started up a steep ridge, and the ascent felt easy. We continued our climb for another hour through the sage and bitterbrush, and the dogs went on point down below me near Bob. The sound of a covey busting filled the air. Out of habit, I was expecting to hear the sound of Bob shooting, but it was strangely quiet and I wondered if the dogs were confused why we didn’t shoot. Did they know we weren’t carrying a gun and it’s the off season? Traversing up the ridge we found a few more coveys of Huns but no chukar. We’d hunted here once before earlier in the season but the dogs had found only chukar and no Huns. Weird.

We hadn’t spent a lot of time in the canyon this season, but spiritually I feel like the hills are sacred. The hills are my church. We eventually turned around and headed back down, and I stopped to admire the view of the distant snow-covered mountains and to watch Peat and Angus running through the golden bunchgrass and I knew at that exact moment that this spot I was standing on was where I want to scatter some of Angus’s ashes.

Heading up.
Angus with his subtle point. It’s the way he’s always done it.
Peat backing Angus who’s way below him.
Catching the wind.
Strange not carrying a shotgun in my hand or on my shoulder.
A couple of Huns
Peat watching them fly.
A single that busted after the main covey
Funny Peat laying down while honoring
Peat honoring Angus again.
Sacred hills.
Angus of the chukar hills.
So long, farewell, and just like a habit we’ll be back next season.

14 Replies to “Rituals”

    1. Bruce, Thanks for reading and commenting. Yes it was a nice way to end the season with Angus hunting until the end.

  1. Would you please ask Preacher Bob if I can join his church? I’m sure the membership qualifications are quite rigorous but hopefully flexible. I have seen the benefits of faithful attendance.

    1. Ron,
      You’re grandfathered into the exclusive chukar cult. I think you’ve passed the test and qualified long ago.
      Hope to see you this Fall! Cheers and as always thanks for reading. Leslie (and Bob)

  2. I swore that I would never run an old dog again but with the GPS and ability to track and buzz them, I will run them as long as they want to still go.

    1. John,
      Same here. Angus can’t hear the audio buzz and return like he used to now it’s come to a mild simulation to return.
      He eventually come but he’s getting stubborn in his old age. Thanks for your comment. Leslie

    1. Robert,

      We lucked out and found ourselves down there on a pretty day. I’m glad we captured it.

      Thanks for reading our blog. Leslie

  3. Wish my dogs could be running in the canyon now. They are hard up for good exersise here in the RV park. I dance 3 hours at least 3 nights a week so I manage to stay sane. The pups go to a “cage free” dog care facility while I go fishing in the Gulf of Mexico next week. I hope Susie doesn’t get expelled. Then there is the story of the missing sock……a story best told over a few glasses of colored water. Be home in about 6 weeks. 81 forecast here today. Stay safe and happy.

    1. Nine hours of dancing per week, wonderful Sam. You must wear those ladies out!
      Enjoy your fishing and break from the dogs. Yes, I hope Susie behaves. You’ll have to tell us the story about the sock over some red or white water.
      Snowed last night, we’ll save some for you. Safe travels.

  4. Leslie, I so badly want to keep heading out to the Chukar hills during the off season just to keep in shape and keep the pup happy. If i go too often and my pup keeps finding coveys regularly do you think she’ll start busting them early and set her back for next season? If I had a few birds in the freezer I’d shoot some blanks and toss the dead bird but I didnt think that far ahead this year. It was my first season upland hunting. Appreciate your wisdom!

    1. Isaac, thanks for your comment.

      I’m no expert on training dogs on wild birds and we don’t do it. When we hike we don’t go out with the intention of purposely trying to find birds for the dogs. They just find them. We’ve been hiking with both dogs during the off-season for years and it hasn’t ruined them. The birds they do find, they point, the birds flush, and we praise them and continue our hike. Dogs learning the art of holding point on a wild bird and figuring out just how close they can get is a good learning experience in the off-season. I think the problem lies with dogs that flush a covey and then they proceed to chase them for miles. The dog learns that it’s fun to immediately flush and chase rather than hold them. Like I say, I’m no expert, so maybe someone reading this reply has a better answer?

      When we do hike the chukar hills it’s in the early spring or summer and we try to avoid being out there during nesting season, which is April/May. Chukar usually lay their eggs in late May. Being out there hiking around probably can’t have much impact on the population but we just try to avoid it anyway. I read a study about chukar populations in Hells Canyon written in 2001 by Idaho Power and it found that 87% of nests were on south-facing slopes. 57% of those were on rocky outcrops. If you’re going to be out there maybe just avoid these areas during nesting season.
      Hope this helps, thanks for reading our blog. Leslie

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