Love and Danger

On the steep ascent the winds were blowing hard and the dogs were having a hard time pinpointing the birds and singles were busting wild from the grasses and the minute you blinked one would take off like a missile.

Halfway up the ridge, I stopped on top of a rocky outcropping to wait for Bob who was below me. That day my legs felt great and for once I was pushing the pace up the mountain and getting to the dogs on point before him. He made it up to me and we stood there a huge gust of wind almost blew me off my feet. He said, “I’m not standing next to you anymore,” as he looked over the edge of the rocks and down a steep drop off.

Looking down waiting for Bob.

We continued climbing higher up the ridge. Peat located a covey of chukar above me, and he held the point religiously but just before I could get close enough, the birds –impatient — busted and flew downhill. All that elevation gain for nothing. I grumbled to myself about it. We continued up for a little longer before bailing out completely because of the very high winds at this point on the ridge. I’d remembered my very experienced bird hunting friend Sam telling me once that “The birds are at ground level and out of the wind; they’ll be there.” They were there but I wasn’t ready for them or couldn’t get to them. On the way down, Angus went on point in a rocky draw just above me. I waved my arm and got Bob’s attention and pointed in the direction of Angus because he couldn’t see him. A covey of chukar busted and flew downhill overhead in between us and we both shot at the exact same time and a single chukar fell to the earth. I thought it was my shot that hit it, and Bob thought he hit it. This was the first time this had happened to us. It didn’t really matter to me whose bird it was, it was a shared experience and I don’t keep track of my shooting average anyway.

Just over half way up
Shared bird, shared moment

We stopped on the downhill to take a break after a long steep descent from the ridge top. I was tired and needed to eat something. I sat down on the ground with my shotgun planted firmly between my knees pointing up at the sky and pulled out a piece of cheese and some crackers, sharing some of it with Peat. It had been a hard hunt, an exhausting one, and a frustrating one. I sat there and watched a herd of elk in the distance grazing.

Herd of elk

After resting for a few minutes, Bob and I continued traversing across a steep slope where I found a narrow game trail and started following it. Stepping off the trail to walk around a rock on the trail my boot slipped on a patch of slick mud and before I knew what was happening I was tumbling down the mountain with my shotgun flying out of my hand and into the air. Everything happened so fast. Bob below me witnessed the whole thing and while I sat there on the ground stunned he yelled, “Are you okay?” Feeling my limbs, nothing was hurt. I felt lucky. I looked around for my shotgun and found it uphill laying on the ground with the barrel pointed right at me. The safety was still on, but this was the first time chukar hunting that I felt like something really bad might have happened.

A few minutes before I fell

Over the course of the season, our rule is not to hunt the same place twice, and increasingly as we’ve gotten older we find ourselves hiking more miles and gaining more elevation, and finding very remote places each time out but I’ve also managed to end up in some very questionable nooks and crannies with loose rocks and boulders. I have done my share of crawling on my hands and knees or on my butt to negotiate them. I wonder how long I can keep this up.

Why do we love doing a sport that could be potentially dangerous? Jack Kerouac wrote, “Pain or love or danger makes you real again.” I don’t know about this.

Lately, my mind keeps wandering back to the chukar hills and sitting on the hillside with Peat by my side on that cold and very windy December day watching those elk. It was a moment when my only complaint or worry about anything was that my ears were cold, the birds were busting wild, and I wasn’t sure what I’d make for dinner that night. These were innocent times.

It wasn’t until this past chukar season or lately that I’ve worried about my health or my mortality, but these last few days have been surreal around here. Our school has closed for who knows how long, sports canceled, jobs lost, life interrupted. As of today, we don’t have any cases of COVID-19 in our county but if things go as they have it’ll be inevitable. I’m anxious not knowing what the future might bring for the world, our country, our town, our school, our neighbors, or for us.

I appreciate you reading this post. You’re probably sick of reading about the virus and might be hoping this post would be an escape from it, but it has affected each and every one of us in different ways. I do know one thing for sure: the birds will still be there in the chukar hills this fall when things hopefully get back to some sense of normality.

Until then, I hope you and your family stay safe out there.

27 Replies to “Love and Danger”

  1. I always find it amazing how hiking in the upland hills what you can accomplish in your mind!! Thx for sharing!! Cheers! Ryan

  2. I leave Fort Worth in the morning for the long trip home. A sober thought. I had to put Hannah down last week. I’ll scatter her ashes on the top of Woodhead this fall. Stay safe.

    1. Sam,
      I’m so sorry to hear about Hannah. I don’t know what to say except what a great life you gave her. She was such a sweet girl.
      Be safe on your drive home. We’ll see you soon. Leslie

  3. I’m thinking about hunting trips too. I appreciate both of your articles and photos. Thanks for writing and posting them!

    1. Mark,
      I appreciate your comment.
      Sometimes I feel weird writing about myself and sharing details. Shared experiences and feeling connected to other people is important right now.
      Take care, Leslie

  4. I miss the escape, peace and solitude that chukar hunting brings. Your story reminded me to be grateful for what I have. Wish you both health and happiness. Jim

    1. Jim
      You nailed it. I like that feeling too, I think that’s why we all keeping doing it every year.
      Health and happiness to you too. Leslie (and Bob)

  5. Great story. We are sheltering at home and Boise is slowing down. I have been thinking about driving up and hiking just to get away and be in the hills for awhile. Social distancing won’t be a problem there.

    1. Anthony,
      Thank you so much for your comment and reading our blog, it means a lot.
      Yes, stay at home doesn’t mean you can’t go for a hike in the hills. Have fun out there, it’s a beautiful day today.
      When the coast is clear, stop by anytime and definitely next chukar season.
      Leslie (and Bob)

  6. Leslie, great post. As far as wondering about your health and mortality, you’ll find a way because of the dogs and the country. I recently had a bad accident and from the very moment it happened my concern was my dogs and how was I going to get them onto the mountain again. Not trying to get sympathy, but as I dragged myself crossed the ground with a leg broken in 6 places and bone sticking out in three different spots the only thing I thought about was my dogs and chukar hunting. With your and Bob’s writings I believe it has a hold on you the same. Good luck to all of you in these hard times. Remember the best place to quarantine is high on a chukar mountain with those dogs running free.

    1. Larry,
      I’m so sorry about your accident, I had no idea. I’m finally getting caught up on reading everyone’s old blog posts.
      Those x-ray photos are cringeworthy! Wow!! You should get sympathy.
      You’re a tough guy, I have no doubt you’ll be out there again this autumn with your dogs.
      Yes, our hunting dogs are motivation to keep going. Take it easy and heal fast for those pups of yours. Leslie (and Bob)

  7. Leslie I hunt with a man and wife in northern Nevada who remind me of you and Bob. She is about your size and is a walking,climbing wonder And they hunt behind a French Brittany I turned her onto your insightful posts not many women do what what you do Keep trekking.

    1. John,
      Thanks for reading and sharing our blog with another woman chukar hunter and one with a Britt is even better. πŸ˜‰
      I’m glad that Bob has allowed me to guest write on this blog so that I may inspire other women to think about giving it a try.
      As long as my body allows…I’ll keep on trucking and trekking.

  8. As our hours at work keep getting cut back I keep thinking and saying to a select few, why couldn’t this have happened during Chukar season. πŸ™‚ I would have welcomed the respite in the Chukar hills like you so eloquently described.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment.
      Bob is not working until they re-open the school, he would agree with you completely on “why couldn’t this have happened during chukar season.”
      Take it easy, Leslie

    1. Greg,
      Last season seems so long ago but next season is only 6 months away.
      I appreciate your reading and commenting on my post. Stay safe, Leslie

  9. Keep writing, so we can keep reading.

    Falls are a part of chukar hunting, I guess, but when we hunt alone, they really become serious.

    It seems like yesterday Bob was introducing you to hunting and now he is stealing the birds that you hit! C’mon Bob!

    Stay healthy! Fresh air is safe air.

    1. Grazie!
      We appreciate you taking the time to read our blog. I hope you’re staying safe over there in Italy.
      Leslie (and Bob)

    1. Thanks for your comment. My style of hunting and the terrain in which Bob and I hunt which is mostly steep river canyons with tons of rock scrambling on hands and feet, a gun with a sling seems to be the best option for me right now. In over 200 chukar hunts in tough chukar country the past three years, I’ve only dropped the gun once. When the day comes I start hunting on flat ground, I might switch to a break open gun that I’d hold in one hand or put on my shoulder. Thanks for reading our blog. Leslie

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