More Birds, and a Dilemma

Decided to up the punishment yesterday with some steep climbing. And it was good. The bagged-bird count wasn’t so good, but we saw lots of birds. Early-season wild busting, way up high (again). Peat did better today, managing to hold two staunch points, but most of the birds we saw were launching far away on their own, probably because the dryness of the terrain makes it impossible to sneak up on anything. At one point, I was looking around and noticed a shady area about 200 yards away with lots of lush vegetation hiding a spring, and headed over to tell Leslie quietly that I bet chukar were hunkered down in the bushes over there when they suddenly busted. A super covey. So yes, there are birds. But the big numbers required 2,000 feet of climbing in less than a mile to get to them, only to watch them bust 200 yards from us.

A point of clarification on my previous post: I mentioned that an Andrus biologist had told a friend of mine they weren’t seeing good numbers of birds there, and I implied they might not be right. That was my bad: the good numbers we saw (both the other day and today) were not on the Andrus WMA. I had a chance to speak to one of the biologists there yesterday and he said that they’re not seeing the birds numbers on the Andrus WMA that they’re used to seeing during their late summer hikes. So it might be a skimpier year there. The only way to find out is to go bust your ass and see for yourself. But that’s what real chukar hunters do anyway, right?

Photos never capture either the actual steepness of the terrain or (more importantly) what it feels like to do this for 45-60 minutes at the very beginning of a chukar hunt.

Yesterday’s hunt was the 4th chukar outing we’ve made since Angus passed away. Over the past five seasons we’d gotten used to the luxury of each having our own dog to hunt with; Peat would stay with me, and Angus — the consummate gentleman — would work for Leslie. She always appreciated and remarked on his dedication and prowess, which makes his absence this season particularly noticeable and sad. Now, with just one dog, even when we agree to hunt together so we can both benefit from Peat, anyone who’s ever hunted chukar knows that this is not possible 100% of the time: inevitably, the terrain or some other unpredictable variable will separate you at least for a little while. And because Peat freaks out when he realizes he doesn’t know where I am, even if he does follow Leslie temporarily, he’ll abandon bird scent to find me. (Angus would never, ever stop following his nose, not for anyone or anything, including the sudden appearance of a honey badger, Medusa, or a well-needed human break.) Near the end of the hunt yesterday, I found myself on the other side of a gully from Leslie, and realized Peat was hunting — as usual — for me, and moving the opposite direction from Leslie. I looked over to find her, and she was sitting down. I yelled, “Are you okay?” And she replied, “I’m just resting.” Believable, given the strenuousness of the hunt, and the heat, and the terrain. But I couldn’t help imagining she was feeling unusually alone in the beauty of this landscape without her steadfast, superlative hunting partner, Angus. On rare occasions near the end of an early season hunt, Angus would stop to poach shade from Leslie or me and settle down for a short break. I could see Angus there, resting next to Leslie as she sat with her head down. Except he wasn’t.

So, on the drive home we discussed the situation. My feeling guilty for always having a dog with me. Leslie’s disadvantage, especially as a newer hunter, not having a dog with her (Angus was a great teacher and far more patient than I). It’s just an unsolvable dilemma whose only mitigation is for each of us to go on solo hunts with Peat every once in a while. We’re hoping for another puppy next spring, but this season looks to contain some adjusting on our parts. Peat, too, is having to figure out his new role. Hunting behind Angus for his first five years honed Peat’s backing skill; it seemed to us that his favorite thing in the world was to honor Angus (what pointing dog wouldn’t feel that way?). And for us, we will miss the visual spectacle of Peat’s otherworldly backing and the metaphorical praise it lavished on Angus’s greatness.

Leslie found this egg after hiking straight up for about 20 minutes. The top of the ridge in this picture is the bottom of the ridge in the next photo.
Evidence of humanity, although quite old. Pick up your shells!
We didn’t notice the chukar in this photo until we got home (they’re just 3 specks above Leslie’s head).
Finally, a lateral movement, only an hour in…
Tired. I don’t know how Leslie managed to take this photo given the fact that both of her feet had huge blisters on the balls and heels. We’ll be taking a couple of days off (Peat’s 20 stitches from a losing battle with barbed wire in eastern Idaho also need some more time; the protective wrapping ends up chafing and causing new abrasions.

4 Replies to “More Birds, and a Dilemma”

  1. Good to hear the bird numbers are good. I will be there at the end of November if you want to have a beer of cup of coffee.

    1. There’s an old saying about chukar locations: the birds are where they are. That’s truer than any “rule” about where they are at any given point in the season, at least in my experience. The fact that we’ve found them very high very early means only that they’re able to get some moisture somewhere. There are lots of springs in the hills that I’m sure I’ll never see, and high is safer than low for the birds, for obvious reasons (humans are by nature lazy). I’ve also seen birds after green up down low, so what does that tell you? Yes: the birds are where they are!

Chirp away

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