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?
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.