I went elk hunting one day this October. A friend went with me. We got to the spot I’d planned to leave the truck, and — nobody was there! With plenty of dark before dawn we set out for the short hike to the spot I wanted to glass. I’d hunted birds there several times and noted (from looking at past years’ logs) that elk often hid out in this little bowl we perched above. I’d never seen anyone anywhere near this spot, so figured it was as good as any place I could go.
It was overcast and not too cold, so the wait for visibility wasn’t uncomfortable. I began getting excited, and my ears played tricks on me: it seemed I heard elk making their way to the little bowl from every direction. But I thought I was probably wrong.
When the veil of dawn finally offered a view of the landscape, I scanned the area horizontally. Something caught my eye. I re-scanned and couldn’t see it. So I tried again and found it: a pickup parked in the center of the bowl with someone sitting in the driver seat. I handed my friend the binoculars. He saw it, lowered them, looked at me, raised his eyebrows, and said, “2020.”
It’s become lots of people’s mantra, catch-phrase, excuse, punch-line, or whatever, to explain the unprecedented, inexplicable, anomalous, uncanny, bizarre, and — maybe more than anything — the highly and unbelievably undesirable things that make us batshit crazy about the state of the world right now and how batshit crazy it is.
Chukar Hunting 2020 for me is, well, as 2020 as anything else. It’s not immune, which kind of sucks because it’s been the holiest of hobbies for me for 20 years. Last year, 2019, was, well, 2019 (read my year-end reflection, which was more of a rant, so…). This year is different, though, at least for us. For the first time ever we took a couple weeks off in September to take a trip to someplace that had no chukar. We half-heartedly tried for grouse and that didn’t go well (conflicts with bow hunters; expensive emergency barbed-wire injuries to Peat; the constant fear of getting eaten by grizzlies), but were just trying to get away. We and a zillion other people who — like us — apparently didn’t need to be chained up somewhere.
Is it just me, or does this season feel different? For us, we’re a year older, edging toward the JRC (Joint Replacement Crowd), but hunting nearly an hour longer on average, going further, and coming back with fewer, what?, birds, blisters, shells, dogs, stories? Opening day of chukar was exciting for us because we had guests from Nevada come up to hunt with us; we’d never met them in person and were excited and a little nervous: they’re much younger and fitter and obviously better shots (or used to seeing lots more birds) judging from their tailgate photos. We’d planned a boat trip to a hard-to-access spot I knew would have decent numbers of birds. One or both of their dogs had never been in a boat, so they were excited. We drove to the put-in, but it was blocked unexpectedly by a fire crew: access closed to all. Plan B was to go hike for hours in some brutal terrain and see literally one piece of dried chukar shit between the 7 of us (4 peeps and 3 dogs). Damn. Their attitude was far better than mine. “That’s chukar hunting!” I was like, “Yeah, that’s why I’m sick of it.” I never claimed to be a positive guy. Leslie’ll tell you.
So that’s how it started. But, actually, we haven’t given up (thus, the bigger hunts). I suppose feeling different about this season, and this season feeling different about us (not the same thing) shouldn’t be a surprise given that the main reason I began this ridiculous activity, and became obsessed by it, and started this blog, and spent gigabillions of pennies on it is not a part of it anymore. Physically, anyway, although that’s not entirely true: we each carry some of Angus’s ashes, and our shells contain some as well. But until we hunted with his nephew Custer for a week or so recently we hadn’t seen that type of movement from a dog across that type of landscape since Angus died. It brought tears to realize it wasn’t him, but also to know he’s out there somewhere. For us? For whom? When we die, who’ll love his memory? How many dogs’ souls are ghosts?
And so we’re still trying to figure out how to do this thing we thought we understood. How to make it the same even though it’s not. Expectations are a bitch. Not expecting things that blind-side you are, too. The world and what’s going on in it, also, have been creeping into and sometimes all-out invading my time out there. How about the rest of you? It doesn’t seem as fun somehow. Or maybe I’m just stressed about being involuntarily and (I hope) temporarily retired (thanks, Covid, and the disastrous non-response to it). Who the hell knows. Anyway, it’s not the same. I keep looking for something familiar. And then Peat points, and it comes flooding back and I forget everything. And then we’re done as soon as it began. It’s not the same. It’s 2020.