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.
13 Replies to “2020”
Yes, 2020 is different and stressful for me too. The only part of my life that gives me solace is bird hunting, especially when on the Chukar hill with my two Cesky Fouseks. It is never the same but always familiar. To be successful, especially in Utah where the bird numbers are typically quite low, requires my complete focus on minute details in a vast landscape. As the hill comes into focus, 2020 fades away. Seeing another hunter or anyone for that matter is a once a season event, this year is no different. I guess I am very fortunate to hunt in areas that hold too few birds to interest most sane people.
I appreciate your comment, Vincent. Thanks. I love the word “solace” and how you used it and that you have figured out how to get it and keep it. I’m a slow learner and slower adapter, but I still hope to recover my solace in this endeavor somehow.
Beautiful writing. Thanks
Coming from you, that’s saying something. Thanks, Janene.
Bob, I want to thank you for your writing. I know it’s a Chukar blog, but really it’s so much more as it’s often about the emotive, reflective side and not so much about killing a bunch of birds and bragging about it. That’s what I love about it. I can literally feel your loss of a great partner , Angus. That doesn’t go away and I am sure you don’t want it to. Then add loss of work, loss of habitat to fire, loss of normalcy. I am a more mature, experienced hunter that is also closer to the joint replacement age and find so many parallels with your thoughts. Having been around, I can get nostalgic and wonder if I am becoming the cranky old man that I swore I would not become. But nostalgia has a way of wanting to go back to something that is not possible and often times we shouldn’t. This year I have had to leave my 15 year old GSP home and I miss the way she hunted. My 6 year old Braque isn’t her, but she is good, but different. Also found I get joy from a couple of carefully vetted apprentice hunters that I have taken out. Ironically it also makes me enjoy the days I get out be myself more. I hope you and Leslie keep writing. Jeff
Thanks for your comment, Jeff. It means a lot because it shows my imagined audience is real, even if just one guy. 🙂 And I was born a cranky old man, so at least that’s not worrying me. I loved your saying you missed the way your old dog hunted, not so much because I seem not to be able to STOP saying that about Angus but more because it says something about the superlative nature of good dogs and how they imprint us. I can’t get over that, and — as you say — I don’t want to. The older I get, the more clear it is that that’s one of the best things in life, being imprinted by a dog.
Hello Bob ,very true what I just read from your article ,unfortunately the World is changing , too many people… I came across similar situations this year in northern Nevada and east Oregon hunting Chukar .. surprised to see triple the amount of people then the last year !
Enjoyed hunting with my a year old Drahthaar pup ended up finding more birds ,
then I expected !
I wish you all the best ,as I am having great difficulties with my knees also .
Thanks for your comment, Derya. I know what you’re saying about seeing more folks out there. We’re part of them, too (I always have to remind myself of that!). I’m so glad your puppy is becoming a great hunting companion for you! That’s what it’s all about, right? Take care of your knees. But if they go, look at Tuckers Chukars: he’s had both replaced (and I think both hips, too) and he’s a freakin’ machine on the chukar hills (and I think he’s 10 years older than me). Thanks again for reading and staying in touch.
Once again, great writing Bob. But I read more between the lines. I don’t think 2020 is quite so bad for you when you are on the mountain following Peat. Otherwise why would you be going a little farther. I myself spend as much time on the mountain as possible to do one of those few things that are still wonderful to do no matter what year it is. Chasing my dogs around. Also, why else would you think about joint replacement. I know the reason I had knee replacements was so I could continue chasing without the pain.
I’ve found that chukar numbers fluctuate from day to day for me, not year to year. It’s one of those things that keep us hoping and going.
Yours and Leslie’s pictures and writings as well as your love for the dogs and watching them work alone are proof that you will never be “sick of it”.
2020 has been different in many ways but the mountain, dogs, and chukar don’t care what year it is. They’re there to help us forget everything else.
You’re totally right (as usual!), Larry: we’ll never be “sick of it.” But you know me: I just love to complain! LOL. And I agree that the up or down hunt is a day-to-day thing rather than a year-to-year. And yes, we love Peat and he’s growing as a hunter. He’s also — like we are — learning how to hunt without Angus. I have to remember that those are big shoes to fill and that he’s great in his own way. Thanks again for the good reminders.
Bob every year on the hill is a gift to those of us who love this sport. I turned 79 in September and with a cortisone shot in one knee made it to opening day. I love THE GREAT LONESOME,just me and my Brittany Hershey. Your perspective changes with age. There are no bad hunting days. Yes some years are better than others but just being able to chase the devil is an escape from the craziness around us. Memories so many great memories of dogs long gone. They indeed are your best friends. What a great sport we enjoy. Long live the chukar!!!!
Not surprised your season after Angus’s passing has started emotionally empty. He was your amigo, still is in memory. Those hills know his footsteps.
In my experience there’s nothing I couldn’t shake after strong coffee and a sunrise in the wild. Hopefully your mojo will kick back in, and I wonder what it will be that delivers you.
For us down in California we are growing our crew of chukar cultists. The season hasn’t been a bonanza of birds but we have had a great time expanding our circle. We visited some new spots in NV and felt pretty good when we got into some good bird spots by just eyeballing.
In other news I’ve given up on my now 6yo gunshy vizsla. He’s a good loving family dog but just so noise sensitive he can’t handle the gun, which is a shame because he loves finding birds.
While unfortunate, I’ve talking my spouse into letting me get another pup. I’ve been doing much more homework this time and have a deposit down on a Braque. Fingers crossed.
Take care and keep climbing those hills.
Thank you for your thoughtful comments. If the 8″ of snow we got yesterday will leave, I think I feel a mojo change is coming. I’m glad to hear you’re getting into the alectoris down there. Who woulda thunkit? I’m very sorry to hear about your vizsla’s noise issue. Luckily, at least 2/3 of the year he can still hike with you and think he’s hunting? Still, I can’t imagine how sad that’s gotta make both of you, especially during bird season. I hope your new pup is the bomb. Eager to hear more when it arrives.