Are the gullible dumb?
I’ve hunted chukar for two decades now, and once in a while I’ll have a hunt that causes some kind of fundamental reevaluation of my identity. I earned an Ivy League Ph.D., and even I’m proud of that and view it as an accomplishment. At times, I’ve even thought it meant I was at least a little smart. As I struggle to hold onto some sense of myself as a responsible adult involved in a complex of relationships with obligations to and grace from a variety of creatures past, present, and future, what I’ve accomplished seems to matter more to me, and I’m suspicious of that mattering yet take some comfort in it all the same.
There are occurrences, though, that can jettison the whole bit. Usually, it’s kind of a delayed response. “What did I just do?” “I can’t believe I did that,” and it’s not the I’m-so-awesome-because-I-did-that. Instead, it’s the why-the-hell-did-I-do-that?
Yesterday was that kind of hunt. From the boat, based on my extensive knowledge (I’m being sarcastic) of all things chukar, the plan looked promising. Rocks? Check. Water? Check. Cover? Check. Green-up? Check. Tight draws? Check. And, almost as an afterthought: Steep slopes? Check-mate.
So, we tied off the boat and got our gear and dog ready and headed up the hill. We didn’t hear any chukar calling, but that didn’t mean anything. Peat wasn’t birdy and that didn’t evaporate hope. The paucity of partridge poop — ancient or contemporary — didn’t sway us from our quest. Hope is the thing with feathers, so up we continued.
I must have thought it twenty times before I said it to Leslie: “I’m sure Peat’ll point any time.” He didn’t. And so more up.
Just before the summit, which we never intended to reach because we’re so damned smart about this game that we just knew there’d be a bird bonanza at the most halfway up the wall, Peat did point. The birds held in the bowl’s bunchgrass, and Peat was a statue. It was gorgeous to behold. Leslie and I edged closer. The small covey of chukar exploded from where we thought they were, and flew the direction we believed they would. It was perfect. We both whiffed.
A few minutes later, at the summit, .9 miles and 1750′ above the boat, we marveled at the view: snowclad mountains in every direction, another big valley with a little town down in it, a bucolic foreground of gently rolling golden native grasses punctuated by swales. This late fall light is unbeatable. There’s a certain ecstasy paid for mounting a ridge like this. Maybe it’s really what motivates the attempt, but we tell ourselves we’re chukar hunting and hunting chukar.
On top, which is more Hungarian partridge than chukar turf, I managed two birds on lovely work from Peat. I would never disparage a Hun (except maybe Attila), but we’re seeking chukar. So back we went to the ridge and the rocks.
Within minutes, Peat points again, just at the crest of the ridge, looking toward the water. He’s much more cautious than Angus was, so I expected the birds to be a fair bit below him. Leslie and I dropped down the screed slope at least 100 or 150 feet before the chukar busted at least 30 yards below us. Tough to make those shots. We didn’t.
But we followed them: they flew north, and we relocated them, a bit lower than they’d been originally. It was deja vu all over again. Another follow and relocate (Peat is an incredible relocation specialist), and this time Leslie killed one. My missing streak was still alive! At this point, we’d reached the end of the drainage, so the birds scattered more high and low and far and wide.
This was the point I began to realize how gullible I was. They’d suckered me into losing half of my elevation. It does not feel good to realize you’ve been toyed with. It feels even worse to remember that this is not the first, or even the 20th, time they’ve done this to you. Being gullible means you take things you shouldn’t at face value. Check-mate.
I know they’re just chukar and have a brain the size of a dehydrated pea. But on their turf, without a new-fangled new brain to get in the way, their intelligence far surpasses mine. I could hear them calling close and far. Some of their muezzin seemed settled on the rocks just above me. I looked at my altimeter and it showed 1989′ of climbing so far. 2,000′ is a really hard day for me, and I felt toasted. But they lured me up. Plus, Peat was climbing into a creep following the ascending partridges; I knew a point was imminent. One must always honor the point.
I stood at the bottom of a tall rock pile. It was climbable, barely. It sounded like the birds were perched right above me. So I climbed, imagining I was a much older Alex Honnold with a shotgun strung to his shoulder. At one point I even did the karate-kick move they talk about in Free Solo. I nearly peed myself with delight. But when I’d scaled the “peak” it was just more rocks. And the birds seemed to have moved higher to an equidistant spot from me. So I pursued. Up another terrace. No birds, yet the calling continued all around me.
And then it hit me: they’re just f-ing with me. They got me to drop down all that way, and then they got me to climb back up another 800 feet after I was fried. Then I saw Peat point at the base of a rock wall near the very top of the ridge. The birds had no more vertical opportunity, so — as I figured they would — they flew horizontally to the other side of the draw. I could see them hopping around, smirking. I swear one even pulled out a Camel Light and lit up. They were about 100 yards straight above me as I watched them — one by one for at least 5 minutes — march triumphantly up the chute to the summit and out of sight.
This is the dumb way to hunt chukar. I highly recommend it, especially if you feel you could benefit from a total identity makeover.
Enjoy the video!