My 2020-2021 stats say something and nothing, like most stats about most things. You had to be there. Still, you get the idea. And these are mine, not Leslie’s. She tracks hers like E.F. Hutton, the old-fashioned way, with a pen or pencil. I use a computer, which takes the data from my Garmin Alpha 200i and Peat’s TT 15 Mini. I’m sharing this to show what a below-average shooter who likes to hike with dogs and doesn’t really care how many birds end up in his vest (despite always wishing he got more) did in a rather crappy year for birds in this area. As mentioned before, despite all the downsides, we still were compelled to exceed our average miles, time, and climbing each hike, despite being a year older.
Total hunts: 49
Total miles: 256
Total duration: 182 hours
Total ascent: 76,000 feet
Peat’s total miles: 805
Peat’s total ascent: 228,000 feet
I have shooting stats, too, but they’re too embarrassing to share. Let’s just say if this were baseball I’d be one of the leading hitters in the league. Let’s just say that. Next year I hope to break into Ted Williams territory (for the first time ever). If there is a next year.
My poor shooting means I created significantly fewer bird souls (and vacuum-packed galliform meat) this season compared to last, which is okay by me. I’m not in it for death. I did, though, not recover way more downed birds (9) this year compared to last, which disturbs me greatly. I hate losing birds. It was one of those years. At least two hunts ended prematurely because Peat and I couldn’t find a bird we saw fall, and I lost heart. Not finding birds doesn’t make bird souls. It makes bird ghosts, un-righted wrongs.
Overall, we didn’t make quite as many outings this year as we did last year, which is weird since I was unemployed this season and was teaching full time last season (we did, though, leave chukar country for the mountains for late September/early October). We mostly avoided weekends, thinking we’d see fewer others, but it didn’t really work out that way. Covid, I guess.
Peat responded to becoming a solo dog well, significantly upping his range, average miles per outing, and climbing. In his first five seasons, he spent much of each hunt backing Angus and watching the Old Warrior work, and — when things heated up — he’d shift into higher gear. Those first five years, Peat averaged about three times our mileage. This year, he averaged almost four times what we hiked, which is a big overall increase for the little guy. He weighs 34.5 pounds and has femurs smaller than most carrots. I could write a lot more about how Peat did this season, mainly because he was under my microscope much more than ever, but I won’t. I’ve already dealt with that. He’s not Angus, but that’s not a dig. Every dog’s different, and I love Peat more than a million words could convey. And that’s really what matters to me, and to Leslie.
So that’s what I did if anyone wondered. We do what works for us, and improvise to figure out what that means. Everyone else does the same. I know there are folks out there who hike twice as far and long and say they shoot 75% ( I can’t imagine making 7 of 10 shots on chukar, where we hunt anyway). Yesterday someone told me his son kills at least 200 chukar a year, and someone else out there (you know who you are) told me about someone a long time ago who failed to kill 1,000 chukars in one season by just a few. To each his own. We’ll show our birds every once in a while, but try to focus on other things that mean more to us than lifeless trophies.
When I think of season highlights, I think of some really peaceful, beautiful moments in the Steens, where we camped out of sight of any lights in late October. We saw lots of birds of all kinds, not just chukar, and endless oceans of sage and piles of basalt clothed with unreal colors of lichen. I think of stopping on the mountain overlooking the Blitzen River and getting a bunch of burst-ripe juniper berries that I brewed my best beer ever with a couple months later. I think of Peat working like a fiend for more than 30 minutes to find a winged, running chukar and bring it back. I think of near-hypoxic ridge-crests. I think of raging, angry wind and thoughtlessness. I think of Leslie making two unbelievable shots like she was Annie Oakley’s sister. I think of finding an elk shed in exactly the same place I found one the year before, the only two elk horns I’ve found in 20 years of hunting. I think of missing lots of easy shots and getting furious with myself and seething about it for too long before realizing how f-ing stupid that was, especially because the birds got away and that made me glad. I think of getting to hunt with Sam again and each getting a bird out of the same rise. I think of the times I saw Peat but thought he was Angus. I think of hunting with and babysitting Custer, Angus’s nephew, for several weeks and how you can really see genetics in dogs. I think of the generosity of Gabe and Katie and their great kids and amazing dogs. I think of finding dozens of grasshoppers in a chukar’s crop. I think of the incredible smoked chukar chili we ate, and the risotto, and the pot pies, and the Thai food with partridge meat. I think of water, in all its forms, and how without it this wouldn’t be possible. I think of the impossibility of a squeaky surprise of pulsing primary feathers on a single erupting at my feet. I think of watching a live chukar flee and tracing it with the bead at the end of the barrel and triggering the shot and instantly watching it fold as its soul gets released and its body falls like a rock to the ground. I think of whether I can still do that, and I wonder. I think of the lives I took and thanked for that, and was it enough. I think, for Peat, and Angus, and even Glenna, and probably for the impending Bloom, that this is by far the best thing in the world for them, and that watching them — from our position as nearly useless humans when it comes to locating this prey — is a miracle that makes life good. And I think I’m already looking forward, with the same excitement and the same ambivalence, to next season.