Sunday, December 10, 2017

SETTER TALES AND MALLARD CURLS: UTAH CHUKAR VERSUS A 1918 WINCHESTER AND A GUY WHO...

SETTER TALES AND MALLARD CURLS: UTAH CHUKAR VERSUS A 1918 WINCHESTER AND A GUY WHO...: I could hardly control my excitement as I unzipped the case and pulled it out slowly like a sword being drawn from a sheath, ...

UTAH CHUKAR VERSUS A 1918 WINCHESTER AND A GUY WHO DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO USE IT.




I could hardly control my excitement as I unzipped the case and pulled it out slowly like a sword being drawn from a sheath, and stood admiring it. I put my hand on the ringed forearm, pushed the release and slid the smooth action open making a familiar “chick” sound. A chill ran down my spine as I could feel the spirit of the old gun. Built in 1918 it was nearly one hundred years old but it was new to me. This gun was not some museum piece with fancy checkering, engraving, and inlay that had never been used. This was a blue-collar gun. A working man's gun that was built right at the end of WWI, A gun built in America that was made out of American steel with American sweat that had seen plenty of use in the field. I tried to imagine what the scene would have looked like when it was unsheathed for the very first time. Was it driven to a hunting spot in an Old Model T? Maybe the man or woman simply walked out the back door to hunt ducks down on the creek below the pasture with his brand new Winchester Model 12. I wondered who owned it. Maybe a WWI soldier bought it on his return from the war. Maybe it was a gift from a father to a son. The truth is that I will never know the story behind each scratch, dent, and ding in the stock. I will never know why it was carelessly cased wet causing the slight pitting on the action side of the gun but all of this gave me plenty to think about. What I do know is that this gun has more soul than ten modern plastic stocked guns and I
was about to give it new life by hunting with it again.

One of the most wonderful things about hunting chukar in Utah is the seemingly endless public lands on which that they inhabit. Finding new places usually just involves a little help from Google Earth, some time, and a lot of gasoline. After a short three and a half hour drive there I was holding this classic Model 12 that I had never hunted with looking up at the steep hill I had never before walked on. It looked to be picture perfect chukar country covered in cheatgrass and rock outcroppings. The only thing that might be missing was a water source, but I would have to do some hiking to figure that part out. Without haste I slipped one of the stubby looking 2 ½ inch B and P 1 1/8 oz #7s that my friend Doug Helton promised would kill chukar dead, into the chamber of the gun and slid the action home with a healthy “chook” sound before loading two more underneath, putting it on safe, and starting up the hill. I find it interesting that clear back in 1918 these guns were made with a 2 ½ inch chamber instead of the modern 2 ¾ inch that later became standard. I was thinking about this as I through the gun over my shoulder and started up the hill to experience hunting with this old gun.

One hour later I was still walking. Sunnie was covering the landscape thoroughly but had yet to come up with anything. I had seen no sign of birds and was starting to wonder if there were any on this range when I saw the guzzler way down below me. Yes! There was a water source! A few minutes later my hopes were rising even more as I saw some old chukar droppings on the ground. “There have to be birds here someplace,” I thought. We searched all the places that looked birdy without contact. Two more hours went by and I had lost focus on the hunt. I was thinking about how this gun carried better than most single barreled guns I have carried. “I get why this was such a popular gun for so long,” I thought just as my SportDOG Tek 2.0 GPS vibrated indicating that Sunnie was on point. “Really?” I said out loud. I picked up the handheld and it showed she was standing 230 yards out across a flat on top of the wide ridge we were walking. As I followed it closer I started to doubt. Was she really holding birds in the flat? It isn’t unheard of but certainly uncommon in my experience. I was now within 100 yards but I couldn’t see her. The only thing on that flat that could block my vision was a small group of about 10 cedars and sure enough, she was on point behind them. As I approached she looked confident, intense and staunch. I thought, “Is this real? She is usually right about these things.” I walked around upwind from her but nothing flushed. For some reason, I was feeling anxious about shooting this old gun, and really gripping it tightly.
When I turned to look at her the birds flushed behind me. I spun and the gun flew to my shoulder in
the controlled panic that is so familiar to bird hunters. Then everything but the birds slowed to a stop for what seemed like an eternity while I searched for the safety that was not under my thumb where I am used to it. All this time the birds were still flushing and increasing their distance. I finally remembered that it was clear out in front of the trigger guard and got it off. Time sped up again and I quickly found a target and with a bang and a big puff of feathers that bird crashed to the ground giving me confidence. A late bird tried to escape. The gun barrel found him quickly and I pulled the trigger twice then three times but nothing happened as time slowed again. That is when it occurred to me that I needed to pump the action in order to have another live shell to fire. DUH!!! Sunnie delivered the bird I had shot and gave me a crusty look as if to say what in the heck is wrong with you as I burst into laughter at my own clumsiness with the gun. I was once pretty good with a pump but as I thought about it I realized that it was nearly 30 years ago that I last hunted with one. I paused to think about it all. “When was the last time a bird was taken with this gun? I wonder what kind of bird it was and where.” Two things were certain, The little 2 ½ inch shell had done its job just as Doug said it would and a full choke back then was really really full. I was proud that I had connected on the first shot with the old model 12. I had been really worried about being able to put a pattern where I wanted to with that gun for some reason. I put the bird in my pouch and began to cover ground again as I giggled every now and then at my inability to use a simple pump action gun.

Another hour had passed before my handheld vibrated again. This time she was only 94 yards away. I quickly followed it to her out on the flat again. “I love this dog,” I thought as a paused to admire her. She was stunning to my eyes standing birds on that high flat with all of God's glory behind her. “It's interesting that they are on the flats today.” I thought as I came back from being caught up in the moment and remembered that I needed to concentrate on this unfamiliar contraption in my hands. This time I put my finger on the safety as I walked in. When the birds flushed I snapped it off, the gun flew to my shoulder without thought and the report brought an escaping chukar's flight to an end. I quickly found another bird with the barrel of the old gun, “Oh yeah...Pump it, dummy.” I thought. The gun went chick-chook then bang but the bird kept flying. I had done better with the gun this time but I wanted another chance to double up. My chance would come in short order as Sunnie had caught wind of some birds down off the edge of the flat. This time when I walked in I did it with confidence. When they flushed without thought I shot one pumped the action and then shot another cleanly. I could have
shot a third but I am really used to only having two shot. The thought that I had another shot came too late as I was celebrating my accomplishment while Sunnie finished her job by retrieving both birds to hand. A few minutes later Sunnie would point a single and I would finish my 5 bird Utah limit with the old Model 12. Though the ratio may have gone down if I could remember to pump it, I  shot better than I would have ever dreamed connecting on 5 of 7 shots, and I'm definitely going to hunt with it again.

There is something special about hunting with these old guns. I guess it's the way they feel in your hands, the way they smell, and the way they look is all part of it but I think it’s more than that. It's part of our heritage, a part of our history if you will. Very few people are still alive that were alive the day that gun was sold and certainly no one who was old enough to remember it or were involved in making it. Think of the models of cars that have come and gone in 99 years TV wasn't even a thing in 1918 and Yet here is this old gun, used even abused but still flawlessly functioning as designed and produced by some of the great men from a very different generation. I wonder if the gun you took to the field last weekend will still be functioning 100 years from now and if it is who will be using it?




Wednesday, November 22, 2017

THE SCREAMING ALARM OF MORTALITY


The first time I heard it was the season after my old dog Bo was hit by a car. He pulled through the accident and he hunted his heart out but no matter how hard I tried to ignore it that alarm kept ringing. He was 8 years old but the accident aged him beyond his years and though his heart was in it he could no longer take long hours day after day in the field. It was just too hard on him. Still, I did not want to believe that my best friend was aging. By the time he was ten I could ignore it no longer and had to face the fact that if I was going to continue this bird hunting lifestyle that I had grown up with and had by then embraced passionately, I had to start a pup.

Since then there have been two days I dread in the life of every dog that I have taken on as my own, the day he passes on, and the day that I start trying to ignore the ringing alarm of mortality. For me my dogs are pets and family members but they are more than that. My favorite form of recreation depends on the dogs. Without them there is no reason or enjoyment in upland bird hunting. The way I hunt with my setters the dog is to find the bird, it is his job to do so. When he does he is to point and hold that bird until his teammate, me gets there with the gun. It is then my job to flush and shoot the bird. The dog is then to deliver it to hand. When that goal is achieved together both hunter and dog feel accomplished together but it is more than this. This working relationship builds a bond that is beyond an ordinary pet owner relationship. I mean in no way to say that hunters love their dogs more than say my mother loves her Schnauzer but It is just different. By the time a bird dog is mature we have countless hours into them. The pup and his human counterpart share together the successes and failures of training not only at home but in the field too. We work through the mistakes and successes together and it always takes both of us to get there. It takes about three years for them to get really good at hunting multiple wild bird species together with a person as their partner. I play trial games with my dogs these days where we compete in competition together as a team again succeeding together and failing together but always together as team strengthening the bond even further.


As I have walked through the fields of this year's pheasant season I see Tic carrying his leg from time to time, and looking really spent at the end of the day and into the next. It's a different look than normal tired. I feel deeply the undeniable pain of that alarm ringing once again. It is not as though his heart isn’t in it. He hunts his guts out and has been fantastic even when tired. His bird work on running pheasants has been undeniably great this year but his body is aging. He has developed a bad shoulder that we continue to treat. Surgery might be necessary after the season and may help extend his career but nothing we do will silence that heartbreaking alarm. We will still hunt him and run him in trials as long as he can. No matter how special he is to me there is no denying the fact father time is and will remain undefeated. Eventually, Tic will retire from the field to live out the comfortable pension plan that all of my dogs receive when they become “my dog.” He has been such a great hunting partner to me and has earned the friendship of so many. He is in sync with me in every way in the field and is by far the most obedient dog I've ever owned. He is my little buddy. We have won two region NSTRA titles, and he has championed 3 times over together with me. This is not the end for he and I not even close but his role is changing. It has to change sadly the clock never stops ticking and for our dogs, it ticks many times faster than it does for us.


I enjoyed a hunt with him today through one of my favorite and timeless pheasant spots for the last time this year. A storm blew in and it carried the familiar winds of change and as the stinging sleet hit the back of my neck I saw Tic run from the cover with his slight limp across a cut alfalfa field. I could almost see the faded shadows of all those old dogs that have long since passed running again with him. I paused to look over my annual playground one last time for the season. As I turned it was fitting that the sleet would sting my face while the reality hit me that next year when I hunt here again things will have changed. There will be a puppy that will have to learn the ropes in the same way that Tic, Sunnie, and all the others before them have had to learn. To me, it's exciting and sad at the same time but the circle must continue.



Sunday, July 30, 2017

DOUBLE BARRELED SHOTGUN

Double Barreled Shotgun
Dad's 1953 Browning Superposed



I don’t remember the first time I saw it. I do remember the long early morning

rides in the back of dad’s 1973 Toyota Landcruiser sitting on one of those sideways seats that I thought were so cool. It was always in a long brown case on the other side. There would be a German Short Haired Pointer, and sometimes two riding with me. The dogs lived outside in a kennel so if they were ever bathed I don’t remember it. They smelled Terrible and after riding with them so did I, but that smell became one I associated with adventures in the field with my father. The journeys were always so different than my everyday life of school, and sports. We would often pick up one of my dad’s friends to go with us. They always had cool nicknames like Swanie, or Oly, and I would listen to them exchange hunting stories in the front seat while I did my job of keeping the dogs company. I wondered if I would ever have that many stories to tell.

Eventually we would arrive at our destination, and go for long walks in the grass and weeds while we watched the dogs run. It wasn’t entirely a pleasant experience for me. I had the gear of a child, and

there were times when I would fall down or struggle to keep my little legs moving long enough and fast enough to keep up. When it was too much for me I would spend part of the day riding on my dad’s shoulders. I always had June-grass in my socks, and one of the larger male dogs once mistook me for a fire hydrant while we rested and peed on my shoulder soaking me to the core. I cried. Even with all of that, I liked being one of the guys and whenever I looked up at my father that gun was always in his hands. My dad’s gun was cooler than a lot of his friend’s guns. He shot what I called at the time a double barreled shotgun, and to me it was better than the single barrel guns carried by his friends. After all it had two barrels those guns had only one.

 It was on one such journey that I saw a dog point for the first time. Dad leaned down and whispered, “Look Bret Duke is on point. See how still he is… Like a statue… He has a bird right there.” He had told me about this quite often. Now seeing it with my own eyes, I guess I expected something else. I thought the dog should hold out a paw and point to where the bird was or something because I could see no bird, and to me pointing was done with a finger. Seeing that dog stand motionless on that ditch bank in the yellow grass with the Russian olive trees behind it was sort of underwhelming to me at first. Duke stood there for a really long time while dad stomped around in the tall thick grass and I started to doubt the dog had a bird at all. I certainly couldn’t see it. It all changed when dad's boot finally disturbed that cackling old rooster pheasant as he finally broke from his hide with those loud thunderous wings making an attempt to escape. It startled me so badly I almost cried. I looked up at my father for confidence, but he was focused elsewhere. Dad had already drawn that cool double barreled shotgun to his shoulder like a cowboy with a six shooter in an old western ready to take down an outlaw. A second or two later while I watched him and the bird at the same time a single loud bang caused me to flinch and brought that bird back to the ground. My father was suddenly excited and yelling “Fetch it here Duke”, and before I knew it the returning dog parted the grass and delivered the bird to dad’s hand. That’s when I understood the magic of the hunt. I had seen the point, the flush, and the retrieve. My father bent down to give me a closer look at the magnificent bird in his hand and I was hooked for life. There could never be anything that compared to the excitement of that experience.

As is normal with each year I got a little older, a little bigger, and the dogs seemed to get a little
smaller. My days of getting peed on by a big dog were over at least for now, and it wasn’t long before

I was carrying a gun of my own on those adventures with my father. My gun was inferior to my dad’s though. Not only was it not as efficient at killing roosters, but unlike his mine only had the one barrel. I loved the adventures even more now that I was a more active participant. In the field my eyes always wandered to dad’s gun. I can still see it resting against a fence post as we took a break or broken over his shoulder while he walked. I had by now learned that it was not just an ordinary double barreled shotgun it was a 1953 Browning Superposed.

Later when I first entered the work force and had an income of my own I started visiting sporting goods stores admiring the Browning Citori shotguns that they had on display wondering if I would ever have the $1000 it would take to have a gun with the two barrels that the child within me had always dreamed of. The company that I worked for was doing very well at the time, and management happily shared the profits with the employees in several ways including a cash bonus at the end of the year. The first full bonus I received was, you guessed it $1000. I went straight to the bank to cash that check and then broke the speed limit getting to Sportsman’s Warehouse. I made the poor guy at the counter pull every Citori they had in stock out of the back so I could pick out the prettiest one. That day I left the store after dropping $1034.96 with my first “Double Barreled shotgun” like dad’s.

As an adult I guess I took bird hunting and bird dogs far beyond anything my father ever imagined. I got into blowing Duck calls in competitions and running bird dogs in trials.  We still had our adventures in the fall but not as often. He eventually had an accident with a horse that took off the top half of the thumb on his right hand. He could no longer work the thumb safety on the old browning, and was forced to leave it home in favor of one of those single barreled guns with a safety behind the trigger. Now my gun had two barrels and his only one. Mine was also as efficient at killing roosters as his was now and I’m certain it had everything to do with the number of barrels on my gun. I sure missed seeing that old gun every fall.



Recently with me in my late 40’s and dad is closing in on 70 he drove out to visit me. We went to lunch and to the John M. Browning and Union Pacific Railroad Museum that is just a few miles from my house in Ogden, Utah. Later at my house after spending the day together dad told me that he was getting older and with his missing half thumb he could no longer use that old Browning Superposed and that from here on out it would be mine. Truth be told, I’ve become a pretty emotional and sentimental man as I’ve gotten older. When he pulled that old double barreled shotgun out of the case
and I saw it for the first time in at least fifteen years I felt like that small boy again standing on a ditch bank next to that German shorthair watching my dad shoot a rooster. The childhood hunting memories had clouded some but they shot through me one after another until I was overcome with emotion that I didn’t want dad to see. I quickly went into the other room “to get a rag to wipe it down”, but it was really to gather myself. I was somehow able to get it together by the time I returned. We looked it over together. The gun had aged some and now had a few problems. The stock was partially broken at the wrist. Dad was the second owner and the lady that owned it before him had cut the stock short to fit her. A gunsmith had added spacers so dad could shoot it, but it was still too short for me. The biggest problem in my eyes was the small bulge near the end of the bottom barrel.

Some of my friends said I should put it up and save it as a keep-sake. The more I tried the more I just couldn’t come around to that way of thinking. The gun had walked too many miles with my father for too many years. This gun was not a gun to be retired. This gun was and should again be a rooster killer. I had to try to get it back in the field. After talking to several experts on gun restoration as well as experts on Browning Superposed shotguns I learned about my options and what they would cost me. It could have been really expensive. I lucked out and found a used stock that came off of a 1951 Superposed of the same model. That saved me a lot of money. I then sent the gun to a great guy in Arizona who went through it, fitted the new-used stock and fixed the bulging barrel. The gun came back to me tight and ready to shoot. In the tradition of my father it will again be put to life as the fine tool John Mosses and Val Browning designed it to be.



This year when autumn is upon me and I slide in on a high tailed point offered to me by one of my beloved bird dogs I will be holding that old double barreled shotgun in my hands. I just hope I can make it look as cool as dad did. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

DUCKS AND CHUKS


    The sunrise is always one of my favorite parts of the day. I think I prefer it to the sunset, because the sunrise represents the beginning of a day full of possibilities, where the sunset is simply the beautiful close to the day. Today however there would be no sunrise. A heavy snowstorm was sitting on top of Tic and I as it started to get light. Instead of black and white slowly sharpening to color with the glowing eastern sky the snow flakes just got whiter and the silhouettes of my seven decoys became visible. It's early December and even though the duck hunt has been open since the first Saturday of October this felt like opening day for me. For a variety of reasons I have not really started hunting waterfowl until after Thanksgiving in recent years. I tried to hunt last weekend but the ducks weren’t using this place just yet. Today was different. We had a hard freeze last week and I was really confident that they would be here now. As it started to get light I could hear the distant calls of hen
mallards off in the distance reassuring my confidence. I always giggle when I hear them going off. The sound of a mallard hen is one of my favorite sounds in the world. There was no wind, but with the storm system running by I was hopeful to have a great duck hunt.

I saw exactly zero ducks for the first 45 minutes of shooting time, and I have to admit it was a little
discouraging. I was just starting to think that it wasn’t going to work out at all when the wind kickedup and it started snowing even harder. Like someone flipped a switch I saw the washed out pattern of black specs slowly turn into the silhouettes of ducks in the snowy sky almost immediately. It was a big flock of maybe 20 birds. I wondered if the small stream I was set up on could even hold that many. I picked one of the louder calls on my lanyard and started filling the air with duck, but it didn’t take much. They made one pass downwind then turned and cupped. As they approached I was feeling so alive. It had been a while since I landed a big flock of greenheads. They took forever to close the last 50 yards, but I waited patiently. I shot the last drake in as he was about to land then quickly tried
to find another. I know there were a bunch of drakes but my dang gun kept finding hens as they were escaping. At the last second I found another drake and shot him just as they caught the wind and disappeared like ghosts in the snow. By the time Tic returned with the second duck the snow had stopped but the bitter cold wind had not. I normally hate wind. It ruins or makes difficult almost all outdoor activities, but it makes a duck hunt. I will take wind over any other element when hunting ducks. It makes everything easier. It wouldn’t be long before I heard a group of chattering mallard ducks flying behind me. I froze still but I could see that Tic had them spotted.
When they circled down wind I then could see them.
 There were 12 or so mallards. I
hit them with one big old boss hen, and they ate it up hook line and sinker. Again I waited and shot the last drake in. This time my gun found drakes quick and each shot fired brought another crashing down. As Tic went to work cleaning up I thought I’m shooting this new Winchester SX3 pretty well. Of course the shots were “give-me shots”, but just last week in the chukar hills you would have though I had been shooting blanks. lol As old Tic trotted in with the last duck a pair circled out in front I said “WHOA!” to Tic and he stopped, still holding the last duck. While he stood still there in his snow camo out in the open

holding that duck as two others dropped in. I shot the drake and watched the hen fly away. Tic dropped his prize to trade up and retrieve the other. This is happening fast I thought 6 already. In no time at all we decoyed another small group of 8 and I was able to shoot the last duck of our seven mallard limit with my seventh shot, believe it or not. We were back and the truck by 9:00.

My hunt is never over at nine. I had the whole day to spend, but I knew what to do. Why not hunt chukar? Sadly my favorite spot out that way has been grazed by sheep, or “meadow maggots” as we call them. There would be no birds there this year. I called a friend and discussed some other options hoping he would be able to join me for the rest of the day. He couldn’t but he helped me figure a good place to go, and an hour later I was standing at the bottom looking up at the mountain.

Tic is not the best chukar dog, but he usually gets it done. So I had high hopes that the chukar hunt would be as successful as our duck hunt. I changed Tic's collar from the SportDOG 1825 training collar to the TEK 2.0 Tracker/Trainer and traded the SX3 for my favorite and ever reliable Browning O/U that I affectionately refer to as Cindy. We worked our way up the hill, and as we reached the top Tic looked a little bit birdy just over the edge, and then turned and locked up hard. I hurried to him, but before I got there the little turd broke point and raced in flushing chukars in every direction. My jaw must have hit the floor as I stood there with my mouth open watching birds fly away. I was so shocked and so mad at him. He has been a different dog since his thyroid has been bad, but he has never done anything like this. He is 7 years old, I thought why would he start this crap now? "Well maybe its a one time thing," I thought. I tried to put it behind me and we continued hunting until he found a single and pointed it, again the little turd broke point, ripped the bird and I had to let it fly away. I ran to him and set him back saying whoa as sternly as he has ever heard. He knew how displease I was with him. As the day went on he kept doing it. In total I had to let six opportunities in a row fly because he kept breaking point. I have to admit I was really frustrated. I thought about retiring him. I thought about starting a new pointer pup. The one that the Mr Wiggins keeps offering me. For the first time in his life I had zero faith in Tic. I was just about ready to walk off the mountain and call it a day when he locked up on point again. Finally, this time he held, and I walked in flushed a single
and killed it with my first barrel. (That's 8 shots in a row for those keeping score at home.) I guess I must have made my point because he retrieved like always and his point was fine from that moment on. Bird dogs? They boggle the mind sometimes.

As Tic got his mojo back my shooting would go the other direction. He started getting birds pointed but they were jumping a little bit longer than I would have liked. Probably because we had chased them all over the mountain already. I can normally make those 35-40 yard shots with ease, but I was really struggling now. I lost track of how many misses came in a row but it was more than eight before I finally scratched one down. Then true to form I would shoot my last four chukar with five shots the last of which came over Tic's best point of the day. He was just gorgeous standing at the base of a rock slide. He held strong for a long time. When the birds flushed I shot the
first one that jumped and we were headed home to plan the next adventure. I walked off the hill confident in him again after being ready to retire him only hours before. Tic is a character both good and bad, and he is the strangest dog I have ever owned. I love him, and he is my best bud quirks and all. I wonder if he was ready to retire me when I started missing just as he started holding point again. Probably not. Dogs are more forgiving than we are. When he is gone and I look back on him I’m willing to bet it will be the memory of his little quirks that I cherish the most. Tic is his own dog and God bless him for it.



I'm so hot and cold as a shooter. My gosh I would like to find a nice shade of consistency. There is something about a limit of mallard drakes and a limit of chukar on the same day that is a special combination to me. I can smell the gumbo cooking.


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Just Another Chukar Adventure

Driving out to the desert in the darkness the conversation was of all things bird dog. I had just returned from the National Bird Dog and Field Trial Museum in Grand Junction TN so I had plenty to say. Lol My good friend Cade Allen had brought along a 1 year old pup that he was excited to test on wild chukar this morning. Of course I was excited to put our four year old dog Sunnie back on chukar too. After months of grouse, pheasant, huns and every other game bird that westerners are blessed with I was excited to see her in the open country on her favorite game bird. She is probably at her best on chukar, and when she is really on there are fireworks in the chukar hills. I always wait until after Thanksgiving to start chasing chukar. In Utah we have so much time in the winter to pursue them, and so many other birds to hunt early that it seems natural to put it off until the other hunts slow down. So for me, the uplands in December and January are all about chukar. We drove to a spot I had hunted a couple times and prepared our dogs and gear.

Cade and I had never hunted chukar together so I think both of us were excited to share the day. I looked up at the mountain and humbly said “this looks steeper than where I was yesterday.” As always in Utah's Chukar land We started by gaining elevation. Before we had topped the first bluff my SportDOG Tek 2.0 was going off telling us Sunnie was on point up over the top. We broke ourselves trying to get to her. When we got there sweat was dripping down my neck, and she was standing tall and as pretty as I have ever seen her.

Annie, Cade's pup, went in and to our surprise backed Sunnie. The back was only temporary though. She being a puppy left her back and went on searching. Cade and I stomped around but couldn’t produce anything or even find tracks. I released Sunnie and she covered the hillside working the wind in the deliberate manner she always does until....Boom! She hit point again 40 yards to our right. Annie again backed for a few seconds and then broke only this time she ran straight into the wind and pointed. Sunnie did as she should and held her point. We walked out in front of Annie and sure
enough a small group of chukar escaped to the west while we filled the air with our shot patterns. Cade and I looked at each other in disgust. He said “I didn’t see anything fall. Did You?” I said “no, we suck.” We chatted for a minute about how bad our shooting was and how many birds we should have. You cant help but laugh. We talked about what we thought just happened with Sunnie and the puppy and everything that just went on. With the wind blowing up the hill I'm certain Sunnie winded those birds from way up high. She was blessed with a better nose than most, and we have been blessed with her. Spend enough time with her you will see something incredible.

Cade and I decided to split up and take separate ridges up in order to give our dogs a chance to work independently. I sent Sunnie up the hill to the left and he sent Annie up to the right. We would meet at the top.

Its no secret I like to be alone in the field. Everything becomes my observation of it and the world can really be seen in its clear nakedness without the concerns that fog my mind when hunting with a partner. As we separated I started to really see the hill for the first time today. The dog floating effortlessly up, down, and sideways working the wind as it swirls up the canyons. I could see the expression of true bliss on her face as she did what she was born to do. She knows this is her purpose. I could feel the wind on my face nipping my ears. It almost hurt. The small rocks on the partially frozen nearly vertical ground slipping beneath my boots making every step difficult yet adding to the experience of the mountain. I noticed there were lots of little tracks in the snow. “Hey! Those are chukar tracks dummy!” My inner voice shouted waking me from my moment of clarity. The only bad thing is that they were going straight up the hill. Sometimes I hate chukars. Sunnie had slipped out of sight while I was daydreaming and I was just thinking of checking my Tracker when it vibrated. I looked at it and sure enough It was showing the stop sign indicating that she was on point. I decided to try shooting a video while I followed the tracker to the standing dog. Its my first attempt. I’m glad I shoot a gun a little better than a video camera. lol So you can watch this and we can pick up at its conclusion.
                


There were probably 8 or 10 birds in that covey. I was feeling pretty proud of myself for getting a double on the covey rise and had forgotten all about the poor shooting 45 minutes earlier. I went on my way but didn't see any more birds until after Cade and I met up.

At the top, Cade came stumbling across the snow covered loose rock and we talked about our time apart. He had managed to get a single pointed and shot. It was nice that we both had dog work, and got birds. I explained to him the route I thought we should take he agreed and we worked our way along the highest ridge toward the long south facing slope that we had planned to hunt down. Sunnie dropped off the back side and started working an open hillside that she liked. She was 250 yards down the steep hill. I told Cade there is almost never birds on that face. I whistled for her to check back but she blew me off and kept hunting. I gave her stimulation from the collar and she still ignored me. If she blows off the collar there is a reason. “I don’t want to go clear down there.” I said Complaining. Cade didn’t want to either, it almost was straight down. Cade laughed and said “well there it is.” as she locked up and pointed. I Grumbled a bit and said “are you coming with me?” Cade foolishly agreed to come along and we started half sliding half walking down the hill. I grumbled the
whole way down about how much I hated chukars and everything about them. I kept saying this better not be a false point. By the time we got down there the birds had moved on her and for a few seconds we thought we had walked all the way down there for nothing. I relocated Sunnie, and as I did Annie pointed. Sunnie not seeing Annie on point found scent and pointed on the other side of the small gulley and we were in business. The cheat grass erupted with about 15 birds flushing. Cade and I somehow managed to shoot the same bird.... twice. No matter how much you talk about shooting your lanes sometimes this just happens. We got two out of it, twice. We each took one and were happy even though we could have done better. We would now have to walk clear back up to the top. We had lost almost all of our gained elevation. Somehow the climb didn’t seem so bad as we had good dog work and a nice covey flush at the bottom. I still hate chukars though.

We got to the top fatigued and breathing heavy. I said “we sure are stupid.” I say that at some point about just about every time I hunt these evil little birds. We paused for a minute to catch our breath and then started our decent. We were finally hunting the south face that we had planned to hunt all along. It wouldn’t take long to find birds either. Sunnie ran straight down and I lost her over a rise a minute later the tracker was going off . She was 324 yards down hill on point. We started to her when Cades tracker went off with Annie on point at 54 yards so we went to Annie first. Two birds flushed , and Cade connected on one. I didn’t have a shot. Quickly, I hurried toward Sunnie, who was still on point 300 yards away while Cade looked for his bird. I got within sight at 200 yards from her when the birds got fidgety and flushed. Sometimes they just don’t wait. Fortunately I saw where they went and we got them pointed again. We had several other pieces of dog work and by the time we were taking pictures we were talking about how promising Annie looked and how good Sunnie had been.
Chukar are an amazing game bird. They live in the most challenging terrain. They hold wonderfully for a pointing dog, and because it is such open and elevated country where they live the images are breathtaking. The dogs love them even though they are always bloody by the end of the day from the brutally steep and abrasive terrain. Every time I hunt them it is an amazing day of experiences and challenges.


Thanks for the wonderful day, Cade!

Cade with Some birds

Sunnie and I with our birds



Sunday, November 20, 2016

Four Tough Days

    
   It all started as a duck hunt. While on vacation hunting pheasants for nearly two weeks I had watched these mallards do the same thing every day I was in the area. They would come of the roost at about 9:00 in the morning and trickle into this slough until about 11:00. There were lots of them. It was a couple miles out to where they were. All on foot of course. I had been sort of saving the shoot for when I had time. I only get a short time to hunt pheasants so I figured as long as the weather held those ducks would probably wait. Well I was wrong. With my pheasant itch scratched I finally decided to walk out to the little slough. Having seen the ducks go in there the day before I was sure to have a quick shoot and be on my way to more upland adventures. Well waterfowl being what they are at 10:00 I had seen zero ducks. Not even a single bird. At 10:30 I decided to walk out and go check the roost. Sure enough the roost was empty. They had moved out the night before ahead of the cold front that was coming. I should have known. I thought I would have one more day before the front got there. I was a little frustrated with myself for not hunting them when they were there, but I knew putting it off could result in this. I wasn’t entirely surprised. I regrouped and went about the rest of the day chasing long tails.
    The grass grew high and thick this year in Utah, and Southern Idaho from the rare rains that fell last spring. We aren’t used to these conditions here and my family and friends have all shared their struggles in the unusually thick cover. It isn’t as fun. You don’t get to watch your dog as much. You cant see him most of the time, and for me that is a big part of the magic of the hunt. Don't get me wrong the sun still rises and sets over the same breathtaking landscape, but without visibility of the dog something is lost. Multiple times I myself have had dogs on point, followed the tracker to them, worked the flush only to see the bird squirt away on foot through their secret network of little trails under the heavy growth. It is frustrating to dogs and hunters alike. This isn’t South Dakota. The fields aren’t full of birds. There are only a few birds, and they are tough to find on normal years. Getting them out this year has proven difficult and at times mentally defeating. A flushing dog would be a better choice maybe. (Don't tell anyone I said that.) We have somehow made the best of it, and have been walking back to the truck with tail feathers protruding from our game bags more times than not.
It is late season now and Tic was rested so I put my old friend on the ground, and sent him on a cast to enjoy the cool afternoon. It has been a warm fall. It was so nice to walk without sweating. Tic had more energy too and was really working his guts out for me. It is no secret that Tic has a thyroid problem and is on medication for life to treat it. He is not the same dog he was before the health issues, but he gives me a good days work and is still a bird finding fool. It isn’t as refined as it once was, and he gets in his own head sometimes, but he is still my best bud, and I trust him completely with the hunt. As I would expect he did a great job covering every inch of ground until he found point. He would point several times, but he was color blind this day. Though I enjoyed watching him work hens we were still looking for that elusive rooster when the sun sank behind the mountains. Tomorrow would be a new day and I was confident we would find roosters.
    
    I try to rest my dogs every other day when I can so Sunnie would get the call on day two. She is by far the better of the two these days.(don’t tell Tic, or Angie I said that) I have so much confidence with her out front. Her beauty and grace as she floats over the landscape is second to none. I try to hunt her in shorter cover for that reason. I love to watch her work the wind, and every now and then she does something really amazing. This was not now or then but after two hours of watching her work everything from grass to sage and even cattails she finally stopped. She had crawled into some cattails and went on point. As I started in to her a rooster jumped and shot out behind me. I turned and stumbled but found my feet quick enough to put the pattern on him. At the report of the gun three more roosters and two hens went. All the roosters were out of range. I hustled to where my rooster had fallen. The ground was nearly bare but he was nowhere to be seen. My heart sunk in my chest as Sunnie searched relentlessly for the downed bird. I had seen this before. The thing I hate worst about hunting is losing a wounded animal. It is a fact if you hunt long enough, even while trying to do everything right, you will at some point lose one. I hate it! After an hour of circling we gave up. My heart was heavy and not only had we lost a nice bird but I was sure we had seen every rooster in the state just fly away. I am nothing if not determined. I convinced myself that time had taught me to just keep covering ground and eventually the luck will change. “Hunt like you know they are there” I kept telling myself. Around noon my belly started growling so we started back to the truck to get some lunch. As we were walking down an old Agricultural access two track road I saw a rooster flying. He landed 50 yards in front of us, and as we came around the bend in the road I could see him standing on the road looking at me. I thought “Wow, this one is dumb, Finally!” The wind was at my back so I backtracked to where he couldn’t see me deciding to get the wind right so Sunnie could have some of this. We went around where the bird had been and worked back to it with the wind in our face. Sure enough Sunnie locked up as confident and beautiful as ever. As I walked in I could see part of the bird's tail sticking out from under the edge of some cattails. I thought how has this bird lived this long. He is dumb. He was in a thin band of cattails just off of the two track with a pond on the other side. I wanted to avoid the water retrieve if possible so I tried to work in between the bird and the water to flush in a better direction, and I was about to find out how he had lived this long. As I took my last step I slipped a little and the bird took that opportunity to run behind me. When I tried to turn myself around he flushed. My feet got tangled in the cattails and I tripped and fell down twisting my knee as he flew to safety. Sunnie gave me the look. I have never been more grateful that dogs cant talk. I was injured enough without her giving me the business. My knee seemed okay but my Ego was a little bit injured. Age might be catching me a little. I have always had great feet, and could turn and shift them as well as anyone, but now I was starting to question myself. After lunch we went on about hunting. I tried hard not to get discouraged. Sunnie kept the tempo up and helped make it easy to keep going. At about 4:00 she hit the brakes and stood in the middle of a grove of Russian Olive
trees. This is another trick I have seen before, but more times than not I am able t get the rooster flying through the trees. As I got close the bird flushed. It was a nice rooster. He put a tree trunk between he and I and never gave me a shot. FRUSTRATED! At this point only one thing could save the day. I went back to the truck and drove straight to the closest Ice cream vendor. I got a thick Caramel Cashew Malt on my way home. It is a well known fact that you cant eat a Caramel Cashew malt and be sad. It helped some, but I was already thinking about tomorrow.

    Day 3, Tic on the ground. My knee was a little stiff but with the help of Ibuprofen I was able to walk. I had gotten with a friend to hunt some public land close to home. Yes, it had come to this. Pen raised roosters. Certainly I could get an easy two over Tic and stop this streak of bad luck. I had some adulting to take care of in the afternoon but certainly we could get our birds by noon and be on our way. I will keep this part short. My friend, Maureen saw one rooster that caught her sleeping and she didn’t get a shot off. I saw one rooster at about 100 yards flying. That's it. I was a responsible adult and went home to take care of business.

     Day 4! Sunnie on the ground. Again! I was really frustrated now. Anybody that knows me well will tell you the harder it gets the more determined I get, and it was only this determination that pushed me forward to hunt again on day 4. I went to my favorite spot in Idaho, and vowed not to return to the truck until we had a bird down. Sunnie was fresh, sharp and looked like a million bucks. She hit point after point, again and again only to see a hen or two flush away to safety. She seemed as determined as I and her search was fast, thorough, and relentless. She had covered 21.4 miles and I had 8.2 miles according to the SportDOG Tek 2.0 GPS before our luck would change. She was working the scent of a running bird in medium grass when by chance the bird took a wrong turn and nearly ran into me. Both he and I were shocked and surprised. He had no choice but to flush at my feet. Somehow I managed to get my feet set, the safety off, gun to my shoulder, get down on the gun and track the bird all on autopilot. The bird crashed to the ground a victim of my bottom barrel and Sunnie dove on it within seconds. I think she knew how desperate this situation had become. She brought the bird to hand and we rolled around in the grass together while I said good girl over and over. As hunting is we would go on to get two more roosters in the next 45 minutes both pointed and both flushing behind me. I was singing all the way home, and the world seemed normal again. Maybe I’m not old just yet.