Saturday, December 10, 2016


    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