Google a satellite photo of the lower 48 at night. Find the darkest spot.
That’s where I am. It’s the northwestern edge of the Great Basin … chukar country. I’m 1,000 feet above a dry lake bed and if you look hard from this lower-right-hand corner of Oregon, you can see both Idaho and Nevada.
The chukars are another 1,000 feet up, steep and loaded with ankle-turning rocks. More rocks than soil. After all, we’re climbing the lava core and debris spewed from ancient volcanoes.
But that’s okay. Because on the climb (when you’re not falling ass-over-teakettle) you learn a lot.
Like the farther you are from town, the better the hunt. And that the surprise is sweeter when you meet an old friend along the road. Or how educational old buckaroos named “Cactus” can be. (I’ll never forget that night.)
You get a lot of thinking done up in the puckerbrush, resolve a lot of problems, answer a lot of burning questions. If you’ve wheezed in the thin air of the high lonesome, you know. Go ahead, take a moment and remember.
The hunt was, well, satisfying. That’s the best word to describe it when a strategy finally works. And how often does that happen? Take another moment and recall.
Tripping, trudging, and tumbling uphill in the morning, we intercepted chukars heading for water. Buddy ground tracked from sage to sage, zigging and zagging with that magnetic attraction you can feel in your bones. Creeping, pointing, creeping again as birds high-stepped up the hill, just out of range.
He never busted birds, cat-dancing deliberately, almost artfully, producing flushes in range of the gun as a versatile dog should. Stumbling over rocks and always off balance, I was grateful for the birds that fell to the gun.
By the end of the morning Buddy was hooking up the hill and cutting off the birds’ escape route, pinning them between us. In a panic they’d do a 180 and waddle straight down to me, flying when – omigosh – there was another predator below!
You big-game hunters live this stuff, but it’s the first time I finally put it to practice. In the morning, breezes waft downslope from the warm summit to the cooler valley floor. Once the valley warms, the puffs dry your sweaty face on the downhill slide back to the truck. We used this newfound knowledge to advantage.
I mentioned earlier the remoteness of this place. A major magazine recently described it as the farthest lower 48 location from both a Starbucks and a hospital.
I don’t know what’s worse. Buddy and I could both use a little medical attention. And I’ve got coffee in the truck. Chukar hunting is definitely a contact sport.
[Where would YOU wear a new pair of Irish Setter boots? Tell me below, and you could win a pair just like Dave C. of California! And listen to reports from the Awesome Upland Road Trip – see the radio show links on the right.]