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Posts Tagged ‘chukar hunting’

Up here, a saved step or two is worth thinking about.

On this morning’s training walk with Manny, I was reminded of the importance of how we choose our steps … and why. Hope you find something useful here:

“Walk This Way” is more than an iconic rock tune (the original version by Aerosmith, whose lead singer Steven Tyler, by the way, has been a bird hunter in the past.) Ambulating with some care husbands your precious energy and maybe save a trip to the emergency room. Where I hunt, in the darkest spot in the lower 48, both of those are good enough reasons to think before I step.

It starts with minimizing the strain on your thigh and calf muscles by stepping over, not on top of, obstacles such as logs and rocks. Each upward stride is like climbing stairs, taxing some of the largest muscles in your body and lifting virtually your entire body’s weight each time you summit a downed tree.

If you must negotiate a boulder field or rocky slope, you’re safer stepping to the low spots. You have less chance of twisting an ankle or breaking a femur because you’re carefully, deliberately putting your feet where they’d go the hard way in a mishap. And by not “topping” rocks, whether they’re securely anchored or loose as bowling balls is immaterial to your delicate bones and joints.

On steep uphills, say in chukar country, conserve energy with the slight rest your muscles get as you lock your knee at the apex of each step. Your legs’ skeletal structure supports your body weight for a microsecond, giving oxygen-rich blood a chance to flow back into relaxed muscle tissue. And for some reason I tend to stomp on each uphill step, adding injury to the insult of taunting chukars mere yards uphill from me. If you do too, step lightly instead.

A long day weaving among the trees and shrubs will seem shorter if you weave less. Even if it seems a bit out of the way, walking in longer straight shots with fewer twists and turns, alleviates stress on hip and knee joints and the muscles that activate them. Over the course of a 10-mile hunt, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the absence of pain.

Finally, the U.S. Army has convinced me that shortening your stride just a few inches is wise.  Among recruits, it protects against hip and pelvic injuries. For we hunting civilians, too. Here’s a bonus: on crusted snow, you may find yourself “postholing” less.

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Petroglyphs up there - one of the lessons to learn.

Petroglyphs up there – one of the lessons to learn.

In another life I must have been an historian. I love the past, reading about it, talking about it, and especially the dazzle of discovery. Besides being with dogs, the chance to span the decades (even centuries) is high on my list of reasons to go hunting. Cresting a ridge to find everyday stuff lost or discarded by those who walked the same path brings dusty books and mind-numbing lectures to life.

I’ve stumbled over sheepherder stoves and peeked (not too far) into abandoned gold mines, camped in willow corrals and counted bullet holes in a Buick abandoned after a foiled bank robbery. Man-made artifacts, each with a tale to tell those lucky enough to walk a bit farther.

A ranch driveway bears a faded sales pitch for an insurance agent, painted on a boulder when the rutted gravel was the only road into town. Pictographs and petroglyphs are a regular discovery in the tumbles of lava that define chukar country. Rock cairns called “stoneboys” by Basque sheepherders, were piled to counter the boredom of minding a flock. Stories from different ages, for differing reasons.

Wagon wheels, lead-soldered cans piled among shattered crockery, square nails from abandoned homesteads, all tie this life to past lives. Everyday junk joins us to predecessors.

Why did someone leave that wooden bucket on this ridge? Who knapped arrowheads, leaving a pile of obsidian chips glittering at the base of this rock? Was that intact spear point dropped in the heat of a chase? A clean miss? What – or who – was the target?

That’s why I love this stuff, the stories. Do you have any?

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Double on Huns ... now that's an indelible memory, boots or not.

Double on Montana Huns … now that’s an indelible memory, boots or not.

I don’t know what you have on your end-of-season to do list, but it seems like mine gets longer every year. One of the topmost chores is saddle-soaping my hunting boots. Today was the first spring-like day here: blue skies, last week’s rain rising from the ground to weight the atmosphere, and a blazing sun … ideal boot cleaning conditions.

With brush, water, saddle soap arrayed on the porch, out marched the footwear, pair after pair after muddy pair lined up like so many recruits awaiting their first day of basic training. Scrub, wipe, array in the sunshine to dry … assuringly familiar, this routine, a note of finality with each pair dispatched.

The tall boots rekindled memories of a hell-bent stream crossing after valley quail, alone but for my dogs. The mountaineering boots proudly wore scars from jagged lava rock, abrasions suffered in pursuit of chukars with a college chum. A cushy, “civilized” pair were worn only once this season, on a memorable bobwhite hunt with some real Yankees from Vermont, quite at home in Alabama, also quite genteel. Each boot brought another memory bubbling up from the subconscious, as vivid as the video footage you’ll eventually see on the show.

Last week, gun cleaning. This week, boot cleaning. Next week, I’m sure something else will find it’s way onto the list. Until then, I’ll pour another cup of coffee and relive my time in the hills and prairies, reminiscences now written onto the soles of each boot.

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One reason to head uphill.

One reason to head uphill.

The chukar hunter’s axiom is don’t give up altitude. It’s more often-employed corollary is don’t gain altitude. It’s a palatable rationale unless you see or hear those running devils in the rocks above. But hold everything.

Most people don’t bother climbing, which is why you should. Ascend. Head for the high spots. Sure, you’ve got a goal: getting from here to there, finding a bird hangout, searching for a a hunting friend on the other side. But even without an excuse or the rattle of chukar calls, an uphill detour is often worth time and energy.

Hill or hummock, knob or knoll, a mere bump in the landscape is all it takes to reveal Nature’s secrets. High spots are ideal roosts and bedding spots harboring pronghorns and mule deer. Ancient hunters surveilled from rocky aeries, chipping obsidian arrowheads or scratching designs on rock to bide their time.

A mirror-like pool of water in a hexagonal rock bed, band of bighorn sheep sneaking over a rocky saddle, interrupting a coyote’s mid-day nap, eagle nests, a gold prospector’s rusting dreams, a chance to see three states from one point. All are discoveries I’ve made by climbing a few – or a few hundred – feet upward.

The sea-level adventurer strides on, oblivious. But not you, right?

And another. Birds up there.

And another. Birds up there.

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We are ending our season here more often than not. A hotbed for hippies in summer, chukar hunters in fall.

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Bone-dry conditions. Birds were very near water. No greenup except where streams were flowing. Narrows things down a bit!

They are up there somewhere.

Recon stop

Admiring the view

View from the top

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This scree harbored a covey of chukars, believe it or not.

Have you ever had virtually everything go right? For almost three weeks? When the equation included two dogs, four TV cameras, crew, vehicles and a squeaky-tight schedule?

As the saying goes, I’d rather be lucky than good. In this case, good planning was complemented by better luck. This year’s Awesome Upland Road Trip was a vestful of highlights, which you’ll see starting next summer on Wingshooting USA. I’ll do my best to recall some of them here between now and then, starting with the warm-up chukar hunt in southeast Oregon.

It was warm, dry, and where we hunt that’s a good thing.  (The roads turn to gumbo with a light sprinkle; if you’re up a canyon you’ll slide into something on the way down. If you’re at the mouth, you won’t be going uphill any time soon.) Mike got there early and staked out our favorite spot. I followed, paying a visit to my favorite town, Fields (pop. 9) and proprietors Tom and Sandy Downs. There’s always a new or old friend in the cafe’, and the Friday before the opener was no exception. It’s one of many reasons I hunt that area, and there’s been more than one occasion when I’ve seen folks there I haven’t seen in town in years, adding spice to an already tasty serving of high country adventure.

A warm-up hill ... easy walking, relatively speaking.

Dave rolled in late (he’s got a respectful day job – actually, two) and we finally got some shuteye. Dawn came early and cold, with the crack of shotguns down canyon. A neighboring camp had the jump on us, scattering the home covey of valley quail before we’d finished our coffee.  They didn’t stay long, though, as their principal quarry was mule deer.

We mobilized and headed for higher terrain and chukar partridge but our walk was interrupted by Buddy’s first point and the whir of quail wings … apparently the other hunters hadn’t broken up the covey completely … or was it another bunch, headed down the same canyon?

Dave’s young Lab Buster was enjoying the tantalizing scent, the excitement of gunfire, and a playmate in my wirehair. He’s got potential.  Singles flushed sporadically, and we pursued. How we did is the subject of a future installment.

One tired wire.

Camp. If I told you where it was, I'd have to kill you. The Aliner pop-up trailer performed perfectly!

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