Sunday, January 30, 2011

More Chukar Hunting

The View Looking Up At The Last Leg of "Buns Of Steel"

Nasty climbs and long descents are all part of Chukar hunting in the Mountain West. Saturday was no different. We had a beautiful day on the mountain, temperatures were cold in the early morning fog down low but up in the sunshine on the mountain top it was in the 40s that afternoon. My brother Shawn, his dog Sage, my dog Hazel and I got up early with the idea that we would hunt an area that we hadn't tried yet this year. Its a grind of a ascent that is steep and covered in rock and you have to boulder your way up much of it. We nicknamed it "Buns of Steel". Birds can be found almost anywhere so you have to stay alert and ready to shoot even when your bent over sucking wind. I saw 2 birds on the way up didn't have a shot at either of them. They both flew off the the top of some rimrock and disappeared on the opposite side.

At the top this mountain it flattens out some and is a beautiful rolling landscape of golden grass with deep hidden canyons on every side. This mountain used to be a juniper forest but about 10 years ago there was a major forest fire that burned about a third of this huge mountain down to the bare rock and gravel mixed with clay that makes up the soil. Cheat grass took over everywhere the fire had consumed leaving a landscape of yellow cheatgrass dotted with the skeletons of the long burned junipers all surrounded by the maroon and gray rimrock. Chukars love it and thrive in this habitat. Its a very different from that of any of the other gamebird habitat that we hunt in the United States. I feel fortunate to have it so close to home. Its a special hunting experienced that makes you appreciate your health and the wilderness and the toughness of the chukar who lives and thrives in this rugged country.

On top we took a break and as soon as the started hunting again we got into birds making the hard hike up the mountain well worth it. For about 20 minutes the action was pretty constant. It was a hoot. Hazel was awesome she had some good points and retrieves. Again, I was very proud her. She is spending today on the kitchen rug enjoying the warmth of the midday sunshine coming through the window. She is pretty sore and walking slower than usual but she will be fine come tomorrow. I know if I got my boots out and put them by the door she would be up for another round. Just 2 more weekends and this season will be in the bag. I'm already excited for next year. We've got big plans!

Check Out That Soft Mouth. She is the best retriever. She never drops a bird!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Cabela's Denali Hunting Boots with Fit IQ by Meindl Product Review

I am at the end of my 3rd season wearing these boots and I have been very pleased with their comfort and durability. I believe they are the perfect boot for the type of hunting and hiking that I enjoy here in the mountain west. The fit IQ system seems to work very well, I've never got a blister or a hot spot wearing these boots and thats saying a lot with all the weird angles and slopes we traverse while hunting. Mine are scratched and beat up but they still have a ton of wear left in them. The rubber guard that wraps the bottom of the boot really helps the boots durability when your hiking along the rim rocks and rocky places that we encounter chukar hunting.

I treat the leather with a combination of Obenauf's Heavy-Duty Leather Preservative and Nikwax waterproofer. It seems to do the trick and keep the boots looking relatively new. The boots are GoreTex lined and uninsulated and I like it that way. I've found a layer of quality Wool socks with a silk sock liner will keep me warm in almost any conditions. I've worn them chukar hunting when it's below freezing and worn them hiking in the summertime when its above 90 and have always been comfortable. In the cold, as long as your moving around hiking and walking, you will stay warm. I've found that a pair of gaiters is also essential gear when hunting in snow, wet or cold conditions. And I believe the gaiters help keep your feet warmer. I use a pair of Lowe Alpine that wrap around the bottom of the boot and got up to just below my knees.

If your spending most of your hunting standing around blocking fields or sitting in a blind these may not the boots for you. But for the active hunter these boots are awesome. $259 at Cabela's but if you watch they will go on sale for $229 once in a while. They are a little pricey but well worth it. Like everything else, you get what you pay for. Cabelas also has a terrific return policy if your not satisfied with your purchases.

Note: I've posted an update on these boots. 05.15.14 (yes they are still going strong).  I just saw the price of these went up to $299.99 on Cabelas website. It's been my experience that they are worth the money. They've been great boots for me that have stood the test of time. I've had them for 6 1/2 years and just got them resoled.

Check out my update:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

New Favorite TV Show

Everyone needs to check out The Wild Within on the Travel Channel with Steve Rinella. I was curious when I saw that a hunting and outdoors show was going to be on the Travel Channel but so far it's 3 episodes in and I'm impressed. Its an interesting show that is entertaining and thought provoking. Steve Rinella is a great host and I really like his thoughts on hunting and his perspective on the world and mans place in it. We humans are the ultimate carnivores and were top of the food chain. He embraces that fact and shares his thoughts and experiences about hunting and how it is a great way to get closer to not only nature but closer to the food we eat. So far he's been to Alaska, Montana and Hawaii. Check it out.

Pigs and Idiots

I apologize for the lousy photo but I was trying to illustrate how one of my favorite hunting haunts has become a dump for the idiots and pigs that I share this valley with. I took it with my camera phone in haste because someone was shooting nearby and the whistling ricochets were making me nervous to be in the area.

I'm not usually one to soapbox but I'm sickened by the ignorance and stupidity that I constantly witness here in Utah with people treating our public lands like a toilet. There's a spot west of our community that should be used like an outdoor recreation oasis but instead it has become a dumping ground / firing range.

I have no problem whatsoever with people exercising their 2nd amendment rights to own and shoot firearms, I'm a hunter and enjoy mine a lot. I love to shoot. I find it both relaxing and fun. But, the constant lack of education and firearm respect that I witness from people here is insane. Makes me rethink my attitudes on gun ownership. The local gun owners are sorely lacking some gun safety education.

The area I'm talking about is about 15 square miles at the base of a mountain where it meets a lake. It's got a number of flat valleys with a few rolling hills at the mountain edges and is covered with small gullies that catch the mountain runoff when we get heavy snow. The mountain rises pretty steep from the valley floor so up on the mountain is much safer but getting there can be dangerous.

You can go there any given weekend and see hundreds of people all target shooting. Many are safe. they find a good backstop to shoot into, they are careful and separate themselves from the crowd and are clean and pickup after themselves. But then there's the idiots who set up targets (trash) along the flats propped up in some sagebrush or along a road or wherever without a thought of what's going on around them or where their bullets are going. I could go off about the idiocy i've witnessed. People shooting into the same burm from opposite sides. People shooting over a gully while their kids are playing almost directly below them in the same gully. People shooting at targets at the base of a hill when there is people parked and shooting above those targets on the same hill. Its crazy, people and cars are lined up like a parking lot at the state fair shooting stuff between each others vehicles. It's amazing that there hasn't been more accidents or deaths.

What's sad for me is that this place has some excellent chukar and dove hunting opportunities but you feel like your running the gauntlet to get to the areas that you can hunt and feel safe. I had a incident last year when a moron was shooting directly up a canyon that I was descending. My brother and I had bullets whistling past us. We had to quickly backtrack up and around and come down a different way to get back to our truck safely. At the bottom I confronted the idiot and tried to teach him about always having a backstop and knowing about where your bullets are going. He apologized and moved his target but shouldn't any responsible gun owner know this? I gave up on even attempting to go to my favorite areas of the mountain because so many idiots like that are in the area shooting. The new areas are not as good hunting but at least I feel safer. Lately It seems the idiots have migrated to all areas of the mountain.

The other major problem is all the illegal dumping. People drag anything and everything you can imagine and just dump it, shoot it up and leave it. Appliances, TVs, computers, boxes, bottles, furniture, toys, mattresses, you name it I've seen it, even a piano was brought out and shot up. On top of that hardly any of them pick up their brass or shotgun hulls so we have that adding to the mess. It makes me sick to think that these subhumans feel that this is acceptable. Who raises these people? The place is going to cost a ton of money to clean up. Not to mention the damage that it does to the environment and the just the danger having all this trash around. I had to walk my dog at heel to the truck for fear that she would cut her feet on some broken glass.

I talked with a county sheriff yesterday about the problem and he said that they are doing what they can. They are patrolling the area more often and that they are giving out tickets for safety issues and littering and dumping. They are also giving out rewards if anyone gives them information that leads to a conviction for dumping. Hopefully this will help. I know I will try and do my part I hope other citizens will to. There's my rant.

The other side of the story yesterday was that Hazel and I had a great hunt. Hazel was great and had a couple great points and gave me great opportunities. Sadly we are down to our last couple of weeks of hunting for the season. Its been a great year and I had a blast.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tracks In The Snow

After a long hike up one ridge to the mountain top without finding a single feather I reflected for a moment and decided that I need to descend on a different route then previously planned. Chukar hunting along the ridge line that I chose is an old standby that usually holds birds. Not a lot, but I usually see one, two, or more and I find them often enough that I thought it may be worth the effort and extra mile of walking to get back to the truck. I whistled to Hazel and we began crossing the top of the mountain to find our way over to it.

The top of the ridge was almost bare of snow but as we descend into where the fog line has been we begin to get into more snow until eventually we are up to our ankles in it. We seem to be out of luck. No matter how hard we hunt and zig zag across this mountain it appears that any chukars that were here have vacated the area. At least I'm getting some exercise. A week in the office has worn me out and I feel rejuvenated with every step.

TRACKS! Chukar tracks! (insert Elmer Fudd laugh here) I love finding tracks in the snow. Chukar tracks are all around a lone juniper that sits on the high edge of the ridge line. Several birds from what I can tell and the tracks appear to be fresh. I whistle my dog Hazel over and have her sniff them over. She shows some interest but it quickly fades, apparently she had other places to be at that moment. I circled around the tree and decided to try out my Jim Bridger skills and see if I can track this covey down.

I start following the tracks down the side of the ridge into a narrow canyon. The tracks are pretty erratic but all the birds seem to be going in the same direction. I follow them for about 50 yards into a small grove of juniper trees. The tracks seemed to have multiplied extensively. It appears that an entire chukar squadron has recently been feeding and scratching for juniper berries and grass shoots on the snow free ground beneath the trees. I pull my gloves on a little tighter push the brim of my hat up and prepare myself for some shooting. I pushed the tone button on my e collar transmitter to call Hazel over. The tone button causes a quiet beep sound on the dogs collar and Hazel is trained to come if I give her 3 beeps. It's a nice quiet way to communicate with your dog. Where was Hazel anyway? I pushed the tone button again. That's not like her, she's usually very obedient. I guess she must be up and over the other side of the ridge and the transmitter isn't reaching her.

I guess I'm on my own. "No worries, I got this," I tell myself. I circle around the trees and don't find anything but more tracks. Now it looks as if the entire mountain at this level is covered with them. I hit the tone button again and then whistle (loudly), where's that damn dog? I start to head up the canyon guessing that the birds may have moved further up the canyon into some tall grass around some deadfall. Still following some tracks I reach the deadfall but still no birds show themselves. Frustrated, I whistle again for my dog and again hit the tone button on the e collar.

And thats when I find her. She has been holding point not 30 feet from where I was previously standing. She was just below some rim rock and I couldn't see her. I call "WHOA!" like an idiot, (I can only guess what she was thinking) and start back towards her but before I can close the distance, out comes the first bird and then the rest follow. They were too far away and hazel was level with where they were coming up so I couln't even take a safe shot. Hazel chased them for a few seconds and came back over. I hoped that there may be a single holding tight in the cover but nothing came up. I felt so bad. I hope Hazel realized how pleased I was with her good work. My next investment will be in a beeper collar.

Hazel proved once again that she is 50 times the hunter I could ever hope to be. If only I would of paid more attention to what she was doing instead of focussing so much on the tracks. I missed on a wonderful opportunity.

So after all this we head back up the hillside and end up where at the same tree where this entire scene had begun to play out. I see Hazels tracks from before heading away from the tree and I became curious about how she started off running in what seemed like opposite direction of where I had went and we both ended up being almost at the same place at the bottom of the hill. So I start tracking my dog. I found that she ran a loop up the canyon and then must of winded the birds because she made an abrupt left turn and looped around the ledge of rim rock and hugged the inside edge at the bottom of the ledge until she was right above the covey which was only about 15 feet from the front of her nose. She had the birds so busted. I'm guessing that all this played out in about 20 seconds from the time Hazel left me at the top of the ridge. At that same moment I was probably still circling the tree on top. Some pretty awesome dog work accompanied by some not so great person work.

Thats just how it goes sometimes. Although its frustrating at the time I still love moments like that. Lessons learned in the field are a lot of what makes hunting so much fun. Trust the dog. We'll get them next time.