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.


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