While there's few things I enjoy more than sharing the mountain or a field with close friends and their dogs, I admit that a solo 1 on 1 with a young developing dog is at the top of my list.
It's on these hunts that the loudest sounds are the thoughts in my own mind and I can truly get lost in the way the dog is working and soak in each moment in it's entirety. As you can tell.. I enjoy my alone time.
As the Utah season began to fade in it's final weeks, I knew my time afield was dwindling and wanted to share one final day with my 2 year old, Chief.
He'd began to find a new gear, handle his birds more maturely and really display what he'd learned over the year. It was finally getting to the point that when my Garmin beeped, I knew it was about to get rowdy.
We began our hike on a mountain that I hunted early in my chukar learning days. I knew the area well and out of respect for the birds and the area, I only hunted the range once or twice a fall, never hiking the same route twice.
A quiet hike up the ridge wasn't uncommon but my hopes were high. We'd been blessed with a few inches of snow in past weeks and a solid snow usually congregated the birds to the south slopes where feed was more easily accessible.
A few 'birdie' moments by Chief confirmed what I hoped and I knew that eventually we'd run into a covey or two.
I don't need a limit of birds.. just a few solid opportunities with good work would be sufficient enough to scratch my itch and cap the year with a happy ending.
We reached the top without any productive finds and began to work the quieter side of the ridge where the wind wasn't as prominent.
Shortly after hiking up into a small bowl with nice steep hills, clusters or rimrock and a few larger burned cedar trees, the Garmin beeped and notified me that Chief had stopped.
I'm usually optimistic and give him a few 10-15 seconds before I emotionally commit to what I hope might be. I stood there, looking at my watch, waiting to see his 200+ yard distance fluctuate and the icon of a pointing dog transition to a moving dog.
To my delight all things remained the same. Go time..
I made it to where I could see Chief and he was hunched up, chest low, tail high and burning a hole in the rocks below him with his eyes.
I assessed the situation and planned my approach.
I'm a firm believer that those that are successful at putting birds in the vest chukar hunting are strategic in their approach. Knowing that we had the birds from above, dropping 20-30 yards below the dog and side hilling across would provide me with the best chance to have the birds rise directly in front of me and present a crossing left to right shot. Much easier shooting than straight away and downhill.
I dropped down and began cutting the distance, slowly, quietly and watching the spot I anticipated the birds being.
I closed the distance and was some 20 yards from where I hoped the birds were located and ensuring my footing was sound, I stood and waited.
If you've ever hunted chukar, you know that having your feet underneath you is pinnacle to provide the best opportunity. While I've shot many a chukar from my ass, I by far prefer to be ready for the flush.
One tactic I've developed over the years is to stand and let the birds 'feel' the pressure of my presence. While there are the rare times the birds have no idea you're there, most of the time they know and they're trying to hold as still as can be.
In my experience, the birds eventually can't stand the pressure and jump, giving you the chance to see if all that range time paid off.
As I stood and slowly scanned the ground, my eye caught the black mask of a chukar as it poked it's head from below the rock pile I hoped they were at. As soon as it saw me, the rock pile exploded.
I focused on the very bird that appeared, swung my gun and fell the bird. As soon as I saw the pillowcase effect of my 3/4oz of 6's from the 28, I picked a bird a hair further ahead, since my barrels were already moving that direction and knocked down it down as well. Sweet! A Double!
Chief took off down the mountain at the further bird that had fallen down below in some rocky cliffs. The first bird was laying cold on the ground.
As I made my way to recover the first bird, I saw another bird fluttering on the ground, just down the hill. Confused I picked up the first bird and stood waiting for Chief to show. Had he run past the second bird?
I thought about it and realized that in the rise my wide open chokes must have gifted me a golden pellet and I'd scored a scotch double on my first shot. How cool!
My thoughts were confirmed as Chief appeared a few moments later with the long bird in his mouth. A triple with a 28 gauge O/U gun. I was stoked!
We collected our prize and off Chief went again.
I'd no sooner picked up my gun, I'd set it down to take some pictures/videos on my phone of Chief, and the Garmin sounded again.
In what I could have sworn had been 3 seconds, Chief was on point again.
I assumed he'd hit some hot scent from where these birds had been earlier in the morning and started his way. After all, he was only 100 yards off.
I cleared the rocks and he was showing the same body language as before. I knew there were more birds.
I dropped down the hill to use the same tactic as before and approached from below.
A single burned cedar tree seemed to be where Chief assumed the birds to be.
As I neared the tree, being some 25-30 yards away, a small group of birds jumped right at my feet.
I picked the bird that flew to my right, swung through and the shot connected.
Knowing how chukar behave, I hoped for a late flyer.
My wish was granted and a last bird took his Final Rise.. see what I did there ;)
Wow! What went from 1.5 hour hike with no bird contact to one of the quicker limits I've ever experienced.. and with only 4 shells from the 28, to boot!
I soaked up the moments as I watched Chief fetch his birds and bring them to hand.
I snapped a few last pics on the phone, took in a few deep breathes of the cold mountain air and sat there with Chief as I enjoyed what I knew would be our last solo hurrah of the year.
There's always a few hunts that seem to stick out from the rest each year, with vivid memories and crystal clear moments capture. This was one of those.. truly a chukar hunt that I'll never forget.