Chukar Hunting in Colorado

Chukar Hunting in Colorado

Chasing the Sun

“Chukar in Colorado huh?” I reply into the phone at Bryce’s request to go chase something new.

I’m a bit leary. I’ve seen one or two of them scampering around the fractured desert back in the day of mashing gears on my mountain bike. I was pretty sure at the time these were rogue birds trying to escape the restrictive drinking laws of the bordering Utah.

I like Bryce’s thinking however. Why the hell not? So what if we only see tumbleweeds, it ain’t about the killing, it’s about the adventure. Plus, I’m about to lose my shit in Denver if I get asked one more time by some teenaged vagrant if I could break him off a piece of bud. The loose weed laws here in Colorado have really attracted some high class citizens, I can vouch for that. Time to wander the mountains.

“I hear they shack up in some pretty steep terrain.” Comes my delayed response. “I’m in.”

“Uhh, yea.” Is Bryce’s only response. The hairs on my neck prick up at the stunted answer. There’s something he’s not telling me.

Bryce is the only guy I ever met that loves to blather on as much as I do about bird dogs. The four hour drive flies by as we gyrate in our seats in excitement, talking about the development of his young pup, Goose, and me telling him about the latest foreign object Braker decided to “challenge” his intestines with.

We wake up in an unfamiliar canyon at the nut freezing temperature of 20 degrees. I’m notoriously bitchy about the cold, believe me, when I find great bird hunting in the tropics, I can promise you I will be there.

I stare in amazement of the near vertical sandcastles that make up the Book Cliffs. The angles of the impervious cliffs and chutes make me think that Dr. Suess has something to do with it’s creation.

Bryce well above the desert floor.

Bryce well above the desert floor.

The sun blesses the top of the mountains with its presence. I look up enviously at the warming mountain top. It’s only a mere sixteen hundred feet separating us and from what I understand, they won’t be sitting on the canyon floor with bullseyes on their chests waiting for us to scoop them up. With frozen fingers and shivering dogs, we all know what the answer is.

“Let’s make for that sunline.” Bryce vocalizes our thoughts.

When plans are made, God is known to laugh. The series of tombstone like cliff bands that separate us from our goal says otherwise.

“Well they ain’t on the canyon floor, so let’s get to gettin.” Is my response.

The approach consists of tucking our I/Os in our packs as we use our hands as much as our feet to scrape and claw our way towards the heavens. My thighs burn and sizzle as I can feel the fat burning off.

“Christ…. and I thought….. grouse hunting….. was hard.” I wheeze between gulps of air in attempts to slow Bryce’s pace.

A welder and fly fishing guide, this dude is built out of steel. While he is lugging around wrought iron and dragging clients through the wilderness, I’m logging serious time behind the twin glowing screens of my computer.

Time to rethink my career.

We push through the burn as the dogs run laps around us. Sage, my lab, keeps looking back and wondering what is taking the bipeds so long. Bryce’s new pup, Goose, keeps the pace with Sage and I can tell this dog has something special in him by his confident strides.

“You got a run for your money with this one.” I mutter under my breath to Sage.

We come to a halt to snap some photos and allow our lungs to catch up with us.

Bryce’s eyes train on a cliff about five hundred yards from straight up from us.

“That’s an interesting sound.” I offer.

“That’s chukar.” He responds as a long finger points up to the vertical wall that appears to be infested with fleas.

“Nooooo.” Is my long winded response. How could it be? There must be a hundred of them up there. I mean this is Colorado, it’s not exactly known for it’s chukar population.

“Well we found them, now how the hell are we going to hunt them?” I ask. “We have a better chance of infiltrating Fort Knox that we do finding a weakness that will allow us to penetrate that cliffline.”

“That I don’t have an answer too.” Comes Bryce’s uncertain reply.

Book Cliffs of Colorado
Book Cliffs of Colorado

I sit there and ponder the remedy.

A. We can hang glide in from above; dive bombing in like a squadron of peregrine falcons.

     B. Launch mortar fire from down below and hope for a few pieces of shredded meat in the leftover remnants.

  1. Man up, hike up a near vertical sandbox, send one of us to the top to flush them over   and pray to God that gravity is taking a break today.

Just as I’m about to hop on my satellite phone to call in a favor with an Army buddy with “creative” means to acquiring non-civilian weapons (mortars) Bryce pipes in.

“Three… we’re going with three.”

“I said all of that out loud huh?” I sheepishly inquire.

“You really gotta work on that inner monologue buddy.” Bryce smiles as he toe kicks into powder dusted hillside. “And “C” comes after “B”, not “3”.

We press on, legs filled with adrenaline as they scream for a short reprieve. This would be all of our first wild chukar, if the hunting gods see us fit for the taking. We press on not wanting them to think us weak and therefore not allowing us to take the birds from their mountain.

This cliff proves to be impossible for us to hunt. It’s irrelevant as we hear another covey on the same contour line about 800 yards off.

We’re on them.

Sage punches through the middle and the covey reluctantly takes flight. I fire two shots and two birds fall from the sky (which actually turns into a third, which we find out the next day).

We watch as the rest of the covey drops over a cliff that eerily resembles the White Cliffs of Dover.

“Their escape routes certainly have a feeling of finality to them, don’t they?” I say to Bryce as I scoop up the second bird from the ever loyal jaws of Sage.

“Next covey it is then.” Bryce replies as he hefts his twin barrel and takes off.

He is itching hard to get goose on a solid point.

We spread out a bit to give our dogs room. Sage just has too much experience and speed to allow a young pup to learn his own pacing.

We work a ridge with Bryce and Goose on the steep side and me and my pups on the more open terrain. Perfect for Braker to stretch his legs and look for a point, while Sage works in close to me, making sure no rock goes unturned.

It’s an interesting combination working with a pointer and flusher on the same hunt. I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out, but over the year or so I’ve been doing it, I learned how to let each dog hunt with their own style.

My only job is to put the dogs in a spot that has potential of having birds, other than that I leave it up to them. What I love about bird hunting is the lack of plans. There is no predetermined direction picked out once we get in a birdy area. Let go of control and let the dogs do what they do best… find birds.

I’m pondering these oh so important thoughts when I hear a single gunshot go off.

Bryce and his wirehaired griffon, Goose.

Bryce and his wirehaired griffon, Goose.

“Good job Goose!” comes the following report.

A smile comes across my face as I gather my pups up and head towards the sound.

As I approach, Bryce is already giving Goose a thorough scratching behind the ears and repeatedly telling his pup how universe now revolves around him.

And it damn well does.

There is absolutely no feeling when that connection between a hunter and his dog is proven by the hunt. NOTHING COMES CLOSE.

The research in the breed that matches your personality, the long wait after you put the deposit down, the countless hours reading books on how to train him during this wait, the arrival, the early bonding stage, the daily walks in the field and woods, the personal talks you have together, the frustration as he eats your socks, the absolute joy he gives you as he is by your side doing what you’re doing day and night, the informal training, the formal training, the promise of an amazing season to come that will probably get you a divorce with the amount of days you plan on hunting together…. and it all comes down to THIS.

That first time you work together as a team, as one single unit, headed towards a common goal… and for the love of God, you achieve it!

I have heard of stronger bonds in the world, but I haven’t experienced it. This animal becomes an extension of you and vice versa. The ability to understand one another without saying a word is something I’ve never experienced with another human being.

Telepathy? Hell I don’t know. Sounds a bit too hippy for this guy, but there are those of you out there that know exactly what I mean.

And I have the joy of watching a good friend fall into the fold.

I look at the two of them, then at my pups and hold back a tear. I know how important this bond is, even if Bryce doesn’t at the moment. That’s the funny thing about life changing events, we don’t know they happened until we get the opportunity to look back at them. I know he will look back at this time and place many times over the years and it will always bring a smile to his face.

I’m just happy to be here to see someone else experience it.

Long live the gundog.

// Fred