“Uhhh… there’s a what?” I stammer out in stupefied confusion.
“Yea, right behind you. Comes all the way to the top.” Our newfound friend eagerly feeds us the locals’ inside information.
“All the way from the bottom? All the way to the top?” Bryce points off the cliff that our camp is so precariously perched on. “Like a road you can drive on, with a car?”
“That’s usually what they’re for. Driving on. You mean to tell me you guys hiked all the way up here with all that camp gear, enough water for yourselves and your dogs and those heavy rifles?” our inquisitor asked.
“Shotguns.” I murmur.
“They’re shotgu… Never mind.” I cut myself off, not wanting to explain the not so subtle differences between a shotgun and a rifle to guys that prefer the comfort of spandex to upland pants.
“All to catch some birds? Hell you can buy birds to eat from the grocery store in the town below!” He laughs as he takes a tug from his post ride beer.
I hold my tongue, also not wanting to explain that it wasn’t just about coming up here to ‘catch’ something to eat.
Moments earlier Bryce and I watched these two mountain bikers as they powered their way up the same trail we grinded up earlier that day. And grind we did. I’ve rock climbed in areas that were a lesser grade than this.
Both having strong mountain biking backgrounds, Bryce and I discussed earlier what an epic downhill this little piece of singletrack would be. That being said we also questioned if the way up was worth the way down. You’d be earning your turns on this one, there was no doubt about that.
Bryce and I turn the discussion more towards mountain biking, knowing that this would be a common ground between us. Trying to explain why we hunt to non-hunters has never been an easy feat.
The sunset was too stunning for an argument. We talk for a bit and the two say their farewells.
As our cliffside campfire crisps the chukar taken from the sky today, we watch the bikers scream down the near vertical mountainside, sending up rooster tails of dust into the sunset.
“A road huh…” Bryce breaks the silence.
“Yea, must have missed that one when virtually scouting the area.” I say somewhat apologetically.
We both know that means we wouldn’t have aching quads from the four mile, 3,100 vertical gain hike in. We also wouldn’t be rationing water right now in order to keep all parties on this upland expedition hydrated.
“To hell with it. We earned these birds the hard way and I don’t get to keep my fine girlish figure from riding a truck around, blasting critters from a window.” Bryce says in his best redneck accent.
Want to find a good hunting partner? Prerequisite number uno. Find someone who doesn’t bitch about a little hard work. Not a complaint left Bryce’s mouth.
I stoke the coals and check the meat as the pups settle into the dirt for their night’s rest.
We pick at the meaty birds and look out over the valley as the sun melts away and the darkness takes on its eerie job.
“Let’s go check the ‘potholes’ tomorrow and see if its holding any chukar. Besides, the dogs need a good watering.” Bryce says.
“Sounds like a plan to me.” I respond. With little water to be had in the desert, sometimes small holes eroded into the sandstone flats can hold water from the last rain and attract just about every animal in the vicinity.
And with that we crawl into our respective tents and let the day’s beating slip us into a coma.
Before the morning sun breaks the horizon, the dogs are up with the intent on introducing themselves to every bird on the mountain.
We head out in a loose direction towards the potholes, letting our bird dogs do the navigating. I have full confidence in Sage and Goose to accomplish what they were put on this earth to do; to find birds.
And birds they find. A covey bursts into the sky as Sage’s wet nose prods them from their morning nap.
Two shots sounds off from my over under and two birds fall from the sky.
“Got ‘em!” Bryce and I say simultaneously.
“Got what?” I ask, “A good view of that perfect double I executed?”
As often happens with hunting partners, shots fired at the exact same time, at the exact same bird leaves the other confused as to who actually put the bird on the ground.
“You shot the one cresting over that cedar as well huh?” Bryce laughs.
“Aye.” I say. “Looks like I’m at one and a half and you’re at a half for the morning. How does the Department of Wildlife decipher half kills in the rule book?”
“They give the kill to the taller guy.” Bryce says with a straight face.
I’ve heard the Department of Wildlife had a bias towards taller people, but I didn’t know that it would go as far as taking food out of my mouth. I concede to Bryce’s kill, not wanting to break the law.
We find the potholes but nothing is stirring. The dogs lap up the pools of cool water as the humans rest their legs.
I look out at the vast emptiness that lies ahead of me and smile inwardly. Something about undeveloped and unspoiled lands makes me feel like a rowdy little kid on Christmas morning. You have no idea what’s under the wrapping paper. The only way to find out is to dig in.
I grunt as I get up and look over to see if Bryce is as sore as I am. He hides his aches well and points in a general direction.
“That way?” he asks as much as he tells.
“Sure.” I respond with a shrug. Honestly I could care less. It’s all good hunting ground and I’m in no rush to get anywhere in particular.
The dogs peel themselves away from their water holes and set the pace.
We roam the mountainside as the bird dogs work together in perfect harmony. A pointer and a flusher, who would have ever thought they could work so together so seamlessly. One hyper and with and unbelievable drive to find birds that he often finds on sheer effort alone. The other, calculated and precise using less effort to accomplish the same mission.
I ponder the old adage of a dog being the product of his owner’s personality. I look at Sage as he works the cedars in a foamed mouth frenzy. He’ll find them, but damn is he going to have to work for it. It’s not natural talent that is creating his success, it’s sheer determination. I hope to be half the dog he is someday, I think to myself.
We push through several coveys making some lucky shots, but mostly missing and embarrassing our dogs.
Towards the end of the loop that will end our trip, we come across the road that could have carried us effortlessly to the top and planted right smack in the middle of chukar country.
“So this is the express lane to chukar success I suppose.” I say to Bryce as we examine tire marks pressed into the dusty road.
I can tell that he’s feeling the same disappointment I am. There always seems to be a shortcut to get to the same place. An easy way and a hard way. A way to get to the same point, but one takes a hell of a lot of more effort than the other. Does the actual path to get there matter or is the means worthless and only the end really matters?
We walk on in silence towards camp and the trail that will take us down the mountain to the truck.
“When we coming back?” I ask Bryce to break the silence.
“Just as soon as my legs recover so I can make that brutal hike up again.” Comes his unexpected response.
I smile as I kick a rock off the trail and watch it pick up momentum as it careens towards the valley floor.
“The means.” I laugh under my breath and I see Bryce smile as if he heard the whole conversation in my head. I know I don’t need to explain to him the difference between a rifle and a shotgun.
// Fred Bohm