I got back to the chukar grounds recently. Doll seemed happy to hunt familiar terrain. Once she set foot in that open, sagebrush country, she knew exactly what to do: find chukar.
We discovered this place and these birds years ago. It’s a great spot with an abundance of the three keys to happy chukar. There’s rimrock, which the birds run up when threatened. And there’s plenty of sagebrush. The third key is down in the valley, where ditches divide fields of wheat, sugar beets and beans. When the summer sun bakes the blue-green patches of sage below the rimrock, the birds fly down to those rivulets of irrigation to water. Twice a day.
They don’t fly down this time of year, however. There’s plenty of water now, or at least enough to keep chukar hydrated during the cooler months.
It’s usually just the two of us, but this time we brought a non-hunting friend along, as well as her Australian shepherd, Ruby. Aussies, of course, are not bird dogs, but I’ve grown fond of that pup and the thought of leaving her home alone while the rest of us were out having fun seemed, well, not fun.
Ruby just hangs back with the humans, staying out of Doll’s way. But our companions were a little distracting for her, and the ruckus of our larger party spooked birds long before we got in shooting range. Twice as I cleared rimrock I watched large squadrons of gray wings clear the sagebrush benches below and float down to the base of the canyon.
Eventually we split up. Free from distractions, Doll went to work locating a covey. She ran out in nice, long casts. I lost sight of her for a short moment, and when that became a long moment, I hustled up to where she stood on point. The object of her obsession was in a tall patch of sage with a grassy opening at its center.
She had pointed birds here before.
I stepped in and the chukar flushed to my left. As I picked out a bird and gave it time to make space for my pattern to open into, I sensed a second wave coming out of the sage. I fired at the first bird, noted where it fell, then turned my attention to the tardy chukar. I reacted quicker this time, and managed a double on the longer second shot.
Doll fetched up the long retrieve while I scooped the first bird out of the grass.
Few bird hunters live nearby, and the few there mostly favor pheasants out on the irrigated fields. They don’t know what they’re missing. There are times when these lightly pressured chukar seem more like tight-holding, oversized quail.
Along with points, Doll and I also do our share of scrambling up scree slopes chasing laughing chukar, birds which seem to know instinctively the killing range of No. 6 shot as they saunter uphill, just beyond the reach of my 20 gauge.
Then, just before it was time to leave, this happened.
Doll moved purposely up a draw as a handful of mule deer eased out of her path. She’s 8 years old now and never moves purposely for anything other than a biscuit, or birds, so I knew to follow. When I caught up she was on point, her head cocked back over her shoulder in the direction of the wind.
I stepped in and a covey of more than 20 birds flushed not 10 feet ahead as another dozen or so came up behind me. I lost my head and shot wildly at the mass of birds, forgetting to focus on a single target.
I missed, but didn’t care. My vest was already heavy, my mind awash with fresh memories.
It was a good day.
Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com, which covers outdoor news.