Out of Bounds

Familiar Landscapes

Sometimes there’s nothing better than revisiting a place you know so well it’s practically an old friend

By Rob Breeding

I was comparing notes with another chukar hunter the other day. He told me of a few new places he had hunted. Some with success. Some, not so much.

Hunting sometimes requires wearing out some boot leather. I wasn’t surprised that my fellow hunter found birds in the places he described. They aren’t that far from the Chukar Grounds, which I frequent whenever possible. I figure chukars are all over the basin, where the slopes get steep.

I’d figured, but didn’t know. I burned my boot leather sorting out the Chukar Grounds. I’d heard there were birds there, then put the time in to find them. Having made that investment, I like to cash in.

My fellow chukar hunter had a different take. I’d told him about the Chukar Grounds, years ago, and he visited once or twice, scoring a limit on one occasion. Then he moved on. I keep going back to some of the same spots. He likes to keep moving, preferring not to pound favored grounds.

I see it both ways. You only find new places by getting out and walking. I covered a lot of miles during my decade-long quest to hunt mountain quail in Southern California. Most of those miles didn’t hold birds so it’s unlikely I’ll be back.

Those places I found birds, however, I’ll revisit. I earned it.

I like returning to old spots. There’s a place on the Chukar Grounds I learned alongside Doll, so she knows it better than I. We park on a hill, and below us is a steep scree slope and then a sagebrush-covered bench. Chukar are fond of that bench, and while they aren’t in that sagebrush every time, they’ve been there often enough that Doll knows to start hunting the moment she gets out of the truck.

When we hit it late in the season, a stiff wind was coming out of the south right up the hill. I let her out of the truck and immediately regretted not vesting up and getting my shotgun ready first. Doll trotted over to the lip of that scree slope and stared down at the bench with an intent that made clear this was one of those times the chukars were there.

I hurried back to the truck, threw on my vest and grabbed my 20 gauge, loading a pair of shells as I walked back to the lip where Doll had stood a moment before. I reached the edge and looked down. Doll was in the middle of the sagebrush, solid on point.

The truth is there was only a small chance the birds would hold long enough for me to noisily scramble down the slope and cross the bench to get in position to shoot. Still, you never know in wind. Sometimes birds get flighty, and other times — their senses befuddled by sensory overload — they hold tight.

This time there was another wild card: my young setter Jade. The pup backs Doll when she sees the big dog on point, but if she smells or sees birds first she can’t help herself. This I learned conclusively watching her hunt through the season. Jade missed Doll’s point as she trotted through the sage, and I watched as Jade picked up scent and probably saw the birds holding in the brush. She charged in.

We’re going to spent a bit of time on “whoa” in the off season.

It was a pleasure to hunt behind Doll that day. She’s long since memorized the places we usually find birds on that walk. She moves from one spot to another, though she varies her route enough to cover the ground in between.

We both know it well. I love finding new spots, but sometimes there’s nothing better than revisiting a place you know so well it’s practically an old friend.

Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.

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