Back in June during the last few days of the school year, my wife noticed on the district’s public forum that another teacher had a litter of English Pointer/German Shorthair puppies to give away. As our older dog, Mason, was showing the canine equivalent of the Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man In The World’s” beard, we jumped on the opportunity for a free puppy. We named her “Sadie” before we even had her in our possession and the name makes her “Sadie Jr.” as she shares her mother’s name. So, as of June I had a mix with two of the most prominent lines of bird hunting dogs in the world and I had never hunted.
Last month, I visit my dad and he handed down his grandfather’s Parker Brother’s shotgun. No, it’s not a plastic toy gun that accompanies a board game! Rather, as I’ve come to find out, it’s an American icon and this model was produced in 1930. After realizing the history and value of the gun I asked my dad if I should hang it on the wall like an antique? “Shoot the hell out of it,” was his reply.
And so, with my first box of shells, I took my two kids into the local hills looking for Grouse, Chukar, or Quail. My four year old son was incredibly excited that his dad had a real gun and happily followed behind as we traveled in terrain he would normally have complained through. I spent about three days hiking ridges and roads, trampling through Aspen forests, sage filled fields, and ducking under low hanging branches of conifers. All this hiking took me to incredible locations around my valley, places I would never have considered venturing as they were void of anything meaningful outside of their scenery; there was “nothing” there. Alas, on one adventure while seeking out birds I found myself sitting amongst granite boulders with an early morning vista of the Pioneer Mountains glowing in first light. On another outing, I found myself amazed that I could hear the gurgling of a mountain creek as it endlessly carved the canyon floor a thousand feet below the rocky precipice I stoop atop. But, on every occasion, I did not flush any birds and only caught glimpses of Magpie, Crow, and smaller birds my shotgun would certainly obliterate if I were able to hit such a small target.
This past weekend, my brother, Rick, came up for a visit. He, my good friend, Dean, and I went out into the scrub lands above the (very) small town of Picabo to hunt for Chukar. The internet, friends who bird hunt, and everyone we talked with mentioned the area we planned to hunt should be filled with Chukar. We were excited. The dogs were excited. As we drove up the steep forest service roads we climbed into the low hanging clouds and found hoar frost coating the cheat-grass and sage. We hiked under and along a ridge, next to volcanic rim-rock with complimentary colored lichens highlighting themselves in day-glow colors like skiers from the 1980′s. Whether my untrained bird dogs scared the birds away, or there were none along that ridge, we flushed zero. We dropped elevation and hiked back along the lower slopes of the same hill with the same results, nothing. At this point, all we were doing was taking our guns (and dogs) for a walk.
Back at the truck, we put the dogs in the truck thinking we’d eliminate a variable. Then, we hiked up to a small butte. Once on top I flushed a half dozen grouse. Their startling flutter and low octave calls did their job and I defensively stepped back. Then, I instantly realized this was what I was there for and raised my 1930 antique and, in a flutter myself, fired in the general vicinity of the birds. I didn’t hit any with my first shell and it took me a moment to find the second trigger so as to fire the second barrel. Once my finger located the second trigger, the birds still seemed within range and I fired, missing them completely. It was an experience I’ll never forget, but, one that left me feeling more like a virgin who just lost his virginity, but who never got to orgasm! We scoured the remaining areas of the rocky precipice and returned to the truck birdless.
There was still one more smaller hill below our current position that we thought was worth the effort. Dean ended up hiking the South side of the hill as I was on the ridge hoping to flush a covey over his head. He flushed a single Chukar and was a good shot. Our trip was not skunked! The Chukar is a beautiful bird a bit larger than those obese pigeons you step around in large cities, though it is a bird with many more interesting colors and patterns. It is supposedly a very tasty bird as well. Dean field dressed the animal at the truck and Sadie did all she could not to jump and devour the prize.
I never thought of myself as a bird hunter, but, two things fell into place: a dog and a family heirloom. This past month has been an eye opener into the world of hunting. Among other things, moving through those hills I had previously deemed a “waste of time,” have emerged as having the potential for adventure and, if I can become a better shot, dinner.