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Author: Brian Koch

Fleeting Moments with Evaporating Birds

Danielle Prewett with Chukar

 

Chukar Partridge have some nasty habits. They hang out in lofty spaces, the rockier and more rugged the better. Chukar are a non-native species introduced to North America from Pakistan between the turn of the century up until the 1970s. Wild populations established a foothold across the Great Basin where they now thrive. Many game preserves outside of their wild range release Chukar because of the relative ease to raise in captivity. This results in a distorted view of the red-legged birds to people unfamiliar with their wild tendencies. But by nature these birds are cliff dwellers.

Choose to hunt them from the bottom up and they will race bird dogs and hunters up the mountain, weaving between boulders and talus only taking wing at last resort. If you’re lucky enough to find a two-track to elevation, hunting them from the top down, they will flush wild off a precipice and offer the most awkward looking shots imaginable. Follow ups then require dropping elevation and repeating, dropping and repeating – an upland blender that turns legs and will to mush, breaks bird dogs, humbles the mighty.

I prefer the former because at least when hiking ever upward, the accomplishment of the climb can diminish the humbling of the birds. The view and exhaustion offer a substantial consolation prize.

I like to watch the dogs work. They have become accustomed to staying in visual touch with me. It is how we have always hunted regardless of the terrain. I watch their body language for clues of birds trying to evade us. They watch me for a general sense of direction. This is likely a huge disadvantage while chasing Chukar. Instead of unleashing long-legged, rangy beasts that swallow huge chunks of ground while being tracked via satellite, my dogs require participation. They have no intention of going anywhere unless I show a willingness to go there with them.

There are other ways to pursue Chukar but the purest form, the Devil’s Game in their environment where they have all the advantage, feels like it offers the biggest payout. This is what draws me in, the challenge, not visions of tailgates full of birds.

The dogs and I have played the game many times and have yet to leave slopes believing we’ve gotten the better of the birds. Most of the time I’m just happy to make it off the mountain in one piece. The chase is addicting. I can be lost in it, consumed with climbing ever upward. It is a sensory ignitor: physical exertion, mentally taxing, hostile with brief moments of elation. It has it all. And it is completely draining.

Friends have heard my stories of the triumph and torture and somehow are convinced to partake. Possibly drawn by the challenge, the chance to redefine success or test boundaries, I can only guess. Or maybe they just think I’m full of shit. I certainly hope I don’t romanticize the torture. It’s real and it’s not for everyone.

But the addition of friends to these once solo adventures reveals a new vice that may be even more habit-forming: leading companions into wild places in pursuit of the wildest birds and watching them tackle demons. The elation of a hard-won bird raised skyward can only be fully comprehended by those who have shared that mountain. Those tales are destined for recount around the fire roasting the day’s vanquished foes.

The quest to reach a summit with the dogs is gratifying. But the top of the mountain will always be there. The chance to show others it exists is a fleeting moment. And the birds hidden in the crevices and evaporating uphill only come to committed hands.

**Photos by Steve Derr

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Jim Matthews Quail Calls

Jim Matthews Signature Calls

For a truly one-of-a-kind gift for your bird hunter, Jim’s calls are outstanding, functional pieces of art. These hand-sanded, oil-rubbed finish walnut calls can replicate the sound of Gambel’s, California or Mountain Quail. There will be a lot of Bobwhite hunters back east wishing Jim had a call for their native birds. But, don’t let that stop you from owning one of these calls which are great fun to practice for a future date with western quail – $60 and up.

Hoppe’s Gun Medic

Hoppe's Gun Medic

My shotgun gets beat up. I originally bought Hoppe’s Gun Medic because the name seemed appropriate for the state of my abused primary carry gun. And the iconic Hoppe’s name is synonymous with quality gun cleaning products. 

Gun Medic doesn’t disappoint. It’s not gonna fix everything that is wrong with my shotgun, but it sprays on easy and even, evaporates quickly and lubricates while cleaning at the same time. I prefer this aerosol to the screw-top solvents which always seem to come unscrewed in travel and empty all over the rest of the cleaning kit – $7.


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Real Avid Shotgun Micro Tool

Real Avid Shotgun Tool

I always have my keys on me; I feel lost without them. And now thanks to Real Avid I’ll always have a pin punch, choke wrench, cord cutter and bottle opener on my person as well. 

There is going to be a time in the field when I need to poke or prod something on someone else’s shotgun, not mine. And I’m gonna be ready. Then I will open a beer and bask in all my MacGyver glory.  Easy stocking stuffer, get one. Real Avid’s shotgun cleaning kits are pretty nifty as well – $7.


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Camp Chef Ranger II

Camp Chef Ranger II

I wasn’t happy with the under-powered cooktop that came standard with my camper. Standing around waiting for water to boil on cool camp mornings when coffee can’t come quick enough wasn’t going to cut it. 

The compact Camp Chef Ranger II was able to drop right into place and give me more than double the power per burner – 17,000 BTU – and weighs in at just 17 pounds. From frying eggs to searing steaks in cast iron, the Ranger II lights it up. 

Camp Chef certainly has more ambitious and expansive models, but the table top design with easy clean-up and stowing capabilities will be just right for most campsites  or tailgates. And the coffee will be piping hot in a blink – $76.


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Red Dog Roasters 

Midland MXT115, 15 Watt GMRS MicroMobile Two-Way Radio

Midland MTX 115

Get caught in an unexpected storm in the backcountry where there is no cell service and you learn quickly just how valuable weather forecasts can be. That’s why I got the Midland MXT115 – the 50-mile range and the NOAA weather scan and alert can be a true lifesaver with the latest forecast at the push of a button. 

You can easily move this radio from the truck to the camper or base camp for communication with other hunters in your group using handhelds afield. And it’s a convenient way to communicate between vehicles on road trips to and from the hunting grounds – $150.


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Coleman Steel-Belted Portable Cooler, 54 Quart

Coleman Cooler

Yes, I know, everyone and their brother has a roto-molded, armageddon-proof cooler that costs more than their actual freezer. There are umpteen companies now competing in the space, basically making the same heavy cooler with thick walls leaving minimal room for actual cooler contents. 

But, I had a space problem. I needed a cooler that fit a very specific space and needed room for more than two sandwiches and a can of soda. 

I went old school. The Coleman Steel-Belted 54 Quart has been around since the dinosaurs. Your grandad is probably still rocking this cooler. And there’s reason for that…….. it’s rock solid gear. 

I’m not sure if it will withstand a grizzly attack. But I am certain that this cooler will hold ice for 5-days or longer in cool weather. And if a bear happens to attack and destroy my Coleman cooler, I can buy five more to replace it for the price of one similar-sized  insanely heavy Abominable Snowman. I went with the red version, though the stainless steel might feature the requisite stickers better – $65.


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Merrell MQM Flex Gore-Tex

Merrell MQM

More than half of my season to date has been spent in the mountains chasing birds at elevation. I saw the MQM – Moving Quickly in the Mountains – and they got me with that marketing hook. When you’re chasing Chukar, moving quickly is a high priority. I have now worn these shoes for hundreds of miles in all kinds of terrain. 

The MQM are the lightest shoe I’ve ever tried hunting. I honestly don’t know what kind of dark magic Merrell has summoned to keep a shoe that appears mostly mesh both waterproof and durable. And though I’ve been on some extremely rocky descents, not once have I bruised a heal or arch. I even transitioned these shoes to the prairies and subjected them to the repetitive thrashing of Bluestem. They are starting to look a bit frayed, but the performance hasn’t quit. 

I’ll be purchasing another pair at the end of the season for the start of spring training. There is a women’s version of the MQM as well as a mid-height variation for those looking for a bit more ankle support – $140.


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Kent Bismuth

Kent Bismuth

In 1991 the use of lead shot was banned for all waterfowl hunting after a federal study showed that between 1.6 and 2.4 million waterfowl died annually from ingesting lead. Since then steel and other non-toxic shot has been the rule for duck hunters. 

Like it or not, that rule is coming to upland hunting, one state at a time, but it is coming. 

Kent has gotten out in front of that curve with Upland Bismuth for those chasing birds concerned with scattering lead into habitat. It also allows upland hunters to transition seamlessly in marshy areas, Waterfowl Production Areas or National Wildlife Refuges where lead shot is outlawed. 

It used to be nearly impossible to find non-toxic in shot sizes smaller than #4. Not anymore. Kent makes this Bismuth in tons of configurations including my goto 20 gauge #6 in 2-3/4″. I patterned it with my primary shotgun at the start of the season through multiple choke combinations and the performance was solid. The #6 shot gives me the density that I like to see, especially when chasing quail, woodcock and smaller birds. But, you never really know how a shell will perform on wild birds until you head to the field. 

Kent’s Upland Bismuth has been deadly,  an awesome combination with my shotgun making retrieves easy work for the Lab. I won’t look back or wait for the ban on lead to come to the states I hunt, forcing my hand. A bird hunter can never have enough ammo and it doesn’t go bad, so Kent shells make a great gift. 


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Kent Bismuth

Peltor Sport SecureFit 400 Glasses, 3 Pack

Peltor Sport SecureFit Glasses

Eye protection has become a part of all my bird hunts in recent years – it just makes sense to avoid the risk of lost vision for future hunts. Peltor found a way to make it easy on the pocket book as well. The Sport SecureFit 400 come in a multipack with lens colors for any lighting condition, though I tend to lean on the Amber the hardest. At $4 per pair, my feeling aren’t hurt when they get scratched, dropped on gravel roads or when I sit on them.

These glasses are super-light and don’t burden your face. The ear pieces are extremely flexible and don’t squeeze the blood from your brain. I’m able to wear them all day and have no issues with comfort. The lenses will get scratched after extended wear and I either throw them in the recycler and don a fresh pair, or keep them to give new shooters while instructing. The price, quality and fit of these should convince every upland hunter to protect their sight – $12. 


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