This is the second attempt I’ve made to close the distance on the Himalayan Snowcock. You have to put in the time. The learning curve is nearly as steep as the mountains since this is the only place in the Western Hemisphere these birds can be found.
We’re going to keep at it, adjust tactics and head back uphill.
Between the years of 1963 to 1979 Himalayan Snowcock imported from Pakistan and Afghanistan were released in the Ruby Mountains of Nevada. Today it’s the only place in the Western Hemisphere these birds can be found. One can only guess why exactly the Nevada Department of Wildlife went to such lengths to establish a non-native to the northeast peaks of state. I like to think it was the master plan of an evil genius who believed upland hunters had become complacent and lazy.
I’ve been on this quest once before, climbing mountains that thrust at bases around 6,500′ and rise to 11,387′ atop the Ruby Dome. The Snowcock prefer the seemingly barren ground that begins around 10k where cliffs offer easy escape from anything game enough to test them. Unlike other mountainous creatures that head downhill when winter gets tough, the Snowcock have no aversion to hard weather. They seek out the frigid solitude of windblown faces to flaunt their master of mountains status.
The highest point a vehicle can reach in this range is 8,500′ leaving 2,000′ of thin-air ascent to strike prime Snowcock habitat. Pursuit of these birds is considered one of the hardest hunts in the country with just a historical three-percent of permitted hunters taking birds.
In contrast it seems for many bird hunters shooting daily bag limits has become some skewed meter of accomplishment. In the Ruby Mountains limits are only a topic of one’s preparedness and willingness to incur peril.
On the flatlands and game farms the ease and nonchalance in which upland birds often come to hand appears to promote apathy. Why should someone care about something so simple? So little thought goes into the challenges of upland birds to reach maturity, the value they represent by being an integral part of healthy, balanced landscapes.
If you are willing to trek to the farthest reaches of the Ruby Mountains carrying a shotgun, your love of upland birds is beyond reproach. You also might hate your body because the abuse it is about to sustain is substantial.
There are no blockers here. No food plots cut into predictable strips, no orange army walking shoulder-to-shoulder in assault formation.
It’s just a mountain and an impossible bird to test your desire and exploit every weakness.
Going from barely above sea level to over 8,000 feet in the span of a few days is challenging. So I’ve elected to start this hunt just focusing on the next step. Sure I’m here to bird hunt. But right now we just have to get legs and lungs acclimated to this new environment.
I find it amazing that a mountain that looks massive and so imposing can take so long to actually hike to and touch . When it’s right there, yet walk for an hour and you seem no closer.
Though the ultimate goal is to get above 10k and locate a Snowcock, there are other birds in these peaks. Blue grouse are a fairly common sight in the area. They tend to reside above 8,000 feet and normally hold for dog work and gunning.
The temperature this time of year is schizophrenic. The mornings will start off in the high 40s at daybreak and then quickly climb to above 80 in the sun. That’s too hot for an all black dog working this hard. Our time on the slopes is thereby limited to how much water I can carry or whether there is available ground water for Wyatt to cool off in.
Day one we climbed 1,500 feet and hiked for four hours before Wyatt was toast and my legs were jelly. Yesterday we started 1,000 feet higher and trudged to above 9k. Then we dropped down between two ridge lines to explore some cover which meant we got to scale back to our starting height of 8,400.
Today we hiked just over five miles as the crow flies paralleling a ridge line. We’re walking a fine line between getting conditioned and getting totally warped. When we hike in for Snowcock I know our trek will be right around three miles, but we’ll be carrying packs. Wyatt has to carry his own food because I’ll be carrying our shelter along with the rest of our gear.
Wyatt did manage to flush two Blues which were in the wheelhouse and a perfect double, but it was 70 yards from the campground and probably not the best place to launch the season’s opening salvo. There will be more time to shoot birds. We have many more feet to cover.
Months of planning and preparation all led up to our departure from the Carolina low country this morning. I’ve pegged the steering wheel west and will be racing the 2,200 miles to reach Nevada where Ultimate Upland will officially kick off the 2012 bird season. It’s times like this that I wish we owned a teleporter.
The drive affords lots of time to contemplate the upcoming weeks. It also allows the doubt to creep in: Have we put in enough training? Do we have all the gear we’ll need? Will we be able to find the birds?
Wyatt, my four year old lab, and I are headed to the Ruby Mountains in northeast Nevada in pursuit of Himalayan Snowcock. It is the only place in the country that you can find these birds transplanted in the 60’s by the Nevada Department of Wildlife. The hunt is fabled to be the most difficult in the lower 48 because of this bird’s fondness for altitudes above 10,000 feet. Though I’ve been cardio training seven days a week for the last two months, there is likely no amount of training to fully prepare for the grueling climbs that are on the horizon.
The plan is to take a few days to acclimate to the altitude while hunting Blue Grouse. Then hike to a location I’ve identified with potential, setup spike camp and hunt until we bring one of these birds to hand. We’ll see how long it takes to get 50 pounds of gear up the 4,000 vertical feet.
I’m excited. And a bit nervous.
A brief stop to get some inspiration…… for Wyatt.
I’ve been fortunate to have the advice and council of a few other Ultimate Uplanders with experience in this area and game. And if communications allow I’ll be reporting progress from the mountain tops and bringing you all along on the hunt.
Stay tuned for the updates. I’ve taken a nine hour bite out of the 36 hour drive. Wish I was already there.