By Tom in Oregon
Recently, Tyler Kee posted a story about dove hunting in Texas. While reading it, I started getting excited about an upcoming bird hunt I get to participate in. Mind you, this is while I’m in the middle of bear hunting, while also looking forward to elk season in December and another trip back to Africa for more plains game. You see, I am a hunter. As noted hunter and conservationist Jim Shockey has said, “If I’m not hunting, I’m thinking about hunting.” I take that a little farther. Even when I’m hunting, I’m thinking about hunting . . .
When I eat what I harvest, it holds a very special meaning and every bite is savored. Tyler’s recipe using quail breast with cream cheese-stuffed jalepeño wrapped in bacon is my absolute favorite. Though something simple like “chukar noodle soup” is nice on a fall day. Chukar breast marinated in a good teriyaki sauce, barbecued, then laid on a bed of wild rice is excellent and simple.
Upland bird season opens on October 11here in Oregon. Due to varying days off, our group will be heading east on the 19th. That means I need to put a bit more effort into building my stamina and leg strength as our group heads off to the Snake River canyon for the elusive chukar.
This wily bird is in the partridge family and is a bit larger than quail. While normally in coveys like quail, they don’t always rely on a group mentality to stay alive. They are a very fast bird with a high regard for their own survival. Normally, the birds aren’t too skittish in the opening weeks. Yet as the season progresses, they will flush for no reason. Normally, we scout an area and see if we should start at the top of the mountain or the bottom, based on where we hear the birds. That is, from what level in the deepest canyon in North America are these champions of survival mocking us? They “chuck chuck chuck chukar” at you from a cliff face at some level and it echoes off of the rim rock, somewhere in this…
If we’re lucky, they will be close to the top, or close to the bottom. If they’re in the middle, it’s going to be a long day, and I start to wonder if I remembered to bring ibuprofen for the next morning.
Mind you, these birds are the supreme sadists of the hills. But only because we are the ultimate masochists. We will chase them half way up the hills, only to have them turn around, side hill, then fly back down. Or conversely, chase them half way down the hills only to have them fly back to the top. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Boots ‘N Guns
The correct tools are a definite must. Good-fitting, well worn boots with ankle support are at the top of the list. Between the shale, decomposing granite and columnar basalt that has broken and collected into the random scree field, the going can be rough on the ankles. And if you show up wearing new boots, you’ll get pity laughs. Check that, we’re going to laugh our asses off! Because we know you won’t be hunting day on day two, three or four. You’ll be nursing blisters. Which means you better know how to cook, because you are now the “camp b!tch.”
Normally, we wear a hunting vest in blaze orange. You have to wear a vest anyway for carrying your shells and hopefully, a few birds. Orange is helpful in keeping track of everybody in a rapidly disintegrating skirmish line. As safety is a must, we all carry GMRS radios for check in. They are checked pre-hunt to make sure they all work and have good batteries.
For a proper shotgun, the guys in our group have quite the eclectic mix. One has an old Remington 1100, another has a beautiful Ruger red label over and under. One carries a Benelli M-1 super 90 with a plug. Only one in our group carries a pump gun. I rotate between an older Browning Silver Pigeon over/under in 12 gauge or a really old Winchester model 50 auto loader in 20 gauge.
Auto loaders prevail here. There’s a definite need for speed in your shooting when a covey flushes and no amount of trap, skeet, or sporting clay shooting will prepare you for an explosion of feathers as the birds explode into the sky. As they take flight, they launch straight up for about five feet, just two feet above the sage brush. Then they turn for level flight and vacate into the next time zone.
If you’re good, you’ll get one of them in their initial launch. If you are pretty good at trap, skeet or sporting clays, you’ll get a double. If you’re really good, you’ll get a third as it levels out and approaches warp speed. I’ve gotten a few doubles. I’ve only seen one triple. Most times, in all the confusion, you shoot into the covey — instead of aiming at a particular bird — and miss every darn one of them. A full choke is also a must. Some shots will be really out there … 75-100 yard shots at a straight away bird can be done.
Ammo and other Necessaries
The weather there can flip you off with the fickled finger of fate. One day it’s near 70 and you’re in shirt sleeves. A week or two later and it’s just above zero, so the clothing rule of thumb is “bring everything.”
As for ammo, all of us have settled on high base #6 shot. Three-inch shells are kind of overkill, 2 3/4 work just fine. I usually carry two full boxes on a hike. This, on top of a couple bottles of water, a small first aid kit, a couple of energy bars and if you’re lucky, a six bird limit of delicious winged protein on the hike back. Remember, ounces turn into pounds on a 5-10 mile, 6-8 hour hike up and down that kind of terrain.
That’s my ride back to camp. It’s a 20′ boat with two friends taking a fishing break while I chase more birds. Because this is where I like to shop for groceries. Because I’m a hunter.