RIDGE OF PLENTY
Near the town of
The Chuckar is not native to
A brief recount of one morning’s hunt will give the reader some idea of the challenges involved in pursuit of these infuriating birds. Cresting a deep canyon a little before first light, having left the campground at the water’s edge at some 45 minutes earlier, my hunting partner Dale pulled to the side of what cannot be called a road, even by third world standards, to begin the day’s hunting. Normally, first light is the best time to locate birds as they are especially vocal then. As soon as the big diesel fell silent, we heard birds across a modest canyon and could pinpoint their likely location as a couple of rocky ledges. Modest in this case means a 500 foot drop to the bottom with a climb of some 1000 feet up the other side to reach the area where the birds were calling. All of this would have to be negotiated via thirty degree slopes.
Dale, freshly recovered from the previous day’s exertions, began to gather his hunting vest, ammo, and gun and said something like “Let’s go get ‘em”. I hesitated as the birds were getting smarter and wilder by this, the third day of the season. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, I offered to cover this side of the canyon in case the birds flushed back in this direction. Dale took off down the slope. My position, just below the road we had painfully negotiated, offered me a grandstand view of my partner, now an orange and green speck, inching up the other side of the gully. After a half hour or so, he gained the right altitude and began moving along the contours toward the birds. A short time later, he raised his gun and little silent puffs of smoke emanated from the muzzle. After the second puff, I heard the shots reverberating across the early morning stillness, strangely delayed. I saw no birds from this distance, and from the lack of any effort to search the rocks, I gathered that the birds had escaped any harm. Instead, he continued along the sidehill.
Suddenly, I became aware of movement in the sage above me along the roadside. Rising, I found myself looking directly at a Chuckar not 15 paces from me. Immediately, before I could turn properly, the bird flushed with a loud whirr and was followed by about a half dozen more birds. They alighted somewhere above me on a more gentle slope than their usual haunts, but out of sight. This was more my style, I thought, as a pushed up a little gully and swung out onto a grassy knob searching for the covey. After making a few zig-zags, each taking in higher ground than the previous one, birds flushed all at once behind me, flying directly toward the canyon I had hesitated to cross. Quickly, perhaps too quickly, I fired my right at a bird, and seeing no effect, fired again with the full-choked left barrel. This time the bird came down in a satisfying heap while the remainder of the covey disappeared into oblivion. I ran toward the spot to find my prize….past experience had taught me to keep my eye on the point of impact and to lose no time getting up on the bird. Right about the time I reached the place and started casting about for my bird, a pair of hunters crested a small rimrock about fifty yards further down the slope, just uphill of the roadway. I expected to be chewed out for shooting toward them, but instead one shouted “Your bird ran off the cliff back there”. I quickly moved toward the spot indicated, and after searching carefully along a twenty yard stretch of rimrock from above, I made out some feathers and then the bird, stone dead at the base of a thirty foot drop. The bird had literally jumped! Finding a way down, I recovered my prize and began walking back up the roadway to the truck just as Dale appeared out of the brush, sweat pouring off his now-red face and soaking his vest around his neck. “Any luck?” I asked. He shook his head. “Flushed wild” he said. “Took a couple of long shots but probably shouldn’t have”. I recounted my less strenuous hunt and pulled the bird from my vest. Dale grinned painfully and said “Let’s head for the next spot”, turning toward the truck and shucking the shells from his 870.
The “next spot” could be any one of the many ridges and canyons that course through this rugged and desolate area. Over the years, we have named the various pieces of likely habitat, often by some special experience that we had shared there. “
Each year, we would add to our list of special places. This last year, we dubbed one ridge “Bitch Ridge” after exhausting ourselves traversing its particularly nasty shoulder one very warm afternoon. Needless to say, we won’t be back there in a hurry. Another ridge we hunted for the first time this past season was a very long but somewhat easy ridge that we had never hunted before. It lay across a nasty canyon called “Ass-Over-Tit” canyon, which was reached by traversing “Rabbit Ridge”. The rabbit in Rabbit Ridge was a large hare that bounded out ahead of us one year, and as he dodged between some large rocks I took a shot at him. My shot flushed a large covey of birds that were thirty yards ahead of us, probably moving down the ridge on foot just ahead of us as we struggled along. Needless to say, despite our surprised and frantic shots, we failed to harvest a bird from that flush.
Having hunted both these spots on the second morning with no success (we did see a very large and fearless coyote that was probably the reason for the lack of birds along Rabbit Ridge), we negotiated the afternoon hunt and ended up with Dale’s pick, a ridge that lay high and to the West of the morning’s hunt. The wind was quite strong and cold that morning, but this ridge offered some shelter and seemed promising. We had heard birds up on the ridge, but from where we were, this ridge was a thousand feet up and a nearly a mile away. However, some lunch and our lack of success gave us the necessary resolve to tackle them. We reached the ridge by a back trail that put us near one end at the right elevation at least eliminating the climb.
Within 200 yards of reaching the ridge proper, we flushed a covey and they flew across the draw to a patch of broken rock opposite us without offering a shot. I noted the location and planned to work that area on our way back to the truck, already a distant blob on the horizon. Then, as we moved along, Dale up on top and me walking below the rimrock, one of the dogs suddenly surged ahead, head up and obviously alert. Now normally a dog will have its nose to the ground if birds are near, so I was very surprised when a covey flushed ahead of us, gliding down the slope below us. I followed them with my eye until they literally disappeared against the backdrop. Then two birds flushed behind us, tight against the rock face, and again no shots were fired. These turned and landed along the ridgeline ahead of us, so we were reasonably confident of getting another crack at them. Often, if the birds are not shot at upon the first flush, they will make only a half-hearted attempt to get away and will settle again within a hundred yards or so. This proved to be the case, my first shot being a miss, the second a hit, and the third a shot at the bird as it hit the ground and began running. Happily, that final shot anchored it and I pocketed the first Chuckar of the day. (This year, I was using a Winchester Model 50 specifically because it offered a third shot, and that third shot was reserved for a wounded bird.) That brought our average for the day to about ten man-miles per bird!
Before we reached the end of the ridge, we flushed one more covey but again, the birds flushed wild and dropped into the canyons below us unscathed. This time, it was I who had the energy to drop down to the canyon lip several hundred yards below us, and Dale who decided to hike back to the truck along the easier route, retracing his steps above the rimrock. I dropped down into a large basin that ended in a sheer face, and began working my way along the canyon rim looking for the birds we had flushed on our outward journey. They weren’t where I thought they would be, but some distance further back toward the truck, a dozen or more birds rose in unison ahead of me and dove into the canyon before I could get a decent shot over land. (It is not a good idea to shoot birds if they are going to fall off the end of the earth!)
Dale kept in touch with me by two-way radio. I could see him silhouetted against the evening sky, high above me, and after hearing shots from his quarter, he informed me that he had flushed another covey across to the jumble of rocks where the very first covey had landed. I was planning to work this area on my way up to the truck, and after dragging my now weary bones on sore feet up to the place, I could not locate any birds at all. Dale directed me from across the way, but to no avail. Leaving the area, I began walking, not hunting now, across open and relatively flat ground toward the truck as the light began fading. About half the distance remained when I reached back for one of the water bottles in my fanny pack, with camp on my mind. As I brought the bottle up, the earth gushed whirring birds all around me. Dropping the waterbottle, I almost automatically swung on a bird to my left, dropping it among some sage, and then turned to fire on a bird to the front. It too fell, hard, about thirty yards out. Then all was silent as I reached to pick up the water bottle laying on the dusty ground at my feet. I had the presence of mind (for once), to slip another shell into my gun as I moved toward bird number two. A couple of steps and here came another bird, right at my feet, flushing to the right. Up came the gun against the evening sky, and at the shot, bird number three fell and lay still in plain sight. Jubilant, I retrieved that bird, then found number two, and turned my attention to number one.
Despite Dale’s direction from high above and a diligent search of the area, I was unable to find that first bird when the light began to fail. However, the memory of all three birds rising into the sky is etched clearly in my mind. The last flush of the day put a spring in my step as I climbed out of the swale up toward the truck, sore feet and aching limbs but a minor price to pay for a precious memory and a fantastic day.
”Ridge of Plenty”, I said as I unloaded my gun and shrugged off my shooting vest. Dale just looked at me and smiled a weary smile.
Russ Gould is the owner and operator of Double Gun Headquarters , a multiseller virtual gunshow site offering fine English, American and German doubles, and wingshooting destinations in Africa and Argentina.