A Couple Kings

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With the dogs collared and shotgun in hand, I took off up the rocky hillside on a cool, early morning in September. That day I was out in search of my favorite game bird, the hardy chukar partridge (Alectoris chukar). I knew I would only have a few short hours in the chukar hills before the temperature rose and, along with it, the danger of the dogs overheating or running into a rattlesnake. Erring on the side of caution, many folks avoid early season chukar hunts for these very reasons. However, knowing this would be my only chance to chase these beloved birds all season, I rolled the dice and planned on being back to the truck before the temperature reached 60 degrees. I was hopeful we could make contact before then!

Sure enough, about 45 minutes into the walk, my Garmin informed me that Ruby, my 4.5-year-old English Setter, was on point 200 yards downhill. Approaching the point from above, I felt confident that the red-legged runners would be trapped between Ruby and I. Now standing 10 yards from the little setter, I prepared for the imminent covey rise. But, instead of covey rise, a single bird leapt out of the grass and onto a small boulder. Staring face to face with the little bandit, I cautiously moved forward in an attempt to coax him into flight. Before I could reach the boulder, a covey of 15 birds blew up at my feet, with my 20-gauge following close behind them. Startled by the flush, I rushed the first shot and cleanly missed. Luckily, I caught up to a bird on the second shot and connected! While I watched the covey coast down the hillside and up into a rocky outcrop on the other side of the canyon, Ruby found the downed bird. She carried it a few yards uphill before making eye contact with me and spitting it out, as if to say, “My work here is done.” Fair enough my fiery little friend.

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In a little over an hour of hunting, the temperature rose 60 degrees; our cue to get out of chukar hills for the day. While Ruby and I enjoyed a gourmet brunch of a ham and cheese bagels back at the truck, I devised a game plan for the afternoon. A few miles below the rocky hills where we were parked, was a suburban district sprawling across the valley, and on the other side, a densely forested mountain range standing firmly against the changing times. After quick glance at onX Hunt, I loaded up the truck, zipped through town, and ventured into the forest in search of grouse.

Having previous experience hunting forest (dusky and ruffed) grouse across most of the western United States, I felt confident I could read the cover and stumble into a few birds. Unfortunately, the first walk the dogs and I took (about 3 hours) was a complete wash; no birds, no sign, not even a false point. “Uh oh,” I thought, “time to dial back the confidence.”

The next cover we investigated looked a bit more promising than the first. We parked next to a mountain stream that was broken up by a series of beaver ponds of varying sizes. On one side of the stream, there was a steep hillside shaded out by old-growth evergreen forests and on the other side, a dense stand of aspen saplings interspersed with serviceberries that sprawled a couple hundred yards up the hill. “Textbook grouse habitat” I thought, “let’s hope the birds have read the book.”

As soon as I released Ranger, my German Shorthair, he began working the edge of the aspens and went out of sight. Seconds later, Ranger let out a few high-pitched yelps (this was his way of telling me “Dad, I just flushed a bird”) and a ruffed grouse buzzed over my head and into the forest on the other side of the stream. With no chance for a shot at the bird, I mustered on up the hill. Less than a minute had gone by when my Garmin alerted me that Ranger was on point! Though I was skeptical of my unruly Shorthair, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and began scrambling the aspen thicket after him. I got within 5 yards of the point before the brown and white dog came into view. No sooner had I located Ranger, when I heard the thunderous wingbeat of a grouse fading into the distance. “At least he held a point on that one” I thought, shaking my head.

Now on the backside of the thicket, Ranger snapped into another point, nose on the ground and staring intently at a downed log in front of him. Again, walking in on the point, a ruffed grouse rocketed from his cover and attempted to join his friends on the other side of the stream. However, his journey was cut short as my swarm of 7-shot overtook the bird, dropping him at the bank a beaver pond. Knowing Ranger had no intention of retrieving the downed bird, I strolled down the hill to admire my first ruffed grouse of the season. Content with the day’s accomplishments, I returned to the truck to spend some tailgate time with my bird dogs.

The dogs and I had hunted from the dry, rocky slopes that chukar call home to the boggy mountain streams that ruffed grouse frequent. I’m aware that plenty of done this before; nevertheless, I was pleased with the feat. Taking two true upland kings in a single day will be burned in my memory for years to come.

Trey Johnson

I was born and raised on a small ranch Northwest of Fort Worth, Texas. From a young age, nature always provided an outlet from reality. I have continued to cultivate this passion through formal education and creative writing. When I am not working as game bird research assistant, you can find my bird dog and I in the field chasing birds.

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