Adventures for FoodHunting

Of Sage and Scree

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After 10 challenging days of hunting mountain quail in the soggy coniferous forests on the western slope of the Cascades, the dogs and I were headed east for the sagebrush steppe to dry out for a bit and chase another shifty game bird, the chukar partridge. We arrived at our campsite, a wide spot in the BLM two-track road atop a barren hill covered with cow patties and volcanic rocks, just after sunset. The dogs and I cozied up in the bed of the truck to grab some much-needed rest before we kicked off the second leg of our trip. 

Around 2 AM, I awoke to find the truck rocking and rattling back and forth. I threw on some shoes, grabbed my pistol and headlamp, preparing to hop out of the camper shell and investigate the situation. As I opened the shell’s lid, I was immediately knocked back by freezing-cold gusts of 60 mph winds. A winter storm had surged into the area at some point in the night and was trying its best to sweep us out of the chukar hills. I hopped into the pickup cab and hastily moved the truck 0.5 miles down the road to a lower and less exposed camp site for the remainder of the night.

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The next morning, with the wind still howling out of the north, the dogs and I readied ourselves for what would surely be a miserable, cold excursion into the desolate slopes chukar call home. Bundled up tight from head to toe, I released my German Shorthair, Ranger, the only dog in the string with any experience hunting our red-legged quarry. 

Soon after we stepped out of camp, Ranger became birdy, tracking frantically up the side of the nearest rocky hillside. Game on! As fate would have it, the winds that forced us from our initial campsite had guided us towards our first covey of the day. Trudging up the hill in pursuit of my feverish Shorthair, my Garmin handheld signalled Ranger was on point some 500 yards upslope. I continued on my path, gasping for air and praying I could catch up to the birds before they scattered. 

When I reached the flat hilltop, I was met with an expansive sea of sage gnarled from years of abuse, and at the opposing end, a white dot frozen in time, entranced by the scent of our feathered foe. I say foe, for at the end of the walk, I will have taken the wonderful little birds’ life and will call it success, and to that end, I am the foe. But the bold creature is not the enemy of man, and the death of him is not man’s victory; rather, the pursuit and killing of game is a fundamental part of our being, as essential as the feathers on the bird, as quintessential as the aroma of sage on western winds, and as eternal as the rocky refugia inhabited by these Eurasian transplants. 

In the next moment, I approached Ranger’s point and on cue, the chukar burst from the sage and scree. I covered a single bird with my weather-worn shotgun, and as the shot string overtook the bird, it fell from the sky in slow motion until it thudded and bounced on the cold, hard ground. Holding the plump devil bird in hand, I again reflected on my justification for killing such a thing.

Hunting emboldens our inclination for adventure and our drive to reach for the unknown, it repeatedly subjects us to the uncertainties of the natural world and the actualities of life. The consequences from days spent hunting, a sore body and full belly, engender admiration for the hunted and for the land, a respect foreign to the non-hunter. While the hunter is not faultless, he is not the chief enemy to the bird; all men share this title, the ever-intensifying impacts of humanity will kill more birds with less tact, guilt, or afterthought, than a man and his bird dog could ever fathom. The hunter cares deeply for his quarry, hopeful it may flourish eternally. You see, he is seriously invested in game conservation, lest his spirit, his enthusiasm for life, and passion for adventure, may perish along with it.

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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