At the butt crack of dawn I was drug out of bed, at the prepubescent age of thirteen. We were heading out on my first wild Chukar hunt in the West Desert of Utah. This would be the day that would change my future passions forever.
The new kid in the neighborhood invited me to go on a chukar hunt with his dad and him. I replied “Chukar what?” He then proceeded to tell me that a chukar is a bird you hunt just like pheasants and grouse. I loved hunting pheasants and grouse so I quickly agreed to the invitation.
I slipped out the door with unlaced boots and shotgun in hand. It was a late December Saturday. The ground was dusted with a hint of dry Utah powder. I slid into position in the little, rusty, beat up pickup. The pickup was so small and full of guns that I only had one position and that was squished. I didn’t mind though I was thirteen and going to hopefully kill something.
“Birds really live out here?” I asked. I thought for sure we would drive over the next hill into a valley of grain fields, irrigation canals, tree lines, and in the middle of it all would be a big red barn. That is the type of terrain I had hunted pheasants in. I couldn’t imagine anything living where we were going. As we drove the ground kept getting more barren and naked, but we just kept following that two-track dirt road as we slowly approached the rocky desert peaks on the horizon.
When I saw the Utah West Desert for the first time I must have felt as the pioneers did when they first saw the barren Salt Lake Valley. I saw complete desolation and I felt very unenthused. The only difference being I knew I was going home at the end of the day. The pioneers were in the desert for the long haul.
The engine stopped and all I saw was my version of hell. Hell included a steep mountain, scattered with juniper trees, sagebrush, cactus, and all kinds of nasty cliff outcroppings.
That’s when we let the dogs out, a big German Shorthair, and the other a little Brittney Spaniel we called Boss Hog the Wonder Dog.
That’s when my head really started spinning. My new friends were heading straight into the thick of it. We were hoofing it up, and I mean up, the mountain. If I had learned anything in my few years of hunting it was to keep my mouth shut and just follow the guy who knows what he is doing. I bit my tongue and followed.
About one minute into the whole mountain climbing expedition I thought my lungs would burst. I kept thinking ‘I should have lived at base camp for a few weeks to get used to the elevation,’ but then I remembered that only happens when you are preparing to climb Mount Everest. It didn’t matter that it was a cold Utah day my coat was too damn hot. As we climbed the snow got a little less patchy and a bit deeper. Deep enough we could spot chukar tracks heading up hill ahead of us.
Boss Hog the Wonder Dog got birdy first and the big German Shorthair was only a second later. My hunting buddies started running straight up the mountain after the dogs. My friend’s dad kept saying, “Hurry! They’ll be birds at the top of this ridge, we got to hurry though.” We scrambled faster then anyone ever could have up that mountain. Any normal person would have thought there was gold at the top.
When we reached the top I witnessed the most beautiful sight. Both dogs looked as though they had been struck by lightening and cast into stone. That was the first I ever saw a dog on point, and it won’t be soon forgotten. It has been burned into my memory as something perfect.
As we sucked for breath, a chukar covey took to the air. I fired three shots from my Browning shotgun at the feathery torpedoes. Not a single feather drifted to the earth. I didn’t feel like to big of a rookie though my pals didn’t draw any blood either.
We spent all day, on what seemed to be the top of the world, chasing chukars. The chukar Gods must have known I needed to see lots of birds on my first hunt to get me addicted. That first hunt we say covey after covey and point after point. I finally did connect with one of the little chukar torpedoes. It could have been running on the ground, I can’t remember. After all how sporting does a thirteen year old have to be.
I remember driving home from that first chukar hunt late in the evening. My legs felt twisted, jumbled, and just plain pooped. I had never run and up and down hill so much in one day. I think I smiled the whole way home. In fact I think I smiled all night because I had dreams of dogs on point. When I woke up I was still smiling.
Since my first chukar chasing experience I have been chasing my passion of bird hunting with good bird dogs every since. I continually have a yearning in the pit of my stomach to see a dog on point. A year or so after that first trip I brought home my own bird dog a Brittney Spaniel/ German Shorthair mutt. That’s another story for another day. I will say that I have honed my shooting skills and I only miss most of the chukars I shoot at, not all of them. Thank goodness for pioneers of every kind.