A secret hunting spot is a hunter’s most prized possession. I have my own duck hunting spots that I refuse to take anyone else to. For the last chukar hunt of the season, I was going to a secret spot. The difference is that this was my buddy’s secret spot. This is a privilege for a hunter and for someone to share their spot with you is one of the greatest honors in hunting. My friend and I have known each other for as long as I’ve been a firefighter. We worked together as part-time firefighters, got our full-time jobs, watched each other have kids. Needless to say, we’ve been good friends. Still, I didn’t know of this Chukar hunting spot. What really earned me this privilege was my old dog, Jake.
At a previous point in my life, I owned a Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Jake. I got him as a pup with no papers, but both of his parents were hunters. The Father was a Pheasant hunter and the mother was a Duck hunter. That combination shone through in Jake early on. As a pup, we worked hard on obedience. I wanted my dog to be patient and to honor well. I had Jake sitting as I’d open his kennel, I’d clean his food and water bowl, then set his food bowl on the other side of the yard ( I lived on an acre) and he wouldn’t budge until I said his name. We also would play hide and seek where I would again, have Jake sit, and I would drag a wing or toy through the yard and hide it in some tall grass or in the garden where lots of different smells would be going on, and then I would tell him “lost” and he would put his nose down and work until he found the hidden target and retrieve it for me. We hiked and worked on obedience. I used the Cornerstone Gundog Academy to teach me how to train Jake and I felt like it worked.
Eventually, life changed and I no longer could keep Jake. I tried to sell him, and most people weren’t interested in a started dog. Time began to press, and I contacted my friend and asked him if he knew anyone that would be interested and that would hunt with Jake. My buddy jumped on the opportunity and embraced Jake. I even dare say that Jake embraced him and his family. Since Jake found his new home, I have heard multiple times of how amazing Jake is. Even the quote “This is the best divorce dog ever” has been said. Even though seeing Jake in a happy home is the number one benefit, the second is that I earned my friend’s secret Chukar hunting spot. This spot did come with a set of rules. “No pictures of the scenery. No telling anyone. No taking anyone there.” Also, I was given the reminder “I’m only telling you this spot because you gave me this dog.”
My friend had been going to this spot and had been posting multiple pictures of Jake carrying Chukar on his social media. I had been skunked all year on upland birds and I wanted the last hunt to count. I first went scouting. When I got to my access into the spot, I was shaking my head and couldn’t believe that this spot held Chukar. I even thought that this might be a prank. He shared the waypoint with me on Onxmaps and after calling my friend, I was reassured that this was the spot. I hiked around for a bit and got a feel for the terrain. Trust was the only real insurance I had. After all, Jake was retrieving limits here. I was going to make this the last hunt of my season. My buddy had another hunt planned for that day and that meant I would be doing a dog-less hunt. Something I’m now used to.
I missed the jump on the early morning hours but I drove up to the spot anyways. Looking at the map, I had to hike up a hill so I could get out of county property and into forestry land. It made sense, this was a chukar hunt and unless you get dropped off at the top of the hill, you’re hiking up from the start. The snow was still melting and with the warm sun, it created a nice muddy mess at the bottom of the drainage I chose to start on. Every south slope was mostly bare of snow. Amber-colored grasses ran most of the way and on the sides of the hill. There were small ditches dug in on the mountain. These were there to stop the snowmelt from causing flooding. I had never hunted chukar in an area with those ditches. Ditches are probably the wrong term but they had rocks and tall grasses in them. I thought that maybe, that would be a good spot for chukar to hide. I also used them as I zig-zagged up the south-facing slope of this drainage. Soon at the top, I found dog tracks and instantly wondered if those were created by Jake.
At the top, I found the snow again. Looking for signs of Chukar feet, I quickly realized that I was hiking along some elk trails. My buddy warned me that I might see some elk that day. I decided to follow their well-packed trail up the ridgeline and follow them deeper and higher into the mountains. Maybe the Chukar would be with them. Deeper into my hunt, I continued to see dog tracks all the way along the ridges. I debated following them, maybe they were fresher and would lead me to some birds. Instead, I looked down a couple of drainages and saw another clear south-facing slope with tall grasses and patches of brush and out of the corner of my eyes I thought I saw a smallish grey bird in the middle of these bushes. My plan was to walk into the tall grasses and wind my way through and around the brush in hopes that a Chukar would grow inpatient and flush.
The only issue to me was how big this slope was. There were lots of terrains to cover and this was where I found my self at a disadvantage. Hunting with a dog, you still need to get them in the right area. This was the right area. A dog helps you know where in the area to go. They put their noses down and get birdy and they sort of guide in the direction of birds. That’s the draw to hunting with a dog. The hunter does his homework and the dog helps him finish. As I began hiking down the slope zig-zagging through, I couldn’t help and wonder if Jake had been here and if I would have been getting on birds if Jake was with me. About mid-slope I started wrapping around the hill. The one mistake I had made was getting to the hunt late. I was at the mercy of the birds and my luck was just running out more and more. I hiked through more snow, found more dog tracks and elk tracks. At the end of the day, I still came home with shotgun shells in my pocket and my hand on holding my shotgun.
The season was to end in the next couple of days but I was going to be working. The season ended for me that day. Upland birds were just not in the cards for me this year. I had hiked and put down some boot leather but this was not my year. I started with Grouse and moved on to Pheasants and closed the year with Chukar. The hunts were always worth it. Finding the positive in the empty bag hunts is always important. I like to get to my truck and take some notes of what I’ve seen and I write down things that I learned or that surprised me. That way I’m constantly learning from the birds that I hunt. Once I can have a dog again, I’m sure my notes will have details on how to handle my dog better and what I did wrong and maybe some bonding moments between my dog and I. I’m happy for Jake to have a home where hunting is part of it. That dog has been spoiled with the hunting opportunities it’s had. Either way, I’m happy for Jake, maybe a dog is a hunter’s most prized possession.
Thanks for reading my blog post. Please don’t forget to share on Facebook and subscribe if you haven’t yet. I have added a link to Jake’s Instagram page and to Cornerstone Gundog Academy. Feel free to ask me any questions. If you’re planning on training your dog, here are some discounts you can find on amazon on dog training supplies. Also, since we’re all going to get stuck quarantined, go pick up a Kindle Unlimited Membership and read books on any devices.