Angus of the Chukar Hills


"Angus of the Chukar Hills" by Rachel Teannalach
“Angus of the Chukar Hills” by Rachel Teannalach

When the season consumes you, you don’t worry about much else. When it’s over, you worry about everything else. Filling up that worry with good things to carry it away like water helps. Yesterday was one of those good days between seasons. We collected a painting we commissioned and hung it up. It is working already.

We’d admired Rachel Teannalach‘s work for quite a while. Her eye for light and spirit in landscapes resonated with us. We lucked into taking her for a hike into one of our favorite spots, and she got to work, after we subjected her to what seemed like thousands of “favorite” photos of Angus in Hell’s Canyon.

Not being a painter, I’d never studied her work closely, but having this on our wall now gives me the chance to see, maybe, what good painters see and translate through and onto their media and make into spirit and feeling.

Detail: Brownlee Reservoir
Detail: Brownlee Reservoir
Detail: Angus pointing
Detail: Angus pointing

Only connect. Yesterday my teacher Bruce Gandy won a major bagpipe competition. A year or so ago, after watching a video I’d made about connecting things (one of which was chukar hunting with Angus), he thought he’d found the subject title to one of his piobaireachd compositions. “Salute to Angus of the Chukar Hills” was title he settled on. Having two works of art in sight and sound is good. What’s best for me is the connection between people and animals and landscapes and sounds that make me feel connected.

Yesterday, we picked a puppy brother for Angus. Peat’ll be ready to come home in a few weeks (more on that later). We also went to a track meet and watched some of my students run well. Bruce won a major competition. We got a gorgeous painting. Ripples in water, crossing each other, making me smile inside, washing away worry.



We took a hike a couple weeks ago before the rain. The chukar hills were bone dry, like mid-October. The only green things we saw were a few buttercups and some tiny wild currant leaves fooled by the warm, sunny weather. I tried imagining what a bird feels when it can’t get enough to eat.

Buttercup, and a little greenup...
Buttercup, and a little greenup…

Then rain came. Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, and everything turned green overnight. I imagined chukar sighing with relief and filling their crops with succulent blades of cheatgrass.

It feels good to care about this land for other creatures’ sakes. I suppose it lessens the selfishness I feel in the fall removing some of those creatures from their land. But really I just want there to be lots of birds to shoot. They need food. Food needs rain. What does rain need?


End of season reflection

A rare conversation
A rare conversation

After hiking more miles and vertical feet than ever, the season ended too soon for us. January in this part of Idaho brought us less than ideal hunting conditions. We didn’t get out as much as we wanted to. We suffered through seemingly incessant weeks of thick fog, freezing temps, and post-holing crusty snow. It would warm up and thaw out for a day or so only to bring mud so deep that driving through it would only result in making the local paper about the lost hunters who never came back home again. The cold and flu season also ended up taking its toll. About the only productive thing besides a cough was more time to get our new home brewing system set-up.

Looking back, we had four months of great hunting. Angus hunted superbly, verifying repeatedly that he’s in his prime. We saw many miles of new terrain, and spent good times with friends and family. Here are some of our favorite hunting and some non-hunting memories of the 2014-2015 season. Enjoy.

We did some early season grouse hunting in terrain much different than chukar hunting.
Camping in the boat for opening day. We sure took a lot of stuff.
We camped in the boat for opening day. Despite taking tons of crap we still managed to forget part of the backpack stove, resulting in chilling, extra-gritty cowboy coffee.
Angus held his tongue on our coffee debacle.
We thought it was a peaceful spot to camp until we awoke at 1 a.m. at a 45-degree angle. We learned that the reservoir water level drops during the night.
We ran into a lot of nasty goat heads/puncture vines.
We had a couple of cast and blast days early in the season.
Angus managed to find the only mud bog for miles.
We crawled under plenty of thicket.
On one of the few hunts with The Kid this year, we crawled on hands and knees under thicket.
We did GPS waymarking on every hunt.
We soaked our hot and tired feet.
We had fun skipping stones.
We climbed many steep hills.
We climbed many steep hills.
We drank a lot of water.
We constantly checked for cheatgrass.
We constantly checked for cheatgrass.
We removed plenty of cockleburs.
We sometimes had time to stop and pose for a photo.
We sometimes had time to stop and pose for a photo.
We spoiled our bird dog.
We hunted with brother-in-law, Dave.
We tried to teach Angus’s nephew how to drink water.
We saw lots of amazing points.
Angus hated on-leash time at the campground.
We had a great time camping but Angus hated the leash.
We did a lot of side hill hiking.
We gave a bird away for fly-tying feathers.
We hunted with an old Brittany named Donner.
We followed lots of tracks in the snow.
We had some good post-hunt snacks.
We almost had Angus's nephew steal our chukar.
We laughed watching Angus’s nephew try to steal our chukar.
On Christmas Day, we got a glimpse of two of the last three remaining Brownlee bighorn sheep.
We even had Angus stick his tongue out at us (he’s not a huge fan of the boat).
Parting shot. Looking forward to next season.
Parting shot. Looking forward to next season.

A Little Murder

Residual chukar
Residual chukar

“And she never slit a fish without thinking she hated the need to use it that way. Hating the need almost made it seem all right. Besides, it was a kind of a little murder, gutting a fish, so when she did it she thought back over her life, and there was something to that. The knife was a potent thing.”  — Marilynne Robinson, Lila

Reading the end of Robinson’s latest novel tonight, I got this little gem of an explanation of the paradox with which hunting occupies me. Sorry to beat a dead horse, but that’s how it is. You feel something, think about it, try to get past or through or around it, outrun it, pretend you’ve forgotten about it, and then on a glistening, sparkly day with no wind at all you’ve done it again: gotten blindsided by the little murder you committed.

It’s not like you didn’t mean to do the things leading up to it. It’s not like it wasn’t premeditated. It’s not like you were actually surprised, because you’ve done it, on purpose, for years. It’s not like you accidentally put all your crap in the pickup, loaded the dog, remembered to bring extra shells and a snack, and found yourself, oh my gosh, on some terrible road in some of the bleakest, most beautiful country far from much else. No. You meant to do it. Sometimes you’ll do it and forget to notice and then days or even weeks later you’ll catch yourself getting caught by it, the realization of what you fully realized and intended, “needed” to do at the time you did it.

Part of it’s the dog’s need. But not really. That’s kind of a lie you tell yourself so that it’s maybe not so bad a thing to contemplate. When Angus returns with a living bird whose eyes contact mine as I take the hand-off I know what I need to do, don’t like it, and do it anyway because it needs to be done. “Hating the need almost made it seem all right.” Then, I remember the one bent dried up cheatgrass stalk whose head is buried in snow making an upside down “V” and casting a shadow that the heel of my left boot landed exactly in the center of on my hurried way toward pointing Angus.

Suffocation’s my knife for these birds, so there you go. Taking a life, even if it’s just a wee bird’s, gets me thinking back on stuff, and I’m never sure what that’ll be. There’s “something to that.” I’m always almost all right with it.

Winter Chukar

Santa brought us a new video camera but with all the snow and cold temps we had to wait for a little burn-off. We went out yesterday to try it out and see if we could find any birds. It was fun. For us.

The recent cold snap and snow resurrects some ethical questions about when you should stay home instead of hunt. It seems to me that regardless of whether Angus and I can brave the cold, there should be a “mercy rule” for hunting upland birds when it gets below a certain temperature or wind chill, or when snow and ice vastly reduce the available cover. “Fair chase” should apply since it doesn’t seem fair, and doesn’t seem like hunting, when you can just scan for small patches of burn-off and find birds with higher-than-normal frequency. Which is what we did yesterday. Granted, we slogged through lots of snow to get to those places, so maybe that factors into fair chase. I don’t know. What do y’all think? Do you have a set rule for yourself on when you won’t hunt?

P1110023 P1100976 P1110058 P1110067

Not just for the birds

It’s not at all “just” for the birds. It’s not “just” for any one thing.

P1100756It’s for Angus, whose rapturous pursuit of birds expresses the epitome of equivocal desire: his instincts draw him toward birds, but he knows I’m also interested and – because he checks on where I am, even when he’s birdy – wants to involve me in his game.

1225141322aIt’s for Leslie, who does not hunt and does not kill but is drawn by her awe of Angus’ abilities (athletic, olfactory, instinctual) and her love of connecting with landscapes unavailable any other way, despite her abhorrence of watching birds getting murdered.

The easy part

It’s for the getting-lostness of it, for the forgettingness of it, and what I get from that mental negative space in spectacularly positive physical space.

It’s for putting meat in the freezer.

It’s for what’s possible.

It’s for dealing with unmet expectations.

It’s for beauty.

It’s for practicing grace in an imperfect world.

And it’s for a lot of other stuff, good, bad, and unknown. It keeps us all going.

We wish you peace, luck, and joy, and not just for 2015.

Enjoy the video…

Not just for the birds


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