A student of mine recently told me he heard a guy in town bragging about his amazing chukar-hunting son-in-law who killed 200 chukar from his pickup, on one snowy January day this past winter, along the road (Highway 71) near Brownlee Reservoir. The limit’s 8. Where’s F&G when you need ’em? (In 17 years of chukar hunting in Idaho, I’ve never once run into a F&G officer; not that I want to, but it makes you wonder.)
And now this:
If you know these folks, who were caught by what must be a Fish & Game game camera poaching chukar on March 18th (2017) in the Boise River WMA, call Idaho Fish & Game poaching hotline at (208) 334-3700.
Here’s another photo with what must be a new kind of chukar dog:
2016-17, even though it was abbreviated by weather, was possibly my all-time favorite season. I began the season in better shape than ever, saw more birds than ever, enjoyed two fantastic dogs working beautifully together every single time we hunted, and spent much of the time in the field with my amazing wife and some very good friends and family. Here are some of the image-memories of this beautiful season, courtesy of Leslie and her gifted eye. Her chukar hunting photos help me get through the off-season. Enjoy.
My stress doesn’t come close to the stress wildlife endured this winter, but it’s been there daily, mainly in the form of wonder and hope. In a phone call with my dad earlier this winter, I lamented the tough conditions for chukar and the rest, and he reminded me of this wonderful Emily Dickinson poem:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
It doesn’t cost us anything to hope, and we did plenty of that this winter. On a recent bluebird day we got a chance to look for the birds whose mere existence warms our collective souls.
It felt amazing to walk uphill, and reminded us of the abbreviated season and what we missed in its last month, and what the dogs missed. To say they were gleeful would be an understatement. We ascended up a two-track for a couple of miles, and then climbed off the road and circled back through some terrain I’ve seen plenty of birds on over the years, but I wasn’t expecting to see anything.
I kept a close, hopeful eye on the dogs, though, and they began getting birdy in the stiff wind. And then Angus pointed, and Peat picked it up with a classic low-rider high-speed creep up to a steady backing position. Not having a gun, I enjoyed the rare chance to capture this beautifully addicting dance with a camera. A covey of 10 chukar busted. A short while later, my bird gods pointed another covey of about 10 chukar. And just a few minutes later, they pointed a covey of 5 Hungarian partridge. On the short walk along the creek on the way back to the truck, Angus dislodged a large grouse (couldn’t tell if it was a ruffed or dusky). All of the birds we saw looked sizeable and healthy. 4 miles, a couple hours, and a result greater than the hoped-for. We’ll steer clear of birds now so as not to disturb their mating, but I do feel relieved to have seen more survivors than expected.
Daily wanderings with the dogs behind my house this winter in once familiar territory is now disorienting, unrecognizable, and almost wild. The landscape around this part of Idaho has been covered in record breaking snow depths. Desolate and barren. I’ve been obsessed with three bare trees, some wooden fence posts, and barbed wire that dominate the monochromatic landscape. During near whiteout conditions these guide our way. Some of the fence post tops are painted bright orange. I’ve counted the space between the orange ones many times, it’s about every 10-13 posts.
The deep-to-your-waist snow pack is making survival for some creatures more difficult. We trudged along following a single set of elk tracks on the frozen ground for about a mile before the tracks disappeared over a fence and out of sight. The elk, was probably heading to the next ranch in search of food left out for wintering cow herds.
Chukar hunters know that public lands in Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, and Washington house these amazing birds, and that these lands are under constant threat of being sold out from under us. This threat is intensifying dramatically with the new administration. Rarely do we get an opportunity to express our opinions at a public meeting with a politician involved in the effort to remove public lands from the people who have footed the management bill for them.
This Saturday, February 18th, from 11-12 p.m., the tiny town of Council, Idaho is offering the chance for us to express our opinions about this issue. Idaho Representative Judy Boyle, from Midvale, will be on hand, hopefully to listen to her constituents’ concerns. Representative Boyle has been perhaps the most ardent agent hoping to transfer federal land to Idaho, and with the support of her federal colleagues in Washington, chances are better than ever that these lands will be transferred to the state. If that does happen, those lands that you and I have hunted birds and big game on for generations will most likely be lost to us forever.
If you have an opinion about this, please come to the meeting. I’m betting they aren’t expecting a lot of people. Show up and make your voice heard. Be respectful, but be knowledgeable. Here are a few resources that might help if you’re not already familiar with them:
Idaho Constitution, Article XXI, Section 19: “…the people of the state of Idaho do agree and declare that we forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries [of Idaho]… [and] this ordinance shall be irrevocable, without the consent of the United States and the people of the state of Idaho.” In other words, Idaho cannot legally accept federal land without our permission, and U.S. Congress’s permission. Congress is basically saying, “Go ahead, Idaho, take it.” We don’t have to agree.
Idaho’s Attorney General, Lawrence Wasden, has said that the land transfer effort will fail in court because of the language in Idaho’s Constitution, yet Idaho taxpayers continue to foot the bill for Representative Boyle’s efforts to pursue this issue.
The American Lands Council, which sounds like a pro-public land group, is anything but. Visit their website and fact-check it: you will find that this group, funded by the Koch Brothers, owners of the second largest private company in America, is engaged primarily in securing mining and oil extraction rights throughout North America. This is the real impetus behind the public land transfer effort. Don’t be fooled by their rhetoric, which is designed to misdirect and obscure their goal: get more oil, by any means necessary.
There are lots more resources out there about this. If you care about keeping these lands for all to use, under the sensible and fair “multiple use” doctrine that has worked to keep these lands open to all of us — hunters, ranchers, hikers, fishermen, and every other kind of outdoor recreationist — for generations, then make your voice heard. Call, email, text, Tweet, and otherwise contact your state representatives as often as possible. They are listening. I hope they actually hear us.