I’m lucky enough to be able to teach in a small school nestled here at Galliformes Ground Zero. One of my classes, a group of six 11th- and 12th-grade young men, each with a passion for hunting, has been reading A Hunter’s Heart: Honest Essays on Blood Sport(1997; a fantastic collection if you haven’t read it). It’s been wonderful talking with them about well-crafted essays and different perspectives on hunting, especially since I came to it late in life and these boys grew up with it. We’ve had some intense conversations and debates. I’ve learned a lot from listening to them. I wonder if it’s reciprocal.
The culminating project for this unit is for them to make a digital story describing what they’ve learned from hunting. I told them I’d make one, too, and so here’s my crack at it. (Select 1080p if you can, and turn up the volume.)
Forecasts for lots of birds this season are, in my experience so far, true. Covey sizes have also been relatively (or extremely) large, and locations have been all over the place: high, low, sage, open, rocks. Last weekend we hunted what was for us a new area, one I’d bet doesn’t get much pressure as it’s rather a pain in the ass to get to. I eclipsed my single day elevation gain and saw chukar everywhere. One area contained, conservatively, more than 150 birds.
We found it tough, though, to get close to any of them. For the most part, all bigger coveys busted quite wildly. Boots crunching bone-dry arrowleaf telegraphed our presence on the open slopes, and satellite chukar moving along the ground made it tough for the dogs to point anything. Once the huge groups busted, Angus and Peat made some good points, some of which I got to, but – after shooting pretty well the first couple of weeks – I shot crapulously. Lucky chukar.
The wild-busting chukar got me thinking about my dogs, worrying actually. Why weren’t they more cautious? Were the birds moving more than normal? Were the dry conditions making it harder for them to pinpoint scent? Were the myriad partridges exciting the dogs too much for them to be more cautious? Was it just an example of early-season pointing rustiness? I admit to feeling exasperated as I watched dogs busting coveys from 100 or 200 yards away, but then they’d “redeem” themselves a few minutes later with a solid, classic point. Ah, the mysteries of chukar hunting; I think if I ever completely understand everything that goes on whenever we go out there I’ll be bored and quit.
I like these guys, and can’t say enough in support of their take on this issue. I just got back from hunting on BLM land that abutted former Idaho State Endowment lands, which is now private and posted “No Hunting.” As I headed out this morning, three big coveys of chukar coasted from the BLM land onto the now-private-but-formerly-state land. I still saw lots of birds, and bagged enough, but if those BLM lands are transferred I’ll be watching football on Saturday instead of being outside with my dogs because there’ll be nowhere to go.
Today is National Public Lands Day, a day worthy of recognition.
After years of attacks on the very concept of public lands by a well-funded effort to fleece the American citizenry or our public lands heritage, the threat to the places we hunt and fish feels more concrete and close.
The attack on our public lands has intensified. Those dedicated to wresting the places we hunt and fish from the hands of hard-working Americans have moved their attacks from state legislatures to the halls of congress. They take every opportunity to run down our National Forest and BLM lands. Disparaging the management of our American public places is a tactic to buoy their transfer argument.
I learned yesterday about a chukar hunter in the area who hunts nearly every day (from what I’m told) with numerous dogs and often with many other people, and apparently almost always limits. According to a trustworthy source, he and five friends killed 96 chukar over opening weekend. There’s nothing illegal about this (although I do wonder how he gets around the possession limit). But it bothers me, so I thought I’d ask what others think about this.
For me, just because something’s legal doesn’t mean it’s ethical if taken to the extreme. Someone who doesn’t know me might read this and conclude I’m spewing sour grapes here. Honestly, I like cleaning birds even less than I like killing them, but I do both as part of the deal. I certainly wouldn’t want to clean 10 times more than I already do. In other words, I’m fine with my bag stats.
The Kid and I set out to bag his first chukar. This is the fourth season he’s come along. He has never complained. He’s always been right there. If I ask his opinion on route options, he’s always up for even the hardest one. And when the hunt’s over and our bags are empty there’s not a shred of disappointment in his aspect, while I try my best to hide mine. I joke with him and his folks and grandparents about my being the World’s Worst Chukar Guide, and I actually get a little more nervous each time I bring him back without a bird. It’s starting to become less amusing. At least to me. He still says he wants to keep trying, and I’m grateful for that.
On opening day we hiked 7.5 miles and climbed 2100′, my longest hunt ever. The dogs got birdy a few times and actually pointed twice. But the wind was fierce and the points were off. Near the end of the hike, down near the creek, the dogs ran into and scattered the biggest super-covey I’ve seen. We got to watch, from a slightly sad distance, nearly a hundred chukar run and scatter up a long scree slope. Despite bumping them a couple more times, separated by brush far too dense to traverse, we never got another chance. As I drove the curvy road home, while he ate his peanut butter sandwich (which might have contained Cheetos), he said he’d get one the next time. I’ve gotten to know this fairly quiet kid fairly well by now; he doesn’t say things he doesn’t mean.
He couldn’t come with me the next day, which – history will tell us – means I’ll be in some chukar. We saw plenty, and had a few good points and got a few birds. Don’t say “jinx.” It’s not funny anymore. I’m trying not to have this complex, and don’t want him to develop one (unlikely), but it’s going beyond whatever. You know?
Anyway, we had a typically hot and – atypically – humid second day. We took the boat and went to a favorite spot which, we learned – not too surprisingly – soon after disembarking that several folks had been there earlier that morning and probably the day before as well. But I’d always found birds there so we moseyed along, albeit with slightly lowered expectations.
For once, though, my guess or reasoning or instincts or whatever you want to call it was right and the birds (at least the ones we found) were quite close to the water. Angus was well above me, though, accompanying my friend and Leslie, and busted a decent covey which I only saw as they sailed past me, several in range. Lucky. They could have gone anywhere. I hit one. Peat scurried to it, and brought it right back, no questions asked. Last year, he ate the first six chukar he got close to. Lucky again.
A while later, both dogs pointed solidly at the edge of a cliff near the water. I managed a double, but Angus could only find one bird. The second was a long shot and, although I couldn’t see where it landed, I thought it might have made it to the water even though it was a ways away. We looked and looked with both dogs. Peat suddenly headed straight down a steep rocky slope to the water. I thought he would find the bird, but he kept on going, swimming straight out into the wide river, leaving a trail of broken surface algae blooms in his wake. Yes, it was hot. After a good 20 or 30 minutes we gave up looking.
Back at the boat, we decided to cruise past the cliffs to see if the second bird had made it to the water. More luck: we spied it on its back on a ledge of the cliff just above the water. Wanting to spare the tired dogs, and me, some effort, Cam generously made the retrieve, demonstrating his rock-climbing prowess. After his unprecedented retrieve we discovered that Angus had taken advantage of our collective distraction and eaten Cam’s roast beef sandwich on Oat Nut bread (his favorite).
So my dogs and I, and our mutual friends, survived a long opening weekend in great form, and we’re eager to head back out in a few days.
Oh, and a warning: we saw two big rattlesnakes. Look into the rattlesnake shot you can get your dogs, and make sure you carry Benadryl and plenty of water in case of a bite. Luckily, Angus and Peat missed both reptiles, but it makes you think.
Tomorrow we begin again. This off-season has seemed longer than others for some reason. Maybe I can blame it on Peat, who continues to exemplify quintessential puppy-hood mischief by stealing and bolting with whatever he can get his chompers on, causing me to embed in my brain what is probably the worst movie theme song of all time (“To Catch a Thief“).
Or maybe I’m getting younger and time is passing more slowly.
Or maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been finding chukar in unexpected numbers and in unexpected places.
In any case, I’ll try to figure out something to do to make today pass faster, and try not to get my hopes too high for tomorrow.
When I found out about this vest, I had to get my hands on it. After hunting for years with packs or vests that lacked certain features, the Centerfire Upland Bird Vest appeared to fill all the holes. So, toward the end of last season I managed to get one and use it a few times. It took a while to set up properly because of its infinite adjustability, but once I dialed it in, it performed as expected. Better, actually. Overall, I don’t think there’s a better upland vest available (although I haven’t tried them all), and the price tag – at the higher end of the scale – is more than fair for the features and quality of the product. If your current vest doesn’t offer adequate carrying capacity for gear and birds, the Centerfire might be the ticket.
Storage: you can pretty much load this vest with everything but the kitchen sink. It has so many pockets you might need a spreadsheet to track where you put things. Most of the pockets are adjustable, too, so you can move them laterally along the hip belt to suit your style of hiking, and the shell pockets – big enough to hold a box of shells each – have a zipper and a Velcro flap; thoughtful design (although I’d prefer the flaps have radius or rounded instead of 90-degree corners because they kept poking my skinny bare arms – something I hadn’t noticed last season when I wore long sleeves; not a big deal, but a wee naggy thing.) With the full version of the vest (they offer a base model, too, to which you can pick and choose your pockets), you also get a removable daypack, which I never used because I didn’t fill up the other pockets. But if you’re going on an all-day hike in weather that could change drastically, you could load this vest up with everything you could possibly need and never worry about where to put stuff, even if you limited on multiple species.
Bird “pouch”: Speaking of birds, the pouch might better be described as a “porch” or even a “carport.” It’s big, and easily the easiest to load of any vest I’ve used. And you can easily remove it to clean it out. I haven’t seen this type of game bag on any vest before, and it’s one of the most innovative things about this vest, in my opinion.
Hydration: Water’s probably the most important thing to bring if you hunt with dogs. This vest features a pouch to put a hydration bladder in, as well as removable water bottle pockets, which would allow you to bring – in these three spots alone (there’s room elsewhere for more bottles) – 164 ounces of water. My back hurts just thinking about that. I’m not a bottle guy, so I only use a bladder, and my 100-ounce bladder extends past the fairly shallow built-in pouch, but there’s a thoughtful snap-strap that allows you to secure the top of a bladder (if the bladder has a loop or hook on the top of it; mine does, but not all do) so it doesn’t collapse in the vest. To take the bladder out requires undoing three snaps and the Velcro closure at the top of the mesh cover and unthreading the hose, which is fairly simple compared to other vests I’ve used a bladder in. I’m not exactly sure why the bladder pouch couldn’t be deeper on the Centerfire, but maybe it’s to accommodate the smaller pouches out there. For my 100-ounce bladder, though, I’d like a deeper pouch; another wee naggy thing.
Usabilityand Comfort: Although I haven’t loaded the Centerfire to capacity, I’m confident that if I did it would handle the load with stability and comfort. The padded shoulder straps are contoured around the neck in a smart “yoke” which distributes the upper load better than other packs I’ve used. But the big deal on this vest is the padded hip belt, which carries – very stably and comfortably – as much as you can throw at it. No matter the terrain or angle of incline or descent, I rarely if ever felt I was carrying anything. It’s really that comfortable. Of course, you’re going to feel it hiking up steep hills, but this vest isn’t what I noticed. I noticed the fact that I should be in better shape, and that whoever invented gravity should be shot, and that chukar hunting might be more fun on the moon, and stuff like that.
Quality: These vests are made by a small company – really just a couple with some help – down in Arizona. It is simply amazing to me that they can produce the variety of products they do, with all the design variations and options, and with the quality that is so obvious on the Centerfire vest. All the stitching, seams, attachments, and other workmanship are as good as I’ve ever seen, better, actually. The materials they use are the best, too: the Cordura is heavy-duty, the D-rings, zippers, snaps and Velcro (or whatever we’re calling the hook-and-loop stuff these days) are all solid and should last longer than I will. In addition to the quality of their products, Q5 promotes another kind of quality, which you might refer to as “equality”: a percentage of every sale supports Arizona Outdoor Adventures, which helps acquaint under-privileged kids with healthy outdoor recreation. Impressive and inspiring.
Picayune: There are some things I don’t like about the Centerfire, though, which aren’t the vest’s fault at all and have more to do with the style of hunting I find myself doing more often than not. The main thing is the vest’s size: you can’t have all that storage capacity without sizeable volume. The Centerfire is a relatively wide and deep vest – the side pockets (mounted on the hip belt behind the shell pockets) extend out a ways, which I noticed when busting through brush looking for grouse or in thickets trying to retrieve downed chukar. Similarly, the generous but rigid bird pouch extends back fairly far, which I noticed getting caught on Hawthorn brush and other branches in heavy vegetation. If I were hunting only in open terrain, or going after pheasants, I wouldn’t think twice about having this as my go-to or only vest. But for some reason I almost always find myself at least once in heavy brush, no matter what kind of hunting I’m doing.
Overall, the Q5 Centerfire Upland Bird Vest is easily the best quality vest with the most desirable features I’ve used. If you don’t find yourself trying to squeeze into or through places where you probably shouldn’t go anyways (maybe I’ll learn one of these days), then do yourself a favor and get this vest. You won’t be sorry.