If elk hunting is a lesson in meditation, chukar hunting is the school of hard knocks. Literally, it's hunting through terrain that will literally knock you down if you aren't careful...and sometimes even if you are. It's a humbling pursuit, one I often end empty-handed. My first hunt out this season was that way--we found a few coveys in more than a few hours--but neither of our aims were true.
We started the day heading up a rocky draw, pulling hand over hand on a particularly steep section, and found the top of the ridgeline shrouded in a thick fog. I could hear the dog's bells, but had no idea which direction they were coming from, and I heard my uncle shoot once but never saw the birds. It was fog thick enough to dampen the sound around us, so that when we finally emerged from it on the other side of the ridge it was a relief to get all my senses back. Cedar pointed a covey from what felt like a mile away, the birds were over a fence and broke early, so even though I pulled the trigger there was no shot. We dropped down lower, spent another few hours sidehilling through steep and slick country, but didn't have much luck there either. So we left empty-handed, walking back to the car with wet feet and tired dogs, but no birds.
You might consider it an unsuccessful day, but I don't. Granted, driving home that night I was painfully aware of the toll the day took on my body: I was aching and bruised, stiff from exertion and cold to the bone. But it wasn't the lows I count, only the highs. The beauty of watching my dog work. Seeing the fog lift off the top of the ridge lines. Watching the river shimmer a dark green against the wet gold of the land. Hearing the thunderous clatter of sixty Big-Horned Sheep run over the shale in the draw below us. Spending the day with my uncle.
I would've rather left with food for my table, of course. But that's why it's humbling. It isn't for the greedy, for the impatient. It's a school that teaches you about the balance of give and take, of gratitude and grace. It's not for the faint of heart. But then, nothing really good ever is.