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WyoChukar
PostPosted: Fri Nov 16, 2018 8:28 pm  Reply with quote



Joined: 16 Jul 2015
Posts: 1121
Location: Hudson,Wy

I must say that Nevada was a wild ride. Obstacle upon obstacle to say the least. It all started with a phone call. Our high country where I live in Wyoming got pounded hard with snow in early October and hunting at 11,000' was out off the question for the season. Storms bound for Wyoming often cross Nevada and I figured my hopes of hunting the Ruby Mtns. was over. Then, after weeks of wondering I called the BLM office in Elko. The report was that most of the snow was gone. I stewed over it for a day. Why an entire day? The report from the next call, to the forest service office, confirmed that the snow was manageable, but that the road into Lamoille Canyon, my intended campsite and by far the best access point for the heart of Himalayan Snowcock habitat was closed and would remain so until at least December due to a fire Sept. 30th. There was concern of mudslide potential, even though the region had received one day of precipitation in 4 months.

Well, I figured I could camp on the east slope and deal with it, so I packed up my gear and went. A friend of mine who spent years chasing the birds before bagging a double warned me of the work load and it's something I am semi accustomed to. However, I didn't realize the magnitude of physical strain I was adding by having to climb the entire mountain range every day from my camp at 6,200' elevation rather than setting up miles closer in Lamoille and starting at near 9,000'. Also a problem was the amount of time this required. I often started hiking in the dark and returned well after dark. Thank goodness for cheap led headlamps.

Sleep was a very serious issue too. The first 5 nights shook the camper with 50-70 mph gusts. Not fun. Imagine strapping your bed to a mechanical bull, it wasn't much better. Sleep is is important when hikes start when the sky is just starting to pink and end hours after it has gone coal black.

Weather actually killed day one. I started hunting chukars near camp then worked my way up to the Overland Lake trail when the freezing rains began to recede midday. That was a short lived endeavor. I made the bend at the two mile mark and 80-100 mph winds and stinging mist gave me one heck of a reality check. I thought about it. Here I was in territory I was totally unfamiliar with, destined to be soaked to the core with wind chills that I can only imagine, ice is forming on the rocks and vegetation, and I am about to enter the clouds and climb another 3,000' in elevation while having no chance of seeing far enough to spot a bird that I can't possibly shoot while being blown over a cliff. Everyman has his limit. This was mine and I reversed course and continued the chukar search. Eight hours. No chukar sign. Not feathers, tracks, droppings, or dusting bowls...in beautiful habitat? Maybe summer hail did them in. I went to bed weary, wishing I had just rested up for the next day. Before retiring, I did study maps and tried to figure where to hike. Many likely spots, including one my friend Carl circled were only 3 miles or so as the crow flies.

Of course, I'm not a crow and the trail to Overland Lake alone is 4-5 miles long and requires over two hours hiking. Most days I would leave my backpack in the old cabin there and hunt with the bare minimum of gear.

Day two dawned as my sleepy eyes stared at the peaks above. I could actually see them so off I went with Rusty, foolishly carrying ammo for everything, including the chukars that weren't there. I learned to just pack the weight of a few snowcock loads and a handful of blue grouse ammo. I was carrying the Ithaca N.I.D. with modified and full chokes so the snowcock ammo of choice was 1 1/8 oz. buffered handloads of #5 magnum shot fired at a little over 1200 fps, a load developed entirely for the tightest patterns possible. For blue grouse I carried the 3/4 oz. spreaders of chilled 5's and they were a good match for the tight chokes, even if the blues were pretty darn jumpy. The chukar loads, well the choice didn't matter, those were just extra weight to help me hike slower. This would be their only trip up the mountain. Later, when I carried the Lefever DS, choked skeet and I/M I used 1 oz. standard loads of #5 lead for grouse and carried a few loads of #2 steel for snowcock since it was the best choice with the open right barrel. The patterns with steel are noticeably tighter with this gun. The combo works well on geese and these birds are big. At under 6 lbs. the DS was much more pleasant to carry too.

Little did I know just how important a day this one would be. The winds resumed howling pretty good early. On the way up I walked past the "grouse tree". The previous day I noted that it just looked perfect for blue grouse, but alas it was just one tree on a big slope of cheatgrass and some plant with fig like leaves. Well, a blue grouse rocketed out when I spoke to Rusty. It was a long shot and the chukar loads in the gun were of no use. Score one for surprise, and the grouse of course. Three days later two grouse blew out of it! I really should have figured to be ready when I passed that tree. Oh well. Once I started going by with thumb on the safety, I never flushed a bird from it. Onward and upward.

The slope near where the trail joined Ruby Crest trail had a few very small clusters of pines. Investigation produced seven blues! Three were not lucky enough to land the easy way and Rusty enjoyed showing what he is made of. Good times. After relishing the moments too the fullest, the climb continued.

At Overland Rusty became fixated on the water. This generally means he is watching fish. A school of brook trout milled about in front of him. I was wondering about that. In the camper I had a 2 wt. fly outfit and flies. Hmmm. I used it a few days later, in a mild snowstorm. On to more important tasks. I topped off my water bottles, stuffed a super light raincoat, polar fleece vest, polar fleece head band, and gloves in a bird vest and wore this above my custom bird bag with support belt. In this I stored a sandwich and Cliff bars, plus a small bottle of sports drink. This was definitely the bare minimum. I also carried a set of Minox 10x binos for spotting the snowcock. the camera occupied it's own compartment on the lid of the bag. Later, I managed to get by without the bird vest, which inflated like a balloon in the high winds.

Before leaving the lake and proceeding up the steep switchbacked trail, I scanned and scanned for birds with the binos, listening for the loud and distinctive call they sometimes make. By now the wind was roaring to the point I could have been 100 yards from them and never heard one, and they are loud.

The trail conditions above the lake were a mix of concrete snow and piles of icicles that the wind was shaking loose from tree branches that became encased during the previous day's ice storm. I have spoken here about my shift in footwear choices and it is times like these that verify that decision. It terrifies me to think of some the things I hiked on, over, and across and consider the boots I used to wear. A lot of this stuff was potentially deadly and I was all alone. If things went sour, there would be no-one along in a day or two to help.

I remember Carl telling me that both he and his dad had harvested their birds by popping over a ridge or saddle and catching them off guard rather than spotting them first. I was ready when I finally topped that iced over staircase...but no birds. Back to glassing. It was rather unpleasant to sit still (sort of) and scan around. By now wind gusts had topped 60mph. It was above 40 degree F, but the wind chills were very harsh.

It was at this point that I found my first major encouragement, a feather! I knew what I was looking at and the hunt for additional sign was on, birds had been here!

Keeping Rusty at heal, we slipped up strategically using tree clusters, boulder piles, and outcroppings to mask our approach in case any snowcock were ahead. I was hunting like a bobcat does. This is crucial since the birds simply flush if they see you much closer than 400 yards, they're known for it. Good camouflage is a must. At each vantage point where I could slip up and peer over a boulder with the binoculars, I eased up and searched. Nothing. However, in a sun thawed patch of wet dirt, I noticed tracks, big ones. Hope! Then a wet patch of snow in the sun had a track, today's! Oh yeah.

We continued climbing. My legs were complaining and my heart pounding. Then I saw droppings, large droppings like those belonging to a turkey. They were undeniably recent deposits, enough so that the glassing program was abandoned. Himalayan Snowcock were absolutely here. Being early afternoon I figured that any birds here would be preening and resting out of this blasted gale force wind, just below the rock walls on the lee side. Ambush time.

The basic plan is to climb up to the stark edge, pop over ready to shoot while planting feet very solidly to avoid the very present risk of being blown over the edge to one's own death. I must admit that I have a fear of heights but am able to function for short durations while peering over a dizzying drop of hundreds of feet. I'm still scared, but in awe as well.

The first attempt yielded no bird; neither did the second. I was prepared to do this for the next several hours. Birds absolutely were on this peak somewhere.

One thing I was fighting this day was a watering right eye. Interestingly enough, on my third ascent to a perfect ambush point, it stopped watering. I thought, omen? Something deep inside was saying "This is it! This is the one!" while I fully knew that it probably wasn't. Still, I lunged up to the edge planted my feet and glanced left. Immediately, the loudest bird shrieks I have heard in my life sounded 20 yards to my right. Snowcock! I pivoted, the Ithaca 16 came to shoulder instinctively and at about 40 yards out, my buffered 5's absolutely centered the bird! I cannot completely relay the emotions, but nobody who ever scored the winning run at the World Series ever felt this.

At the shot, a cloud of feathers streamed from the bird, marking the end of an amazingly fast and powerful flight (they are super quick) and initiated the inevitabilities of gravity. The sound of the shot also started a second bird to flight, a low fast dive over the next stage of cliff below. This is a tough shot I sometimes make on chukars, familiar territory. Familiar enough for me to know I miss at least half the time. I passed, fearing that I would spend that other shell only for a better shot to be offered to an empty gun. The was no other chance. Oh well, we all take our chances and live with them.

Primary objective now was actually getting the magnificent bird I had just taken into my now shaking hands. I scrambled down a diagonal shelf toward where the bird had disappeared behind the ledge that blocked my view of it's final (or so I thought) descent. At the shot, Rusty had broken heal and charged down for the retrieve. Bless his little heart, he had the bird on a shelf down below. I still can't recall if I hollered "Bring it!" or "Good boy!" Either way, he let go, looked up with a smile, and the bird convulsed once. That did it. It rolled six feet and plummeted another 150 feet before tumbling a long darn ways down an exceptionally steep slope! Out of sight no less. We couldn't get down there. Plan B.

I really didn't want to climb most of the way back around and down to the lake, then climb in from the side to where the bird hopefully was now resting. Rusty and I ended up climbing out, then further up the back side of the peak where we could scratch our way down, across, up, then down the rest of the way to our prize.

Upon arriving at the second impact site, one thing was certain, the snowcock had lost a lot of plumage from impact and subsequent tumblings. But, I could see it down below. Rusty hit the trail of scent and stripe of feathers and brought back my first Himalayan Snowcock. There a lot of proud moments when a hunter takes great joy in his dog, this was one off the greatest of all. Upon inspection of the beauty finally now in hand, one thing was apparent. What was left certainly wasn't suitable for taxidermy. But...I was told they taste good, and that night I found out. The rest of the afternoon was spent searching for more birds, to no avail. I was tempted to search out the bird I let go, but when these things exit stage left, they usually settle in a day's hike away, or further. The extra 6 lbs. in the game bag during the long hike back to camp sure felt great.

Come nightfall, the winds, which had been much milder at low elevation, once again turned violent. Day three was considered and I decided that it would be a waterfowl/rest day.

The 25 mile drive to Ruby Lake revealed a kayaker at one location, and hunters at the next. Glassing the refuge didn't reveal enough to seem worthwhile, so Rusty and I went and found a few chukars. So much for rest. This would be the only day I drove any distance from camp. I was camping 60 miles from town and couldn't afford to burn gas.

I hiked straight from camp each day until day seven when I drove about 11 miles from camp to hike over the mountains to the area above where I really needed to be camping. That was tough. Not only was the hike very steep (they all were), but I was able to view my intended campsite in Lamoille Canyon from far above. I also was able to see how much better the feeding slopes looked on the west side of the mountains.

Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time to climb all the way down and hunt over there and still be back to the truck by dark. This is exceptionally dangerous country to hike at night, let alone during the dark of the moon. So close, yet so far away.

On the plus side, the blue grouse were thick. Some birds flushed out 50 yards ahead. There were more, about 20 in a 30 yard patch. More continued to flush as we hiked back down to the F150 that evening, three blues in the bag.

Blue grouse hunting was blissful the entire time and I was living on them. Excessive physical strain, especially for days on end requires two things in mass quantity: protein and carbohydrates. I even started carrying strips of cooked grouse to snack on all day while scaling mountains. This played a huge role in not suffering the terrible soreness that comes from one's own body breaking down it's own muscle tissue to acquire needed protein. It's a real problem and, well, blue grouse to the rescue.

My final day in the Rubys came on a peak that held the most snowcock sign by far. The bad news was that the sign was all 1-2 months old. But still, it seemed my best hope and by this point weather had changed. It was colder for sure, I had to chop ice at Overland lake to use the water filter. The wind had finally died off though. The highest gusts on top were only 20 mph. Most of the time it was 5-10 elsewhere. I had an outstanding chance to actually hear the birds calling then spot them with the binos. I wore my eyes out glassing that day. I never once heard a snowcock calling during my journeys. They just weren't there anymore. Off to winter elsewhere it appeared. To rub salt in the wound, I found their dusting site. There had been 8-9 of them living there, a large covey for the species. In September the spot would have been gold.

That's okay, I can accept not finding anymore this time. I hiked 15 mile days, sometimes more, and truly learned a lot of country in eight days. Most importantly, I plan to go back and explore the rest. The blue grouse hunting around the peaks alone is worth it. I left the Rubys to go look for quail and chukars in the Santa Rosas. The truck's ignition coil died on the way to town, but I fixed that by reinstalling the original 1979 Ford coil. This cost me a day of hunting though, by time I figured out the problem since the bad aftermarket coil did spark me once and fool me.

The two days I hunted north of Winnemucca rewarded me with no quail this time. Rusty, as tired as he was and as much trouble as he had with dust making him sneeze often, did find chukars and huns. Five years ago we never saw a hun. Interesting. I found some quail tracks in one spot, but ran out of day and had to leave since the camper ran out of propane the night before. It was time to go home.

Thirty miles from town, on I-80, the camper blew a tire. Not sure why since I checked the tires in Winnemucca, but it happened. It tore things up. Damage to the inner fender, and the back of the furnace got mangled. I spent two hours at off the Valmy exit reconstructing things with available materials and installed the spare. That night I discovered two unpleasantries concerning the furnace. First, rubber had smeared on the heat exchanger, so my camper smelt like a night at the dragstrip. Second, the tire peeled the temperature probe right out of the thermostat control. Heat was all or nothing! I suppose that when I set out for an adventure, I really find one. I bought another tire the next morning and experienced smooth sailing afterward. Still can't wait to go back. My knees will be healed by then, I hope. They were injured the entire time I was in Nevada. They're getting better, but I probably should not have hunted chukars yesterday...
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Last edited by WyoChukar on Sat Nov 17, 2018 9:24 pm; edited 1 time in total

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WyoChukar
PostPosted: Fri Nov 16, 2018 8:38 pm  Reply with quote



Joined: 16 Jul 2015
Posts: 1121
Location: Hudson,Wy

More photos:
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WyoChukar
PostPosted: Fri Nov 16, 2018 8:41 pm  Reply with quote



Joined: 16 Jul 2015
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Location: Hudson,Wy

More:
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WyoChukar
PostPosted: Fri Nov 16, 2018 8:43 pm  Reply with quote



Joined: 16 Jul 2015
Posts: 1121
Location: Hudson,Wy

Look at the last photo. The previous two photos were taken on top of that! Snowcock is not an easy game. I have a few more, but it's bed time. I'll be driving in a snow storm tomorrow, darn it.

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skeettx
PostPosted: Fri Nov 16, 2018 8:54 pm  Reply with quote
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AWESOME
That was a FINE read!!!
Thank you for sharing
Mike

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wj jeffery 16
PostPosted: Sat Nov 17, 2018 4:51 am  Reply with quote
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AMAZING Very Happy thank you For sharing your wonderful adventure with us and give Rusty a treat from your 16GA friends ,All the best WJ.
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Gil S
PostPosted: Sat Nov 17, 2018 6:23 am  Reply with quote
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Great adventure and account. Somebody had to do it and I'm glad it wasn't me. Wink Gil
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TripleH
PostPosted: Sat Nov 17, 2018 7:11 am  Reply with quote



Joined: 08 Dec 2016
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Location: Michigan

Fantastic read and great photos as per usual. Thanks for taking the time to share with us.

Rob
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Riflemeister
PostPosted: Sat Nov 17, 2018 7:52 am  Reply with quote
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That was a great report on your adventure. Mule deer hunting in the Rubies was much less demanding than what you subjected yourself to, even with a one mile drag downhill to the truck. You should submit your writings to some of the bird hunting magazines, although having an unconventional bird dog may or may not limit your chances for publication. What camera are you carrying that is light enough to pack and takes such great photos?

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Gran16
PostPosted: Sat Nov 17, 2018 9:19 am  Reply with quote



Joined: 08 Mar 2016
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Amazing. What an adventure and congratulations on the snowcock.
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canvasback
PostPosted: Sat Nov 17, 2018 11:01 am  Reply with quote



Joined: 12 Mar 2012
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Location: Ontario

Simply inspirational. I'm in awe.

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WyoChukar
PostPosted: Sat Nov 17, 2018 9:42 pm  Reply with quote



Joined: 16 Jul 2015
Posts: 1121
Location: Hudson,Wy

Wow, I was tired last night...I re-read this and fixed quite a few boo-boos. Oh well.

Riflemeister:
Were you hunting deer while I was there? I did hear someone shoot a deer (or something with a rifle) on Nov. 2 and thought "Poor bugger has to pack a deer out of here?" I think that drag was well beyond a mile though.

I do already have a solicitation for an article by a pretty well respected magazine. It just sort of happened when the editor needed to know Rusty's breed for a caption for a chukar article they are placing in the winter issue right now. I relayed that I had just returned the night before from this adventure and gave a very brief description. He said it might be worth printing up a story then asked what I had for photos, since they would be unable to source any elsewhere. I sent him a bundle to show the Art Director, and they gave me the green light! I'm pretty excited about it all.

The Canon M3 and special pouch I stitched to my bird bag just keep paying off. I was missing important photos before figuring out this combo. All but one day I used the 22mm pancake lens to save weight and space. Back at camp I used a Canon 6D with 17-40mm lens.

To everyone else:
Thank you for the kind responses...and actually reading such a lengthy post!

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WyoChukar
PostPosted: Sat Nov 17, 2018 9:45 pm  Reply with quote



Joined: 16 Jul 2015
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I will add that the terrain is destructive. I have been required to perform a little restitching of my best snow and ice boots, both pairs! Time to Aquaseal all of the stitches this time to protect them from rocks, good boots are worth saving.

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kgb
PostPosted: Sat Nov 17, 2018 10:33 pm  Reply with quote
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WyoChukar wrote:
I will add that the terrain is destructive. I have been required to perform a little restitching of my best snow and ice boots, both pairs! Time to Aquaseal all of the stitches this time to protect them from rocks, good boots are worth saving.


It looks destructive in more ways than one, quite an adventure!

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Pine Creek/Dave
PostPosted: Sun Nov 18, 2018 8:13 am  Reply with quote



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WyoChukar,

Outstanding adventure for sure, great stuff. Loved the pictures.

Pine Creek/Dave
L.C. Smith Man

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