Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Chucker

Everyone who has ever hunted chucker could sign their name at the bottom of this story, and no one would doubt they wrote it.  I heard it many times before my first (and only) chucker hunt, and I’ve heard it many times since.  The only way to hunt chucker effectively is in one’s dreams.

Bird hunting was usually an afterthought for me.  Fishing was always first on my list, and hunting was a second choice.  In the category of hunting, deer hunting was first, elk came in second, and at the very bottom of the list was bird hunting somewhere below rabbit hunting, squirrel hunting, and ‘possum hunting.  I was good with a shotgun, but I preferred single projectile hunting.

I was visiting a company store in Arizona one year and the store’s manager invited me on a quail hunt.  Okay, but I didn’t have a shotgun with me.  No problem.  The store manager had one I could borrow, if I didn’t mind using a twenty-gauge.  If I am going to bird hunt, I prefer a twenty-gauge, so the hunt was on.  We finished our work, and made plans for the next morning.

Lanny picked me up at my hotel about 3:30 the next morning and we drove about two hours to a valley where he said his family had farmed and ranched since the 1870’s.  Apparently they were the target of various raids by the people who occupied the land before them, but they had managed to remain and build generations of family.  Now the family just used the old farmhouse as a weekend retreat and hunting lodge.

We arrived with the sky growing light in the east, and I really enjoyed watching the valley come alive as the first rays of light met up with the lush green meadows and hillsides.  The stream running through the middle of it made me wish I had brought along my fishing equipment.  I thought this was a fantasy world—a painting that became a reality.  But this wasn’t where we were going to hunt.  This was where we were stopping for breakfast.

After a breakfast that was the dream of every Texan, we drove over to another nearby valley, and the contrast between the two valleys was indescribable.  The second valley was definitely a desert.  The cacti were everywhere, grass was nonexistent, and every bush had a rattlesnake under it.  This was where we were going to hunt.

The quail were running everywhere, and we kept the dogs busy for several hours as we gained our limit.  But I kept noticing another bird, and finally I asked about it.  Lanny bit his lower lip and looked down at the ground for a while before responding.

“They’re chucker.”

“Can we hunt them?”

“Only once.”

“Just once?  Why just once?”

“I’d rather not say.”

I couldn’t get anything more out of Lanny about the chucker, but as I traveled about the country, I began asking about chucker hunting.  I heard the same story over and over and over about how they are the mathematicians of the bird world.  They examine the type of shotgun one is carrying, the chokes, and the loads, They then watch the speed one is walking and calculate how fast they have to run uphill to stay just out of the range of the pellets.

Yeah, right.  But it took a long time for me to find someone who would join me for a chucker hunt.  At last I found someone.  $300 for the day (1971), plus food and beverages.  And fuel.  A dog would be $100 extra.

The hunt was back in Arizona, not too far from where I had been quail hunting with Lanny the year before.  This time I was much more prepared with snake guards and my own twenty-gauge.  Rhonda (the guide) suggested I use magnum #6 shot and a full choke.  He (yes, the name was Rhonda) also suggested I train by wearing heavy boots with 5 pound ankle weights and run up several flights of stairs four or five times a day for a couple of months before the hunt.

I felt stupid wearing a suit with heavy boots and ankle weights, but I did it anyway, and I’m glad I did.  As anyone who has ever hunted chucker knows, these birds always run uphill.  No matter how fast or slow a hunter is, the birds will always be about 50 to 60 yards ahead—running uphill.  I climbed those hills so much that day, my next stop could easily have been the top of Mt. Everest

Each time the birds reached the top of the hill, they would fly up into the air above my head and settle back down at the bottom the hill—always 50 to 60 yards from me.  I was glad for the magnum loads for the few shots I was able to take, but it was only for the birds that were behind in their mathematics homework.  I took about a dozen shots at chucker who strayed within 50 yards, and four of them went home with me.  But I must say it was a very tough day.


About 3 o’clock I had had enough.  I was hot, tired, thirsty, dirty, and frustrated.  I had encountered so many cacti that I had as many thorns as any of them.  I don’t remember ever having wasted so much money for such a small return on my investment.  And I now understood why Lanny didn’t want to talk about hunting chucker.  No one wants to be outsmarted by a bird with a Ph.D. in mathematics. 

No comments:

Post a Comment