Getting off on the right foot

“I should shoot you.” 

I said it as flat and cold as I could. 

The view was nice up here, and while I may have been pleased to be at the top, I wasn’t feeling it yet. About five minutes prior, I had been skirting a hill in chukar country. I’d showed up to camp about an hour before, having driven through part of the night in a snowstorm and laid up short of camp to avoid rousting everyone at 2 a.m. I had driven into camp at sunrise, a little delirious and feeling like Gandalf arriving at dawn on the third day. In truth, I showed up a couple of days after camp had started with my covid 15 packed into my shirt.  

That first morning, my three companions headed in other directions and I lit out into the wilds low on sleep, overweight and needing to get my chukar legs under me. I took the low road, moving west, skirting the big hill. I’d let loose Maggie – the big running young setter – based on some logic that seemed sound at the time, but fails me now that I try and recall the rationale. I started moving, cold still, knowing I’d would warm eventually. Maggie swung wide into the flat off to our west as I trudged north. I was optimistic that she might find a covey of huns in the lowlands, and I felt soft at the wish. Maggie had other ideas. She swung north, then made a great sweeping arc all the way to my right, climbing the hill I had avoided, disappearing over the skyline, still climbing at a dead run.

I turned northeast, following her on the path of least resistance, climbing, but at a gentle pace. And then she stopped. The Garmin said she was pointing, 425 yards. Straight uphill. 

Days later, my chukar legs under me and the first day’s trepidation gone, I would think back to this moment. Heart hammering, a messy jog hampered by 8 months of covid fat hanging on me a like an anchor, but climbing like a mad man. Sweating, panting, slipping on the snow and ice-covered scree. Occasionally calling out a feeble, whispered “good girl, whoa”, mostly for myself. Narrowing the gap, 300 yards, 200, navigate around a basalt rim, 100 yards, almost to the top, “where is she?” Then 50 yards, at the summit. And she’s moving. She comes right to me, happy as only a bird dog afield can be. 

I look around desperately to see if I can find the birds flying and maybe mark them down. Instead, I see Tom. Laughing. Giggling like a child who has just played the greatest joke of all time, holding the little setter by the collar, patiently petting her as I scrambled and raced uphill. 

“I should shoot you.” 

I said it as flat and cold as I could. 

But came out more like, “I…” followed by gasping and retching, “I… should,” more gasping, wheezing, and sweating. “I… should… shoot… you.” 

I was pissed and not yet in the mood to laugh about it. But even if I had been pulled there involuntarily, I was at the top of this little hill, now in chukar country for real. To the east, a mountain range loomed another 2,500 feet up and ahead of us was a dry creek and another hill. Down, then up again. Vertical gained, vertical lost. And if you want to kill chukar, you have to be casual about it. Birds climb up and fly down. Get used to it. When you find them, you chase them. 

Tom managed to slow the giggling to a smirk.

Sorry buddy. I had to do it,” he said. “You want to hunt together?” 

We dropped down into the creek bed and started upward again.

The first day in chukar camp is always tough. Particularly after a year like this one. But you have to start climbing eventually, and truthfully, it’s not exactly the Himalayas. It’s more of a mind game than anything. You just have to steel yourself and go right at it. As the trip wound down, I regained my sense of humor and told the rest of the crew the story. On reflection after days of non-stop climbing, maybe I even owe Tom for getting me off on the right foot on that first morning.

Yep, I definitely owe him. I’ll have to do something nice to repay him next season. 

4 thoughts on “Getting off on the right foot”

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