Let’s play a game for a second. Pretend you are 33 years old, maybe this puts you in the future or maybe it brings you back in time a bit. Who are you? Before you keep reading, let’s just pause here and really think about who you are. What year is it or will it be? If it’s in the future, where do you see yourself? If it’s in the past, what were you doing with your life?
My name is Jeff Lusk and I am 33 years old. When I ask myself these questions I get a mixed array of answers, but a couple of things really stand out on what I really enjoy doing. Being a hunter, more importantly a bird hunter is at the top of that list. I didn’t grow up around hunting or dogs until the age of 17 when I saved up enough money to buy my first “bird dog.” She was a yellow lab named Sage who was far from a great bird dog, but she helped me fall in love with training dogs and bird hunting.
Now let’s fast forward 16 years to present day and I no longer own labs, but there is no void of bird dogs in our house. Riggs Malone is my year old English Setter who has re-sparked my love for the uplands. Riggs and I enjoyed our first full year of upland hunting together last year and it was a great one! We hunted the lower grassland prairies of Washington for pheasant and huns. We hiked through the deserts of Washington for pheasant and quail. Then my personal favorite, we climbed the mountains of both Washington and Idaho to chase chukar! We both did our fair share of missing birds, but also did our fair share of not missing birds. Together we learned how to be a team and were able to make a ton of good “first year” memories.
One hunt in particular stands out from the rest. It was our last hunt of the season and it was just the two of us. The weather was beautiful and there was a layer of snow on the top half of the chukar mountains we were getting ready to hike into. Thirty seconds into our hunt Riggs locked up and had a bead on a covey of “bonus quail” as I like to call them on a chukar hunt. I walked up near him and I could see the covey weaving through the sage to get away. I yelled at them to fly with no avail so I popped a shot to scare them into flight. It worked and they burst into the air making it tough to pick out single birds. Somehow with a little bit of luck we scooped up two birds and the morning was off to a great start!
We continued up the mountain as we were no where near chukar country yet and had a lot of hiking to get there. Running a young dog can be difficult as you are both figuring things out, but Riggs seemed to be dialed in and working beautifully. We had a great wind for scenting birds, and I knew at any minute we’d be into them. I heard my Garmin beep notifying me that Riggs had birds! Being late in the season, the chukar flushed wild and didn’t offer me a shot.
We neared the top of the snow capped mountain and decided it was a good time to take a quick lunch break. We shared a pack of Spiced Cocoa Packaroons and each had our own water to stay hydrated. The view was pretty spectacular and it was a great reminder to me that hunting isn’t just about putting birds in the vest, but more about spending time outside with your best friend both doing with you love to do.
With our lunch break over, we were back at it looking to find a few more chukar. It wasn’t long and Riggs’ head snapped to the right and he was locked up again. We watched as a group of about 20 chukar wild flushed from about 50 yards to his right and flew across the canyon far out of sight. Nearing dark we decided to make one last ditch effort to make a 1,800ft, 3 mile climb to one last spot that I knew held chukar. As we got closer it was beginning to look as if the chukar weren’t there this time, but I caught a glimpse in the distance of some running chukar above us.
We worked around to get the wind right and Riggs again locked up on some old scent. Together we kept slowly working forward knowing that at any second these chukar would be flushing. Riggs locked up and wouldn’t move forward to trail the scent anymore. Chukar exploded from the snow covered brush and I shot, and shot, and shot again… Years ago, this would be the end to an “unsuccessful” day, but not these days. It’s not about a bag limit or a notched tag. It’s all about enjoying your time spent outdoors putting one foot in front of the other on the beautiful public land America has to offer.