Robbie and I spent December 23rd and 24th hunting on the rim rock over in the Bennet Hills and King Hill area of Idaho. The weather was gorgeous on Christamas Eve, simply incredible. I spent the morning hiking around in a button down shirt until the wind came up, and when I say wind I mean wind — wild west wind, gusts of what felt like 50mph strength, ripping across sage flats and turning into purely vertical columns of current once hitting the volcanic rubble benches we were hunting. Oh! It was brisk! I put on more clothing when the wind came, a layer of down and my big wool scarf. The hiking was glorious. We were alive. The dogs were working their tails off and the chukar were plentiful. It was a good day to be Idahoan.
On one of Farley’s points, on the edge of a basalt cliff, I stood still for what felt like forever waiting for my birds to grow nervous enough to flush. I imagined that little partridge down in a crevice of black rock, breaking a cold sweat, eyes beady, toes twitching, wings begging to fly. It’s hard work scrambling down through volcanic rubble to find and flush the bird your dog is pointing. Robert taught me that if I stand long enough in one place, aware of the direction of my dogs point and in faith of my dogs point, the birds will eventually flush out of sheer nervousness, saving me the tricky, ankle breaking work of climbing down a cliff face and the annoyance of taking a terribly off-balanced shot on wobbly rock. Rob is a good teacher. Sometimes I have to climb down cliff faces anyway and I don’t mind the hard work; a good hunter is an efficient hunter (but not a lazy hunter), and a hardworking point from a dog must always be honored and pursued, no matter what. At least that’s what I’ve been taught by the man I love and respect. So there I was, standing still and alert, patiently waiting for my birds to go, shotgun ready in my hands, the wind biting at my cheeks and lips, Farley holding a staunch point when suddenly my bird went; a single chukar against a bright blue sky. I mounted my gun to my shoulder, pressed my cheek to wood while simultaneously pressing the safety off, rested my finger on the trigger and drew a bead on my bird when out of nowhere and I do mean that, out of nowhere a hawk came out of the sky to take the very same bird I was gunning for. I gasped aloud. I pulled my cheek off my gun and lifted my head. The chukar spiraled in mid-air, the hawk, too, matching acrobatics for acrobatics. There was a flailing of feathers, talons, beaks and eyes, a flash of stripes and red legs. It was nearly too much for me. I yelled an unintelligible sound into thin air and the hawk and chukar broke apart. The hawk was taken by the strength of the wind, sailing off to land on a branch of sage and continue its hunt. The chukar gave in to gravity, dove low and tucked itself away beneath black rock.
I turned to Robert who was behind me by a dozen steps and I said, “Did you see it? Did you see the hawk?“
He smiled big at me and said he had.
I told him, “We were after the same bird! We were in competition for the same chukar!“
It was the first moment in my life, while hunting, that I realized hunting puts me in competition with other predator animals. When I take a chukar or quail or grouse from the land, I take a meal away from a hawk or coyote or any other numerous predators stalking the rim rock and aspen stands, likewise, they take a meal from me when they have a successful hunt. I might not use tooth and claw to do it, I’m a poor pathetic biped with crummy senses of sight, smell and hearing compared most all wild animals, I get my meat with the help of a gun. But getting is getting and getting is rarely easy. This time, both the hawk and I missed our bird, but I know there will be times when the hawk gets my chukar, just like there will be times when I get the chukar and the hawk must keep hunting and there seems to be something sort of holy about that, to me. Knowing this makes my honest efforts all the more honest, knowing I may have lost before I even begin. Also, I think this realization whittles away, even more, the unwild parts of my life that I am sometimes ashamed of.
A brush with many wings. A shotgun lowered. A wind too strong for all of us. A winter sun shining. Three of us living to hunt and be hunted another day. It was a moment to be remembered.