Seems like bird numbers were down this year for a lot of people, in a lot of areas. Very good numbers of our local Ruffed grouse were a happy exception, and there were plenty of Sage Hens and Sharptails around to make for some good early season hunts.
Wisconsin and Chukars were a different story. The grouse cycle in the Midwest is currently on the down swing after the peak in 2011, with the bottom of the cycle probably still to come. We have weathered these cycles before so know what to expect. Even with less than great bird numbers there is nothing like hunting grouse and woodcock in the North Woods.
While we were there we concentrated on giving some of the younger dogs more experience. Here is Lizzie with a grouse she made a spectacular find and point on. No camera with us in the woods unfortunately, but still nice to have a photo of this beautiful brown phase bird and the memory of Lizzie on point.
Woodcock migrating from the north were late coming through in the area we hunt, but toward the end of our stay we had some good flights that helped make up for the low grouse. Here are a couple of woodcock points on a great hunt with River and friends.
Back home, Chukar numbers were down this year throughout most of the prime areas of the West due to a very dry spring. Chukars are similar in some ways to Bobwhite quail- chick survival depends on green growth that produces good insect populations. Young chicks have poor survival if the spring is too cold and wet, but without good rains to green everything up there aren’t enough insects, particularly grasshoppers, for their protein needs. Drought years tend to translate to easy winters and good survival for the adults, but lower numbers overall because of this.
Early reports were grim. In the Owyhees where we normally spend most of our time Chukars proved to be few and far between. Later in the season the birds were more concentrated in certain areas and easier to find, but it doesn’t seem right to keep working the same coveys so we decided to explore some new country and concentrate on developing young pups. Found a few promising areas and had a good time checking out new hills.
We camped here before heading home, but one great thing about this particular area is that it’s just close enough for day trips (if we get up early!). This gave us a chance to extend our season a bit after we had to be home for work in January.
We currently have three young dogs who just had their first hunting season. Watching pups learn where and how to find birds is always one of the highlights of our year. Ruby’s first Chukar find was a real treat to witness. She turned into the wind with her nose high in the air and wandered at least 50 yards off to the side before flushing a big covey. Performances like this never cease to thrill us.
Heavy snows held off until the end of the season, but the weather has turned back to a more normal winter. We are home and the snow is doing some serious piling up. Hopefully this will be a better year for the birds.