As I raised my shotgun the covey of chukars flew broadside, as straight as clay pigeons, although not bright orange.
Also I didn’t holler “pull.”
But the scenario was otherwise about as ideal as a chukar hunter could hope for.
(The threshold for “ideal” being quite a low one, considering what chukars are capable of, and the ankle-busting terrain the birds prefer. The U.S. military tends to bestow more noble avian nicknames on its fighter jets, such as Eagle and Raptor, but I keep hoping that the newest supersonic high-G machine will be the Chukar.)
I fired three times in the span of as many seconds.
All those pellets and I didn’t ruffle a single feather, so far as I could tell.
This is a typical score for me, to be sure.
But rarely, if ever, have I had so few plausible excuses for wasting 12-gauge shells in hopes of bringing down one of these fleet partridges.
I was hunting with my brothers-in-law, Dave and Chuck Britton, in the big canyon country above Brownlee Reservoir, north of Huntington.
Dave and I were on a ridge near Morgan Creek that reliably yields birds.
Almost none of which have ever ended up in my vest, but at least there was a decent prospect of coming across a covey or two.
The notion of “flat ground” is more theoretical than real on the breaks of the Snake River, but the spine of this ridge is quite gentle by local standards.
I was standing among shoulder-high sagebrush in a sort of shallow bowl, the slope rising at a modest angle to the north.
I actually heard the birds muttering to themselves in their distinct chattering style.
It always sounds to me as if the chukars are taunting. But that might just be frustration-induced anthropomorphism. Shotgun shells aren’t cheap.
Since I knew approximately where the birds were, I wasn’t shocked when they flushed.
Which is to say, I didn’t flinch, as though I had stepped next to a rattlesnake, and then nearly fall down and forget to push the safety button besides.
And since I wasn’t standing on a precipitous slope (like as not coated with grainy snow with the approximate traction of ball bearings; whoever came up with the slur “bird brain” knew nothing of chukars and their telepathic ability to appear when the nearest hunter is in the most precarious position possible), I had a stable base.
I had time to point the barrel. I even fancied that I was leading a particular bird out of the dozen or so that comprised the covey.
I worked the pump as fast as I could. With each blast I was sure I would see the telltale sign of a hit — a bird dropping its legs, or a flutter in the otherwise smooth flight.
But I knew better even before the echo from the last shot dissipated in the chilly air of early November.
As I trudged back to the pickup — I had reloaded the gun, which proves only that optimism and incompetence are bedfellows — I replayed the sequence, much as a quarterback does after throwing the ball over the head of a wide open receiver.
I reached no useful conclusion.
I wasn’t terribly surprised, to be sure.
I’m well acquainted with my failings as a wingshooter.
But I have brought down birds — and done so in circumstances far less amenable to success.
I suspect those episodes were statistical anomalies.
Happenstance, in other words.
Which is to say, a situation when luck scores a rare win over ineptitude.
It’s not dissimilar to a golfer who smacks a drive down the middle of the fairway and then shanks the approach shot into a lake or someone’s porch window.
And misses the 2-foot putt for triple bogey.
The morning’s hunt, despite its disappointing climax, was not without highlights.
It was a fine fall morning, the ground frosty after the recent passage of a cold front, the sky clear except for patches of wispy cirrus.
We saw a couple coyotes, and while I was hunting alone I jumped four deer in a draw, one of them a fine 4-point.
We had roasted chicken for dinner that evening.
Not quite so satisfying, I suppose, as meat I had procured myself.
But a cooked chicken thigh, whatever its questionable origin, at least has the advantage of staying still until you pierce it with a fork.