The air was chilly and steam pushed out of my nose when I poked my head out of the sleeping bag. The last memory from the evening before was watching the fly tying scene in Dan Bailey’s fly shop from Rancho Deluxe on the canvas wall of our tent. Technology can be be a bitch, but projecting cult classics on the side of a wall tent forty miles from the pavement while chukar hunting is something to behold. Reaching down, I found my glasses lodged in my boots under the cot. They instantly fogged, the heat from the depths of my mummy bag had escaped. Our wood stove perished a few hours ago but the down filled bags kept us warm and the chilly air is not what woke me. I had to pee.
Slipping into my Crocs I walked outside for a few moments and took care of business. The sun was doing its best to peak down the canyon, but the walls were having none of it. After letting Stella out of her insulated kennel, we made our way back inside and she quickly crawled upon my cot and buried herself. Holden was deep in his bag, not to be seen and Willard, his three year old shorthair was balled up in blankets and semi dirty hunting garb beneath the his cot. Grabbing the axe I shaved off a few pieces of kindling and found a fist-full of dried out sage to start the fire. Peering into a rectangular metal box full of ash and burnt lodge pole I was reminded of just how important it was to unplug. The box was filled, lit and and as the fire began to crack I fanned the flames losing myself in the glow, warmth, crackle and flicker.
The day before, we were hiking in steep hill country full of stone buttresses, two mile vistas of creek bottoms dotted with juniper trees and stair stepping grasslands mixed with rocky reefs and pointing bird dogs. I had followed Stella out of sage brush flats and towards the rim. On more than one occasion, I watched a chukar, the masked bandits that they are, run the rocks and slip off the steep canyon walls at the rim top only to land 800 yards below me, flying like little fighter jets. An old friend once joked that chukar was an Afghanistan word for “rock runner”. Stella knew they were running circles around us hiding in the cliffs and rocky reefs. She pinned several birds and I was able to knock a few down, never shooting off the steep cliff walls. Years before, I had shot a flushing chukar and sent Huckleberry off the rim, down a rocky chute to the cheat grass some fifteen feet below me. Ten minutes later he appeared with a bird in tow, unscathed. I could have easy sent Huck to his death and vowed to never shoot another a bird off the rim. Chukar County is rough and desolate, wild as Claude Dallas and the Game Wardens who chased him down with sunsets that seem to last forever. This country is regarded as some of the most remote land in the lower forty-eight. We take extra precautions when traveling here; shovels, extra gas, tools, a mini floor jack, tow ropes, plenty of coffee, booze and cigarettes just in case things get dire. When it rains out here, you might spend an extra week, waiting for things dry out making the roads passable once again.
Stella had now made her way off the cot and was curled next to me basking in the warmth of the wood stove. Coffee and a smoke were in order; as luck would have it, we had a small kitchen a few feet to away. The stove heated our water and I pressed out some jet black fuel, mixed it with cream and honey and found my place next to Stella and the wood fired heater. The cast iron skillet, half full with bacon wrapped chukar balls filled with jalapeno peppers made its way back to the heat. Soon enough our little spot in the world smelled of coffee and pork fat, everything was right. Holden stirred and rolled his feet to the canvas floor. I handed him his coffee as he lit two smokes, handing one over. A rare cigarette for me, but coffee and a Camel is still hard to pass up in this setting. A few nights before we had erected a twelve by twelve wall tent equipped with a wood stove, pop-up kitchen with a three burner gas stove top, two cots and a bedside table deep in a place that will forever remain unnamed. We were in Chukar Camp, living out of Wally, as it was appropriately know by.
An hour and half later our boots were laced up and the light fog from the night before had lifted. We loaded the Germans in the Chevy and headed down the gravel road making our way towards to the top of the canyon. Sturgill played, one song after another, as we drank our coffee and bounced along without a word spoken. Sage brush and rolling hills of grass lie before us along with a walk through public land in one of the most pristine settings you could only imagine. Millions of years ago, this volcanic land had been shaped by heat and water, some 2000 miles below, Yellowstone’s hot spot had made its mark. We slung on our packs, grabbed our weapons and took off walking with two happy dogs to chase the red legged little devils. These are the days afield I look forward to the most. There’s no connectivity to the outside world, no light pollution in the sky from a near by city, just endless miles all around, unplugging to the beat of chukar camp one step at a time.
Editors note: We find ourselves not only fishing, but hunting, skiing, hiking and exploring the natural world. From time to time, we will write about our other exploits, we hope you enjoy it all. Many of you have met our bird dogs in the shop and often ask about them. They are not just tools of the trade, rather they are part of family and make us whole.