CHUKAR HUNTERíS SHOTGUN CHOICES -- jim matthews column 31oct01

Small gauges and light guns: Revelations of a mountain bird hunter

### ### ### ###Maybe its some sort of mid-life hunterís crisis, but I have become a little obsessed with chukar and mountain quail the past couple of seasons. For people not familiar with the hunting of these two gamebirds, it should be said right up front that for most hunters they are novelty birds. As an average hunter, you might make a trip or two per season to humor hunting friends, or if you hear of a good hatch where there will be lots of young birds in a place that is relatively easy to hunt, youíll go.

### ### ### ###But thatís the thing about chukar and mountain quail. They are never easy to hunt. For most guys, all it takes is one reminder each year, one day spent climbing steep, unstable hillsides after birds that run uphill easier than you walk on carpeted hallways, one day of slipping around on rocky slopes, twisting ankles, skinning shins, and never getting a shot that is in range or doesnít require some sort of ballerina move because the bird has flushed behind you while you teetter precariously in midstep between two, too-loose rocks. Hunters that make a habit of multiple trips after these birds -- and the hunting gets more difficult as the season progresses -- probably have some serious issues in their lives that can only be addressed by solitude and long vistas. No one else is going to be out there, and even when you find a hunting partner who likes to hunting chukar or mountain quail, you generally end up ridges apart for the whole day and mostly share rides to and from the spots. Thereís not a lot of talk in the dark driving there, and youíre too exhausted to talk coming home. So itís solitary however its done.

### ### ### ###Twenty years ago, I thought it was fun to run through manzanita patches after mountain quail, but that was when I was a svelte 170 pounds bicycling 100 miles or more a week and could outrun those long-plumed birds in their home turf. Back then, it didnít seem a big deal to cross two steep canyons after a flushed cover of chukar and then climb up a ridge 1/4-mile away as the chukar flies, but about a mile in up-and-down hiking. In those days I hauled a 7 1/2-pound 12-gauge pump shotgun with me and carried a box of high brass 6s, sometimes two boxes if I was going to be away from the truck for the day, which you pretty much plan on being if you are hunting mountain quail or chukar. I didnít think much about the weight of all those shells and gun back then. But I also wasnít obsessed with the birds either. I liked valley quail better because there were generally a lot more of them and a guy could actually hope to get five or six birds in an afternoon hunt and have enough for dinner with a friend. With chukar or mountain quail, you always felt pretty good if you got one or two, and you never share them at mealtime.

### ### ### ###At least that last part hasnít changed. One or two birds in the bag is an accomplishment. I hear about guys who get limits of chukar or mountain quail and mostly I think theyíre liars, road hunters, or that they tell the story of the one time it happened a decade ago as though it happens every year. In other words, it might have happened once, but it was a fluke. I once shot nine mountain quail in a single day, and it was a fluke. I donít expect it will ever happen again. There are a lot of days I donít see nine mountain quail or chukar. So getting one or two is an accomplishment.

### ### ### ###What has changed is my attitude toward armament for these gamebirds. During that period when bicycling slipped away to more pressing issues like changing diapers and installing training wheels on little bicycles, I had matured into a 185-pounder who still shot the pump-gun, but wisely carried only about 10 or 15 shells, and -- at least for chukar -- upgraded to shooting three-inch, 1 3/4-ounce, high speed turkey loads with No. 6 shot, sometimes even No. 5s, on the off chance I might actually connect with a bird on one of those 50-yard shots we send after them in futility as they flush out of range. They also kick enough that I was kind of hoping theyíd beat some sense into me and make me realize I didnít need to be hunting chukar when there were valley quail nearby.

### ### ### ###The last two years Iíve found myself spending way more time after mountain quail and chukar than other gamebirds. This doesnít make sense for a guy whoís life has evolved into coaching instead of playing baseball and is now pushing 200 pounds, but Iíve accepted the malady. At least Iím wising up about carrying heavy guns and extra shells. I figure since Iím packing at least 20 pounds in fat, and it doesnít look like Iíll be cutting out the evening ice cream, fast food burritos, and incredible pasta feasts at a friendís house during baseball season, which seems to last all year these days as our boys get older, I could at least cut down on the gear I haul into the field.

### ### ### ###So I have a new, light 28-gauge and carry only a box of shells holding 3/4-ounces of shot each. I have done the math on all this and itís already proving my brilliance. A box of 25 shells for the 28-gauge weigh in a 1.7 pounds. The same box of 20-gauge shells weighs 1.85 pounds and 12-gauge shells weigh in at 2 1/4 pounds. If I carry 25 shells, Iím saving 2 1/2 ounces over the 20-gauge and over 9 ounces in 12-gauge shells. My 28-gauge weighs a scant 6 1/4 pounds, a 1/4-pound less than my 20-gauge and 1 1/4-pounds less than my 12-gauge pump. Thatís a total savings of about 29 ounces, from the 12 gauge to the 28 gauge.

### ### ### ###Stay with me here, because this is where it starts to get good. Now, I know that doesnít seem like much. The gallon of water I carry for me and the dogs weighs more than the shotgun, but that is essential, and the pasta gut certainly has proved more resilient than the 12-gauge. So those 29 ounces make a different. Letís just say an average chukar or mountain quail hunt involves the hiking of four miles, which is ultra conservative. And lets say I have a huge stride that covers a yard, which is probably about double what I really do with my stubby legs. That means that in hiking four miles, Iíll be lifting one foot off the ground and placing it forward about 6,500 times. (Itís actually more than that, but I figure there will be some falling and rolling and sliding down hillsides involved.) Cutting out those 29 ounces has saved me from lifting 11,780 pounds over the course of that hike. Thatís nearly six tons.

### ### ### ###I know that is not entirely correct, but itís illustrative. I am hauling less weight, making my legs appreciative. The lighter gun is less burdensome on my arms making me shoot better if the unlikely opportunity for a shot ever arises. The lighter shells donít weight down my vest as much, easing the strain on my shoulders. Since hunting chukar and mountain quail obviously isnít about putting a lot of birds in the larder, I figure the 28-gauge loads are just as deadly on those rare 20 to 30 yards shots as the bigger shells.

### ### ### ###Now if I can just figure out why I feel obligated to hunt chukar and mountain quail as often as possible during the season, I might be way ahead in the game.