It's a long drive from Eugene to chukar country. Plenty of time to think about things you're probably better off not thinking about. For the first time in a long time, snow is piling up on Santiam Pass. Half-way around the world, diplomats are meeting to discuss global climate change. We're burning 50-some odd gallons of gas to chase partridge in the middle of nowhere.
Cars litter the sides of the highway in various states of distress, their owners keeping the local tow truck fleet occupied for the foreseeable future. Past Camp Sherman and the Mighty Metolius and memories of gin clear water, frozen fingers, and impossible fish. Through the cowpoke facade of Sisters and the urge to stop at Sno Cap for some deep fried regret. We make our way around unsure city dwellers in late model SUVs braving their way to fresh powder lines at Mt. Bachelor. Beyond the busyness of Bend, there's an unimaginable expanse of open country, sage brush, cheat grass, prong horn, and possibilities. Every hour or so a small rural town punctuates our drive with boarded up storefronts and bustling Quickie Marts.
Six hours, two coffee stops, and three pee breaks in we arrive at our destination, a cheap flea bed motel and diner surrounded by public land. The receptionist/waitress/bartender/cook checks us in... $25 a night for humans, $6 a night for dogs. No cable. No internet. Shower water smells like rotten eggs. Nothing on the menu costs more than $12. It's perfect. Exactly as it should be.
With two hours of daylight left in the waning winter sky, we drive up dirt roads that become snow and pull over at the first turnout. Dogs scramble from the back of the truck and look like I feel. Anxious. Excited. Maybe a little nervous. I'm the new guy out here, with a few seasons of waterfowling under my belt and a handful of preserve hunts, but this chukar stuff feels like the big leagues. No blinds, no leisurely conversation. Once the dogs are watered and we're geared up, there will be no friendly small talk.
Two days hard hunting before the weather turns for the worst. Two days of flopping around while my friends find covey after covey. Two days of solid ass kicking and no birds in the game bag. No points for the dog. The wirehairs ranged far, over ridge tops and down gullies with their GPS collars. My dog stayed close, within eyesight, just like I trained her before I knew the demands of chukar hunting in big country.
My legs ache and the dog's pads are torn and bloody. Both of us came here with confidence and left with our tails between our legs. It took the dog a week to get back to normal. I'm still waiting to get there myself. And I just can't wait to go do it all over again.