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Perfect moments

The harvest of the bird is a small part of the experience.

Chris Crockett is an aquatic biologist who specializes in native amphibians. When he isn’t working, Chris enjoys fishing for native cutthroat trout, hunting forest grouse and kayaking with his wife, Emily, on the Great Salt Lake.

IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE fall is nearly upon us. The cool nights of the past few weeks have many of us anticipating the turning of leaves, the whirl of wings and the bugling of elk. As a kid I passed the long lonesome days between hunting seasons watching Dez Young and his setter Hank crisscross the country pursuing upland birds in the series “Hunting with Hank.”  Many of those adventures occurred in the West pursuing iconic game birds such as sage grouse, Hungarian (grey) partridge and blue grouse.

Chris with his first ever Utah blue grouse.

Chris with his first ever Utah blue grouse.

In late September 2006, I arrived in Utah to start a fisheries biologist position with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.   My first weekend in town I left my new apartment clogged with unpacked boxes and an empty refrigerator to explore my new surroundings. The expanses of public land open to hunting were a bit overwhelming for a boy from West Tennessee but as I had just recently visited Strawberry Reservoir for work, I headed to the hills in the area in search of forest grouse.  I can’t claim to have filled my limit those early trips but they did help nurture a love for the mountains that will never fade.

Toolik's first bird on his first hunting trip.

Toolik’s first bird on his first hunting trip.

As with most hunting trips, the actual harvest of a bird is just a small portion of the experience. The real treat is watching the world go by at a slower pace and spending time with great people — and where upland bird hunting is concerned — great dogs.

One of my most memorable hunting trips took place just a few years ago. I’d acquired a Llewellin setter puppy (named Toolik) the year before and had been spending quite a bit of time training (i.e. keeping him out of trouble) him the months leading up to September.   For his first hunting trip in Utah I returned to those same woods I had first explored in 2006 in search of grouse.   The first couple of hours started off a bit inauspicious, you see, before this trip I failed to fully understand the almost magnet attraction my pup had to cow manure. I’ve always been told to “trust your bird dog,” so I can only assume his efforts were in an attempt to blend in with his surroundings (or so I tried to explain to my wife). After rolling in the first half dozen pies we encountered it was finally time to get down to some actual hunting.

Toolik with two roosters taken on the Utah Lake Wetland Preserve.

Toolik with two roosters taken on the Utah Lake Wetland Preserve.

After working several aspen draws intermixed with conifers, Toolik started getting excited, what most upland hunters would call “birdie.” He purposefully zig-zagged around a series of deadfall trees before freezing in half stride to go on point. Although my dog will not win any award soon for pointing with style, it was nonetheless a beautiful sight. As I walked past him into the brush our small corner of the world exploded with blue grouse flushing both from behind the downed tree and from above our heads in the conifers.

Blue grouse often prefer to live on steep slopes or near steep gullies where they can launch themselves from cover and quickly put gravity to their advantage as they rocket down slope.   These birds were no exception. As several birds quickly disappeared behind cover a lone adult blue grouse sailed down slope away from us. I must admit I flubbed the first shot but finally caught up with the grouse on the second shot just as it made it over a small cliff.

If you’ve ever trained a bird dog I don’t have to tell you how exciting a “first bird” can be. It’s something akin to your first kiss or your baby’s first words.  I’m not sure how either one of us made it down that slope without a broken ankle, nor who was more excited, me or the dog, but after retrieving the bird we both sat down for a good twenty minutes to catch our breath, admire the bird’s beautiful plumage, and enjoy what I’ll always remember as a perfect moment.

Make a point this season to get out and create some memories of your own. Utah is blessed with a diversity of upland game species and a plethora of public lands open to hunting.

3 Responses to Perfect moments

  1. I have jus tmoved to the Tooele, UT area and on a quest to hunt here. Muttley, my 12 year old GWPoiner, is trying to adjust to a desert eviroment after living on the Mississippi River of Northern WI his entire life. I have bagged Pheasants, Rulle Grouse and ducks with my constant companion, helps to be retired. DOD. I have mounted some special birds, 1st Pheasnant while posted in Germany, duck that I stripe to my birthday suit and broke thin ice as I left the snowy bank of a small pot hole lakeshores in Wisconsin and swam out to put a couple Malards ducks necks in my mouth and swam back threw the morning mist to my awaiting dry clothes and laughung budies. My lastest special bird was taken when Muty was young and I was not sure how good of a dog I had yet. Before Mutt was a rare great, almost unbelievable field English Setter, Sparky who never broke a point and had a 12 o’clock tail. So Mutt had some big shoes to fill, and this day he did. We were hunting a rare bird today, wild Pheasant. The brome grass was over knee high and there was a small breeze along the mirandering creek maybe a bit mutch wind. We were quartering the wind and Mutt had just crossed to my right on his natural cast(I do not train my dogs to criss cross in front of me, but to rather handle well and cast) as he past he snap hard to his right and froze in the increadable thing pointers do POINT. No flagging, no sneaking, just locked up solid, is eyes shifted from me to a heavey grassy tuff. iI took less than a dozen steps angling to him as a cock flushed, easily shot with thelow brass 71/2s in the modified tube and never tooched off the reservehi brass 5s, in the full tube. Mutt bkoke on shot and made a mad dash to the bird, Oh God, don”t mess this up Mutt…He looked at me and I turned away from him and held Fretch and took of at a dead run away from him. He was not going to be abandoned nor was he leaving that big bird behind! As he was about to overcome me. I stopped, dropped, and turned catching dog,bird and my heart. I had the bird in hand and a really happy dog. That moment I knew I has a POINTER and retrieving was going to be no problem. To a pointing dog owner, the first for real, none misakeable point is ever so awarding. I had a special peice of cresant shaped peice of wood from the woods with the grain exposed by years of rain and sun that no scrubbed drift wood can copaire to for this bird. The mount is large as the bird is rising, wing spread, and taing one last look over his wing. The mount is a work of art and the memeris are hard on the heart. So I believe the next special moment will be a Utah bird, mounted on something I find afield and learn to hunt my new home. could not get the spell ccheck to work, but I think you will find tha passion for dog work and memorial moments. thanks for your time j,

  2. did not know how to attach photos, but have them jay j carley and Mutt

  3. Chris: so nice of you to remember my adventures…dez

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