Climbing the desert’s unnamed mountains, AKA, chukar hunting
By JIM MATTHEWS
Not surprisingly, I don’t kill many chukar. I never have. It’s not that I don’t go out and run them up nasty hillsides at least a couple of times a season, sometimes a lot more. There have even been years when I could reliably plan to have chukar for dinner after a day hunt up West Ord Mountain or a ridge run on the east or west end of Stoddard Ridge, but those years are few and far between.
And this isn’t one of them. There are certainly more birds this year than the last few, but numbers are still a little off. I still go.
Chukar remain one of my favorite gamebirds simply because of the terrain and country where they live. I like chukar vistas. The long, sometimes miserable, climbs up are always worth it.
I have joked with my hunting buddies that I was going to write a chukar hunting book and call it, “Climbing the Mojave Desert’s Unnamed Peaks.” I’m not sure I’d even mention chukar until the fourth or fifth chapter. Mostly chukar hunting is about long climbs and sleuthing down high ridges with shotguns. It is about wind and loose rocks, and hunting dogs and cactus.
I have a photo of me with my Labrador Duke from a few seasons back near the top of Goat Mountain just off Highway 247 between Lucerne and Barstow. I like the photo because it shows typical chukar country, and I think I have climbed up all the ridges and peaks visible in the photo over the years. If you look hard at the image, my truck is a tiny speck at the base of this hill. We heard chukar up here from the truck, so we climbed up. Then we heard chukar way back down there, obviously on their way to Goat Spring for a drink. The game bag on my bird belt is empty, and it stayed that way — although we did jump a covey just below us from where the photo was taken via a self-timer. The birds flushed wildly out of range and flew out of sight around the side of the mountain a half-mile away.
I turned 66 this past year, and each of the last four seasons — when I have reached the top of the ridge on of that first chukar mountain of the year (whether I’m scouting or hunting) — I have stopped and waited for my breathing and pulse to slow down. Then I’ve looked out across the long vista of desert.
“I guess I can do this one more year,” I say quietly to myself and the dog. I’ve starting saying it every crest of every chukar mountain.
Oh, I go slower, and if my sons are along, both part goat that scamper up to the tops of rocky ridges, while I work the sidehills lower down or follow them down ridges a half-mile behind.
As always, I’ve been exploring country I’ve never hunted before during this season. Our deserts are huge and there is just too much to see to stick to just a few known spots. Since the Lab is getting older, too, and he’s grateful we have been limiting ourselves to one big climb up and a circuitous route back down. The first few trips this season, my legs were burning and I about fell down several times, but the last trips were better for both the dog and me. We didn’t see any chukar this last trip and Duke never even acted birdy. Frankly, we haven’t seen many this whole season – certainly none within shotgun range. Yet.
There is still a month to go in the season, until Jan. 25, and I have at least two more spots that I’ve heard rumors about holding chukar, and I want to check them out this year. I’ve looked at the topographic maps, and one of them looks like a place I can drive to nearly the top of the ridge and then hunt one way down the curving ridge, drop down a not-to-deep saddle and canyon and come back up to the ridge, making a circle. I’m looking forward to the hike.
I guess I can do this one more year.
DFW resumes stocking Crystal Lake
Crystal Lake, located in the Angeles National Forest north of Azusa will be stocked with rainbow trout for the first time in several years by the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), its first plant of the year just before Christmas and a second plant slated for next week. The DFW stopped stocking this popular fishing area because years of drought led to low lake levels and poor water quality.
"It's exciting to be able to bring back this opportunity for anglers in the San Gabriel Mountains," said Jennifer Pareti, Inland Fisheries Environmental Scientist with the DFW. "Prior to the drought, Crystal Lake was stocked for more than 70 years. People often share with me their memories of catching fish as kids at Crystal Lake."
Crystal Lake is located in the Angeles National Forest, off of Highway 39, above the City of Azusa. DFW planting information can be found on the DFW stocking page on its website at this direct link: https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FishPlants/.
Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 909-887-3444.