I had to think for a long time how to begin the blog about my first bird hunt. I finally decided after few days of reflection to go with the feeling I had on a last day just before we headed back down from the highest ridge. I looked around, took a deep breath(I had to, at that point we’ve climbed close to 3000 vertical feet) and quietly let go of one word “WOW”. No other word could have described my feelings better. Was it the area of Hell’s Canyon, the great people of Heaven’s Gate Outfitters, friends from CZ-USA or the wonderful bird dogs who made the hunt possible in that terrain? I believe all of the above played a major role in my first, yet phenomenal bird hunt in Riggins, Idaho.
I received an email with the invitation from CZ-USA several weeks ago asking me to try the new 12 gauge Upland Ultralight over/under and writing a story about my experiences with the gun during this unique upland bird hunt. I checked my schedule to make sure it’s open and committed to coming immediately. I’ve gone on couple of hunts with the folks from CZ-USA and I always make sure I’m available when asked. It’s too much fun and most importantly safe and ethical hunting.
I decided to drive from my home in Jackson Hole. It was a long but beautiful ride through parts of Idaho I’ve never been to. The road north of Boise follows the Payette river for over an hour. The canyon was narrow and it made sightseeing from the vehicle impossible. I stopped couple of times to take in the natural beauty. The landscape opened up a little near Cascade lake. I enjoy canyons but what I really appreciate is broad valleys, irrigated green pastures and distant peaks standing guard over the life the lakes, rivers or creeks provide. Town of McCall with its lake and Western mountain character is also known for very dedicated hockey community. Then it’s on to Riggins, located just north of Hell’s Canyon. Whitewater rafting and kayaking where Salmon and Little Salmon rivers meet is what makes this place famous amongst the mainstream outdoorsmen. I for that matter found this town with its surrounding canyons, the mild climate and Seven Devils mountains a hunter’s paradise.
We met all the people from Heaven’s Gate Outfitters the first evening at a local sandwich shop. I immediately realized they love what they do and they love the place where they’re doing it at. The plan for next two days was to start at around eight in the morning, use all terrain vehicles to get to higher elevation and split up into two groups. They must have known I needed a lot of help and that I enjoy hiking up and down the mountain. I was paired up with their leading bird-hunting guide Caleb Viano. Caleb had a German short hair pointer Chopper who proved to be
excellent bird dog and also gorgeous dog. We spent the two mornings hunting Chukkars and Hungarian Partridge who are much better runners than they are flyers. They use the flight just to get away from danger and otherwise move around the mountain on foot. These birds like to hang and roost on the bare hillsides using rock outcroppings as shelter. I did as much learning about these birds as I
did about hunting them. Several trips across and up/down the mountain following Chopper brought us success. We all got couple of Chukkars. It was lot of work but that is what makes hunting fun. We were ready for lunch. We dropped down to town and ate at Seven Devils Steakhouse & Saloon. The food was so good that we (Tom Mack and I) were accused of ordering too much. Obviously they did not check our appetites before we were invited to Riggins. Oh well, they’ll know next time.
The afternoons we drove south of town for quite a different kind of bird hunting. Still lots of walking but mostly in wooded area. Using Caleb’s knowledge we focused on the many water springs there. It is Ruffed Grouse’s favorite habitat. Chopper following our guide’s voice or hand signals would flush them out and we had opportunity to shoot. The birds were much closer and everything was happening faster than up in the open space on the face of the mountains. Not as many shots were taken but we had as much fun. You truly have to be focused and use your hand eye coordination to the best of your abilities. We had success with couple of the Grouse again mostly due to our exceptional dog. What a great sport. You get to work with man’s best friend and carry a shotgun. I quickly became very fond of bird hunting. Most of the credit for my limited success must go to our guide Caleb Viano and his dog Chopper. They are an extraordinary pair. If you have a desire to experience bird hunting at it’s best make your plans today to go to Riggins with Heaven’s Gate Outfitters.
The plan for our last morning was to hike up as high as we could and start making our way across the ridges. The weather turned out to be the best that day and we put in five hours of hard work. Sporting clays is not hitting live birds but it gives you good practice before you hit the field. Working alongside and learning from my guide for three days resulted in my final count being seven Chukkars and four Ruffed Grouse over the course of three days. Some might say it is very poor performance and I say it was a lot more fun than I ever expected. I became a bird hunter. The plans are being made for my next bird hunt in north central Wyoming. There is so many factors when you hunt birds, mule deer, elk or any other animal. You have to enjoy the process not the result.
I only mentioned my shotgun in the opening paragraph because I wanted to separate the gun’s review from the rest. The Upland Ultralight proved to be the perfect light gun for tough wild bird hunting in the mountains. It does not mean it will not do job in the flatlands of South Dakota, Georgia or anywhere else. I can proudly say I put this gun through torture test, although not intentionally.
When first received I cleaned it and greased the action well. Same as my CZ Sporter couple of years ago. Then I worked the gun open and close for a while. It loosened up easy within few minutes. I wiped away the excess grease and put her in the case.
Junior hockey brought me to Southern Wyoming and on my time off I headed to one of many northern Colorado’s Sporting Clays courses to get familiar with Upland Ultralight “in the field”. I shot few rounds of clays just to get used to the gun. It is extremely light, shoulders with ease and points as well as any shotgun I’ve shot in the last couple of years. People who had tried it at the Try Me Station mentioned heavier recoil than other more sporting oriented shotguns. Absolutely, but I was not worried about it. The ramped up energy and adrenaline flowing through your veins during a hunt in the mountains takes care of it. The most importantly the accuracy is not compromised with lighter weight. Ultralight actually helps you to sustain the accuracy during long day of hunting. The pictures speak for the difficult terrain we navigated and I never felt burdened by the weight of the shotgun. Actually, it was the other way around. The shotgun became part of me. The walnut stock held up during my practice rounds, in driving rain or during few falls on rocky mountainsides in Idaho. Water, rocks or heat never changed its performance. I think I worked with Upland Ultralight well.
I would like to thank CZ-USA, Heaven’s Gate Outfitters, Caleb, Chopper, the town of Riggins and state of Idaho for giving me another unforgettable experience.
Final thought: When you find yourself in Riggins, the best place for coffee is Two Rivers Coffee shop and lunch/dinner at Seven Devils Steakhouse & Saloon.
You will not regret your choices.