Sunrise over Denio Junction. The coyotes kept me up half the night - they were howling just on the other side of that trailer park.
Harold Hawkins showed up at 7 a.m., and we hit the road toward McGee Mountain, a 5000-acre chunk of multiple-use land near the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge. Jim assured us it held chukars.
Harold gets ready. That’s one of his three dogs – a black German shorthair named Gus.
Then there were these (look closely). Greg heard its rattle not 10 yards from where we got out of the trucks. There was a specially built water development nearby – designed so that wild horses and burros can’t get into it, but game such as chukars, deer, and bighorn sheep can. But water draws in rodents and rabbits, and they in turn pull in the rattlers.
Harold leads us up the mountain.
Jim was right: there were indeed chukars in the area. Harold got this one.
A look at the bird’s crop turned up green grass. It had rained heavily the past few days, so the grass was greening up. With so much to eat, the chukars had spread out over the mountain, abandoning their normal haunts along the creekbeds. Naturally, this made tough hunting even tougher.
Living on the edge. Gus put up a flock out of gun range and, like chukars tend to do, the birds flew right over the edge, down the mountain. You walk uphill for half a mile, only to see them thumb their noses at you and take off. Such is chukar hunting.
Harold admires another one while Jim looks on. Like many species in the area, chukars are aliens, having been imported from Asia in the late 1800s.
We wait out a passing thunderstorm. Standing there, you have to wonder if the Paiutes who used to live here maybe hid from storms in the same rock shelter.
Another invasive species – cheatgrass. No one is quite sure how it got to the West — some speculate it was used as packing material in boxes shipped from Asia in the late 1800s –but once it got here, it took off. It’s not great for game, providing little nutrition and sparse cover for birds. It also spreads whenever there is a disturbance. This area had a huge fire in the late 1990s; after the fire, the cheatgrass moved in, forcing out the native sagebrush (and, in turn, sage grouse). Even in managed areas such as this, it’s tough to control. Burn it, it comes right back.
Forage Kochia, another non-native, grows quickly and offers plenty of nutrition for wildlife. There are some who feel it should be planted in cheatgrass-infested areas; fight off one invasive with another, in other words.
After a solid morning hunt, we parted ways with Hawkins and headed back to Knott Creek for more fishing. Here’s Moore with a tiger trout…
…and a close up.
That’s me fighting a rainbow. I took 8 trout that evening, all on Woolly Buggers and leech imitations.
None were under 14 inches. What an amazing gem of an alpine lake. Great fishing, pristine camping, total silence; if this isn’t the type of place we need to protect, I don’t know what is.
Deputy Editor Jay Cassell and Greg Moore, Trout Unlimited’s communications specialist for TU’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Projects, spent three days with Jim Jeffress, TU’s Nevada backcountry coordinator, exploring the Blue Lakes – Pine Forest Range in the far northwest corner of Nevada, close to the Oregon line.