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  1. #1
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    Our Pursuit of the Snowcock...

    Our fascination with this bird started only a few months ago when reading the newly released NDOW regulations for the upcoming season. Having never heard anything about this bird, it began a process that involved hours of research online, some phone calls to NDOW biologists, and several weeks of tossing around ideas and prepping for the actual trip. Online we managed to find about five reports of people hunting them, some complete with pictures and video. Of those, we only found two successful hunts. I even managed to dig up an old NDOW study from the 90's that listed the average statistics of hunter success, as well as the total number of birds harvested since the season began in 1971... 82 birds.

    With this information(or lack there of), we knew we were in for a pretty unique and challenging hunt. Operation "Super Chukar" commenced this past Friday. My two buddies and I left Reno at 1pm and hit the road to Elko. We arrived at the Lamoille Trailhead at 6:30pm, and the canyon was already nearly completely dark, and the thermometer on the dash read 29 degrees. The Ruby Mountains had received 4-8" over the past 48 hours, and with the sky clearing on Friday, it made for the coldest conditions of the week. We debated over camping at the trailhead and hiking in at first light, but we decided that it might actually be warmer up higher rather than down in the canyon. We planned on getting to Liberty pass and either setting up there for the night, or just dropping down to Liberty Lake to get out of the wind, and then pressing on in the morning the last few miles to Favre Lake, where we planned on base-camping for the weekend. We zig-zagged up the trail, luckily with two sets of tracks in the snow from earlier in the day keeping us somewhat on the barely distinguishable trail covered in snow.

    The lower slopes of Liberty Pass...
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    We continued over the pass and unknowingly right past Liberty lake, as it was pitch black and impossible to see more than 100 yards in front of you. Skipping on and off what seemed like a trail, and eventually heading towards the faint light of a distant campfire below. As we neared the flickering light, we came upon a trail marker labeled "Favre Lake Trail". We had unintentionally busted out the entire 5 miles in under 3 hours. We crossed the creek to a thicket of trees and settled into a somewhat flat campsite. After clearing the 6" of snow we pitched our tents, skipped a hot meal, and crawled into bed at just after 10pm.

    The next morning we arose at 6:30, giving the sun a chance to warm things up a bit, and allowing us to catch a few extra minutes of sleep after the long night that dipped into the high teens. We pulled out the map and set out our plans for the first push. We followed the drainage up to Castle lake and then split up, side hilling the bowl at three elevations and stopping to glass several times along the way. We worked our way up to the ridge-line and then followed it as it became narrow and vertical. It was only a few minutes later that we had our first bird sighting. Unfortunately it was in flight after diving off the cliffs in front of us and gliding around a point on the hillside now below. This both motivated us, and at the same time perhaps emboldened us. We scrambled across rocky cliffs and wind blown drifts before reaching the end of the passable ridge towards Lake Peak.

    Castle Lake
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    Right about here is where we must have spooked the bird that took flight from the cliffs ahead of us.
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    Sheer cliffs just below us made for some exhilarating and precarious footwork.
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    From up here we built our next route. We would work down and hit the exposed ridge-line seen here, from left to right .
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  2. #2
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    Now heading down off of Lake peak and across the large bowl leading up to Wines Peak, we felt confident that we were at least in the right area, but slightly discouraged by how precarious the terrain that they thrive in is to navigate. We hit the ridge as gusts of wind blasted the dry snow from it's exposed surface. We worked towards Wines Peak and hit it's rocky ridge at three different heights, as we had split up again. I took the high line, and about 300 feet from the summit, I got my second wind... Two fresh sets of very large tracks, leading straight up the mountain. With as windy as it was, I knew that these tracks were less than an hour old, and more than likely they had only began to move as we approached.

    Up they go...
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    I followed the tracks for several hundred feet, as the scurried up the mountain, across rock piles, eventually leading to the very highest point on the peak. A small rocky outcropping was simply the launching platform for the birds to take flight. The tracks ended, and I knew that I had missed this chance. Retreating down the mountain I met up with the guys and explained what I was onto. If nothing else, we were learning how they behave. We weren't sure if they'd push down in the snow, or jump for joy as their named after the white stuff. Slowly we were putting little pieces together.

    With the afternoon approaching, we decided to head back to camp, as we had some camp chores to take care of. We knew the snow would be melting around camp, and our gear needed to be dried out, firewood needed to be collected, and a hot meal was in order. The Brook trout were easy catching on just about any dry fly you threw at them, and we saved 4 of the largest for dinner. We enjoyed a nice campfire and talked about our plans for the morning before heading to bed around 8pm. Only 3 hours later we were all awoken by giant gusts of wind. Our tents were being battered by the persistent pulsing of booming waves of air. It was much warmer when we awoke at 6am, and that immediately had us concerned. The wind hadn't lightened up, and the cloud cover was hovering above us. We moseyed around camp hoping it would pass. Finally at 11am we admitted that this could get gnarly. We didn't want to be up here when the weather rolled in, and hunting was impossible in the wind that was whipping across the ridges and valleys. We stepped back and decided to pack out and head lower for the night and hope that it moved through for the following day.

    Looking back down at Liberty Lake. Notice the surface of the water...
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    We reached the car a couple hours later and decided to head down the canyon to the shelter of the Campsite midway up the valley. We found a nice quite spot in which the aspens provided a wind block. We built a large fire, pigged out, and even had a beer. The following morning would be our last chance for this trip.

    We were on the trail by 6:30 am, just a little later than we would have liked to be, but well fed and caffeinated for the day. We were heading to Island Lake, which from all the birder sites is the mecca of SnowCock, largely because it's so easy to get to, with only a 2 mile hike from the parking lot. We hit the bowl above Island Lake and split up. We broke off our separate directions without much discussion, and this might have ultimately been our biggest mistake, as we should have built a game plan in which we worked together to push them towards each other. We stopped for about 20 minutes and glassed the rocky slopes, hoping that we'd find those needles in the giant stack of hay. The wind was still blowing, but the sun would peek out from behind the cloud cover on occasion and warm things up a bit. I took the right portion of the bowl, opting to head up to the shelf midway up the mountain and sidehill from there. I worked this grassy shelf and saw only a few signs of the birds. I then took the only passable looking route up even higher. It was a narrow and loose diagonal swath that lead up the face of the jagged cliffs. My partners were way across the bowl, working the opposite direction, and only visible through binoculars. I proceeded up the draw, hoping that I would have another option for coming down, as looking down with each footstep was becoming more and more un-nerving. As I approached the top of the ridge, I saw movement. Three large grey birds hopping along the rocky face and disappearing though a narrow channel. This 10 second glimpse turned out to be our only really solid visual on these animals other than in flight. They were 80-90 yards out when they disappeared, out of range, and leaving me with a visual that I will have to wait a year to erase. I hustled after them, retracing their route through the channel. I peered through the channel, hoping that they would be sitting there, but they weren't. I continued on, to the narrow plateau on top of the ridge. I reached the highest rocky outcropping and glassed all around in hopes of getting back on them when I knew well enough that they were long gone, taking the shortest way away from danger, by jumping of the largest cliff face they could find...

    Heading up from Island Lake.
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    The portion of the bowl that I covered. Heading up the scree slope on the right, then horizontally across that shelf before heading diagonally up the steep and loose draw just left of this picture, and then putting me on top of the ridge shown here. Where of course the birds were...
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    The ridge just after spotting the birds.
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    Last edited by JReeves; 10-02-2013 at 12:22 PM.

  3. #3
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    So... while not successful in harvesting one of the most elusive and rare game animals in North America, I feel that we were hugely successful in gaining some knowledge. We truly are excited for next year already, with hours spent already planning for redemption. The Ruby Mountains now have a giant piece of my heart and I look forward to more days out exploring them, with gun in hand and not.

    Some random images of the trip:
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  4. #4
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    Really cool story JReeves, I heard those birds were hard to get to. Sounds like you gave it one hell of a try, though. Best of luck in the future. Thank you for sharing your story!!!

  5. #5
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    great story. Sounds like these birds have the advantage. did you find anyone who used falcons to hunt them?

  6. #6
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    Awesome story JR, thanks for all the detail and pictures! Makes me want to give it a shot next year, my father in law has one mounted he shot back in the 80's and I have always meant to do it, I think this story just inspired me to finally do it.

    Your buddy has a fantastic beard btw

  7. #7
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    Thanks a lot for the great story and pics! Inspirational stuff

  8. #8
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    I never herd of them before. Thanks for sharing the pics

  9. #9
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    Awesome story bud. Too bad you could put one in the bag but just more inspiration for next year
    Can't spell scum without U&M... Go 'Cats!

  10. #10
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    Cool story, I've always been interested in trying that hunt. Hope you bag one next time

 

 

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