Leaving Juneau for long periods of time makes me miss the things I enjoy doing here. After spending five weeks in South America, nothing seemed better to get back into the swing of things than going for a late-Fall Ptarmigan hunt.
The weather has been the usual Fall mix of rain and wind with the occasional appearance of snow at sea-level and the mountains putting on the beginnings of their wintry coat. A good friend, Jake, has been dying to get out for a bird hunt with his 14 week-old black lab puppy Stout. Stout, who lives up to his name tipping the scale at 34 lbs, and at his age I don’t think Jake and his fiance will get the medium sized dog they were hoping for. With each step his belly rolls pulling him this way and that, making his gait look at times like a 300 lb man attempting to walk a tightrope for the first time. His paws have passed him by and moved on to that of a full grown dog, it is tough to differentiate between his tracks and that of his older sister Cedar, a 50 lbs chocolate lab. All the same he drug his awkward puppy frame uphill two miles to the snowline and then another mile-and-a-half to reach Granite Basin. Granite Basin is a popular hike accessed from downtown Juneau and the Perseverance Trail, that in Summer leads into a tiered Alpine meadow with a mix of wild flowers, marmots, and remnants of winter in the form of large patches of snow.
After completing a large loop, in the first meadow of Granite Basin, and post holing through snow and slush capped pools, we finally came on some Ptarmigan. If you have never had the experience of encountering Ptarmigan, they probably reside somewhere near the lower levels of an ornithological scale of intelligence. From my encounters of the birds, it would seem they have delusions of grandeur when it comes to their natural camouflage; perhaps something akin to a second grader hiding behind his desk in the hopes that the teacher won’t see him picking his nose. Their winter plumage renders them hard, but not impossible to see, but once spotted and subsequently spooked they don’t usually fly far and are easily shot. Within 10 minutes of finding the first pair, Jake had bagged six birds.
Stout showed curious indifference towards the dead birds, but didn’t quite grasp bringing them all the way to either Jake or myself. At fourteen-weeks its tough to break through the puppy ADD, especially when there is a myriad of smells to sniff and water and snow to play in, how can you blame him. Overall a successful trip into the mountains with a good friend and his puppy on their first hunt together.
P.S. Stay tuned for highlights of my trip to S. America.