Chukar

Chukar hunting is probably my most favorite hunting ever. I’m not sure if it is the country they usually live in or the physical limits you surpass chasing them up and down steep rocky canyons. Most of the time at the end of a few days of chukar hunting both man and dog are beat into the ground. I loved doing it while I was a teenager, and it was still easy in my twenties. In my thirties it was a workout, and now in my forties, (nearing fifties) it’s just hard to try and do what I did thirty years ago, but I’ll keep doing it until I can’t climb hills anymore. Of course there are pen raised chukar to hunt on many hunting preserves, but that falls into the chukar killing, and not chukar hunting in my mind.

chukar country
Many canyons in chukar country look like this one. My dog Hoover was on point down in here and it took 20 minutes just to get close to him.

The first time I can remember anything about a chukar was when I was probably six years old. Most of the family on my mother’s side would go to a deer camp in southern Idaho near the Idaho/Nevada border. The families had all tagged out and loaded up the horses for the trip down a rough dirt road back to home. During this extremely bumpy slow drive across the sagebrush flats all of a sudden all the trucks abruptly stopped. Everybody was running around digging through the gun cases like they had just seen Bigfoot and was going to tag him. Someone said look at all the chukar. I didn’t have any idea what a chukar was, but soon enough they were flushing and guns were blazing. I can’t remember if anyone got any or how long they chased them, but seeing the excitement on the grown-ups faces left me thinking I want to go chukar hunting someday. The deer camp area was twenty miles from any good chukar hunting areas, but I wouldn’t learn that until I finally decided to hunt that area thirty years after that deer hunting trip.

It wasn’t until I was twelve or thirteen before I got to go on a chukar hunt. One of my buddies was old enough to get a driver’s license which opened up a vast new world of hunting for me. In my pre driving years if I couldn’t walk from our house or ride my horse to a hunting spot it didn’t exist. Three of us decided to make a forty mile drive to the north of where we grew up and find some chukar. The buddy with the license had been chukar hunting with his dad many times and had some areas to hunt. They used German Shorthairs or English Pointers, I can’t remember for sure, but they were not world class birds dogs I do remember that because they did lots of long range flushing. My buddies came by my house before daylight in an early seventies ¾ ton standard cab Chevy 4X4 pickup, 4 speed, 454 engine, with dogs running loose in the back, and the three of us with our guns and daypacks filling the cab. Times sure were much different back then. Wow do I like the modern fuel efficient mega cab pickups of today better than those rigs, and I like my dogs in the front with me or in a kennel. The road into the area was rough, really rough, just nothing but lava rock and a little dirt once in a while. I’ve been on that road many times over the years and it’s the worst road you will ever drive on, but most good chukar hunting areas are at the end of a long rough road. When we did arrive at the very deep steep walled canyon where the chukar supposedly lived I thought this looks crazy, and like a good place for rattlesnakes. I had never seen a rattlesnake on our ranch, just lots of bull snakes, but I didn’t like any snakes. I would learn chukar hunting is also a great way to find rattlesnakes, but I didn’t find any that day. The one lasting impression I had from the long day of chukar hunting was listening to the chukars talk trash to us from the other side of the canyon after we had chased them with poor results all day. The dogs were not good, and we thought we could chase chukar up hill and catch up with them. I don’t think many people can do this. They run up hill like a cheetah, and just when you think you have them close to shooting range they will make a fast flight all the way back down to the bottom of the canyon, and start running up the other side. Some of these canyons can take all day to go from one rim to the other rim.

I started hunting them without dogs as a teenager with a couple other teenage buddies, and we were pretty successful by using a call to locate them, and then getting above them for a stalk. They always seem to fly downhill and run up hill. Our young legs, and uneducated minds were a perfect match for chasing chukar all day, and we would usually always limit out. Of course we were into hundreds of chukar in areas where most normal hunters just looked through binoculars from miles away at the secluded country we were hunting. On one hunting trip in mid-October I did end up in a small rocky crevice that was probably a rattlesnake den area. There were rattlesnakes everywhere buzzing and I don’t know how I didn’t get bit that time. We hunted mostly in south central Idaho close to home, but we did make a few trips to the Snake River in the Hells Canyon on the Idaho side. Everywhere I went chukar hunting was hard physical work and I didn’t think there was any other way to hunt them.

After my four years in the Air Force I returned to Idaho and did a lot of big game hunting, but I still kept going after chukar and other upland game, with an occasional duck shoot in the mix. A guy I worked with had a German Shorthair that wasn’t too bad of a bird dog, (actually pointed things) and the dog did help us find chukar when we started hunting southwestern Idaho, and southeastern Oregon to go along with Hells Canyon.

I was starting to think there has to be another way to get these dumb birds besides just trying to out physical them, but I hadn’t figured it out yet. I remember one time while working on my hunting rig at my mechanic buddies shop (I tore up a lot of vehicles hunting) talking to an old timer about chukar hunting. This guy was in his eighties and still hunting chukar. He was hard core and had been using Brittany’s all his life. He told lots of great stories, and he said he had figured out how to hunt them without climbing up and down all day long. That helped him get twenty extra years of chukar hunting. He said he probably wasn’t going to go after them the next hunting season because in his words “because of too many bad hips”. I asked him if he would draw me a map of some of his close by areas since he wasn’t going to hunt anymore and he replied “NOPE find your own spots”. I laughed out loud at him because I would have responded the same way. This was still a few years before I got my 1st GWP, but I was starting to think a really good dog might be worth it for hunting chukar.

When I got Cruiser, and at the end of his 1st hunting season when he was around ten months old everything really clicked for him as a hunting dog. I had some good chukar areas within a few miles of my house and there were huns and sage grouse on the flats below the chukar. From talking to the old timer a few years earlier I had decided the best way to hunt the areas was to get Jodi to follow me out with the car. We would park the car six to eight miles from where I wanted to start hunting on the mountain. Then Jodi would ride up the hill with me and drop me a Cruiser off and then drive the pickup back to the car leaving the pickup for us and she could continue on with her day. This worked great. I had a couple times I got into some hairy situations in the rock cliffs, but it was way less physical walking down the hill or on pretty flat land all day than it was walking up the hill. Cruiser would run up and down and all around, but I just kept going mostly down. One time on a chukar hunt I watched Cruiser go over the ridge a couple hundred yards ahead of me and not come out anywhere. When I peeked over a large lava rock there was Cruiser standing with chukar milling all around him. My first thought was why are those chukars not scared of Cruiser? Then one of them saw me, probably scratching my head in confusion, and they all burst into the air. I got one and Cruiser happily retrieved it. A couple weeks later I had another situation just like this happen and I was able to see why the chukar got close. Cruiser had pointed a covey below him with the wind coming up hill, and the chukar didn’t know he was there and they just fed up the hill getting all around him. Over the years there have been quite a few times I have watched dogs on solid point not be seen by wild game even when the game gets close. These chukar had been hunted a lot and were very wild, but I guess they didn’t realize Cruiser wasn’t a rock or they didn’t care. Cruiser and I had many successful chukar hunting trips his first couple seasons, and I started to go to some new areas in Northern Nevada, and other parts of Idaho I hadn’t hunted before. It didn’t take me long to realize hunting with a good hunting dog would greatly increase your chances of getting chukar. I wonder how many more birds I didn’t see in the years prior to getting a GWP.

Oliver on chukar in Oregon.

Oliver on chukar in Oregon.

On one trip I decided to go where the family had seen the chukar three decades before. I knew the general area where they must have found the chukar, and when I got there I had no idea why there would have been chukar there on that mid-October evening so many years ago.  I could within easy eye sight see the deep canyon lands twenty miles to the southwest in northern Nevada that are still home to a good population of chukar, but this was out in the flat desert without any rock canyons. When I got to the really rough dirt road off of the just rough dirt road leading to deer camp a few miles away I turned Cruiser loose and followed him in the Suburban. He had a couple points on sage grouse, but no chukar, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the chukar my family found were the last ones in that area ever. It just wasn’t good chukar country. After a morning run I headed to the west and some deep canyons where chukar should live. I had one other hunting buddy with me and we drove to the end of a miserable road before we started hunting. I turned Cruiser loose and he locked up about fifty yards from the Suburban. We got in position and about fifteen of the biggest, fattest chukar you will ever see were on the rocks ten yards in front of him. Cruiser had been in many field trials by now, and these chukar were acting like pen raised birds. My buddy looked at me a shrugged his shoulders. I said they sure are tame and we got real close before they flushed. My buddy shot a couple and I watched Cruiser to make sure he stayed broke. After I sent him for the retrieve my buddy said they only flew about two hundred yards and landed right up on top of the ridge. Cruiser found them again and once again my buddy shot two. This time the rest headed way down the canyon. Chukar that haven’t been hunted will give you a couple easy chances, but after they have been hunted easy and chukar don’t often get used in the same sentence. In heavily hunted areas by the end of the season even the best dogs will struggle to get any pointed and if they do get a point most of the time it will be over fifty yards out.

Sometimes the ride to the chukar hunting spot is more of an adventure than the hunt. Birdie and Ralphie had 5 miles and two hours in the cage to get to this spot, but they did just fine riding along the bumpy road.

Sometimes the ride to the chukar hunting spot is more of an adventure than the hunt. Birdie and Ralphie had 5 miles and two hours in the cage to get to this spot, but they did just fine riding along the bumpy road.

One of the winters, I think 2001-2002 in Idaho we got a couple bigger snow storms in the areas I hunt chukar. Normally the snow is not too deep and it will melt quickly on the rocky south facing slopes providing some open ground for the chukar to feed. That year it was just too deep up in the canyons and the chukar started to gather in very large groups and head way down into the flat sagebrush areas. I found some while looking for huns one afternoon and I decided to try the flats with some other chukar hunting buddies. When we got to the spot I said they are right out in that big basin. They all looked at me a laughed. I couldn’t convince them to go for a walk with me so I said I’ll turn a couple of my dogs loose and we’ll just drive around until they find them. They agreed to this with some more you are crazy comments. After a few minutes both dogs were on point close to the crest of a small rock pile in a flat area. I told the guys I’ll bet there are a million chukar on the other side of the rocks. Well there wasn’t a million, but the four of us jumped what we later thought was around five hundred chukar in an area no bigger than ten acres. We all got some shooting in and the dogs got a few retrieves. The birds all flew a least a few hundred yards down the gently sloping hills, but we knew where to go find them again. Since driving the Suburban and watching dogs had worked so well we decided to do it again. Over the course of the day we just kept getting on large covey after large covey. At some point we were probably jumping the same birds again, but it was the least amount of walking I ever had to do chukar hunting. One of the guys said it really wasn’t hunting because the dogs did all the work and all we did was drive around and walk a short distance to them on point. I can’t think of an easier hunt, (or should I say shoot) than that day. I have yet to get into any other circumstances where the snow and big populations of chukar on public lands have come together to provide an opportunity like that one.

When I moved to South Dakota for five years close chukar hunting was not an option. While South Dakota has plenty of upland bird hunting, chukar to my knowledge don’t exist in South Dakota. I made a few trips each year back to Idaho or Nevada to chase them around. One trip to Idaho I took four dogs including a young bitch named Wanda who I really liked. I had been hunting the prairies in South Dakota and the dogs were in good shape for the flat lands, but not great shape for chukar canyons. The second day out we went to the exact canyon where I had my very first chukar hunt decades before. Even though my chukar hunting buddies from Idaho said it was a bad year for chukar I knew they would be in the area. I took off across the lava rock close to the top of the canyon with Wanda and we got a lot farther from the 4-wheelers than I wanted before we found our first covey. I got one and Wanda was fired up, but I had made a bad mistake. Her pads were getting worn quickly in the lava rock, and I had forgotten my bicycle intertubes I used for booties. Very seldom do I have any issues with blown pads, and I seldom use anything to protect the pads. This area is beyond brutal on feet, both man and dog, and hard to explain until you have experienced it. Now I carry duct tape that works good if I think there is a chance for blown pads. At this point Wanda and I are on the top of a big cliff looking into a huge steep vertical walled canyon trying to figure out how to get down to the bottom of the canyon and on to the cattle trail so we could walk back to the 4-wheelers. I got on the radio and told my brother and hunting partner who were a couple miles on the other side of the canyon I was going to be coming up the trail and would need to get Wanda loaded in the 4-wheeler because of her feet. While Wanda and I were making our way through a large boulder field of jagged rocks she went on point. I jumped a few chukar and got one that landed in a rock pile. She was able to get in and get it and even though she was all fired up I could tell she was a hurting unit. I got to a flat spot and checked her pads. Every one of them was bleeding pretty badly, and all I had was my own first aid kit. I wrapped her feet in gauze and alethic tape and put her on a lead for the rest of the trip to the bottom. At least they probably didn’t get worse that way. When we got to the bottom she stood in the creek for a few minutes, and then the chukar started talking trash up above us. She took off up the hill after them, and it took me some hollering to get her to come back. It was well after dark before the two of us made it back to the 4-wheeler and her hunting trip was over.

When we moved to our current location in Wyoming some of the locals told me chukar did live in Wyoming, but they were in rough country. My first though was how rough? It can’t be worse than some of the areas in Idaho, Oregon, and Nevada I had hunted them in the past. Well the first couple places they sent me were actually pretty nasty, and all the dogs found were some blue grouse in the sparse timber areas. I hunted one entire season without finding a chukar in a few areas where they were supposed to be living. I did find some areas to hunt blue grouse and a good elk area. Then I thought this just doesn’t look like as good of chukar habitat as say over there ten miles away from here. The next season I didn’t listen to any of the locals and I started hunting for chukar in areas that looked like chukar country to me and I started finding small coveys here and there, but nothing too big. The last couple seasons I have located a few good populations. I do think the chukar here in Wyoming are a more fragile population than some of the other western states. Even with the over hunting some of the areas in Oregon and Idaho experience the winters there are not as brutal as they can be here in Wyoming. The winters here can get a lot worse than other states for the upland population. The second winter here in Wyoming we had a long very cold spell, with lots of wind, snow and below zero temperatures. After the storm I went hunting for huns in an area and the dog I had retrieved five dead huns that still looked completely healthy. I think they simply froze to death and the scavengers hadn’t found them yet. I’m not a bird biologist, but I think the huns can handle more wet and cold than chukar, and these huns were close to some good chukar areas so I think the chukar were probably dead as well. The last couple winters have been fairly mild, but the summers have been dry and this summer it is very dry. I think the chukar will do fine because there has been a good bug crop so far and chukar don’t mind flying many vertical feet nearly straight down to get a drink and then walk back up the mountain feeding all day.

A couple things to think about with chukar hunting with your GWP are the time of year you go hunting and how well of physical condition you and the dog are in. If you go hunting in September or early October chances are you will be in very hot dry conditions, and maybe not close to any water sources for the dogs. There are chances you will heat stroke your dog if you don’t choose a spot with water they can get into for a cool down. This is one time I think the size and color of a GWP actually makes a difference. I had a big solid liver male named Harry years ago and if the temperature was below forty degrees he was an awesome hunting dog. If it was hot and dry he just couldn’t perform without overheating. I know of guys with large darker colored GWP’s that have had them die of heat stroke during an early season chukar hunt. A smaller lighter colored dog will be able to handle the heat better. That is not to say they won’t have overheating issues as well if they don’t get into plenty of water. Another thing is rattlesnakes. I HATE rattlesnakes. If you go early in the season expect to see rattlesnakes. I can’t think of a single public land chukar hunting area in any of the western states that doesn’t have rattlesnakes. My ideal time to take a GWP chukar hunting is when it gets cold enough to freeze at night and if it does get warm during the day it isn’t until late afternoon. You can get out early and hunt a few hours before it get hot.

Anyone who hasn’t gone on a chukar hunt in the big canyon lands out west needs to put it on their bucket list. Just make sure you have your boots laced up tight, and your dogs are properly prepared.

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