First some history to those who are not in the know. The Alectoris Chukar, or Chukar for short, are not native to North America. Their home turf is Asia, to include Palestine, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India along the inner ranges of the Western Himalayas to Nepal (Wiki 2018). They were first introduced to the states in 1893. Even though they were introduced in many geo regions across the continent, they have only took hold in very specific areas. The Great River basins like the Columbia, and Snake Rivers for example, and other areas such as the high rock mountains in northern Nevada. The key is these mega river drainages, and shrub-steppes also look very similar in structure, cover, and rainfall to their original haunts. It’s not rocket appliances right?
Ok, done with her nerd stuff. I started chasing Chukar almost 20 years ago with my first hunting dog, a giant pointing lab named Gunner. Man he was not built for Chukar hunting, but neither was I at the time. We were both a bit, errrr, heavy for the endeavor. Anyhow, we cut our teeth the hard way: hiking, scouting, and pilfering any bit of intel we could about hunting these birds. The internet was in place back then, but not like it is today. We earned our knowledge through trial and error…. many errors. One of the things that initially drew me in was that it reminded me of chasing big muley bucks. Same terrain, same struggles, and lots of sweat and blisters.
The high plains desserts, giant river canyons, and nasty scree fields with rim rocks are my hands down favorite place to be outside. This happens to also be where Chukar call home. The smells of sage brush, the views of unmolested grounds, multiple species of big game running around….what’s not to love. Even better, is that the general rule is you have to hike to get to these places. Let me be clear, not like hiking the Burt Gilman Trail along Lake Washington in Kirkland with a Sbux in hand, but think more like approaching Everest Base camp. It can be punishing to say the least. A hunter and canine have to be in some semblance of good health, or it will suck A%* the whole time. Trust me on this one. But herein lies the secret, most people today do not want to work this hard for a bird. Perfect!! The more room for me and my mates. Honestly, I usually have the area to myself. I have guided self-proclaimed elk and deer fanatics who say things like “I hunt this mountain and that mountain! So I got this!!!” What they fail to realize is they usually hike to a glassing point, and then sit down for hours. Or if moving, they run ridges. We don’t stop moving except for an occasional water break over the course of 8 hours. No trails, side hills, and unstable ground. It isn’t the same. He! He! He! Read evil laugh.
Many uplanders’ will say things like “Chukar are easy! Hit the water sources early in the season. Then when heavy snows come, they get pushed down and you catch them at snow line.” All true, however these are very small windows. In all honesty, if it’s merely about smoking a limit of birds when they are at their most vulnerable, go hunt a preserve. Let’s talk about real Chukar chasing which happens when green up comes and the coveys climb and disperse. This usually takes place mid to late October and goes through the winter until the big snows arrive. This is where dogs who are built to roam over steep rocky terrain day in and day out are worth their weight in gold. Great noses and unwavering retrieving skills are a necessity. Any quality hunting dog will work, but your chances of success go up dramatically when you have a dog who is built to operate in this arena. Here is an example. My Master Chief used to yell at me during PT, “Wolff!!!! Damnit son, you know what a 250 lb man is good for?!?!?!?” “No Master Chief I don’t know.” I’d reply even though I knew the answer. He would then close in to about three inches from my brow and softly whisper “Pulling soldiers out of burning tanks and bar fights son.” That was his way kind way of saying I was too heavy for Spec Teams. LOL. Same goes for dogs. Overweight pups take a beating in this country.
On the occasion I spy a covey of Chukar zipping up the slope in front of me, I am reminded of the old Looney Tunes cartoons of the Road Runner. Kind of goofy scrambling around, but cagey as all get out! It is well known that Chukar are built to run, love to run. Some web site I saw stated that they have been radar’ed running up hill at 28mph. Not sure how scientific that was, but they are fast. They also have itty bitty wings, and from what I have seen, they don’t like flying. But what is crazy, is that once they clear the sage or rocks and set their wings, the verticality in which they live turns them into supersonic missiles. I had new hunter out last year, and he witnessed a squadron of Chukar ripping down a canyon from above us. They flew right over him causing him to hit the dirt. I heard them before I saw them and they were not flapping, wings were set. It was pretty amazing. Also, funny to see him dive for cover instead of attempting to shoot down the fighter jets.
So let’s say your dog does its job by locating a covey, and subsequently pins them down. Now it’s on!! You have to get yourself to a position for the shot. 99% of the time this means going straight up the mountian, or straight down the slope. Rare is there no elevation change. But even if it was straight across the hill, side hilling sucks! Both directions up and down will cause sweating and increased heart rate. I can almost guarantee when you arrive and the covey decides to exfil, you will be mid stride, probably with one leg almost a meter above the next. Throw in an obtuse angle of escape by the birds, say directly over your head. Finally for good measure, add a splash of adrenaline because this is exciting stuff! All of the above makes for a challenging shot to say the least. I have seen guys who don’t miss on clays or skeet, and are known to be murderous on pheasant and quail, go 0 for 19 on the Chukar slopes. It’s a humbling experience. Don’t get me wrong, there are the lay ups every so often, but what I have described above is the norm.
So why subject myself to such harsh conditions for these little birds? Near vertical slopes, tough shots, extreme heat and cold, and slim access to others wanting to go with me………..well it depends on who you ask. I’d claim that it’s about most of these birds still reside on public lands, I dig alone or 1 on 1 time, they taste amazing, and so on. If you asked my wife or some of my close hunting cohorts they would have a much different response. I am sure they would make references like I am a bit extreme, I do everything in my life 100% and at 100 mph, I am a glutton for punishment, did they already say I was “Off”? They would all be correct. I still love to chase Steelhead in the dead of winter with a fly rod during a sleet storm. I love to ride trails on my MTB that are way over my skill level and could do me serious harm. I love taking the direct route strait up the mountain. I love to still fight to make a marriage awesome after 25 years. This is how I have always been, and this is how I am always going to be. To quote some people way cooler than me: “Anything in this life worth doing is worth overdoing.” So yeah, Chukar hunting makes perfect sense to me. WWCFD
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