I could make it a short post by saying “it ain’t gonna happen”. But being so beat up lately, I’m going to post my beliefs and experiences on why I believe we don’t have to worry much about it. Seems like due to my sore body I’ve been posting almost as much as hunting.
First off is hunting pressure. In my 21 hunts so far this year I have seen one person on the mountain. It was Greg, my hunting partner. On two other occasions I heard some distant shots, but that has been the competition for the thousands of acres of chukar country. I hear the complaints from others and am sorry they are having those negative outings, but I guess I’m lucky and it just hasn’t been a problem for me. And I’m talking about over the last 45 years.
Secondly, people talk about hot spotting or passing on hot spots for chukar hunters. There is no such thing. Sure there is the spot where there were chukars on one day, but put a few hunters on them and that hot spot changes real rapidly. It’s not that the birds got shot out but they were moved to a different range. Chukars have no specific place to be. How many times can you remember hunting a spot one day and going back the next and the birds have vacated? In a 30 second flight, chukars can be move to where it would take humans 4 or five hours to get to. But even an hour or two is too far for the average chukar hunter. I’ll give you a great hot spot. Brownlee reservoir. Take a look at how many miles of shore line there is on the big pond. Now draw an imaginary line three miles from the shore line. Look at the thousands of acres of chukar country (and most of it is good chukar country). All you have to do is get out and start following your dogs.
Third is weather. I, like many others, was having a tough time finding chukars early this year. The weather was unusually hot and cover was unusually heavy. We got a cooling trend with some moisture and chukars magically appeared. Not just a few, but big covey’s suddenly were being encountered. And now winter is upon us and the snow is on the ground. Yesterday the place I hunted, once again a hot spot like Brownlee reservoir, was covered with about 8 inches of snow where we parked the truck. The Owyhees are known for some pretty rough conditions but some good bird numbers. As we headed down I found several places where chukars had been scratching through the snow but no birds. The lower we got the more bird sign we were finding and finally we found the birds.
The problem was, once we found the birds, my achilles tendon was hurting so bad I knew I shouldn’t go any further. It was time to turn around and stumble back up through the rocks and snow and hope I didn’t injure it more, which I ended up doing. But the birds were there. I could’ve got three limits of shooting in on a younger year. Not saying they would have connected, but it would have been fun trying. On this day I was happy with just one shot and being back at the rig.
Fourth is the country they inhabit. There is only one way to get into most of chukar country. On foot. The best thing about chukar country is that most of it is public. It never got bought out because nobody wants it. If someone figures out how to make money on chukar hunting there may be a big sale on some of the most unhospitable country in the west. But what sane person would be big money to put his body through a hunt like this knowing that the chance of hitting one of these devil birds is minute.
Shooting is another reason why chukars will live on forever. Chukar hunters seem to be the worst shots in the shotgunning world. Chukars can take the most premier sporting clay shooter and humble him or her. Your gun is very seldom shouldered properly, your stance is awkward, you can’t get a proper swing, and so many other complications that come with proper shotgun shooting.
The lack of cover also helps preserve chukars. I often hear hunters complaining about over grazing. Chukars, as most wild animals love those fresh green shoots. Many times when an area has been grazed those green shoots are present and the birds are taking advantage of them. They see the dogs or hunters and flush wild. We see that and cuss the rancher out for over grazing and leave the area. Meanwhile the chukars are happily hiding in another place not too far away, where they have plenty of cover to protect them from the avian predators. We hunters went back to our rig and blamed the rancher for our lack of success.
The ups and downs of chukar populations have been going on ever since there introduction. I’ve watched the swings since the early 70’s and have seen some really good years as well as some down years, but have never been not able to find some birds. I believe they are here for good. One of the best introductions the game departments have done.
Diseases may have some effect on bird populations at times, but due to the distribution of the coveys it will never have the results like the bighorn sheep. They don’t congregate in the same locations and if there were a bird influenza certain coveys would be affected while others may not and a couple of down years would soon bounce back to good times.
I could go on and on of reasons why chukars will be here forever. They just have our number. They are now part of our ecosystem and they have been introduced to the country to annoy us. Yes they taste great, but that’s not why we hunt them.
Enjoy your chukar hunt. Don’t listen to all that talk about how many more chukar hunters there are today and the over grazing. Don’t over think all the off road vehicles we see today. Just hunt the way you like to and know that there are chukars out there somewhere. You just have to find them. They may be not in the numbers we would like every year, but there are still birds to be hunted. If you want to stop hunting because you think the numbers are down too much, do so. But for me, I’ll be out there as often as possible chasing the best pointing dog bird there is. I’ll be doing so knowing that as a hunter my contribution to the average yearly mortality hunters have on chukars is 8%.
We can come up with dozens of reasons why we didn’t get chukars on our hunt, but in the end it’s probably because we didn’t give it our best effort. There is very little we can do to improve chukar numbers from year to year. They are pretty much self sustainable (if that’s the right word). When hunters can’t find them, they quit hunting them. The more birds they find, the more hunters.
Just coming from an injured chukar hunter wishing I was on the hill.
5 thoughts on “The demise of chukar”
Great article. I completely agree. Thank you for putting this out!
Those are the reasons why I cannot get enough of the bird. Let everyone else fight over pheasants on flat, mostly private ground. As you note, more than three days of chukar hunting takes its toll on hunter and canine.
Lots of truth in your reasoning. However , in certain desert areas , where their living options are limited , over gunning takes its toll. Best example is a lone desert butte , with water, surrounded by flat areas. The birds don’t want to leave , and can be chased round and round and shot to pieces. This can and does happen. I don’t hunt much of this but know some that do. On occasion when I do , I limit my take and leave. This kind of over harvesting will not adversely affect a macro population but can and does directly affect certain micro populations. I’ve had conversations with very experienced chukar guys that relay this situation to me. Areas over reservoirs with steep breaks, bigger unbroken ranges, this is a non issue, and your reasoning stands. Just like to point out exceptions , that may cause pause for thought .
I’m sure there are places like that and it’s the only place close for many hunters to go but luckily for me I live in a place where there is endless chukar country within a 2 hour drive. Places like you describe definitely need some help to preserve the hunting. But almost everywhere in Eastern Oregon and Western Idaho the birds have endless areas to escape hunters. I happen to live in what I believe is the best upland bird state in the U.S. and especially some of the best chukar habitat and hunting so it’s much easier for me to stay on the optimistic side. The problem with the bigger unbroken ranges is leg power. A lot of hunters my age sometimes say the bird numbers are dwindling when the truth is we just can’t do what we use to. I’m one of them and my bird take is dwindling just because I can’t get there.
I appreciate your thoughts based on decades of experience! I would like to find more birds but we almost always find a covey or two. Beautiful day yesterday, walked a lot and missed on the one covey I found. I’m looking forward to the next hunt! Excuse number 8. Flushed too far out. Still time enough for two shots. Ha ha!