Quite often I hear about people slaughtering chukars when we get these snow storms. It might happen some but I have been fortunate enough not to ever see it. Since I started chukar hunting I have only once seen a winter so bad that that was even possible.
Now I have seen road hunters chasing chukars. But for the most part they were getting off the road when they were shooting and doing nothing illegal. As long as you’re not breaking the law, I’m not going to challenge that method of hunting. Besides, it’s usually a lot of running and gunning and not much hitting. Shot shell makers love those guys.
Winters like we are having right now favor the chukar. I can’t speak for the Owyhee’s because I haven’t ventured down that way since the last few storms. I have heard they got hammered a little more than the Snake river canyons. I just left there today and got schooled.
The weather forecast called for a little warmer temperatures and didn’t say a thing about fog. It was 32 degrees when I got there and was about the same when I left. Driving in and out I did see some chukar sign but never a bird. Stopping at the draw I wanted to hunt I could see that I would be fighting the fog. It was about 200 feet off the deck.
The ground underneath the snow was frozen and there was a lot of slipping as I moved up the incline. About fog level, it started looking like I was in a chukar feed lot. There were continuous tracks. A couple of times I heard the scream of a chukar which I assumed was being ambushed by one of the many eagles I had seen coming in. In fact, Grady retrieved a partially eaten chukar to me. It was a very fresh kill.
It felt like it was going to be a good day, if I could keep my footing. I started getting some pretty good points.
A few times they worked in my favor but usually there was no shooting due to fog or poor footing. But , were the dogs ever having fun. I could hear the birds talking above and once in a while I’d get a small peek at a covey through the fog as they flew from the dogs or whatever.
There were definitely a lot of chukar. Getting to them was the problem. Even when the dogs held the birds it was almost impossible to go straight up or down the frozen slopes. The higher we got, the more birds we started to find and there was unlimited tracks. All going up. As I mentioned, every once in a while I’d see a covey swing around through the fog. They weren’t flying far but when I got to where I figured they be, all I found were tracks going up hill. But the boys kept trying.
And I kept moving in with one hand holding onto any brush I could find as I approached. Usually the birds were out of sight before I could even shoulder the gun. The fog never lifted and I didn’t think I was close to getting above it. I decided to do the prudent thing and start back down. Obviously Jake was ready. He was on another of those points where he dropped his butt to the ground to take the pressure off his hips.
I found a decent cow trail right below him and was actually successful with both barrels. The second bird fell into the fog and must have gone a long way down the hill. It took Grady a long time to get it back to me. That was my good shooting. It didn’t last long. Here’s the chance we all look for. Walking straight into a point with birds in between you.
As I approached I wondered where the bird could be but reminded myself “trust your dog”. My footing was good as two chukars came out of the snow and flew to my right. They were maybe ten yards when they busted and flew the way I like to shoot. A gimme. Grady spent a long time in the fog looking for a bird that I surely shouldn’t have missed. But I did with both barrels. Shortly afterwards I jumped a single that I believe must have had a heart attack and Grady got to bring it uphill to me.
We finally got to a point where I could see the road and I headed for it. I use different muscles on the frozen ground than on soft dirt and those muscles were sore. Jake and I walked the road back while Grady still searched for birds above. At one time he busted two covey’s with 25 or more birds in each covey. They made that short swing around the slope in the fog. My chukar brain told me to go after them. 30 feet up the hill, I fell and slid half way down to the road. The human brain said that was enough.
Even the walk down the flat road was hard, and with all the chukar sign we had seen from above I only saw chukar tracks on the road once in the 3/4 mile walk. As we drove out, the fog had lifted and I looked back at the draw we had hunted. Obviously the fog wasn’t high on the hill. We just couldn’t get above it. But as I looked back I could see how easily chukars survive without ever having to move down. There were already burnt slopes up high.