Another one of those crappy days to be out and about in the mountains, so being bored I reloaded some shells for the upcoming season and looked back through some of my past chukar notes. Most of the stuff doesn’t mean squat, but might be interesting to some of the out of state chukar hunters. Maybe they can compare some of their past trips to what might be happening this year. It can’t be as much fun to spend the money to come to this great state and have poor hunting.
I can’t say how many times I have heard older hunters, some of them being good friends of mine, saying ‘it’s not like the good old days when there were birds everywhere”. Most of them don’t even hunt chukars anymore. I’ve chased chukars since the mid 70s and really hard since the mid 90s. I’ve kept records for over 30 years and I can’t remember it being much different than it is now. Some really great years, mostly average years and a few poor years.
According to what I can find and remember, the best year in southwest Idaho for chukars had a count of 221 birds per square mile in 1987. The count by helicopter was taken over a general area up by Brownlee reservoir and Lucky peak reservoir for several years. Harvest data from the state showed that you could gauge other places in the state by those findings. I wasn’t keeping records back then, but I do remember some really good days. 221 birds per square mile is the best count on record.
To my knowledge, the Idaho Fish and Game doesn’t do any kind of bird count as far as chukars go anymore. They quit the helicopter survey due to a helicopter accident in 2010.
The second best chukar count was 2005. They recorded 174 birds per square mile. I remember it well because I was big into chukar hunting by that time and got out 76 times chasing them. My notes kept mentioning how many birds we would find and how it seemed like all I had to do was let the dogs out in chukar country and they would give me a chance at a limit of birds easily. What a fantastic year. I hunted 52 different locations and always had a chance of getting 8 birds. They were everywhere.
The fish and game had the ten year average per mile at 90 chukars in the 90s and 108 chukars from2001 to 2010. My notes pretty much concur with those statistics. I also had a good year in 2001 when the bird per mile was 144. Years 2002, 2003 and 2004 were just average years according to the F&G stats and also the amount of birds in the freezer by me.
In one year chukar counts have been known to vary by 50% either way. Usually not that drastic.
Towards the end of the helicopter surveys we had a few dismal years. In 2007 the count was only 42 chukars per square mile and it dropped to 38 in 2008. Hunting was very tough those years and the hills were never so empty of chukar hunters. 2009 showed a huge increase compared to the 2 previous years. The count was 78 birds per mile and it seemed like the hay days compared to the previous years.
Although there was no helicopter count in 2010, I would guess that it was even higher than 2009. By the amount of birds I got, I’d guess it was over 90 birds per mile.
And then came 2011. What a year. The best year ever for me. If my records indicated anything it would be that the birds/mile was higher than the 174 in 2005. I’d guess close to 200 birds. Just a guess. Once again, I spent a good number of days on the hill. 80 days.
From that point it’s been similar to the last 50 years of chukar hunting. Up and down. Some fun years and some not so fun years. 2012, 2013, and 2014 were pretty much average chukar years with some good hunting and once in a while a not as good hunt. I’d say about 100 bird/mile. 2015 and 2016 found some harder times and chukar numbers fell to what I’d say was 40 t0 45 birds/mile. Once again the die hard chukar hunters had the mountains to themselves, which helped the hunters harvest. 2017 and 2018 jumped back up and by my harvest I would say there were about 80 to 90 birds/mile. Then came the latest slump which lasted through 2019 and 2020. Once again the bird count dropped into what I would guess at in the 40s.
Now we are into recent times and some better years. 2021 seemed to be a pretty average year while last year the bird numbers seemed to jump quite a bit. My take wasn’t that good because of my injuries, but from what I got to see, the opportunity was definitely there. It had to be an over 100 birds/year and I’d like to say closer to 130.
With all that being said, I’m looking at the possibilities. We’ve had a couple of times where the bird numbers climbed and then spiked to a super number. The hunts that we never forget. This could be that year of 200 chukars/mile. Conditions are already looking positive.
Keep your fingers crossed.
4 thoughts on “Food for thought”
The first year I hunted chukars was 1987. It was a good year: I couldn’t stop chasing chukars after the experience. 1991 was an outstanding year for me hunting on the salmon River breaks. I hope Cliff Rexrode (the secretary) compares notes with you. He’s recorded every hunt I’ve ever had with him since 1974. Let’s hope for a big recruitment this year!
I’ve been to Idaho from Iowa, for 8 of the past 10 years. I haven’t shot a lot of chukar due to being an opportunist. Most of the time I get caught up in Huns and quail and never make it up to chukar. For me, a bad year is when none of the species are doing well.
As Ron mentioned above. I keep a daily log of my hunting and fishing days and have notes on our chukar hunts every year since since 1992. I compared our days in Idaho for the years you described and found similar population trends. In the prime years there were plenty of birds everywhere we hunted and the bad seasons were the same as yours. There were a few variants due to finding good numbers of birds in specific places, which I’m sure you have experienced many times. It seems like we’ve had more boom or bust years with huns.
Still planning on being in your neighborhood in early June and hope to catch up with you then.
Randy. One of the great things about Idaho upland birds. One of the species is always available for some pretty good hunting.
Cliff. As Ron mentioned, your notes are testament that things are never quite as dismal as some make it out to be. It’s always fun but sometimes just more fun than others.