Elevation is an asset which chukar use in much the same way as World War II fighter pilots. When flushed, the birds will almost always fly downhill in an attempt to convert altitude into speed. Chukars love rocky, steep terrain that is difficult to traverse and even more difficult to hunt.
I cannot stress enough that steep slopes are preferred . On a recent hunting trip into a new area, I suggested trying some inaccessible rimrock far above our current position. My brother responded, "That's nasty enough to hold chukar." If it's nasty and gnarly, there's probably chukar.
That narrows it down to a hundred thousand square miles in more than a dozen counties (Malheur, Baker, Wallowa, Payette, Washington, Adams, Idaho, Nez Perce, Latah, Benewah, Kootenai, Bonner, Boundary, and Asotin), how does that help? Can't you narrow it down to even a single county? It doesn't and I won't. Going to the best county in one of the big three chukar states (OR, NV, ID) will not put tan in your bag.
Knowing where to hunt chukar within the geographical area that you are hunting is the key! Don't limit yourself to the big three, there are huntable populations of chukar in Washington, California, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, British Columbia and even Hawaii (a.k.a. WA, CA, UT, CO, MT, BC, and HI to the spiders). I can bag chukar in these lesser-known regions, so can you. There also are rumored to be isolated pockets of chukar in Arizona, New Mexico, South Dakota and Alberta (AZ, NM, SD and AB for those pesky web crawlers). If I lived in one of these states or provinces, I'd try to find them.
The precipitous river canyons of eastern Oregon (the Deschutes, John Day, Imnaha, Malheur, Owyhee, Snake and Umatilla, to name only a few), eastern Washington (the Snake, Columbia, Yakima and their tributaries ) and southern Idaho (the Snake, Bruneau, Jarbidge...) are largely similar habitats and utilized by the chukar in a congruent manner. Chukar ranges in these states extend beyond the rivers into the surrounding country, but I'll concentrate on the canyon chukar. These great river canyons breed chukar fame and lore. Choose one. They all hold chukar.
The canyons are big; some rival the Colorado Grande. So where do you start hunting? All things being equal, I like to begin just above or just below the rimrock along the rim of the canyon. If I don't find chukar there, I'll move down into the canyon to the next contour of rimrock or other features, and hunt along it. I'll repeatedly drop down until I find the elevation level that the chukar are using. I'll concentrate my efforts there, keeping in mind that temperature variations during the day will affect chukar movements.
In the Mojave Desert, northeastern California, southeastern Oregon down near the Nevada border, especially Harney County, and throughout Nevada, chukar are predominantly found in mountainous areas. The chukar in the Mojave Desert and, presumably, their nearby cousins in southern Nevada, behave a bit differently, so I will address them separately.
As I mentioned in the topography section, chukars like to be up high. This holds true for canyon and mountain chukar alike. Park your rig as high as you reasonable can and hike uphill from there. You may find chukar in ravines, cheat grass terraces, rocky shelves and the rimrock along the mountain tops. If you have to choose between two different mountains, choose the one with more rocks. The best mountains I've hunted have rimrock near the crests. Just above the rimrock, or just below are favored sites for chukar.
In the Mojave Desert and nearby southern Nevada (I presume but have not hunted there), the low annual rainfall and scarcity of water affect chukar migrations far more than the cold does. These mountains receive little, if any, snowfall. Snow cover just isn't an issue. Water and food sources are.
The north and, to a lesser degree, east facing slopes hold more water and vegetation. Concentrate your efforts there. There are plenty of rocks on the south and west facing slopes, but the vegetation is sparse and sources of water few and far between.
Contrary to the "chukar like to be up high theory", I've pushed more chukar out of the ravines than off ridges and mountain tops in the southern deserts. The Mojave Desert is DESOLATE. There's not much to sustain the chukar anywhere but in the ravines.
I have not, as of yet, had the pleasure of hunting chukar in the Hawaiian Islands. However, there are purported to be good populations in selected areas. Tod, an Oregonian who lived in HI for 18 years, had this to say:
There are great numbers of birds and it is just as challenging, if not more so, than hunting birds in the NW. The birds are as you describe, living in the nasty stuff - old lava flows, broken rocks, cinder cones,... and add elevation to the formula. Birds are hanging out anywhere from 6000 to 11500 feet, which tests a hunter's lungs. Sometimes, you wonder if the covey is as large as you think or are you suffering from altitude sickness and seeing double!Aloha. I'm on my way.
Rain is the worst. When its 32 degrees and raining, you can't stay warm, I don't care what you do. The desert roads turn into wheel-sucking quagmires, muddy boots on on wet rocks make footing treacherous at best and the rain washes the scent out of the air and into the ground. Its miserable and laborious. Any rational person would stay home and watch football. But don't confuse logic with chukar hunting.
I once heard scenting conditions divided into two kinds of days: inhaling and exhaling. When the earth is exhaling, e.g., the dew evaporating in the morning, the ground drying out after a rain, scenting conditions are at their best. If you've every brought a wet dog into a warm house, you get the idea. On the flipside, an inhaling earth, like during rain, or dew condensing near dusk, makes it difficult for your dog to smell your quarry. During these conditions, you and your dog are at a disadvantage.
But don't let that detour you. I GUARANTEE there are more chukar out in the rain than lollygagging about between your couch and your TV. And when you do find chukar in the rain, they usually hold well. They're not anxious to put their wet wings in the air.
You may not know it, but snow is your friend. Once the winter snows come, chukar will primarily utilize the south facing slopes at or near the snow line. Chukar can survive snow, as long as there's not too much of it. They can dig through up to 8 inches of snow for food .
If the snow gets too deep, the chukar will migrate downhill where the snow cover is usually lighter. In the picture on the right, my German Shorthair, Annie, is looking at me as if to say, "Hey Boss, too much snow here." She was right, we found chukar a couple hundred feet lower.
Chukar don't like wind. They will sneak into draws, ravines, behind rock falls or any place that they can find that is out of the wind. Concentrate your efforts in these areas.
I like hunting in the cold. When it's cold, chukar will be found on south facing slopes in areas protected from the wind. They are reluctant to move from these cozy hidey-holes and you are likely to find "well behaved" birds that will hold for your pointer. Contrarily, on warm days, especially with birds that have been hunted hard, the chukar will often flush 50 yards and further out from your dog. In these conditions, it's best to rein in your pointer.
I have read that, during warm weather, chukar water off the roost in the morning and before roosting in the late afternoon. I do not disbelieve this contention, but I have not made any observations to support it. I have seen them fly down to water during the early afternoon. I also know that once the fall precipitation starts, they can water almost anywhere and are seldom found around permanent water sources.
Chukar begin foraging for food in the morning and continue on and off throughout the day. They are good little eaters. Every chukar I've taken, except in the most inclement weather, has had a full crop. They prefer tender green shoots, but are opportunistic and will eat insects, seeds, dry cheat grass and almost anything else they can find to provide calories. While foraging, they will roam away from their beloved rocks. I have often observed them hundreds of yards and more, as winter progresses, away from what is traditionally considered chukar habitat.
In hot weather, they'll loaf in rocky shade and in cold weather they like to sun themselves on south-facing rock terraces. In either case, it will be in an area where they can use altitude to assist winged escape and where there is room to run above when evading on foot.
Chukar migrate to their chosen roost in the late afternoon. Undisturbed, they will stay there throughout the night and into the morning on cold days. I have found that chukar almost always roost in the rocks. Almost any protected rock formation will do, but I have encountered them many, many times just below the rim at the base of the rimrock. This preferred roosting location affords them protection from predators and the weather. Infrequently, I have found them on the roost away from the rocks in cheat grass gullies. I expect quail in these locations, but am no longer surprised when chukar make their tornadic exit.
Mike Dobel, a biologist for the Nevada Division of Wildlife (NDOW), summarizes seasonal chukar migrations succinctly. "Early in the season, birds are going to be congregating around water sources. In mid season, the birds tend to move upward to northern slopes to take advantage of any greenery popping up after fall rains. They then migrate to the southern slopes after the big snow storms hit.”
Water is critical for chukar survival. Before fall rains, your hunting success will largely be predicated on your knowledge of local, perennial water sources. All available water sources are utilized by chukars and tend to dictate distribution during the dry periods. Springs, seeps, underground water devices known as gallinaceous guzzlers, catch basins, and year-round trickles and streams all provide this crucial resource. I have observed chukar roosting in rock formation near water sources but they are known to stray up to 3 miles away .
As the season progresses, hunting pressure and fall rains sparking new vegetation will drive the birds from the traditional watering holes and scatter them to the four corners of their habitat. During this yearly green-up period, it is difficult to predict where the chukar will be. In the words of San Stiver, avid chukar hunter and biologist for the Nevada Division of Wildlife (NDOW), "All that tender grass, a favorite food of the chukar, tends to spread the birds, potentially over 100 percent of their habitat, making finding them more difficult. They could be anywhere."
The boys who bring home birds after that are the REAL chukar hunters. That is when I start. Your knowledge of chukar behavior and hunting tactics will determine your success at this stage. Although the chukar can be anywhere, they won't be. I like to hunt up high, as high as I can get. The 8000 foot peaks may look daunting to you, but to chukar, those steep, almost inaccessible mountain tops are cozy and inviting. More than enough rocks for cover, lots of tender green shoots of cheatgrass, no snow yet to hamper them, and few hunters are stalworthy enough to disturb them. What's not to like?
Ahh, the snow. It makes my heart go pitter-patter just thinking about it. The snow drives the chukar down from the heights so gray haired chukar hunters like me don't have to blow an artery trying to get to them. Yeah, it's colder, and the birds are well-educated by hunters this time of year, but you should be able to move more birds in a day of hunting.
- How To Hunt Wild Chukar Partridge
- Academy of Alectoris Chukar
- Guns to Hunt Wild Chukar Partridge
- Gear to Hunt Wild Chukar Partridge
- Dogs for the Desert
- Where To Find Wild Chukar Partridge
- Hunt Strategies and Tactics for Wild Chukar Partridge
- Chukar Partridge FAQs
- Chukar Tales and Red-Legged Liars
- Weather Conditions and Forecasts for Chukar Country
- Chukar Partridge References