Wild Chukar, Huns and Ranchland Roosters
By Gary Lewis
From horizon to horizon, from the wheat fields near the lodge to the tree line dusted with snow, there is so much ground that it would take many visits to Ruggs Ranch to see it all.
This was my second trip to Ruggs. This time it was a one-night stay and a one-day hunt for pheasant and wild chukar.
This is wide-open country more suited to horseback travel than to the front seat of a pickup. Ruggs is a spot on the map, a crossroads; the ranch takes its name from the town. From the lodge, the hunter can look up and down Rhea Creek and see the tops of the Blue Mountains, usually crested with snow during the bird season.
Ruggs Ranch is a working cattle operation that blends the flavor of the Old West with a full-service hunting operation. A total of 86,000 acres may be hunted for birds or big game.
Ruggs operates under six preserve licenses consisting of 1,280 acres for a total of 7,560 preserve acres. Wild bird hunting is conducted throughout the ranch during the wild bird season, but is extended on the preserve parcels through the end of March.
Most hunters come for the pheasant hunting that takes place in the Rhea Creek Valley and along various tributaries. Instead of releasing birds on the day of the hunt, Ruggs prides itself on strict management practices to ensure there is always a steady population of game birds throughout the property. Habitat projects contribute to survival and brood success. Ruggs releases birds in April and early September. To protect the birds from predators, they have a feed and cover program where pheasants thrive in prime habitat.
When we hunted last February, I saw more than 50 roosters, most of which escaped our team of pretty good sportsmen and dogs. When I hunted again in December with a friend, we saw more than two dozen roosters in a two-hour hunt and bagged enough behind two of Ruggs' springer spaniels to feel we had acquitted ourselves well. We also saw and heard quail along Rhea Creek.
The pheasant hunting areas are planted with triticale and blends of wildlife forage mixes.
When it comes to chukar, Ruggs has more than enough habitat to ensure hunters are going to see wild birds. There are half-day hunts close to the lodge (and lunch) and three-day hunts conducted in the backcountry from the back of a horse and a luxury tent camp.
For our chukar hunt, we were taken into a nearby canyon where we found birds a third of the way up the slope. Guide Pete Peterson ran two pointers for us.
Although we didn't jump any coveys of more than a half-dozen birds, we found several singles and were able to work out a fruitful two-hour search that culminated in a final point on a covey of Huns out at the end of the ridge.
We didn't hunt them on this trip, but blue grouse are available at higher elevations. Ruggs also offers hunting for elk, mule deer, turkey and predators.
The lodge sits on a bluff with 360-degree views, looking over the Rhea Creek Valley. Decks, patios, a firepit and a hot tub provide different ways to enjoy the evenings. Ruggs Ranch can accommodate 12 guests with six bedrooms and seven bathrooms. The pro shop has two deluxe rooms with a private bathroom for two additional guests. Lodge bedrooms are appointed with Pendleton bedding and Old West-inspired artwork. The pro shop is fully equipped with products by Filson, Boyt, Richardson, Butler and Mud River, along with a full line of Fiocchi shot gun shells ranging from 12 to 28 gauge. Taxidermy in the great room includes a mountain lion chasing a covey of Huns, mule deer, chukar and pheasant. Downstairs, the game room features a pool table, a library and a refrigerator full of cold drinks.
Ruggs' signature chukar chase is the three-day horseback camp trip. According to their web site, Ruggs prefers that hunters bring double guns. They use big-running English pointers and German shorthairs that range in front of the horses and are tracked with GPS. When the dogs go on point, the hunters dismount and walk in on the birds. The camp is a wall tent affair with a top-flight chef (John "Cookie" Kulon) well-known for his culinary creations.
Another featured hunt is from a horse drawn wagon along the Rock Creek Trail in the portion of the ranch where the cattle operation is run.
The Single Shot package consists of three days and two nights with clay shooting, pheasant and chukar hunts, wine-paired dinners, full breakfasts and lodge lunches for $1,600 per person. Horseback and wagon-drawn hunts may be added to this package for an additional fee.
The Double Gun package contemplates shotguns and chaps, horses and wild birds for four nights and three days camping with first and last nights at the lodge.
The price is $3,895 per person with groups of two to four hunters.
The Ultimate Combo combines camping and hunts from horseback and horse-drawn wagon for wild birds and driven pheasants. This hunt costs $4,995 per person with groups of four to eight hunters.
The small town of Heppner, with a population of 1,300, offers some services and limited sporting goods.
Hunters can fly into Portland (180 miles away), Pasco (71 miles) or Boise (270 miles), and rent a car for the drive to Ruggs. Private aircraft can fly into the Lexington Municipal Airport, 25 minutes away. All services are available in Hermiston which is 47 miles from the ranch.
Upland bird hunting at Ruggs Ranch starts in early September and closes March 31.
An Oregon 3-day nonresident hunting license ($26.50) allows the hunter to pursue upland birds and is available at sporting goods stores and on the ODFW web site. A one-day preserve license is available for $6 and may be purchased at the ranch. For information, or to request regulations, call 800-720-6339 or visit www.dfw.state.or.us.