Don’t Leave Your Chukar Hunt to Chance

By Gary Lewis

Gary Lewis Books and DVDs

I know who you are. You've got a spring in your step and a sparkle in your eye. Your most prized possession is a beat-up Remington 870 or a double gun showing its wear at the muzzle and the foregrip. There is dog hair on the seat of your truck and a half-used box of No. 6s on the floorboard. For you, the year can be divided into two parts: chukar hunting and dog-training season.

If you're one of those people who can't get enough, if your eyes go glassy when someone mentions the Steens or Juntura or Riverside Park, then you know there is something magical about chukar: in the quiet fog that hangs over the mountain, or a hunter and dog working the high rimrock. It's the tension, a set of tracks in the fresh snow and a single hidden in the bunchgrass. It's the ache you feel in your muscles, the pursuit that culminates in a blur of wings and the thump of the gun.

Last winter was an easy one on Oregon's upland birds, but the rains that fell during the spring nesting season were fierce, drowning the first hatch in many areas. However, the birds that lost their broods lost no time in re-nesting and the prospects are bright for good hunting this fall.

Chukar season runs from October 8 through December 31 in Umatilla and Morrow Counties. In the rest of eastern Oregon, the season runs to the end of January.

Most of the best ground is public land. Plan your trip for the breaks of the lower Deschutes, the Crooked River or the John Day. Farther east, the Malheur, Snake, Powder and Owyhee drainages are good choices.

From the flats to the tops of the cliffs, you may find chukar anywhere, but certain types of cover hold more birds. Look for features that seem out of place: where the green shows against a dry brown hillside, where a bump in the ground provides a little shelter from the wind, or a rocky outcropping on an otherwise bare hill. 

On dry days, chukar will go to water, feeding downslope in the morning. Look for their track in dried mud near a waterhole, for their feathers in hollowed-out dusting bowls and for droppings in the shadow of a rock wall.

As a general rule, chukar run uphill and fly downhill. Hunters do well to hunt down from above, or find the level where the birds are feeding and follow the chow line sidehill.

Chukar populations fluctuate due to the whims of weather, predation and pressure. There are no guarantees, except that you'll work harder for chukar than for any other game bird. But that's why you love it.

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