Years ago archery was my passion and I had a bow in my hands almost as much as I had my electrical tools. My family followed me to all of the archery shoots and on camping trips to find big game for the hunting season. As soon as dinner would be over I would be out in my back yard shooting my bow and trying to become more exact. I used the excuse that my kids were studying anyway but the real truth was I couldn't wait to shoot more.
I upland hunted back in those years also, but only when there was no archery big game season going on. I had a couple of fine Brittanies that hunted well for me and kept me happy during the off seasons. When my last Britt, Rookie, started aging I decided to change breeds because of the ear problems associated with cheat grass in his ears. The vet would have to knock him out to pull the cheat each time because he became a 35 pound giant of a dog and it became to common of a thing. My archery opponent back then and I became good upland hunting partners and he never seemed to have the same problems with cheat as he ran German Shorthair Pointers. Even though Greg Allen and I wanted to beat each other at the archery shoots I paid attention to him when it came to dogs and found a local breeder of GSP's. I didn't know it at the time, but my first GSP, Tucker, would soon end my passion for archery.
Tucker was a late summer pup and Rookie was aging pretty fast so I figured that year would be a slow year for upland hunting. I was in archery mode still and that was fine with me. In the past I had used all the tools to train my Brittanies. I had launchers, stand up dog for honoring, a limitless supply of homer pigeons, collars, etc. To say it politely, those dogs were trained to do it the way I wanted and I have to be honest in saying at times I was a little strong handed at it.
There would be no time for using those devices that year on my new pup, because of big game seasons, so I just took Tucker to the fields around my house to introduce him to birds and all the smells to do with hunting when I wasn't busy with archery. I was pleased with his interest in all of the quail and how soon he began pointing them especially since he showed little interest in the wing on the string trick. By 14 weeks he was scent pointing them and holding until I helped him flush. The only real training I had done was too play fetch with him and bring me a sock (which we played tug of war with) and fired a gun over him whenever he was engaged with wild birds. At 15 weeks I decided to give it a try and see what he would do if I actually carried a gun and shot one of those quail. You can imagine my shock when a big rooster emerged from his point and I shot the bird. I believe most dogs would have bolted from the large bird making those sounds as it flushed but not Tucker. He charged after it and so I shot. The bird was too large for him to handle but he drug and carried it back to me with some encouragement. Suddenly I was looking forward to some more hunts after the archery season.
The late deer season ended in the middle of December and I was ready to give Tucker a try on some chukars. He was only five months old and I didn't expect much since we hadn't done much formal training. Tucker once again blew my mind with a limit of birds on his first hunt. Yes, every bird was pointed and all were at least semi retrieved. In fact, the remaining four hunts of the year turned out exactly the same except his retrieving became very good by the fifth hunt. Five chukar hunts and forty birds by a dog that wasn't even 6 months old yet. Doesn't seem real, but I have a hunting partner that will confirm Tucker's accomplishments.
I didn't realize it then , but Tucker was ending my dreams of killing that huge bull elk or buck deer. The following hunting season I was ready to shoot the first six point elk I called in and get to playing with Tucker. The next year after that, I packed up camp on an elk hunt because it was cool and rainy. Perfect weather for big game hunting but also great weather to be out with Tucker. Somehow the transition was made and I became a passionate chukar hunter. I went out the next few Septembers for a while but those days just couldn't compete with being out on a chukar mountain with Tucker.
Unlike most upland hunters, my passion isn't just all about the dogs. I wouldn't even dream of hunting upland birds without a dog but it isn't just about them. Although I have some good, prime, private property to hunt pheasant and quail in I have not shot another pheasant since the pheasant that Tucker pointed. In fact I've shot very few quail over the last twenty five years. The only quail I have shot were during a chukar hunt and the dogs pointed. My dog's aren't quite as specific and have enjoyed pointing and flushing quail and pheasants for youth's but my heart prefer's the alectoris chukar.
I seem to be in my own place when it comes to chukars. I love everything about chukar country. There is enough ruggedness to most good chukar habitat that you can't get any type of vehicle into it. In fact most of it is even too rough for a horse. So, foot soldiers adapt to this hunting the best and I guess God made my body more for traversing these mountains than for walking the lower lands.
There is such a diverse amount of wildlife to be seen. It's not unusual to see deer, coyotes, elk, bear, wild horses and many other big game animals on a hunt. Sometimes you're greeted by a large big horn ram as you top over a ridge. Scores of different types of upland birds also inhabit chukar country. Grouse, quail and the Hungarian Partridge which rivals the chukar when it comes to hunting for me. Many of the chukar hunters I know have even gotten to see the elusive mountain lion who preys on most of those big game animals we see, especially during the winter months. I have been fortunate enough to see a mountain lion on all but two of the past twenty seasons of hunting chukars. I have seen at least one Bobcat every season I can remember. Of course there are also many animals we'd rather not see such as porcupines and skunks to name just a couple.
Maybe it's because I'm getting older and don't see as good as I use to but most of the animals I see now would not be seen if it weren't for the dogs. My head is usually looking at my feet and watching where my foot will be landing next. Chukar hunting isn't just a stroll in the park which brings up my next reason for loving to hunt chukars, the mountain itself.
The mountains where chukar reside are usually steep and unfriendly. There are places that are more human friendly but for the most part most humans want nothing to do with it. It's dry 75% of the year and it seems like very little could live there except snakes and scorpions but the hike itself tells you different. Depending on conditions sometimes even your dogs don't find wildlife, but walking the dusty trails tells you different. The mountain shapes the wind until you finally reach the ridge after a 2000 foot climb where the wind seems brutal, especially on those cold days, but the birds seem to love it up there. The climb up seems brutal and the lungs burn at times but you endure it because every once in a while the dogs make a find and point it. If you are lucky you will get to the dogs before the flush and get some shooting and if the dogs are lucky the dead bird will lodge on a clump of brush or rock rather than roll 200 yards down the steep embankment.
Once on the top, you have to decide whether to hunt the ridge or side hill around to the next ridge. I usually let the dogs decide that for me, after all they are the true predator between the two of us. Through out all of this hopefully you have had some success with the birds but even if not you stop to see where you have been and pat yourself on the back because you didn't think you had it in you. That's what the dogs do for you, they make you forget how much work there was in getting to this place. Now that you have marveled at the scenery and what you have accomplished it is just a matter of heading back down to your rig.
Going downhill is the easy part, right? Not so in chukar country. The hunt back down hill is one of the major reasons for having two knee replacements. I remember the pain in each down hill step before the operations. Trust me it was well worth it. I have broken more guns and gotten more bruises going down hill than going up. For some reason the brush seems to grab your toe more and rocks roll easier down hill than up. But there are just as many birds below as there were coming up so you continue your hunt while your dogs check every logical chukar spot and you follow. For me that's when my shooting percentage suffers. Part of the time you can't shoot because the dogs are between you and the flushing birds that stay low and the other times the diving birds are just too quick to stay up with. Still the same, the dogs are doing there part, it's your job to try and do your part so you continue hunting until you get to the rig.
The one part I haven't mentioned much as being part of my passion is the bird itself. Of course there needs to be chukar. If I were to hunt chukars and only get one bird a trip I might find another challenge to pursue. On most hunts I'd say we get at least a dozen different opportunities and many times more. Although sometimes the shooting isn't very much but when in good chukar habitat you seldom get bored. They either are flushing wild or calling you names from a distant ridge. I have gone on trips where I got a single bird and a few with no birds in the bag. I have gone on scouting trips into prime looking chukar country and seen no birds but realized that is why we scout. Although I didn't get any work from the dogs we learned a place not to hunt while getting a work out.
Chukars are resilient and have been known to have low number years followed by high bird number years. There have been some studies on chukar and for the most part there is nothing we can do to promote their numbers. What we can do is make sure the public lands stay public so we have a place to hunt. Mother Nature takes care of the chukar populations and that is another thing I enjoy about the bird. They wouldn't be much fun to hunt if every time you walked up the mountain you come home with a limit. They are fun because of their challenge to find at times little alone hitting them.
So, on this rainy and snowy day, as the boys and I sit here by the fire waiting for our next chukar excursion I have tried to explain why I love chukar hunting. Many of you enjoy upland hunting and are probably a lot smarter than I am and this is the only explanation I can give for this madness.
One last thing. Because I hunt and live for the chukar mountain, my dogs, and the allectoris chukar, that does not mean I am an authority on the birds, chukar dog training, or the high desert mountains. There is no such thing as a professional chukar hunter to my knowledge. If they started paying to chukar hunt I would probably find another past time. If I ever become famous about something, I hope it is about how much enjoyment I get out of chukar hunting with my dogs. Any information taken home out of my blog is simply my experiences and hoping chukar hunters, especially young chukar hunters can enjoy it as much as I have.
I could be like a few of the other guys my age and just say "it isn't like it used to be". Believe me it is still as good as it use to be. Sometimes you just have to work at it and that becomes part of the fun. These last two pictures are of Rookie over thirty years ago and Grady this year. I'd say it's just as good.