Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Alectoris chukar

Having a few days to piece myself back together after all of the falls in the last week, I've decided to take some time and pass on some observations I've made in the past twenty or so years regarding chukars. Today is the 29th of December and the last of a snow storm is passing and my grandson and I are going to get back after them tomorrow.
I am not a game biologist so don't hold me to any of the things I am about to tell you. These are just my personal observations and views on hunting chukars.
Chukars and huns pair up early in the spring. They are not like pheasants or Turkeys where the male has several females to take care of. The only fighting you'll see with the alectoris chukar is defending his territory and partner. In my observations, it seems to me that huns pair up a little earlier than the chukars. I've seen huns paired up early in February at times. Chukars stay in coveys a little longer and are usually paired up by mid march. They are not nesting yet, just paired. So this is a good time to be out training your dog. The birds are more scattered now and seem to hold like early in the season.
The nesting period seems to be similar to pairing as far as timing between the huns and chukars. The huns tend to nest two to three weeks earlier than chukars. The huns are normally nesting early April  to early May while the chukars are late April to mid May. Both prefer dry open slopes, although the hun tends to pick flatter spots for their nests.
Chukar and hun hens both lay one egg a day or an egg every other day . Clutch sizes vary from 10 to 20 eggs. Incubation period starts after the last egg is layed and lasts for 24 days. At this time it is very important to stay away from the nesting areas as it is vital the mother stay on the nest. She seldom leaves the nest except for a short feeding or watering period. It is very important she maintains the temperature of the eggs for maximum incubation. Once the hatching starts, the peeps and movements of chicks in the eggs travels along the nest and the covey is hatched within usually just a few hours.

Shortly after hatching, the coveys are formed. If a nest is lost and eggs don't hatch ,renesting will often occur. There usually won't be as many eggs. If one or more birds hatch, the mother will not renest. Only if she loses the whole clutch. If you think about it, it would be impossible for her to raise a covey and also set on eggs at the same time.

I have seen chicks hatch as late as mid August and have seen birds during the hunting season that were probably even hatched later than that. My personal feeling is that the majority of birds are hatched mid June. Huns are a little earlier. Spring conditions usually dictate the hatch.
Chukars will fly individually at two weeks but usually don't fly as a covey until approximately four weeks and that is done with the parents.
The habitat that Alectoris chukar prefers is dry mountain slopes. Huns prefer the less steep terrain, but will also be often found on the steepest slopes. Although most hunters prefer to hunt the rocky benches that chukars use for shade and cover, I prefer to hunt the steep open slopes that have lots of ridges and draws for the birds to fly around to. I like to parallel the side hill, pushing the birds ahead of me. The chukar usually flies downhill but makes a sweeping turn once over a ridge and actually will be back at the same level you first jumped them. They fly down and run back up. Anyone that has spent much time chukar hunting will attest to how fast they can move up the steep ridges.
Although the huns tend to like the dense brushy cover, I've found that chukars prefer open hillsides unless they are hiding from predators flying above. Chukars have a harder time getting off the ground without running than a hun does. Maybe due to the fact that they are a little bigger body wise with the same size wings.
Early in the season hunters tend to hunt near watering holes or rivers. I've never found this necessary. Chukars will go as far as two miles to water and then feed there way back to wherever they want to go. But they will continue to use these watering sources until they are harassed away. It doesn't matter whether they are hunted on September 15th or October 15th, they will keep using these places until they feel it is not safe. The only thing moving an opening date from September to October will affect is the size and age of the birds.
I try and hunt as many different area as possible. I have over 50 good places to hunt chukar in Idaho and Oregon. Some areas are down one year and great the next. I try to never over harvest an area knowing that I'll be back again next year. Although chukar hunters don't have much effect on populations it is possible to over hunt an area especially the easy to get to ones.
Predation doesn't have much effect on chukar and hun populations either.  I have, however, seen Coopers hawks that are quite deadly on chukars. One chukar can fill a Coopers hawk belly for several days.
Idaho has a limit of 8 chukars and 8 huns in one day while Oregon has a limit of 8 which includes both chukar and huns. That makes a day in Idaho a little more desirable.

When the snow starts flying I usually find the chukars up higher on the ridges. They prefer the wind blown south slopes although they can be found running on top of two feet of powdery snow when they have to. Huns and Quail are more likely to gravitate to the low lands and can be found while driving the roads. Although Chukars can be found low, they tend to use there legs more and will head up hill to avoid contact with humans.
The average lifespan for a chukar is two years.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Family outing

My 33 year old son, Doug  and I took in a chukar hunt yesterday. It was a super treat for me for two reasons. First, Doug doesn't take much time for hunting since he is in the middle of raising a fine family and second, Riley never gets to hunt for anybody else so I was interested on how he'd do. I must have been a very good boy this year because Santa Claus was very good to me and gave us a fantastic hunt.
Not long into the hunt, Riley treated us to several nice points on birds that were very obliging.
As usual in chukar hunting the terrain starts separating hunters. I look up the hill and Doug is several hundred yards away trying to out run some fleeting birds. After getting his attention he slowed and waited for me and Riley to catch up. He commented how those little chickens don't play fair and the last time he saw them they were running over the ridge up ahead. Bending over trying to catch his breath, he was more then happy to let Riley do the chasing after I explained how it is supposed to work. We'll let him do the work and hopefully the chukars will hold for him. The worst that could happen is the birds flush and we haven't killed ourselves trying to catch up to them. It wasn't long and Riley was above us on point. I hung back and told Doug to try and work in on the left side of Riley for the shot. He did so and got his first chukar of the day with two shots.

From that point on we alternated turns coming in on Riley's points. Although Doug was a little rusty with the shotgun he soon started putting the hurt down on the birds. I was thrilled the way that Riley would hold as Doug approached for the shot. He has never hunted for two people.

It became point after point and before the day was over we had no fewer then 25 solid points to flush birds over. If a person doesn't have a great time on a day like this than he should find another past time.
Tired legs we made it home to a fine meal of chukar cooked by Barbara but not before getting a success photo.

What a great early Christmas present.
Happy Holidays to all of you chukar hunters out there. May your points be solid and plentiful.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Learning from birds

This week was one of those Idaho weeks that was for the birds. Most areas around here had a foot of snow covering the chukar hills. I tried chasing them the first of the week but gave into the snow after the first day and waited until the end of the week and the southern slopes were melted out some. Although I saw plenty of birds early in the week they were very hard to get to even when the dogs had them pointed. Yes, there were a lot of birds lower in the draws, but they had no problem running straight up the hill on top of the snow.
Not only was the snow hard for me to traverse, the dogs also cover only about half the country.
I made it out the last three days because the snow on the south slopes was minimal and the soft ground underneath made footing obtainable. Even at that, I noticed that Riley only covered twice the country as me when he usually covers three times the ground. Maybe that was because of the snow and maybe because there were so many birds he didn't have to cover big ground to find them.
I should point out that it seemed like there were a lot of birds. Because of the snow I saw tracks and birds everywhere. It seems like birds are everywhere when there is white stuff on the ground mainly because of the visibility of tracks and birds.
It seems like every year about this time I get another education by the birds. Because they seem to be a little more vocal and you can see them better I sometimes try to be smarter than the dog. The last few days caught me moving away from Riley because I could see the chukar tracks heading for a certain area. About the time I would reach the end of the tracks with no birds in them, a covey would flush in front of Riley who was thirty yards behind me and now in the lane of  any possible shot. You have to wonder what your pup is thinking when you do this. Had there been no tracks, I would have approached my dog from the left and moved out in front instead of walking away from him.
Not only are the birds more visible to humans they are more visible to the dogs. Many times this time of the year I hear people talking of their dogs having bad habits of breaking point. I have done the same thing. I've watched my dogs bust right through covey of birds after pointing them for three or four minutes. I couldn't see any reason why they would do that. But the snow can sometimes point out what might have happened. Unless you have a totally broke dog, which I don't, quite often the dog might be seeing a bird running to take off and run through the bunch that his hunkered down.
I had several false points the last few days. I was surprised to find that Riley will point the sound of chukars. I walked 50 yards in front of him before he would finally break and head for an area where I was hearing birds. I don't know if this is good or bad, but it's Riley and that's okay with me.
Another hunting tactic Riley has developed is pointing running birds up hill from us. I'm talking 100 yards or more that are real visible. It's a very high head point but it still gets the idea across to me. After I get ahead of him and the birds are still sprinting straight up the slope, he will break and head up after them. If they don't stop, neither does he. I let him go, knowing I'll never get to them anyhow and the worst that can happen is they fly to the next ridge.
Probably the best lesson I learn this time of the year is the same thing people tell us time after time. Trust your dog. It's easier to see where the birds are going in the snow so we try to lead the dog rather then to let him take the lead. They do a great job when there is no snow so let them continue doing the same in the snow. Also, don't start correcting your dog for bad habits until you know why he might be doing so. The white stuff makes everything more visible to both the dogs and the birds creating a lot different situation at times. Remember how hard it is for you to not take a shot at a bird taking off even when you know there will be another possible better shot. It's the same for your dog.
Good luck staying on your feet in the next seven weeks and following your canine partner around the hill.