Thursday, August 11, 2011

Chukars: The perfect upland dog bird.

Watching a bird dog do his thing can be a fantastic experience. You need birds to make it happen. But which upland species is the best bird for bringing out the best in a dog? You'll probably get as many answers as there are upland birds. Since I am not a world traveler, I have limited experience. My travels have only taken me hunting in four western states where I have hunted pheasant, California quail, bob white quail, sage hen, Hungarian partridge and chukar. Although it is exciting to watch a bird dog work any of the above mentioned birds, I think chukars provide the best over all experience for an upland hunter and his companion.
There is nothing like hearing the flush of a cock pheasant as he takes air. The cackle, brilliant colors, and long tails make the heart pound in both canine and human and that excitement is many times the reason for a missed shot. It takes a good dog to get pheasants to hold and he/she must be a good tracker because crippled pheasant can run a long way and hide in dense cover. But pheasants aren't my number 1 bird for pointing dogs because of the cover they live in. Most times pheasant hunting is done in groups with blockers and pushing the birds. When a dog is on point it usually is heavy enough cover that you can't enjoy the beauty of the staunch point. Also many times you don't know whether the dog is retrieving the bird until he is within a few yards. Another negative when pheasant hunting, in my opinion, is that there is a lot of human noise since the hunting is usually done in groups. Human noises can be distracting to dogs, which takes away from the hunting experience.
Quail are a fast action bird. When you find the birds there is usually a lot of shooting in a short order. That is probably one of the best reasons to take youths quail hunting. They need action to keep them involved. But quail aren't the best bird for a pointing dog. Once again the quail like thick cover to retreat to. Many times you know your dog is in there on point but can't see him. I like walking in front of my pointing dog and doing the flushing which is impossible many of the times. Quail also like to hop from branch to branch in the bushes high over dogs heads which often times will cause many dogs to bark since these birds aren't playing by a pointing dog's rules. That brings me to grouse.
Grouse are a great bird for the solo hunter and dog. There is usually lots of ground to cover and a mixture of thick and open country. Dogs are a little more visible when hunting grouse where I do. My problem with grouse is that often times they fly straight up into the tree close to the point. The dog's see this and soon have their front legs on the tree trunk  barking up at the treed bird. I can't force myself to shoot a bird out of the tree or even flying from his perch.
Although I haven't hunted sage hen for twenty or more years, it was more of a slaughter in those years than a hunting experience. When you found the bird they were in such large coveys you had your limit of three in about ten minutes.
I have to lump huns and chukars together as far as the perfect bird for a pointing dog enthusiast. The only real differences between the two as far as hunting is concerned is the terrain and the fact that huns usually take off in one big group while chukars will often have some stragglers.
Chukar hunting, although usually quite hilly, means lots of wide open space. In that space you can usually see a pointing dog ranging at greater distances, which I prefer so I can see the dog work. You sometimes also see flushed birds at a distant, but crap happens. In chukar country you can watch a dog use the wind and slam to point. Also, you learn to appreciate the retrieve of your dog. The country is so steep it often requires a 200 yard retrieve or longer and usually straight back up the hill. Watching a dog make a 10 or 15 minute retrieve is proof of the respect we owe our hunting companions.
As far as the birds themselves, what a ride they can take a hunting dog on. They may not leave as much scent as a pheasant, but what they lack in smell they make up for in numbers. Chukars like to covey up which leaves plenty of scent and some to spare. They move up and down the steep hills and leave plenty of scent in the cheat grass covered slopes. The coveys are usually spread enough to confuse a dog as to where exactly the smell is coming from. Although they do like to run uphill, a good pointing dog can usually stop and hold them in the sparsest of cover. They very seldom fly uphill giving the shooter a reasonable chance of positioning himself for the shot. In my opinion a chukar will hold as long as a quail giving the hunter plenty of time to approach his dog and appreciate the abilities of this canine predator. As I mentioned earlier, chukars don't always flush simultaneously. Quite often there are stragglers. It is always impressive to see your dog hold point while a covey is rising because he is making eye contact with one that is still holding. It is equally impressive to have your dog retrieving a bird uphill and then locking in on another bird while still holding the dead bird.
Obviously the chukar is the bird of choice for me. Because of the open country they dwell in and because of their willingness to hold for a pointing dog. Another pleasure of hunting chukars is generous bag limits and the big country. A person can park his vehicle, start walking and hunt for six or eight hours before returning to the truck. During the excursion it's not unusual to have fifteen or twenty points or more. Just watching the enthusiasm of the dogs as they cut the scent and try to locate the birds is enough for most. Throwing in all the different animals you might see while traversing the hills is another plus to the chukar hunt. Add the different shooting scenarios the flushing birds create and you find the chukar a formidable opponent for both you and your dog.
I have never had a bad chukar hunt. I enjoy every one because of the great dog work. But success is only when I have combined my ability as a human with my dogs predatory advantage and bring home some meat. Chukars and chukar country provide the perfect challenge for me and my dogs.

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