Below us, the Malheur River ran like a thin ribbon through the vastness of
steep, rocky hills and countless canyons. The area looked treeless, barren, and
uninhabitable -- perfect chukar habitat!
On a late afternoon hunt, two of us hiked down one side of a ridgetop toward
the river. We found the first covey of chukar under a high point on the ridge.
On the climb back up we ran into a covey of about 50 quail! Two hours later, we
returned to camp with five chukar and five quail.
One of my favorite places to hunt the often-elusive chukar is along the
Malheur River, from Riverside to Harper, Ore., in Central Oregon (about 98 miles
N.W. of Boise, Idaho). There are literally hundreds of square miles of public
lands in the drainage open for hunting. Check for current seasons and
regulations, but chukar season usually closes the end of January for this area.
When Wet, Head For The Hills
When wetter weather begins later in the fall, the birds leave the lower ground
near the river, and head for the higher hills where they can obtain water from
the grass and pockets in the rocks after a rain. After a storm, the birds get
more active -- feeding and calling to each other. During the rain, they hunt
shelter and don't move around much.
Finding prime chukar country often takes years of exploring. The best bet is
to head for likely places that have adequate habitat and water available, and
keep track of the areas that have paid off. Ideal chukar habitat consists of treeless,
rocky, open slopes. The birds thrive on cheatgrass, and prefer areas near cliffs
and crevices where they can escape to safety.
Most wildlife biologists agree that hunting pressure doesn't have a lot of
impact on numbers of birds. The weather conditions during the nesting season,
and the severity of winter determine a successful population each year.
One tip about chukar hunting is to keep yourself and your dogs in good
shape. It's often possible to hike 10- or 20 miles in a few days, with not much
of it on level ground. Of course, dogs travel many more miles in a day than
A Lot Of Prime Hunting Territory
Besides the Malheur River drainage, Oregon hunters also have success in the
lower Deschutes River canyon, the Crooked River National Grassland, the John
Day River area, and Steens Mountain. Good chukar hunting also exists in the
Snake River canyon.
It's tough to hunt chukar effectively without a good dog. The typical
scenario is that the dog hunts the chukars, while you hunt the dog. Chukar can
fly at about 45 miles per hour so you have to be fast and lead them
accordingly. They can fly even faster when heading downhill or in windy
conditions. If you stop your swing, you most likely won't hit the bird.
It's also important to limit your talking and make no unnecessary noise because
the birds are voice sensitive. Some hunters use hand signals for their dogs and
between other hunters. If birds see or hear you, they get nervous and flush without
giving the dogs a chance.
The hunter also has to be proficient with a shotgun, and should practice shooting clays. Even so, be prepared to go through a box of shells in a day when out after birds.
I've heard of champion sporting clay shooters that have come home with an empty
box of shells and no birds. I often average five or six shells per bird brought
home. On one outing in the Malheur drainage, I figured I saw well over 300
birds on a three-day hunt!
Be advised that many of the back roads along the Malheur River contain a lot of clay. The
least bit of rain can turn them slick. Be sure to have a four-wheel drive
vehicle and carry chains.
A Couple More Great Spots
Here are some other popular hunting areas. There is much public land along the Owyhee River to hunt chukar. Be sure to
pick up a BLM map before heading out.
Also, try hunting from Rome, Ore.,
upstream to Three Forks. There are a few two-track roads on the west side of
the river that access the rim. The area is fairly remote and most hunters camp
out for at least a few days. There is good access from Rome to Three Forks on
the east side. From Three Forks to the Idaho state line, access is more
difficult. There is much private land in the Rome area, but as soon as you get
up into the rimrock, you'll get into birds.
You also can try from Rome to the reservoir (Owyhee Lake). This section
offers good hunting on both sides of the canyon with intermittent road access.
Those willing to walk will find more birds. Chukar can be found in the many
side drainages flowing into the lake.
Give Oregon chukar hunting a try -- you will not be disappointed!
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