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Winter chukar hunting tips

Chukar numbers fluctuate from year to year. Utah's population is still recovering from low numbers in years past. But Jason Robinson, upland game coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, says the 2013–2014 hunting season has been a good one. And hunting seems to be improving, with hunters reporting better chukar hunting in November than they did in October.

Utah's chukar hunt runs until Feb. 15.

Robinson says while chukars aren't abundant everywhere, good pockets of birds are found in chukar habitat throughout the state. For the best winter hunting, the western half of Utah is the place to be.

Find the right spot

Before hiking up a hill to find chukars, you can save yourself time and energy by getting familiar with the landscape chukars live in. Robinson says chukars need three things: Cliffs for roosting, shrubby cover near the cliffs and grasses to eat.

In Utah, this habitat is usually found just below ridgelines at about 4,000 to 6,000 feet in elevation. And the habitat you'll find chukars in is steep—very steep.

To make the most of your energy supply, Robinson suggests hiking up to a ridgeline, and then walking along the ridgeline and then down from the ridge.

Chukars run uphill to escape hunters. And they flush downhill when spooked. For these reasons, getting above the birds will give you a big advantage. "There can be a lot of walking involved," he says, "but it's a great way to stay in shape through the winter."

Robinson suggests waiting until midmorning before heading out. Giving the sun time to soften and melt the snow on the ground can make navigating steep chukar habitat easier.

"When the ground is frozen, it can be like trying to walk on a Slip'N Slide," he says.

Focus on food

Earlier in the season, chukar spent a lot of time hiding from migrating raptors. Now that those predators have moved elsewhere, the earth-bound birds are free to spend more time finding seeds and grasses to eat.

Unlike many other upland game birds, chukars are not restricted to pockets of tree stands, so their habitat is expansive. Robinson says in the winter, you should look for chukar on south-facing slopes. The snow on slopes that face south melts faster. And that lets some grasses green up for the chukars to eat.

"That's one of the big advantages to hunting chukars in the winter," Robinson says. "Because the north slopes have snow on them, the snow essentially cuts in half the areas where you'll find chukars."

Use the right gear

When hunting chukars, you'll be hiking up steep slopes. Make sure the boots you're wearing provide good traction and ankle support. Robinson also suggests wearing clothes in layers. Wearing layers will allow you to remove a layer if you get hot while hiking. Then, if your hike brings you to a cold and windy ridgeline, you'll still have that layer to put back on.

Shots at chukars often come at fairly long ranges. Robinson suggests using a 12- to 28-gauge shotgun, with a modified choke, and shooting 4 to 5 shot.

Bringing a trained hunting dog with you can also be a great idea. Trained dogs will help you locate the chukars. And they can retrieve the birds you shoot, which will save you from having to hike down steep slopes to find birds on your own.

More information about chukar partridge, including a distribution map that shows where chukars live in Utah, is available in the 2013–2014 Utah Upland Game and Turkey Guidebook.

The free guidebook is available at wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks. The distribution map is found on page 31.

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