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Chukar numbers keep climbing

Hunt starts Sept. 28

Good news, chukar hunters: The number of chukar partridge in Utah keeps climbing.

A chukar on a rock in Utah.

DWR biologists are seeing more chukar partridge in Utah this fall.

Photo by Ron Stewart, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

During a helicopter survey over western Box Elder County on Aug. 29, Division of Wildlife Resources Biologist Jim Christensen counted 16 chukars per square mile. That's almost double the nine chukars per square mile he spotted in September 2012.

DWR Upland Game Coordinator Jason Robinson is optimistic that fellow biologist Tom Becker will find similar results when Becker flies over central Tooele County soon.

In 2012, a total of 46 chukars per square were spotted in central Tooele County. The 46 chukars per square mile were the most chukars DWR biologists had seen in the area since 2006. "The number of chukar partridge is definitely climbing in Utah," Robinson says.

While Robinson isn't predicting an outstanding chukar hunt in Utah this fall, he says "the hunt will definitely be better than it was last fall."

Those 15 years of age and younger can hunt chukars on Sept. 21 during Utah's annual youth partridge hunt. After Sept. 21, the hunt will close until Sept. 28 when Utah's general hunt, for hunters of all ages, opens up.

The news for gray partridge isn't as good. Gray partridge (also known as Hungarian partridge) are found mostly on or near agricultural land in Box Elder County.

Christensen says the number of grays is quite a bit lower than it was last fall. Robinson says 2012 was a really good year for gray partridge. "Agricultural land, especially land enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program, is very important to the birds," he says. "I'm not certain why the birds aren't doing as well this year, but numbers are definitely down."

Chukars doing well statewide

Findings from the Aug. 29 helicopter survey match what members of a Brigham Young University chukar research team and DWR field biologists have seen in Utah this year—chukar partridge numbers appear to be up in chukar habitat across the state.

Robinson says weather conditions since last fall have been good for chukars: Rain and snow in November allowed cheatgrass to "green up" before winter arrived, providing plenty of food for adult birds. This past winter, temperatures were fairly moderate and snowfall was fairly light in most of the areas in Utah where chukars live above the wintertime temperature inversion. This allowed plenty of adult birds to survive. Hot, dry weather greeted newly hatched chicks in June. That weather allowed the chicks to grow in size before rain fell in July. Plenty of rain in July provided plenty of vegetation and insects for the chicks to eat.

Finding chukars

Finding chukars is the first step to bagging some birds. Robinson provides the following tips:

  • See the distribution map on page 31 of the 2013–2014 Utah Upland Game and Turkey Guidebook. The map will show you where chukar habitat is found in Utah.

    "Even though Utah has a lot of chukar habitat," he says, "most of the birds are found west of Interstate 15, in the Book Cliffs in eastern Utah and along rocky river corridors in southern Utah."

  • After arriving in an area that might have some chukars in it, focus your efforts on steep, rocky slopes that have cheatgrass, bunch grass or sagebrush on them. These rugged, cheatgrass-covered slopes provide ideal habitat for the birds.
  • Because chukars are very vocal, early morning is the perfect time to hunt them. "The birds feed mostly in the early morning," Robinson says. "If you listen closely, they'll often tip you off to their location."

    Robinson says chukars live in coveys that typically number between five and 30 birds. "When the covey is feeding," he says, "it always posts a sentry. The sentry sits on a rock that provides the bird with a good view of the surrounding area. If the bird sees you, it will call out to alert the other birds. The call will also alert you that a covey of chukars is in the area."

  • Finding a water source is a good idea early in the season. "As the season progresses," Robinson says, "water becomes less important to chukars, and hunting near a water source isn't as productive."
  • When winter arrives, hunt slopes that face south. "The sun beats on these south-facing slopes in the winter," he says. "That warms the rocks, melts the snow and attracts the chukars."

Hunting chukars

After finding some birds, remember that chukars almost always run uphill to escape danger. "You can't outrun them," Robinson says, "so don't try to chase the birds up the slope."

Instead, try to cut off the birds' escape route by circling around the birds and getting above them. Then, hunt down the slope towards them. "If you get above the birds," he says, "they'll usually stay where they are until you get close enough to shoot at them."

When chukars flush, they almost always fly straight out from the slope before hooking to the left or the right. "Get your shots off while the birds are still in range," he says.

After hooking to the left or right, any bird that isn't bagged will typically fly into a group of rocks, into sagebrush or into bunch grasses. If you watch where the birds land, you'll often have a chance for another shot.

Robinson says dogs aren't needed to hunt chukars. "But having a dog is very helpful," he says, "both in finding birds and retrieving the birds you hit."

Reminders

Because of the steep, rough areas where chukars live, it's important that you're in good physical shape. When you go afield, make sure you wear sturdy boots that provide your ankles with plenty of support.

"It's also important to carry plenty of water," Robinson says, "especially during the early part of the season."

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