Helping my son prepare for a fun, safe chukar hunt.
Scott is the DWR's conservation outreach manager in central Utah. He works with the public, the media and anyone who has questions about wildlife. He enjoys hunting, fishing and wildlife watching, especially with his kids.
My son, Josh, has accompanied me and our two yellow labs on several chukar partridge hunts over the past few years. I’m glad I allowed him to go on those trips as a spectator because chukar hunting is one of the most difficult hunts for youth. I don’t say this to discourage youth from chukar hunting; I say it to help them adequately prepare for a tough — yet very exciting — hunt.
Josh turned 12 and completed hunter education this year. He now has a good idea of what to expect when he carries a shotgun on his first youth chukar hunt this Saturday (Sept. 17, 2011). It’s an opportunity for youth to hunt chukars one week before the adults get to hunt.
Despite his excitement, Josh is also a bit nervous. He struggles to comfortably carry and aim my 12-gauge shotgun at flushing birds, but fortunately, I have another shotgun that is not so heavy. He’ll be using that one on Saturday.
This is an important aspect to consider: depending on the weight of the gun, some youth aren’t comfortable swinging and aiming at birds that are flying very quickly.
A youth can comfortably take aim on a slowly approaching turkey while sitting in a blind. However, it takes more time and “clay pigeon” practice at the local shooting range to prepare for chukars. They can be out of shooting range within three seconds.
Not only does a safe hunter need to be able to lift a shotgun and aim at a flushing game bird, but on a steep slope, a safe hunter must have sure footing, and also know what lies beyond the target.
Chukars fly very quickly and I have discussed several scenarios with Josh. We’ve discussed the importance of:
- Wearing the right hunting clothes and boots
- Keeping track of the dogs at all times
- Knowing what to do on a steep slope (with slippery rocks) when chukars fly up behind you
- Deciding whether or not to shoot a chukar that is on the ground
- Remembering to bring enough water and sunscreen for a long chukar hunt
Josh is honest with me, and we have had great discussions about what conditions he feels comfortable hunting in. I will probably keep him on well-used game trails to avoid any falls. I will also orient his first chukar hunts toward less-steep locations. (We’ll likely stay at the base of mountain ranges where we encounter chukar tracks, droppings or dusting areas.)
Josh’s biggest advantage is that he has two great dogs to let him know when chukars are close. Because Josh has hunted with me several times, he also recognizes our dogs’ behavior and when they are acting “birdy.” Having good bird dogs will give him an extra moment to prepare for the shot.
You can find chukars in many mountain ranges throughout the state. They prefer steep, rocky, semi-arid slopes. They spend time in rabbitbrush, sagebrush, saltbush and cheat grass below the juniper tree belt. The birds also prefer loose rock (talus) slopes that can conceal them and sometimes provide shade.
When I’m hunting in the West Desert or other desert terrain, I like to drive slowly along the base of a mountain. It’s a good place to look for tracks crossing the dusty road. I also like to get out every so often and listen for birds in the different drainages and slopes.
I love the chukar and grouse hunts because after the initial excitement of opening day (or the youth hunt, in Josh’s case), you can often have the mountain to yourself. I always like to have a cooler full of fun drinks and treats so that even if we don’t harvest birds, Josh has a good time and is comfortable. For the record, the chukar partridge is one of the best-tasting game birds in Utah. They actually do taste a lot like chicken!