Chukar Hunting Isn’t About the Chukar


pittsburg landing oct 23, 2013 006

At first, as you gather your gear to ready for the endurance performance lying in wait, you might think it is about hunting down the elusive chukar. But, in reality it is far more than that.  It is ironically more about the hunter than the bird.  Sure, we dress our delusions in all kinds of appropriate garb, from blistering  “see me from a thousand miles off” blaze orange, to thick-skinned gators for counteracting ominous rattlesnake fangs, and go about the business of putting one foot in front of the other.  Then we leap forward into challenging terrain meant more to accommodate an assorted disarrayment of miscellaneous  personality disorders, than common sense.

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Like the Tuhumarra runners, who run for the sheer joy of running, chukar hunters hunt for the joy of the hunt.  Getting  birds is only a mild side attraction that happens during a grueling confrontation with the self, as that is always the result when the extremes of mother nature rears its head. You don’t have to be crazy to hunt chukars, but it helps.


chukar sugar jan 2, 2014 072

It is not often easy to start oneself at the foot of any kind of precipitous slope.  But the real trick is how to get the momentum to move in the  beginning. Yet even when you find the right pull-cord to ignite that internal switch, there is still  that need to find enough courage to yank on the line. Sometimes, shutting your eyes is all it takes, other times all kinds of procrastinating mechanisms keep running in the background of our cerebral computer, so finding the right key to unlock access to them is ultimately required.  Whatever method finally works,  then it pretty much is about putting in the time, and repetition of increasing the amount of time one puts in. The more you add, the better you get at adjusting to the physical demands, and quelling those demons of the mind that always surface to tell you to go back home to a warm fire and comfortable recliner. Getting those wanton images of comfort  repressed, is no easy task as they keep permeating the mind like those nuisance computer pop-up ads that invites an angry smack-a-mole response.


This might be more of a common  problem to those of us who hunt a lot; more than just a weekend warrior battleground; or are at least old enough to have already bagged  a vast number of heavenly treks to the skyward lairs of the ninja chukars.  So we, or I, in my case, sometimes find it hard to get all charged up with the enthusiasm like we did in our youth or when we were novice hunters.  When every thing is fresh and new, there is always more energy associated with the magic of anticipation.  Not knowing all the harsh realities that come with naïve exuberance helps motivate the uninitiated. While it takes a bit more to so thoroughly excite those juices of electricity for the more experienced veterans.


bighorn chukar spring bar jan15, 2014 026

More often that not my biggest help in getting motivated are my two weims. If I just mention the word “chukar” their ears perk up, tails go full throttle, and they stare me down with that can-we-go-now look, that just can’t be ignored.  Like kids excited for a trip to the carnival, I can’t say no. So before I know what happened, they are kenneled-up and on  our way to chukar-land.  Be it by rig or boat, lookout chukars, here we come. As if those rascally birds need any kind of warning once our presence is on their turf, they practically know when we are there before we do. But, all the same, we play on their board, their game and forget about the small print that spelled out the real rules we soon learn first-hand on the slopes.  For such a small bird there sure is a lot of ruthless ninja-ness to them.

Soon my attention is all on the dogs.  As their noses do their business they eventually find the money.  And nothing is so beautiful as seeing them on point and testing birds, or more accurately being tested by the birds.  The next test is for me to get in front of them to flush birds and get something on the ground for their next phase of the hunt.


However, admittedly my  first objective is to get the “if-I’m-only-quick-enough” photograph, and this often means sacrificing  good shots or an opportunity to down a bird.  Sometimes I even hesitate to tell friends about my skirmishes with these devil birds, as they already think it crazy to hike to such extremes and then return home without a bird or any trace of the feathers.  What to show for?   But I am not married to having preconceived numbers to satisfy, or some sort of symbol to represent my hunting prowess or lack thereof. It isn’t about the chukar, it is all about the hunt, the dogs, the views, the falls, the challenges, the feelings of being alive that always comes with the evoked inspiration of special places.

chukar sugar jan 2, 2014 018

So, that’s ok, the old proverb about great rewards come with great difficulty is also true.  And, once I find myself out on the hill again, soloing silently in  solitude and never knowing  what new drama nature has in store still makes me thankful every time I go.  And in reality, those are all the things, rather than the actually killing of a chukar that stir my juices and get me going.  A sip of that lingering thought is the catalyst required for me to lower that  first foot down, so the other can be lifted up to seek the lofty stratosphere enriched with that  rarified air so invigorating to the soul.

chukar sugar jan 2, 2014 046

Gary Lane
Wapiti River Guides


Copper Canyon of Chukarville



chukar roger dec 26, 2013 094

No, as far as I know, there are no chukars in the Copper Canyon, where the greatest ultradistance runners of all time  eek out a living in the Lost-World like remoteness of the deepest canyon in Mexico.  Though deeper than the Grand Canyon, it isn’t as deep as the Salmon River Canyon, where I spend most of my time hunting chukars.

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However, as I spend most of my time yo-yoing up and down some of the most precipitous chukar terrain in North America, I often feel like a Talaharara runner, who need and have the physical prowess and endurance required to scale such grandiose exotica terra firma as their beloved Copper Canyon.

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Another reason I can identify with those crazy indigenous people who run such torturous courses, is that I chase chukars for the same reason they  insanely push the limits of human kind.    As odd as it might seem when you think about the endurance and internal toughness that such endeavors require, love of running and hiking is what brings a smile to those who know deep inside what the entire affair really is all about.

ice - chukar sugar dec 16, 2013 009

As an elder huntsman  chukar chaser, an old runners motto that I like to apply to my hunting endeavors is:  “you don’t stop running because you are too old, you get old because you stop running. ”  Though I may not be running up these steeply inclined obstacle courses, the challenges are not much different,  only the  pace.  Yet pacing is what it is essentially all about, which reminds me of another quote by Ken Mierke that I often think  about  when the going gets tough: “Nearly all runners do their slow runs too fast, and their fast runs too slow.”

chukar hunt sugar Dec 19, 2012 036

So when my breath gets out of tune with my steps on  treacherous ground that leads ever upward where the neck must be bent far back on the shoulders to see the goal above, I think about balance. Adjusting between fast and slow during acclivity and declivity is the ticket to chukar land,  as dictated by physio-inclinations and geomorphology. Ok, fancy words for steep-sum-bitch, act accordingly.


So for those of you chukar hunters in the elder huntsman upward age category, here is another encouraging thought to consider the next time you take to the hills, it is all about a state of mind. Take into account  some of the recent science from the runner’s world of those ultra marathoner athletes. Studies show that starting at age 19, most runners get faster until they peak at age 27. But, the rate for slowing back down to that 19-year-old level isn’t the same 8 years. In fact, it isn’t until age 64. Sounds unbelievable, doesn’t  it? Note: I write this at age 64, just so I can celebrate appropriately, before another birthday.

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The amazing thing  is, this rate of endurance change  is not the same case for any other human sport, except running. Thus, in my mind is prima facia evidence that we are made for endurance. Thank goodness for that, because chukars require such worthiness of endurance for anyone crazy enough to pursue  them. It also makes me glad I was a distance runner in high school and college, though only one marathon, because it helps me tremendously now for chasing birds.  So, while I was never an ultramartathoner, or even an ultra runner, I do like to think of myself as always in training to be an ultrachukar hunter.  And when I think about the 97-year-old marathon runner still pounding the ground,  it gives me hope that I can continue chasing these little feathered demons for a good long while yet. And also, to continue guiding  those too, whom are similarly afflicted with   such ambitious addictions. May the chukar be with you. Keep on keeping on.

Dave Baum chukar sept 20 and 21 009

Gary Lane
Wapiti River Guides

Go Ugly Early – Say Exochukarologists

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nov 22, 2013 chukar pass hunt 008

As an exochukarologist, one who looks for intelligent chukar life in the outer spaces of terra firma, an old tenant can sometimes lead to finding birds in low population years.  “Go Ugly Early”.  What does that mean to chukar hunters? How about “Go Up Early?” If you can’t find birds at lower elevations, point your telescope skyward to higher positions in the far off heavens above.  Metaphorically at least.

Put one step in front of the other and begin that long climb early. It is much easier to go up when you are fresh and have not already exhausted energy at lower elevations, then discover birds calling from far above.  Naturally, if you can camouflage your ascent as much as possible to keep your approach hidden from those eyeballs lording over everything from high above, do it. Favor the side opposite birds when climbing direct ridgelines. Use rocks, cover, gullies, and any kind of terrain to modify your climb in ways to be undetected. Otherwise, your climb may have to be higher than originally estimated. I hate it when that happens.

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Yep, those little birds are ever wary and always alert to potential danger.  So keep your voice to yourself as much as possible, too. Chukars can hear about as good as your dog can smell. Oh, and try not to yell at your dog, if possible, because you will be talking to chukars at the same time.  The idea is to be smarter than the prey. Unfortunately, it is sometimes hard to overcome emotion with a more tempered self-restrained behavior, when situations arise that challenge your sensibilities.  How dogs like to test your limits, often oh so painfully. You know, like when your dog gets out of sight and you don’t know if she/he is on point, or chasing a rabbit around the hill. What to do? Call out, or not? When to hold, when to fold?

nov 22, 2013 chukar pass hunt 024

There are a lot of good reasons not many hunters are lining up to chase after chukars. But, going high, when starting from the bottom of some giant canyon, is one of the major ones. Being somewhat  masochistic might be another one, or so it seems, at hunts end where muscles tighten up with  annoying aches and pains.  And sometimes the sanity question surfaces when one realizes that calories gained from the number of birds bagged (say only two, for example) and eaten later, will be less than the calories used getting those birds to begin with.

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But, back to my previous post where I was complaining about not finding many birds this season, and comparing the search like looking for ufo’s or other intelligent life in outer space. My hunt yesterday changed all that. At least for one day, anyway.  In about 4 hours of hunting/climbing,  (that’s  3 hrs climbing to 1 hour hunting) I encountered around 75-100 birds, comprised of  several flocks and  lots of singles or doubles getting up all around me.  Number wise lots of potential.   Not that I did great with the potential, as reality was a little different scenario. Often birds got up behind me and I could not turn around fast enough. Sometimes  I was compromised in negotiating ugly foot positions,and they flew by as I was off-balance and out of whack with the turf. That is, if sketchy edges with dire consequences of falling through space off of them,  counts as turf.

Did I mention the part about good shooting, but bad hitting? Or of birds getting a jump on me as I was trying to photograph Sugar on point? Then enduring dirty looks from my dog wondering why no birds were falling on the ground, after my gun make the big noise.

Well, once in awhile I manage to please my dog.  And since I need to lose some weight anyway, the calorie balance after the hunt usually turns out to be more used than more gained. So that spells a successful hunt, even if the chukars get the last laugh.

nov 22, 2013 chukar pass hunt 029

The Green Bank Formula For Finding Chukars

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Barb cam November 2013 042

Exobiologits are scientists who look for in intelligence in outer space.  They basically study things that are not even known to exist. How? Statistics. They use a formula which multiplies several strings of estimated numbers together.  It is called the Green Bank Formula and it is  used  to calculate the potential that something (intelligence, in whatever form) might exist.

So, perhaps any avid searcher for hard-to-find chukars, that seem to be in those outer limits,  could be called an exochukarologist.  At least it seems like a good title  for those of us looking for those little ufo-like fluffs of fast flying blurs  during lean population  years. Such are a few of my thoughts when on the prowl for birds that seem not to exist. . But unlike exobiologist who don’t know for sure if something exists, only the possibilities that it might, I have seen chukars before, so know that they do.

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Part of my Green Bank Chukar Formula includes, type of terrain, vegetative condition, weather, birds counted, dropping they leave behind, sightings by others, and listening for sounds.  Like astronomers who beam radio waves into the heavens in hopes of getting a message back from some sort of interstellar intelligence, I cup my ears to the sky for signs  of more earthly sounds  intelligences closer to home.

Unlike intelligence in outer space, smart enough not to reveal themselves to earthlings who show questionable signs of intelligence, chukars are not advanced enough to know not to call out in the wilderness. So that is the first thing I do, before hitting any particular slope. Stand and listen at daylight. The first crack of dawn is too much for  a chukar  to resist at least a few calls to whatever it is they call for at that time of day. But they do, and that is all I care about. Revelation.

Though it is mid chukar season in my neck of the woods, and I am a bit behind in getting my search for them on, previous hunts have shown this to be a challenging year.  Finding chukars has been a bit like trying to find a ufo. Do they exist? Their tracks say yes. The results of my finding them, indicate otherwise.  It’s not easy being an exochukarologist.  Fortunately, I have a four legged secret weapon.

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Chukars Last Laugh


Sugar Snow Chukar Jan 11, 2013 055

Inevitably it always does arrive, that fatal last day. The last day of any season, but in this case chukar season.  It is almost a love/hate affair. That is, I love to hunt chukars. But, towards the end of the season, after grueling climbs up the extreme slopes of the Salmon River canyon, it gets very difficult to push myself for yet another uphill battle.  A battle my heart and lungs take on with the landscape.

Wind River Ember Sugar Jan 20 2013 055

So with mixed emotions my last day with both dogs on the hill was more of the same. Good and bad. Hard, yet rewarding. Dogs not minding as well as think they should, yet making wonderful tandem points, and stupendously long retrieves when birds sail way too far down the slopes. You know, those slopes I keep complaining about. Ones that seem like 45 degrees, and at times really are. And those are the easier ones. Did I mention bony ridgelines, vertical cliffs, and a variety of ugliness that us chukar hunters often find ourselves engaged with?

Sugar, Ember, Barb, me, Jan 12, 2013 016

No wonder people who know nothing about chukar hunting think chukar hunters are so crazy. Heck, even chukar hunters wonder that sometimes.  But once fessing-up to knowing you are crazy means you don’t have to worry about it any more. Just keep pushing those birds, don’t look back, or more precisely down, in most cases. Focus. That is the name of the game.

Lake Ck Ember & Sugar Jan 16, 2013 081

My last day was a typical one, but favored the chukar, and they indeed seemed to get the last laugh. Like when a group came flying straight off the slopes high above, helter-skelter, and my swing, which was more of an  over-the-head-and-turn gymnastics  maneuver, was the perfect recipe for poor shooting success.  After the boom of gun and frustrations of watching birds untouched, I’m sure I could hear some chuckles of happy-to-be-alive birds entertained by my contorted antics on the hill.

Sugar Lucile Cave Hunt Jan 17, 2013 027

But, their entertainment is also mine.  Just seeing the type of flying they can do, like some kind of animated jet plane in a dog fight, is reward enough.  Although, I do sometimes luck out and manage to down one of those feathered Mig like fighters. Yet, a big part of chukar hunting is all of those ancillary shows that  always accompany the chase:  from large bucks, elk herds, fox trots,  coyote yipping, wolf tracks, bobcat scat, otter antics, and soaring eagles, to just mention a few.  And most remarkable is that all this theater takes place in a theater itself that is a good part of the outstanding entertainment.

Wind River Ember Sugar Jan 20 2013 072

(Whoa – Holy “chukar feathers” – how did we get so far up?)

Viewscapes afforded by one of the deepest gorges in North America are utterly breath-taking, yet considerably confounding.  So expansive and  rugged is the terrain, that its bigness makes one feel ever more so small.  A dwarf in the cosmos. It is a vastness of unfathomable comprehension that words never adequately can explain. So, rather, I just simply enjoy it and appreciate it for what it is. Though we humans like to share our pleasures with others, often it has to suffice just to appreciate those things that are truly unexplainable. To just “know” is enough.  Thank you chukars.  You are safe from my gun and nuisance of dogs for another year now. But, be forewarned: we will be back.

Wind River Ember Sugar Jan 20 2013 150

Lake Ck Ember & Sugar Jan 16, 2013 122

Sugar Snow Chukar Jan 11, 2013 044

Lake Ck Ember & Sugar Jan 16, 2013 152

What Do Chukars Think?

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Lake Ck Ember & Sugar Jan 16, 2013 060

Well, it is awfully tempting to dive into some imagined chukar   humor and wonder what kind of diatribe  they might use to poke fun at us hunter’s with.  As if they communicate like us humans do, which they don’t, but we like to anthropomorphize about, that is. Such are some of my thoughts  as I hunt along various terrains with not only my dogs, but my brain as well.  My mind contours the landscape with similar speed as my legs do. Sometimes I even get lost in this parallel world and forget that I am even hunting to begin with. At least until something triggers me back into reality, like  tripping on a loose rock, dog on point, or sudden burst of wings taking to the sky.

Lake Ck Ember & Sugar Jan 16, 2013 050

Also, in my self-talk,  I sometimes try to think like  a chukar in order to find them. But how can I do that, I’m a human, so I can only use human ideas.  It is difficult even trying to understand women sometimes, how would I ever begin to understand a chukar?  Telepathy is out. So is any chance at really communicating with any kind of animals, when us humans can barely communicate with each other.  Our astronomers think about what messages aliens might be sending out through space, yet learning what our own earth creatures have to tell us might be much more valuable.

Lucile Cave Jan 14, 2013 074

But, Earth to Gary, back to birds.  If chukars think, they must not think in words, but what kind of language to they use, if any?  I always wonder how their brains work.  For example: when serious snow hits the high country in an over night storm, but leaves the ground bare on the lower foothill sections, use patterns of chukars can change and adapt to the new situation.

Lake Ck Ember & Sugar Jan 16, 2013 152

So, from a chukars view-point, I wonder if they can see their landscape and differentiate which areas to change to for food and shelter.  Can they see bare ground amidst the snow, like wind-blown open ridges and draws, and make an effort to seek it out.  That is,  as opposed to just stumbling upon it, or never finding it to begin with.  For another example, if a major mountain side contains some snow free zones that can be seen from a far off distance, can chukars see this and fly over to it?  Do they think, hey there is a good place to find food and shelter? Or is that more like an instinct, or some kind of built in survival detector they just know to do?

Lake Ck Ember & Sugar Jan 16, 2013 018

I think about the same sorts of things about big game when I am hunting them. In what kind of ways to they use thought, if at all, about how they negotiate their terrain and survive the elements, including predation?  The natural  law of conservation of energy affects the survival abilities of all critters, but they don’t think about it, any more than us humans think about how gravity affects our movements all the time.

Lake Ck Ember & Sugar Jan 16, 2013 129

Thinking about predation could jeopardize survival, as opposed to acting without thinking about it first.  So immediate dangers that require fast reaction times are better left to the innate “fight or flight” responses for better success potential.

Lake Ck Ember & Sugar Jan 16, 2013 050

What about other abstract things, like a bird  learning about what happens when they fly  off a high  mountain to go all the way to the very bottom. Do they know how much more work will be required to climb back up to the top again?  Could this be any part of reasoning when a bird flies around the mountain so as not to lose too much in elevation, rather than sailing all the way to the bottom? Knowing it will be less energy draining and arduous, than leaving it up to chance alone.

Lake Ck Ember & Sugar Jan 16, 2013 073

What about late in the season when birds get up quicker and farther away from you when they see you coming, than they did earlier in the season? It would seem they have learned that distance is important for survival. It is almost is if they know the range of a shotgun. Or that humans require different strategies than other predators. They hunker down when golden eagles soar overhead, hold tight when dogs are on point, and jump into the air as soon as the two-legged hunters show up. How do they know? How abstract, if any at all, is some of their thought?

Sugar Lucile Cave Hunt Jan 17, 2013 017

As you can see, I may have been out on the chukar slopes a little too long. My thoughts, like my dog sometimes does when in hot pursuit, seems to be getting a little too close to  the edge. Those darned chukars. They can make some of us humans go crazy.  It’s probably just another chukar survival strategy.

Chukar Voodoo

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Ember Manning Br Jan 6, 2013 021

(Nope – no chukars in this picture)

Have you ever had one of those days, or dry spells, where chukars have seemed to evaporate from the landscape, never be to found within the time frame of your hunt?

Ember Chukar Bugle Basin Dec 31, 2012 072

These birds seem to  have some sort of secret power to put a hex on dogs and hunters.  Chukar Voodoo, I call it.  It helps describe all those days where everything works against you, but favors the chukars.  I can picture them dancing around in little bird rituals to help conjure up their secret spells. It includes special sacred adornments, like invisible shot proof plumage vests to ward off all pellets.  Not to mention, special invisible chukar paint that makes their bright colors disappear into surroundings that otherwise should reveal their stark contrast against it.  How can red hide against a yellowish  back ground, otherwise?

Ember Chukar Bugle Basin Dec 31, 2012 080

(Secret chukar spell cast over unsuspecting dogs)

It’s chukar voodoo, I tell you. They have access to powers unseen that help them play tricks on hunters and dogs. It  is a knowledge only birds possess, filled with ancient wisdom of the chukars from long ago.  These tricks of the trade and know-how for being a successful chukar enable them to pass on their  DNA to tomorrows progeny. It  is natures mechanism of control in the dynamic of all predator prey relationships. Ups and downs, help keep tedium and the boredom of sameness at bay.  The middle ground is safest, but all the excitement in the crucible of life takes place at the edges.

Ember Chukar Bugle Basin Dec 31, 2012 037

Voodoo Hoodoo, who likes it, I do.  It is all   part of the magic of dancing with the landscape, reading the language of nature, and enjoyment of the hunt and spirit of adventure. Amps, juice, spice, whatever you call it…all words to help describe our feelings of being surely alive. I love the chukars captivating magic.

Ember Chukar Bugle Basin Dec 31, 2012 084

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