Chukars Numbers the Best in 17 Years

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DWR Press Release

During a recent helicopter survey over central Tooele County, wildlife biologists saw something they’ve seen only twice in 20 years: more than 100 chukar partridge per square mile.

The previous high, 117 chukars per square mile, was seen in 1998. This year, biologists spotted 101 chukars per square mile.

And Tooele County isn’t the only place in Utah where chukars are doing well. Based on another helicopter survey over western Box Elder County and observations by Division of Wildlife Resources biologists and others in the field, chukar numbers are well above average across the state.

This is only the third time in 20 years that chukar numbers have been this high. (In 2006, biologists spotted close to 100 chukars per square mile.)

“Peaks like this are rare,” said Jason Robinson, upland game coordinator for the DWR. “I encourage hunters to get into the field and take advantage of it.”

Even though chukar numbers are high, Robinson reminds you that it still takes skill and effort to take chukars, even in great years like this one.

Robinson said two major factors have led to more birds this year. One is the weather. “The winter was warm and mild,” he explained, “and most of the adult birds made it through. The birds were in good condition as they entered the breeding season. That allowed the females to lay plenty of eggs.”

Next, a rainy and warm May provided newly hatched chicks with plenty of green vegetation and insects to eat.

A second factor is a population cycle. Biologists aren’t certain why the cycle happens, but it’s fairly predictable; about every eight years, chukar numbers skyrocket. The last peak was in 2006. Before that, chukar numbers spiked in 1998.

“There’s a chance the number of chukars in Utah will be much lower in 2016,” Robinson said. “This is definitely the year to get out and pursue them.”

In addition to the chukar hunt, the gray partridge hunt also opens on Sept. 26. Gray partridge are found mostly on or near agricultural land in Box Elder County. Robinson said gray partridge numbers are up slightly from last year.

Those 17 years of age and younger can hunt chukar and gray partridge Sept. 19-21, during Utah’s annual youth partridge hunt. After Sept. 21, the hunts will close until Sept. 26 when Utah’s general partridge hunt, for hunters of all ages, opens up.

Finding chukars

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

· See the distribution map on page 36 of the 2015-2016 Utah Upland Game and Turkey Guidebook. The map will show you where chukar habitat is found in Utah. The free guidebook is available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks.

Robinson said Tooele, Juab and Millard counties have the highest concentration of birds in the state.  “The state’s best chukar habitat is found in the rocky, desert areas west of Interstate 15,” he said.

Other areas in Utah do hold plenty of birds, though. Robinson said the Book Cliffs in eastern Utah and rocky river corridors in southern Utah are some of the best. “And every year, hunters do take birds in the rocky foothills along the Wasatch Front,” he said.

·  After arriving in an area that might have 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 said. “If you listen closely, they’ll often tip you off to their location.”

Robinson said chukars live in coveys that typically number between five to 30 birds. “When the covey is feeding, it always posts a sentry,” he said. “The sentry sits on a rock that provides it with a good view of the surrounding area. If the bird sees you, it will call out to alert the other birds. There’s a flip side to that, though: the sentry’s calling will 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 said, “water becomes less important to chukars.  Hunting near a water source isn’t as important later in the season.”

· When winter arrives, hunt slopes that face south. “The sun beats on these south-facing slopes in the winter,” he explained. “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 said, “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 said, “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 said.

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 said dogs aren’t needed to hunt chukars. “But having a dog is very helpful,” he explained, “both in finding birds and retrieving the birds you hit.”

Reminders

Because of the steep, rough areas where chukars live, it’s important to be 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 said, “especially during the early part of the season.”

Five reasons to hunt upland game

If you’re not currently hunting upland game in Utah, Robinson provides five reasons to consider giving it a try. You can read his blog post at www.wildlife.utah.gov/blog/2015/top-5-reasons-to-hunt-upland-game-in-utah/

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