A Stroke of Luck

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Chukar partridge (Alectoris chukar), or chukar for short, are a medium-sized game bird that originated from the Middle East. They were first introduced to the United States in 1893 but were not successfully established until the mid-1900’s. Today, chukar are a popular game species in Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

Despite its popularity, chukar hunting can be a physically demanding venture. Chukar hunters have affectionately nicknamed chukar “red-legged devils” in reference to their blood-red legs and propensity to run uphill through scree fields to escape. After my first encounter with chukar, I was quick to adopt this moniker.

On a snowy day in late November, I met up with a few hunting friends, Jacob and Matt, in a sleepy mountain town somewhere in Idaho. We had long discussed our desire to pursue a new species of upland game bird. Growing up in Texas, the three of us had spent most of our time hunting scaled quail in the Chihuahuan Desert. The challenge and excitement of that hunt had ultimately driven us to try our luck at chukar. We met up at a gas station at the edge of town where I gassed up my Ford pickup one last time. As we headed into the uninviting rocky slopes beyond town, ideas of grandeur flashed through our minds. What would it be like? What would we see? Only time would tell.

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Snow from the previous night had dusted the mountains, providing a clean slate and a glimpse into the wildlife that wondered the area that morning. Aside from the occasional deer or rabbit, there had not been much movement since the snow had fallen. I parked my pickup at a tur out about 10 miles down a BLM two-track road. We began to gather our gear and prepare for the day’s excursion into the field. When we left the parking area, my German Shorthair, Ranger, left in the opposite direction. “Typical hard-headed shorthair”, I thought. Not 100 yards from the truck, Ranger put up a staunch point.

I shrugged my shoulders and waved the boys in his direction. As I approached the point, the snow-covered ground had been muddied with bird tracks, chukar tracks. From a small sage-lined drainage beyond Ranger, an impressive covey of chuks, took flight. Instinctually, each of us shouldered and swung our guns through the birds. Jacob and I fired off, “BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM”, echoed by Matt’s pump-action assault “B-B-B-BOOM”. The encounter had ended before the anticipation could even build up.

As the covey sailed into this distance, we recovered our downed red-legged devils. Circling up, we recapitulated the events that had just transpired. Could this new pursuit really be that easy? Of course not. We wandered among the rimrock, sage, and scree fields for the next 3 hours without a single point. This is the chukar hunting we had been expecting. Steep uphill ascents, challenging footing, and breath-taking views. Luckily, lunch provided a second wind and sparked a change of luck.

The second half of the day mirrored the experience from the first 5 minutes of the hunt. In every rocky drain that lead to a water source, was a covey waiting to be discovered. We finished the day with 12 birds bagged, a truck load of memories, and a new-found respect for chukar. Ice-cold scotch and chukar fajitas capped off the day perfectly. And to think, this was only Day One.

Trey Johnson

I was born and raised on a small ranch Northwest of Fort Worth, Texas. From a young age, nature always provided an outlet from reality. I have continued to cultivate this passion through formal education and creative writing. When I am not working as game bird research assistant, you can find my bird dog and I in the field chasing birds.

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