The Contingency Plan
I struck out on my first upland road trip with my young French Brittany, Cash, in September 2019. Aside from hunting wily scaled quail in the Chihuahuan desert, Cash and I were both novice bird hunters. We were heading north in search of birds we had never hunted; in places we had never been. There were adventures to be had.
With the whole week off from work, the plan was to hunt sharp-tailed grouse in Nebraska for 3 days, followed by greater sage-grouse in Wyoming for another 3 days. From my readings, research, and personal communications with experienced bird hunters, I assumed I would need several days just to locate each of these species. However, to my astonishment, Cash and I had our possession limits of sharp-tailed grouse and sage-grouse by the end of day 4 of the trip. Beginner’s luck I suppose.
Considering we were 1000 miles from home, I wasn’t about to cut the trip short. But what would be hunt? I began scouring the internet for season dates and regulations of the surrounding states. From my research, I came up with four target species: dusky grouse, ruffed grouse, chukar, and Hungarian partridge. I had never hunted any of these birds either and had no clue what I was getting into.
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During my time spent working in North Dakota, my supervisor, and now friend, raved about chukar hunting in his home state of Utah. Twice the size of a quail, he claimed chukar were among the finest upland table fare. I posit this was directly related to the sweat equity and boot leather required to bag a few of the masked bandits. As an avid chukar hunter, my friend was rich with information about their habitat and habits. The memories of our after-work conversations and the bits of knowledge I had absorbed from them swayed my decision to head out in search of chukar. Now that I knew the “what”, it was time to determine the “where”. I called up the local wildlife biologists and game wardens to gather as much on-the-ground information as possible. They were able to narrow down my search to an area of about 5000 square miles in northern Wyoming.
After a night’s rest and warm shower at the local motel, Cash and I headed up into the chukar hills. Dropping off the pavement onto a BLM two-track road, I began scoping the area for the appropriate combination of rimrock, steep rocky slopes, sagebrush, cheatgrass, and springs. I parked my Ford pickup at the top of a ridge line that would make an excellent place to start our first walk.
The first 3-hour walk was uneventful and brought about mild self-doubt. I knew this endeavor wasn’t supposed to be easy, but I was concerned that the habitat was incorrect (looking back, the cover was excellent, I just worked it incorrectly). The second walk of the day brought much of the same. As we crested a hill, bringing the pickup back in to view, Cash went on point at the base of a large pile of boulders. The young pup held steady, head high, nostrils flared, filling with the intoxicating scent of our feathered foe.
I closed up my shotgun, holding its barrels to the sky, as I approached my Brittany. Moving past the point and circling around the cluster of boulders, my faith in Cash began to fade. Making a second pass around, this time I walked between my intense pup and the boulders. With a piercing scream, a covey of chukar erupted from under the boulders. I was in awe. This was the first time I’d ever laid eyes on the birds. They didn’t flush like quail. The birds crisscrossed and dodged, making it near impossible to pick one out. As the covey sailed outside of my lethal range, a few late flushers offered up an easy chip shot. Cash waited for the shot, trotted down the hill after the downed partridge, and retrieved it to hand.
“And I thought this chukar hunting thing was supposed to be hard,” I thought (a thought that would be altered the next day, after tumbling down a scree slope as birds simultaneously flushed under my feet). I had been told stories of a pursuit akin to warfare. Stories of birds that ran uphill, and then sailed down the hill, holding up their middle flight feather as they passed. The phrase “chukar hunting: the first time is for fun and after that it’s for revenge” didn’t seem all that fitting. Instead, I witnessed birds that behaved similar to the gentleman bobwhite. The point, flush, swing, shot, and retrieve were all flawless, just the way you would draw it up in your head.
With a bird in hand and the sun steadily sinking nearer the horizon, Cash and I walked a mere 300 yards back to the truck to begin setting up camp. My little orange and white Brittany did well that day. In fact, Cash put on an impeccable display of hunting instincts throughout the entire trip. I was thankful (and still am) for his fervent loyalty, desire to please, and acceptance of all my impromptu bird hunting escapades. Thanks buddy.
Looking for a chukar recipe? How about this chukar alfredo?