Hunting the Wiley Chukar in Utah
Having hunted most of the species of upland birds in North America, I’ve come to appreciate the qualities of the chukar. Hunting chukar is an exciting adventure that always includes a surprise or two. Chukars are not only fun to hunt, they are also one of the most hearty birds to put down and typically don’t present a head shot on the rise as pheasant tend to do – making them challenging as well.
Recently, I had the opportunity to hunt the birds in southern Utah near the town of Teasdale. The Red River Ranch Lodge is located on the river. The ranch offers six-and-a-half miles of private fly-fishing and over 3,000 acres of bird hunting.
The lodge is only minutes from Capitol Reef National Park, giving you beautiful vistas at every turn in the exciting red rock country. The lodge has 17 rooms each with a fireplace and a different theme that exudes ambience and warmth. Another larger fireplace is the focal point of the lounge area next to the dinning room. The lodge also has an outdoor hot tub, which is great to soothe tired leg muscles from a day of walking through high grass and grain fields.
My contact and guide from Red River Outfitters was Shawn Saunders, the owner and founder who hails from Sun Valley, Idaho. He has been guiding professionally since 1993 and several years ago started Red River Outfitters. Having arrived late in the day, we made arrangements for an early start the next morning.
My favorite gun for this type of bird hunting is a Verona made by Rizzini. It’s the LX692 Competition 20/28 gauge combo with 30-inch barrels. It offers two different gauges to shoot and handles just like my regular competition guns. Those two gauges with the right ammo will kill just about any upland bird you’re likely to run across.
After a delicious breakfast at the lodge, Shawn and I went over to the kennels to pick up a dog that would work with us over the next few days.
We decided to make a sweep through the surrounding sagebrush country not far from the kennels and corrals. After about 15 to 20 minutes of walking, the dog, Dan, went on point. As we approached, the dog flushed three birds and we shot two. Not a bad start I thought. About 30 minutes later, another bird was in the bag. What was nice about hunting chukars in this area was that the hills weren’t as steep and high as many of the other areas I’ve hunted. It made for much more comfortable walking and didn’t leave me totally out of breath when I had to take a shot.
Two more birds were in the bag as we started the sweep back toward the horse corrals and kennels. Shawn and the dog stayed low in a draw while I walked up a little higher on a ridge that led to the corrals. As I approached the corrals my attention was drawn to a beautiful paint colt in one of corrals. The closest corral wasn’t used much and had some grasses and weeds growing in it, and I hadn’t bothered to look into them as I was attracted by the colt.
After a minute or two something in the grass caught my eye. It might have been some slight movement or what, I don’t know. At first I didn’t see anything, then I realized several chukars were in the brush and grass in the corral. I chuckled, and then yelled out to Shawn and the dog, who were in the draw. “There’s going to be a shootout at the OK corral.” I’m sure he didn’t understand why I yelled that out. But in the next instant the birds flushed in all directions. Between us, we dropped another three birds out of about 10 for a productive morning hunt.
Over lunch, we shared a few laughs about the shootout and discussed where we’d hunt that afternoon. We decided to hunt the river bottoms south of the ranch. The area also had some of the heaviest cover for the birds.
During the afternoon we flushed a lot of other game as well. There were cottontail rabbits galore with an occasional jackrabbit thrown in. It was my feeling the rabbits would be harder to get than the birds, since you only see the rabbits for an instant before they are out of sight behind another brush. We also flushed quail and pheasant. My primary reason for being there was the chukar, but I decided to take some pheasant as well. We ended the afternoon with five more chukars in the bag and three pheasant.
The following morning we went to the grain and grass fields southwest of the ranch. The plan was to hunt by ourselves in the morning and then join other hunters during the afternoon. It wasn’t long before we ran across three birds running in a furrow ahead of us. The dog picked up the scent as well. When the birds broke we dropped two of them. A little further on we were onto a small covey of about six birds and we bagged another two. We ended up the morning with a total of six birds.
What I noticed over the past three years is that chukars tend to take more shot to put them down compared with pheasant or grouse. Almost every time I hunt upland birds it’s with a 28- or 20-gauge shotgun. I’ve put many a pheasant and grouse down with a single shot, but often it takes two shots to bring down a chukar. It appears that size 7½ shot or larger is preferred. A speed of 1250 to 1300 FPS seems to work best. A speed of 1200 FPS with size 8 or 7½ shot is marginal. Winchester makes a great 28-gauge, high-brass game load with 1 ounce of size 6 shot or other size shot, which seems to work well.
In the afternoon we joined six other hunters and their guides. It was their third trip to the ranch for bird hunting and in talking with them they were already planning their next trip back to the ranch. There were five adults and one teenager with two guides and dogs who were enjoying the bird hunting at RRR.
A plan was made and we swept through some high grass and grain fields. The shooting started at the far end of the sweep and a couple of pheasants were taken. Over the next two hours we bagged several more pheasants and about 10 chukars.
I had the opportunity to take two more chukars a little later, but the shooting was somewhat slow at the left end that Shawn and I were covering. I decided to move up onto the bank of the canal that bordered the west end of the fields.
Shooters at the far end of the drive seemed to be getting more birds, but then a bird went up to my far right and out in front of a shooter to my right. He took a shot and missed. The bird made a sweeping left turn and headed down the canal to my immediate left, but about two feet below the high brush that separated me and the canal. The pheasant was visible for brief moments as I could catch a glimpse as it flew down the canal. As it passed me, I saw a slight opening that looked like I’d have a fairly clear shot at it. A single shot from my 20 gauge dropped the bird into the canal. Dan made a great retrieve. The other shooters got several more chukars and I managed to get one more before we called it a day.
On the final day of hunting, Shawn and I went out into the sage country south of the ranch for more chukars. The morning started a little slow, but things picked up rather quickly. In the second hour I managed to get four birds and a few more afterwards before the morning hunt came to an end.
After lunch the wind picked up. It was blowing more than 30 miles per hour and gusting higher, which made it hard for us and the dog. After a while the dog went on point into the woodpile in front of us. I told Shawn it was probably another cottontail. We couldn’t see anything around the pile and there were no bushes or grass around it. We were stumped.
Yet again I was amazed to find a covey of five chukars less than eight feet in front of me frozen still and almost invisible in some short grass. I yelled to Shawn they were in front of me and that sent the birds into the air where Shawn and I each got one. We chuckled about what just happened at how the birds were behind where the dog was looking. The wind played some strange tricks that afternoon. That ended the last day of hunting at a destination that I’ll return to in the future.
In addition to the hunting and fly-fishing the ranch offers horseback riding and ATV tours of the area. For further information of the Red River Ranch or Red River Outfitters call 1-877-6-STREAM or go to www.rroutfitters.com.
Jerry Sinkovec is an accomplished photographer and writer with several awards to his credit. He also owns the I.T.I. Shotgun Shooting School in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He has written for more than 45 magazines and newspapers including Shooting Sportsman, Double Gun Journal, Shotgun News, Shotgun Sports, Clay Shooting USA, Sporting Clays and Clay Pigeon. He is currently the Shooting and Travel Editor for Outdoors Now Magazine. You can find out more about Jerry at http://jerrysinkovec.samsbiz.com. For more information about the I.T.I. Shotgun Shooting School please visit http://www.itishooting.com.
Jerry Sinkovec is a freelance outdoor and travel writer/photographer who writes for over 45 different publications nationally and internationally. He is also the director of the Browning-endorsed Instinctive Target Interception Shotgun Shooting School headquartered in Idaho Falls, Idaho. You can contact Jerry Sinkovec by visiting his web site at http://www.itishooting.com.