The mystique around chukar hunting may be somewhat overplayed. “The birds are hard to shoot, impossible to get to, challenging for pointing dogs, you have to carry a kevlar gun and wear a helmet at all times… et cetera, et cetera.”
It’s true that a helmet is a good idea; but in the grand scheme of upland hunting, I’m not even sure chukar is the pinnacle of difficulty.
Certainly we (I mean chukar hunters in general, but I am in no way excluding MOF) have embellished the perceived difficulty. Not that I feel guilty about it, the last thing I need is more people clawing their way to the top of my chukar hills.
Last fall, I checked an item off my bucket list and hunted ruffed grouse in Minnesota. We hunted with a group of folks from the Little Moran Lodge and Orvis. I was concerned about how my dog would perform in the company of world-class setters, particularly in tight and unfamiliar cover. Strangely, I wasn’t that concerned about how I would perform. I mean, it’s flat right? And the birds are ruffies. I didn’t have a moment’s pause.
As it turned out, my little setter did great, pointing the very first woodcock she ever came into contact with and she had little trouble with the cover. She was steady. I, on the other hand, shot poorly and spent much of the trip missing birds, falling on my butt, tripping, slipping, and getting slapped in the face with numerous types of tree branches. I expended as much effort covering four Minnesota miles a day as I do covering a dozen Idaho miles.
The real trip was sitting around over beers in the evening and talking birds. Those who hadn’t been west asked about chukar terrain and habits and how hard they are to hunt. If they had been posers, I would have laid it on thick. But after my first day in Minnesota, I hadn’t seen fanny pack or propeller hat one. Plus, I was beaten near to a pulp and everyone else seemed perky and scratch free.
The Orvis guys, Charley, Tom, Reid, Steve and Andrew, were tough as nails and damn good shots. Apparently, they also spend long days afield with gun dogs (mostly setters, but springers and labradors too) for the chance at one or two birds. The only difference is they do it in Vermont, where the cover must be so thick you could misplace a tugboat.
Tom and Reid got nearly every bird they had a chance at and I’m pretty Steve and Andrew killed more birds on the first day than I did the whole trip. The first day, I saw Charley kill four birds on about six shots in cover too thick to swing a pocket watch. And I could tell that it wasn’t unusual because of how calm he remained. Mid-day, I saw him shoot a left-to-right crossing grouse with the first barrel and then his young dog made a great retrieve. Bird in hand, he merely cracked a smile. Had that happened to me, I would have reloaded and fired two celebratory shots into the air, then done an end-zone dance before lifting the setter over my head à la Lion King.
And it wasn’t just them. Bob St. Pierre, the marketing director for Pheasants Forever, shot a grouse so quickly and through such a small hole in the canopy, I’m not even sure if he actually mounted the shotgun or if he shot it quick-draw style. At the time, I was belly crawling, so admittedly my view was poor.
Little Moran’s Travis Grossman ran some of the nicest setters I’ve been around, hardly broke a sweat and never once made light of my abysmal shooting. Even when I missed a bird that flew directly over my head with both barrels. Plus, he told a good joke and produced an ice-cold beer as the sun set, right when my ego needed it most.
So when the subject of chukar came up. I couldn’t lie.
I said, “They’re not that hard. It’s open country. No trees to get in the way of your barrels or leaves to block your pattern. It’s easy walking without logs, bogs, vines, ticks, limbs, thickets or holes. Frankly you guys would probably kill them all. In fact, now that I really think about it, you probably wouldn’t even like it.”