The Chukar Hunt

BLM Backcountry Oregon Chukar Hunt

In Oregon, the BLM manages 16 million acres of public lands, giving hunters endless opportunities to experience a quality hunt. Photo by Mia Sheppard.

A pointing dog’s ultimate challenge and a wing shooter’s nemesis, the chukar is a high speed game bird that runs like the wind and flies like thunder. They live in the arid, high desert regions of many Western states, scampering over upland basalt rim rock ledges. When being pursued the wily birds hold up just long enough for you to get within a 40-yard shot, lift the shotgun, swing and pull the trigger. If you’re not startled by the take-off you might get lucky and hit one.

Over the years, I’ve crossed paths with many coveys and managed to hit a few birds. But when you ask most bird hunters if they hunt chukar their reply is usually the same,  “Hell, I gave up chasing those devil birds years ago.”  They may have learned their lesson but I have yet to learn mine.

I can’t give up on the chukar. In fact, I’ve only become more obsessed by these mischievous, Eurasian upland birds that were introduced to North America in the mid 1950’s. And today, I head out to chase these devil birds.

As we near our destination, fog rolls over the hills and we drive into the thick of it. The fog is so dense that the truck slows to 40 mph and I can only see 20 feet in front of me. Skeptical of the conditions, we don’t say much and keep driving until we hit a muddy dirt road that is slick from last night’s rain and rutted from years of use.  A little further up the hill I park the truck. We will be hunting Bureau of Land Management (BLM) backcountry land.

In Oregon, the BLM manages 16 million acres of public lands, giving hunters endless opportunities to experience a quality hunt with few people in sight. Today we are the only people for miles.  I’ve hunted this spot for a number of years so I know where to go; I’ve crossed these rusty fences and watched chukar dive from the breaks escaping six-shot pellets by the dozen. I hope we see a few coveys today.

Hunting chukar provides an opportunity to experience wide open, undisturbed space and watch the dogs work. My dog Cedar is excited. He’s been here before. Lifting his nose in the air, he follows the scent.  He’s not even 15 minutes from the car when his tail starts wagging faster and faster. His shoulders drop, he points and starts creeping in.  I whoa, Cedar stops, moves in a little closer and the birds flush just out of range; no shots taken. Chukar are amazingly skittish at times, making a shot difficult but I’m confident we will see more.

We keep working the break. The wind is in our favor and Cedar works into it. Suddenly, he takes a hard right, slouches down and creeps forward like a cat trying to sneak up on a mouse. We all move slowly, trying to ambush our target. Cedar holds point and Lucas and George move in. A covey of 20 birds flush. Shots are fired and a bird hits the ground. Cedar breaks and yelps out a victory cry. He disappears and a few minutes later prances back with a bird in his mouth.

 

BLM Hunt Bird Dog With Chukar

Join us in the effort to ensure public access to backcountry areas. Photo by Mia Sheppard.

Join us in ensuring public access to BLM backcountry areas. Part of my work with the TRCP is  to ensure that backcountry areas such as this are conserved by keeping core fish and wildlife areas intact. We  want to maintain public access to backcountry areas – while  balancing the needs for energy development. Without this balance, our favorite places to hunt and fish will be lost forever.   

Watch the video below to find out how you can get involved.

Conserve Oregon’s Best Backcountry Hunting and Fishing

 

Take Action: Stand up for Backcountry in the Beaver State

Oregon offers some of the best public upland game bird hunting in the West. Chukar season ended in January, but die-hard bird hunters already are thinking about next season. Last fall, I shared a particularly fine hunt with Walt Van Dyke, retired Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist, and Pat Wray, author of “The Chukar Hunter’s Companion.”

Watch following video for footage of the hunt and click here to take action and conserve Oregon’s best backcountry.


The weather was warm, and the heat of the day penetrated our bones. By noon sweat dripped from our brows. Nelly, my shorthaired pointer, was unaccustomed to the heat and had drunk almost all the water I was carrying. Van Dyke, Wray and I covered territory that hadn’t seen human footprints in weeks. A breeze was blowing, and the coveys of chukar flushed wild. But hitting a bird was a bonus compared to the remarkable views and solitude we found that day in southeast Oregon.

Along with supporting populations of upland birds, Oregon’s semi-arid mountain ranges hold key habitat for mule deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn and elk. Small streams provide unique fisheries. As a sportsman and a mother, I want to return to these special places with my daughter and see that the landscape hasn’t changed. Better yet, I want to see to it that the habitat has been improved.

To maintain the high-quality fish and wildlife values of these lands, hunters and anglers are calling on the southeast Oregon BLM to implement a new, locally conceived land allocation called a backcountry conservation area, or BCA. As proposed, BCAs would protect public access, honor existing rights and conserve intact fish and wildlife habitat while allowing common-sense activities to restore habitat and protect communities from wildfire.

Under the BCA allocation, the BLM would uphold traditional uses of public land but allow wildlife managers to restore the rangeland and habitat. The proposed plan enables vegetation management to control noxious weeds, restore bunchgrass to benefit wildlife and livestock and reduce the risk of wildfire. BCAs also would allow ranchers to maintain agriculture improvements and continue their operations.

Join thousands of sportsmen working to conserve our public lands by contacting the state BLM office in Oregon and promoting BCAs as a land-management tool.

Conserving the Last of the Old West

Nevada is truly a sportsmen’s paradise, a place where you can still find vast expanses of public lands and feel like you’ve got it all to yourself. If you haven’t already had the opportunity to hunt or fish in the Silver State, I hope that someday you will.

The TRCP is working closely with sporting groups across the West to make sure that places like this will be available for future generations of hunters and anglers to enjoy, and we need your help.

It’s no secret that the continual development of new roads, power lines, pipelines, gas wells and wind farms on public lands creates pressure on our best fish and wildlife habitat and hunting and fishing across the West. Energy development is important and necessary, but if we develop irresponsibly and in the wrong places, our outdoor traditions will suffer.  

The fragmentation and loss of key habitats are serious threats facing fish, wildlife and our sporting heritage. In Nevada, specific threats largely come from wind developments as well as transmission projects

Sportsmen are at the center of it all. The amount of quality habitat that could be lost just in our lifetimes is staggering. Hunters and anglers are at a crossroads, and the direction we move will have lasting ramifications for generations to come.

To that end, sportsmen across the West are getting involved in a grassroots effort to identify and conserve our highest value intact fish and wildlife habitat and hunting and fishing areas on BLM lands. By promoting the creation of “backcountry conservation areas” (called “backcountry wildlife conservation areas” in Nevada), sportsmen are acting to maintain our sporting traditions and the Western way of life.

We need you to speak up for the responsible management of our best fish and wildlife habitat. Learn more and let the BLM know that Nevada’s backcountry lands are important to hunters and anglers.

“I feel pretty lucky to be able to work is such an amazing state. There are so many amazing places in the West, and each has its own special character. Nevada is one of those special places where you can still get away from crowds in vast unspoiled landscapes. Whether your passion is hunting for big game, pursuing upland birds, or fishing, the only way we’re going to protect the Western way of life is to get involved, stay informed and speak out – and then get out and enjoy our Western public lands.”

- TRCP’s Nevada Field Representative, Eric Petlock.

If we want to continue chasing big bull elk, mule deer, antelope and bighorn sheep in the West we must take action and get involved – and work together to conserve areas of core habitat key to the fish and wildlife we cherish. The more habitat we lose the more hunting and angling opportunity we will lose.

Learn more about the TRCP’s efforts to ensure backcountry conservation.

Public Lands Yield Iconic Game and Pristine Backcountry

This past August, I had the opportunity to hunt deer with archery equipment in central Nevada. This would be my first Nevada mule deer tag and I was able to hunt in a pristine backcountry area with abundant deer and little hunting pressure. I was blessed to have the opportunity to hunt this iconic animal in such a spectacular setting.

One reason Nevada consistently provides outstanding opportunities for hunting and fishing are the large areas of intact and undeveloped backcountry on Bureau of Land Management lands. Most people don’t realize it, but just over 86 percent of the land in Nevada is public land. It is these large intact areas of backcountry land that provide the core habitat that gives us some of the finest big game hunting in the West where trophy mule deer, elk, antelope and bighorn sheep are taken every season.

Large intact areas of backcountry land provide the core habitat that gives us some of the finest big game hunting in the West. Photo by Dusan Smetana.

Unfortunately, throughout the West some of our best public lands are threatened by a massive wave of new energy development and deteriorating habitat conditions. Here in Nevada, poorly planned wind energy projects and transmission lines could threaten to further fragment prime fish and wildlife habitat. In other parts of the West, oil and gas developments are being proposed in some of the best remaining big game habitat.

As development pressures continue to grow, the TRCP and partners are working to maintain the high quality fish and wildlife values of our public lands. Western hunters and anglers are working through local land use plans in Colorado, Nevada and Oregon to conserve intact fish and wildlife habitat and are calling on the BLM to manage high value areas as backcountry conservation areas or BCAs.

BCAs would provide BLM land managers with clear guidelines that would help conserve our best wildlife habitat while protecting public access and at the same time would allow common-sense activities to restore habitat and honor existing rights like ranching.

Learn how you can help conserve backcountry and hunting and fishing heritage today.

Video: Backcountry and Big-Game Conservation in the Coronado National Forest

In early 2012, the TRCP joined forces with Bass Pro Shops and Steven Rinella of the hit TV show “MeatEater” to produce a video series highlighting conservation issues key to our fish, wildlife and hunting and angling traditions. Each episode of “TRCP’s Conservation Field Notes” follows Rinella to far-flung destinations where he talks about critical conservation issues related to the hunts and regions featured on “MeatEater.”

In this episode, Steven discusses the importance of backcountry roadless areas in securing valuable habitat for species like Coues deer in the Coronado National Forest.

  • While ensuring access to existing roads is important, building new roads can result in reduced cover for big game, leading to shorter hunting seasons and decreased hunter opportunity. Too many roads also can diminish the quality of fish spawning habitat, curtailing angler opportunity.
  • The 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule ensures that backcountry areas will continue to provide unfragmented habitat for big game, clean water for wild trout and places where sportsmen can escape crowds and pursue their quarries in solitude.