Hunting Chukar Game Birds in Utah
The chukar partridge, or simply chukar, is a common game bird found throughout the American West. It has a large, plump torso that is typically a light, sandy grey color with a disproportionately small chicken-like head. Making the bird instantly recognizable is the thick black band wrapping around the eyes and down the neck along with a bright red beak. The wings are broad and rounded when in mid-flight and have a distinctive black and white vertically striped pattern the length of the wing. They can grow up to 14 inches in length and weight between 1-1.5 lbs. Females are slightly smaller in stature and length but otherwise a similar outward appearance.
Originally from the Eurasia region, Chukars were first brought to North American in the early 1800’s. They have thrived in the eco-systems west of the Rockies and can be found from Canada extending down to Mexico. Able to adapt well, Chukars have taken well to other environments. It was introduced to the Middle East, India, and New Zealand. Chukars, which fall within the pheasant family, are ground-dwelling birds that much rather walk than run or fly. They are usually found in steep and rocky grass or scrublands.
During the non-breeding season, Chukars can be found in coveys that range in number from 10-50. They make a distinctive sound like chukar, chukar, chukar, of course, giving the bird its name. Several manufacturers make the bird calls that can mimic the chukar’s rally call at a number of pitches. Once startled on the ground they are known to take flight quickly and can even remain in flight long distances after being hit with a pellet. It’s a good idea to have a big-running pointing dog to do most of the retrieving.
You will typically shoot from a distance of 30-40 yards from a covey. A 12-gauge double gun is best loaded with No. 6 shots. Many upland bird enthusiast prefer the lighter 20 or 16 gauge. Given the high altitude and rugged terrain that the chukar inhabits, this may be a preferable option. The 2 3/4 inch shells give you a large number of projectiles with roughly a 35-yard kill zone. A heavier load of copper or nickel-plated No.6’s is usually preferred by hunters stating this is best for a clean kill. They have also been shown to be the best penetration rate for pellets and distance without mangling the meat.
When tracking, it’s best to always remember an old chukar adage:
Chukar birds always run uphill and fly downhill
During the opening weeks of upland hunting season when the weather is hot and dry, chukars will concentrate around the few remaining watering holes during that time of year. The birds are fast on foot and evasive. They will shoot up to a peak or ridgeline with ease or swoop downhill picking up speed on the descent. This is where the wide pellet shot radius is of great help but quickness is still a must.
Mid-season will bring rains and the birds will disperse across a long range of areas. It is a good idea at this time to search the thin-grass or cheatgrass feeding areas. Always listen for the rally call, it is a dead giveaway and will ensure a successful hunt.