Open for Business

It is early, and we are feeling it.

It’s on. Unusually cool weather for the opening weekend of chukar season made things more comfortable than normal, if “comfortable” is even legal to use in describing anything related to chukar hunting.

Waterdogs

We took the boat out on one of the many nearby reservoirs and found a spot that beckoned. I didn’t open with a triple on the first point as I did last year, but my shooting was better than normal; I’m not sure if it was superior focus, the bottled eagerness from having to wait 8 months to do this again, better positioning on the point (more on that below), unskilled elusive maneuvers by the young and unhunted birds, the new load I’m trying (more on that, below as well), or some of all of that. Or it could just be inexplicable. That would be fine. I like mystery.

The Aged Warrior of the Chukar Hills. 12+, going strong, kicking ass and taking names and chukar.

Leslie also made a nifty shot on a grouse-sized chukar, off of a swell point by Peat, the latter of whom chose to bypass Leslie and run over a ridge with the bird to bring it to me. I’m pleased he remembered our little chat about how I’d love it if he could help pad my stats this season: birds in the bag divided by shots fired = shooting percentage. Good boy!

Peat trying to pad my stats
Nifty, after a little reorganizing of the bag

Sunday we decided to try somewhere away from the water, and it held birds, too. I ended up with my first three-species bag of chukar, Hun, and quail. The wet spring and not-so-hot summer seemed to have been as easy on the birds as we’d hoped, and I was very pleased with the numbers of birds we saw in both places.

No birds in sight: notice the little things when you’re out there

This is not a complaint, because to do so would be stupid, but the percentage of first-year birds in my bag was very big and the birds were very small. Idaho did move the opener a week later this year (sort of), but in my humble opinion, even another two weeks would allow the birds to mature. I think Oregon’s season makes more sense than Idaho’s. But you don’t see me protesting by sitting out the first couple of weeks of our season. Not sure what to do with that.

Most of you probably already do this, but the last couple of seasons I’ve really been trying to make sure I’m below my dogs’ points by a good margin. If we’re climbing that’s obviously not that hard to do, aside from fighting gravity and the curse of aging cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems. But when working a ridge or draws, and the dogs move down and find birds, I try to go really wide and down below the dogs by at least 10 or 15 yards and then slowly (and quietly if possible) close the gap. This has yielded far easier shots at birds than when I didn’t do this: downhill, curling shots with dogs in the way are nearly impossible, at least for me (and please don’t suggest the solution is to train steady to wing; we’re not going to agree on that). Ironically, when I was younger I’d obsess about not losing elevation, even on a point, so I’d go straight down to a pointing dog, and — at least 75% of the time — miss. Giving up an additional 50 feet of elevation in exchange for more humane and makable shots is very much worth it in my book. And I’m spending less on shells as my shooting percentage improves simply because of positioning.

I’m actually not spending less on shells, but buying fewer, more expensive shells. I’ve always shot cheap, lead 1-1/8 oz. 7-1/2 shells, all season, for all birds. My improved cylinder choke also never leaves the gun (except maybe for turkey season). I’ve never claimed to be a ballistics expert, or even that well educated on the matter. I’ve just used what I thought worked for me. A lot of people have suggested that #6 would be better on chukar, so I decided finally to give it a shot, but the only #6 shells I had were steel duck loads, 1-1/8 oz. I’ve only given it two days, but they worked well for me, and I’m going to try this for a while. I’ve wanted to move away from lead if possible, mainly for environmental reasons (not interested in a debate on this, either), but just haven’t done it for whatever reason. I might not stick to it, but I’m happy with the results so far. I also haven’t really done my due diligence and done the patterning and balanced load tests that Joel Loftis, the author and shooting coach (stay tuned for a post very soon on his Chukar Hunter’s Wingshooting Guide, which will be available on our website), recommends; once I do that I might have a completely different take. Still, in two days with lots of shooting I basically doubled my shooting percentage over last year, despite not shooting clays once this summer or pre-season.

So there you have it: an excellent beginning to the long-awaited season. We saw more chukar hunters in boats than I ever remember seeing, and plenty more on and around the hills, which is a good thing if we want to keep this thing going and the public land it happens on accessible. May each of you get out there as much as possible, enjoy the pursuit and your (and your friends’) dogs, and remember that it’s not just about the birds!

Someone tell Peat it’s not just about the birds
Post-opener conference in Hells Canyon Beer/Chukar Culture pub with the legend Sam
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10 Replies to “Open for Business”

  1. If you really want an outstanding chukar round, try an ounce or so of #9 or (gasp) #10 tungsten, 18g per cc. The ballistic improvement over lead is staggering.

    1. Thanks, Pete. You’re the second person to recommend #9 shot. I can’t get past the idea that there’ll be a lot more pellets scattered through the birds, and also that the lethality isn’t adequate past 30 yards… I do like the pellet count, though. 🙂

    2. 12 gauge, 1.5 ounces of lead #6 through a cylinder choke @1200 fps for chukars, huns, and pheasants. it’s like the hand of god smiting birds from the sky. & very few pellets to pick from the birds

  2. HOORAH!!!! After your post my heart rate will be bouncing up all day. Only about 552 hours till boots on the ground in Idaho cheat grass.

  3. I have watched your blog since early on and have found it entertaining, informative and sometimes thought provoking.

    There has, however, been one thing that has nagged over the years and this post brought it to the fore with the mention of triples. This in turn led me back to memories of some of your videos where if I’m not mistaken many shots were fired during a single flush. This is something that simply wouldn’t have been possible with a double gun or a shotgun in Washington with limited magazine capacity, both of which I think more satisfying and ethical.

    I’m curious to know where a semi-auto with significant magazine capacity fits in with your ethics of bird hunting.
    Dennis

    1. Hi Dennis, that’s an excellent question. In 20 years of chukar hunting, I’ve limited once (when Idaho’s limit was 6; now it’s back up to 8, which I’ve never gotten). I’ve used a pump (Rem 870, capable in Idaho of holding 5 shells), an over-under, and my current gun, a Benelli Ultra Light that holds 3 shells. Is three shots “significantly” more than 2? For chukar, when the “average” covey busts (if there’s such a thing), I’d say that at least half the time I only manage to get one shot off before they’re out of range. On downhill busts, I’ve found it’s almost impossible to get two high-percentage shots off; I’m sure some of our videos show me shooting 3 times on a flush, and maybe reloading and shooting again. Is that unethical? I’m not sure, but probably I’d go back to the number of birds I end up with after a hunt. With my 33% shooting percentage on chukar, I’d say what I’m doing doesn’t register in the red on my ethical scale. I know of several folks who use double-barreled guns who limit nearly every time (or so they say), and they hunt 4-5 times a week. To me, that’s far more “unethical” (even though it’s legal), simply because I can’t see wanting to harvest that many birds. In 2017, I bagged 32 chukar in 49 outings. Last year I bagged 28 in 43 hunts. One guy I know of here kills that many each week (and brags about it). Capacity’s one thing. Actualization’s another. I don’t think it’s the gun. Now, if I significantly increased my shooting percentage (which I’m trying to do) and luck (and physical conditioning to allow me to hunt all day instead of “just” 4 or 5 hours), and I were able to bag a limit more often than not (or even once), I might think differently. But I doubt that’ll happen. After my back issues last season, I’m glad I can still hike at all. I haven’t hunted as long as you have (I’m guessing), nor am I a biologist, but I will say that I’ve never — at least when it comes to chukar — felt I had an unfair advantage over them because of my choice of weapon, especially compared to other types of hunting (don’t even get me started on using dogs for bears and cats) or trapping. Does that answer your question?

      1. Bob, That’s a good answer to comments I’ve heard many times about what kind of shotgun is “ethical”, “sporting” or “satisfying”. I’m a longtime reader and first time poster. Here’s what I sometimes answer when people shooting doubles make those comments to me. First, some background. I have a couple doubles but they’re too good for me to take a chance on damaging when I’m chukar hunting. I beat up guns pretty bad in falls. I used an Ithaca Model 37 pump for 50+ years until I developed arthritis in my left wrist from pumping it thousands of times in skeet, trap, sporting clays, general practice and hunting. I finally had to change guns and now use a Bennelli Ultra Light for chukars. A few of my hunting buddies use doubles and used to tell me that those guns are more “ethical” and “sporting”. That started to end after I used my third shot a few times to down a bird they had wounded and was still flying, maybe never to be recovered or to die a slow painful death from gangrene. Naturally, I pointed that out to them. As for only having two shots being more “sporting or “satisfying; if “sporting” and “satisfying” is the goal a person should shoot a pump. Pumping between 2 shots takes a little longer and requires more skill that just pulling a trigger twice as with a double or semi-auto. Anyone can shoot a double or semi-auto twice. Even the best pump shooters sometimes “short pump”, especially when under pressure. Those are 2 reasons we rarely see a pump used in competition shooting. Accomplishing 2 shots with a pump is certainly more difficult and satisfying than just pulling a trigger twice with a double or semi. As for “sporting” being a goal or virtue; put only 2 shells in a pump and that is certainly more “sporting” than 2 shells in a double for the reasons I mentioned earlier. When I throw those answers at double shooters who try to use the “ethical”, “sporting” and “satisfying” arguments on me they don’t have any good answers because there aren’t any.
        As for small birds early in the season, my suggestion to F&G in their comment period this year when developing an upland bird management plan was to start the chukar, hun, quail season on the first Saturday in Oct. every year. That would also rotate the opening days through the week and decrease opener pressure. I also recommended steel shot only on the WMAs ( might as well start educating about lead vs steel) and “youth only” for the first two hours on Sat. and Sunday on WMAs during the pheasant planting season.
        Thanks for a ll the great reading you’ve provided me over the years.

  4. I live in Oregon and our opener is this Saturday and I can’t wait! Love reading your blog, but love soaking up the photography even more.

    I am curious if you have been more birds up high early in the season this year due to all the moisture we have received this September? In a few scouting trips I have been on this month, I have noticed a lot of green up happening already up on top, which usually doesn’t happen until later in the season. Would love to know what your experience has been this September.

    Thanks

    Brad

    1. Thanks for your comment, Brad. Yes, we have seen birds up high in some places, probably because of the greenup you mentioned. Unusual here this time of year. But we also haven’t been able to find birds in places — high or low — that they’ve been in most years, which is a bit of a puzzle. But isn’t it always? I don’t think I’d want it any other way, personally. Good luck this weekend. I’m sure you’ll have a blast!

Chirp away

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