Sometimes I get a little hunting done with my own dogs. Wild birds are few and far between but we do have a good Chukar population in Utah. The terrain that they prefer is steep and rocky and you better have some good hiking boots. One of the things I like about Chukar hunting terrain is that it really can’t be done from a truck or ATV. This helps to keep the sport fairly pure as the “limit hunters” feel its too much work for a full bag of chukars. If you run into any fellow chukar hunters in Utah they usually have some nice pointing dogs along side.
Chukar hunting is also nice to stretch your dogs range a bit. The objectives are not so obvious as a ditch bank or fence row as when pheasant hunting for example. The terrain all looks the same in chukar territory. Rocks and rock slides, lots of sage brush and some assorted grasses. The lack of objectives forces your dog to use their nose more than their brain at times. It is really a joy to watch supposed close-working dogs stretch out and run big to cover the terrain. Lizzy is pictured above checking in.
The daunting thing about chukar hunting is that you often find the covey at the top of a steep hillside or outcrop. Typically you only get one or two shots when they flush and fly fast to the very bottom of the hill you just painstakingly climbed. You are left with no other choice but to follow and hike back to the bottom for another chance to shoot. This process seems to be repeated over and over. Up and down, up and down until your feet are blistered and/or you finally give up until the next time. That is Utah chukar hunting.
Today I got to spend a few hours hunting chukar with my 10 month old Brittany pup Annie. I was very pleased with her drive and her ability to cover a lot of ground in a very thorough manner. She hunted close to me and checked back at just the right times. I was also pleased with her loyalty to me as we hunted four dogs between three hunters. Some of the other dogs tended to wander too far with no thought about where their handler was. Annie was a perfect role model in that regard. Aside from a few run-ins with jack rabbits she did splendid.
Annie has spent the last 8 months with my friend and hunting dog trainer Chris Colt at Cove Mountain Kennels. I am thrilled with her progress and can honestly recommend Chris Colt to anyone in search of a good dog trainer. Annie was nearly perfect today as far as obedience goes and performed well at heel, come, sit and kennel commands. Chris was a little concerned that Annie would not respond to my commands as she has spent so much time under Chris’ tutelage. A few more hunting trips with her and I think the bond will be easily renewed between us.
We hiked about two miles through rough terrain filled with lava rock, cactus, sage bruch and steep slopes. We thought we had been skunked and I unloaded my gun as we neared the end of our hike. It wasn’t 2 minutes later that the dogs flushed a small covey of 20 chukar. Needless to say, none of us were prepared for the flush and neither of us got a shot off. We gave chase and eventually got a little shooting in but only ended up killing one bird between the three hunters. Chris was the lucky shooter to down the lone chukar. I went home happy but tired after a great afternoon away from the office.
Part of the joys of living in the west is dealing with things like cactus needles. When I took the dogs for a run the other night Abby came back covered in cactus needles. It wouldn’t have happened if she would have just stayed on the dirt road with me. But, how to you tell a hunting dog not to hunt? I try to let them roam free on our runs in the hills, chasing jackrabbits and tweety birds. So I got to spend the next 15-20 minutes pulling cactus needles out of Jake and Abby’s legs. Abby had them far worse than Jake covering the front of each of her four legs. I pulled one very large needle from her front paw and immediately blood began to spurt in short rhythmic pulses. It was messy for a moment until Abby licked it and the bleeding stopped.
The funny thing was that neither of my dogs seemed to care that they were covered in cactus needles. They didn’t even seem to notice, no limping, licking or anything. I was pretty sure it was at least a little uncomfortable so I did my best to remove every last needle. The smaller ones were left because I found it impossible to remove the furry little clusters. When I checked both of the dogs the next morning, I couldn’t even find a single trace. In general, I think dogs are pretty good at taking care of things themsleves. After all, they aren’t really that far removed from the wild days of only the strong survive.
This week I released the chukars into the bigger grow-out pen where they will spend the next few weeks. They are learning to use the big waterers and are starting to fly in earnest. The heaters are only used at night now and will be turned off completely by the weekend. At 6 weeks we will put blinders on them and move 400 of them to the big outdoor flight pens at Rooster Valley Pheasants.
I’ve decided to go ahead and raise 500 chukar partridge chicks this Summer. This will be a partnership with my friend Russ Peterson who runs a Utah Pheasant Hunting Club. He usually raises around 5000 ringneck pheasants each year for use on his pheasant preserve. He says a lot of his clients have requested the chance to hunt both pheasant and chukar. In May I will go with Russ to the hatchery to pick up the day old pheasant and chukar chicks. I have a bit of work to do to get the barn ready for the chukars. I am going to sectioin off one end of my bird barn for the chukars. I can use the existing insulated brooder rooms to get them through the first few weeks of life. After their feathers grow in good I will move them to the big flight pen. I am researching the possibilites of raising some quail also.