Wyoming Hunt for Chukars Provides New Experience…

Alan Charles Star Outdoors Columnist
Friday, January 15, 2021
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A Hungarian partridge and two chukars were bagged recently during a Wyoming upland bird hunt. SUBMITTED PHOTO/Alan Charles

Upland bird hunting season in Montana ends on January 1 each year. My golden retriever, Teal, and I spent the last day of the season hunting pheasants along the Yellowstone River. Our hunt ended when Teal flushed a longtailed old rooster that rocketed up through the tangled branches of towering cottonwoods and Russian olive trees. “That’s enough,” I told him. “That’s a perfect way to end what has been a great season.”

So we spent the next day down at the cabin, me cleaning guns, sorting shells, and putting away the upland bird hunting gear, while Teal spent most of his time curled on his bear rug beside a roaring fire. I’d stop what I was doing every once in awhile, just to look at my old dog. Teal will turn twelve in March, and while he is still healthy and strong, we don’t hunt nearly as hard as we used to. At this age, a person starts wondering just how many seasons might be left.

You know how it is with old dogs. Sometimes, when they sleep, their feet twitch as if they are running, and sometimes, they yip and yodel. Who knows what they dream about? Maybe chasing a pheasant, or retrieving a duck. Maybe they are just thinking about that poodle down the street. Come to think of it, maybe that is what old hunters do…Fall asleep in a favorite chair, and twitch and yip and yodel a bit. Who knows what THEY may be thinking about?

When I’d finished putting away the bird hunting gear, I hiked back up to the house. The phone rang, and a voice on the other end said, “Hey, Alan, it’s John, here in Wyoming. Why don’t you and Teal come down to hunt chukars with me for a couple of days?”

And, just like that, we had a bonus opportunity to extend our upland bird hunting season. It did not take long to unpack all the gear I had put away, and next day, we headed south in the Gypsy Camp, ready to try a new hunting experience.

Chukars, also called red legged partridge, are colorful upland birds first introduced to North America from Pakistan in 1893. They are only found in several western states, including Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and California. A small Montana population is found in southern Bighorn County. They typically inhabit very steep, rocky country, and I gave up thinking I could hunt chukars about the time I quit applying for mountain goat permits. My body just is not designed to run up and down steep mountains. But…I had to give it a try.

I drove west to Laurel, then south to Bridger, and kept going south on 310, the Wyoming Medal of Honor highway. We crossed the Clark’s Fork, Rock Creek, Grey Bull, and Shoshone rivers, passing through moonscape country near Lovell (5” annual precipitation), and dropped into the Bighorn Basin, approximately 10,000 square miles of mostly public land, dominated by Wyoming sage, greasewood, and rabbitbrush. The Basin is surrounded by mountains, the Bighorn, Pryor, Absaroka, Owl Creek, and Wind River ranges.

My friend, John, is tall and lanky. I am not. His dog, Simba, is a Drahtar, a wide-ranging pointer. Teal is a retriever trained to hunt close. The country was steep, rocky, and slick, much of it covered with four inches of fresh snow. Our debut hunt found us hiking for four hours up and down two miles of what John called a “draw,” and I called a “canyon.”

Over the next several days, we found a few birds, and covered a lot of country. We hunted high, in heavy fog, snow, and rain, and hunted lower, always seeking steep slopes with rocky outcroppings. We flushed lots of Hungarian partridges (also legal), and a few chukars. At the end of our last hike, I sat with Teal on top of a ridge, marveling at just how big and rough and endless this Bighorn Basin seemed to be. “Another memory,” I told my old dog. “We got in a bonus hunt. Now, it is time to go home and put away all the bird hunting gear. Again.”

(Alan Charles is a local outdoors columnist.)