Another Great Chukar Hunt

General season opens Sept. 24 image-1After flying in helicopters over two areas in Utah’s West Desert, Divis ion of Wildlife Resources biologists have some exciting—and unusual—news to report: the number of chukar partridge in north-central Tooele County is close to a record high. And the number in central Box Elder County is the highest since surveys started there in 2009. OK, it’s easy to see why that news is exciting. But why is it unusual? Jason Robinson, upland game coordinator for the DWR, says the number of chukars in Utah usually spikes every eight years. The year following a spike, chukar numbers usually plummet. In north-central Tooele County, biologists counted 101 chukars per square mile in 2015. That was second highest count on record. During a survey on Aug. 26, 2016, they counted 95 chukars per square mile. That’s the fourth highest on record. In central Box Elder County, chukar numbers actually climbed from 2015. In 2015, biologists spotted 26 chukars per square mile. During a survey on Aug. 23, 2016, they counted a record high for the county: 34 chukars per square mile. Robinson isn’t certain why chukar populations didn’t follow their normal pattern of crashing a year after spiking. He thinks, though, that the weather might be a factor. He says weather conditions for chukars have been ideal over the past nine months. The ideal conditions started last winter, when plenty of snow fell early in the season. (Good snowfall is critical to providing birds with green vegetation and insects months later.) Then, in late winter, the snow stopped falling and temperatures warmed. Those conditions allowed plenty of adult birds to survive the toughest time of the year. Next, lots of rain fell during the spring. The abundant moisture, combined with the moisture received earlier in the winter, gave newly hatched chicks lots of green vegetation and insects to eat. Robinson says flying surveys in Tooele and Box Elder counties give biologists, hunters and birdwatchers a great picture of how chukars are doing across the West Desert. “The West Desert has the best chukar habitat in Utah,” he says. Reports from DWR biologists in other areas of the state indicate chukars are doing well in those areas too. Even though chukar numbers are high, Robinson says taking these tough, challenging birds requires skill, effort and determination, even in great years like this one. “Whatever the specific reasons,” he says, “chukars in Utah are doing really well this year. This should be a great season to get into chukar country and pursue this unique and tasty bird.” In addition to the chukar hunt, the gray partridge hunt also opens on Sept. 24. Gray partridge are found mostly on or near agricultural land in Box Elder County. Robinson says gray partridge numbers are up slightly from last year. Those 17 years of age and younger can hunt chukar and gray partridge Sept. 17, 18 and 19, during Utah's annual youth partridge hunt. After Sept. 19, the hunts will close until Sept. 24 when Utah's general partridge hunt, for hunters of all ages, opens up. Finding chukars Finding chukars is the first step to bagging some birds. Robinson provides the following tips: Tip 1 - See the distribution map on page 36 of the 2016 – 2017 Utah Upland Game and Turkey Guidebook. The map will show you where chukar habitat is found in Utah. The free guidebook is available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks. Robinson says Tooele, Juab and Millard counties have the highest concentration of birds in the state. "The state's best chukar habitat is found in the rocky, desert areas west of Interstate 15," he says. Other areas in Utah do hold plenty of birds, though. Robinson says the Book Cliffs in eastern Utah, and rocky river corridors in southern Utah, are some of the best. "And every year, hunters do take birds in the rocky foothills along the Wasatch Front," he says. Tip 2 - After arriving in an area that might have chukars in it, focus your efforts on steep, rocky slopes that have cheatgrass, bunch grass or sagebrush on them. These rugged, cheatgrass-covered slopes provide ideal habitat for the birds. Tip 3 - Because chukars are very vocal, early morning is the perfect time to hunt them. "The birds feed mostly in the early morning," Robinson says. "If you listen closely, they'll often tip you off to their location." Robinson says chukars live in coveys that typically number between five to 30 birds. "When the covey is feeding," he says, "it always posts a sentry. The sentry sits on a rock that provides it with a good view of the surrounding area. If the bird sees you, it will call out to alert the other birds. There's a flip side to that, though: the sentry's calling will alert you that a covey of chukars is in the area." Tip 4 - Finding a water source is a good idea, but chukars aren’t completely reliant on water, even early in the season. A good idea, early in the season, is to hunt the steep slopes that are above a water source. "As the season progresses," Robinson says, "water becomes less important to chukars. Hunting near a water source isn't as important later in the season." Tip 5 - When winter arrives, hunt slopes that face south. "The sun beats on these south-facing slopes in the winter," he says. "That warms the rocks, melts the snow and attracts the chukars." Hunting chukars After finding some birds, remember that chukars almost always run uphill to escape danger. "You can't outrun them," Robinson says, "so don't try to chase the birds up the slope." Instead, try to cut off the birds' escape route by circling around the birds and getting above them. Then, hunt down the slope towards them. "If you get above the birds," he says, "they'll usually stay where they are until you get close enough to shoot at them." When chukars flush, they almost always fly straight out from the slope before hooking to the left or the right. "Get your shots off while the birds are still in range," he says. After hooking to the left or right, any bird that isn't bagged will typically fly into a group of rocks, into sagebrush or into bunch grasses. If you watch where the birds land, you'll often have a chance for another shot. Robinson says dogs aren't needed to hunt chukars. "But having a dog is very helpful," he says, "both in finding birds and retrieving the birds you hit." Reminders Because of the steep, rough areas where chukars live, it's important to be in good physical shape. When you go afield, make sure you wear sturdy boots that provide your ankles with plenty of support. "It's also important to carry plenty of water," Robinson says, "especially during the early part of the season." Five reasons to hunt upland game If you're not currently hunting upland game in Utah, Robinson provides five reasons to consider giving it a try. You can read his list at www.wildlife.utah.gov/blog/2015/top-5-reasons-to-hunt-upland-game-in-utah. Upland Game Slam If you'd like to add some fun to your hunt, consider participating in Utah's Upland Game Slam. One of the slams—the Blister Slam—will reward you for taking a five chukar limit in a single day. You can learn more about the Upland Game Slam at www.uplandgameslam.org.

USU Forest Grouse Project Update – Sept 2016

It’s time for an update on the Utah State University Forest Grouse Research Project in the Bear River Range, USFS Logan Ranger District. We have been busy catching and marking grouse, following broods, completing vegetation surveys, and assessing utilization distribution within pastures used by grouse. imageCaptures – We have captured 35 grouse since July 1, 2016 bringing our project total to 70 marked (banded and/or radio). We have captured 57 dusky grouse with all 14 GPS PTT radios currently deployed and 18 with VHF radios. The rest of the dusky grouse were banded and most were juveniles too small to be radio-marked. We caught 32 female and 25 male dusky grouse. All 13 ruffed grouse were banded and released. We have been able to follow several dusky grouse broods during mid to late summer. Our project goal is to have at least 100 grouse marked, and it seems we will exceed this goal during our next field season. We have only experience a few natural mortalities this summer and survival of radio-marked birds has been high. We have experienced a few capture myopathies and have adjusted our methods accordingly. Vegetation Surveys – we were able to complete only one survey of vegetation for a dusky grouse nest. With our much larger sample of marked females next spring we should get a much larger sample of nests for dusky grouse. We have completed vegetation surveys for all broods at least once per week as broods have become part of our sample. We have also completed vegetation surveys on dusky grouse males and females without broods based on opportunity. Utilization Distribution – we have created a systematic grid of points across pastures that grouse have been using. At each point we have estimated utilization of grasses and will use this data to extrapolate a layer of the degree of utilization within our pastures. Utilization consists of both livestock and wildlife grazing and we desire to understand the impact, if any, this is having on habitat selection by dusky grouse. GPS PTT Radios – we have had some difficulty with some of our solar powered GPS radios keeping enough charge to send location information through the satellite system. Most of these issues have occurred with males following the breeding season. We have continued to receive Doppler locations (huge location error rates) which indicates all these birds are still alive and moving, but not getting GPS fixes. This is concerning and we are checking with the manufacturer to better understand the issue. We cannot tell if the shaded nature of their habitat is causing the issue or if birds have covered part of all of the solar panel by preening their feathers, or if there is some inherent problem with the units. We hope to get this problem resolved soon. Other units have performed remarkably well and continue to provide lots of location data. Wing Barrels - we were able to get all our wing barrels out prior to the season opener on Sept. 1. We have started collecting wings already. We appreciate the cooperation with USFS in putting these barrels on their property. We hope hunters will return any banded birds that get harvested. We also hope no one shoots a $4000 GPS PTT, but I'm sure it will happen at some point. img_1462We would like to acknowledge our graduate student, Skyler Farnsworth, who has put in a Yeoman’s effort this last year to get this project up and running and as successful as it has been. We also thank the technicians who have spent countless hours working on the project: Kade Lazenby, Kyle Hawk, and Zack Slick. Stephen Lytle and Justin Brimhall have also put time into the project as technician support. img_20160803_104625913We also had the privilege of Dr. Dwayne Elmore from Oklahoma State University come and join us for a week of field work in early August. We were able to catch a few grouse with him. If you are wondering why an Oklahoma State Univ. professor would be interested in a dusky grouse project you need to understand Dwayne has a history here in Utah having completed his doctorate here at USU. Dwayne became deeply interested in dusky grouse at that time and when he learned of this research project he became involved. Dwayne is also the Bollenbach Chair (Bollenbach's funded the position to improve and support upland game research and management) in Wildlife Biology in his department. Here is a video of capturing a dusky grouse with a noose pole: https://youtu.be/ON2xbqn6LZk David Dahlgren, PhD Assistant Professor Wildlife and Rangeland Habitat Utah State University 5230 Old Main Hill Logan UT, 84322-5230 435-881-1910 dave.dahlgren@usu.edu