Chukar Hunting Gets Better as Winter Hits

Chukar tracks are easy to spot in the snow.
Chukar tracks are easy to spot in the snow.
The birds stay in a smaller area, making it easier to find them Falling snow is good news for chukar hunters. Once snow starts to fall, chukars—which roam over a large area during the warmer months—concentrate in smaller areas. That makes it easier to find the birds.

Chukar partridge also live in some of Utah’s driest country. That’s another reason why they’re a great bird to hunt in the winter. You won’t have to worry as much about getting your vehicle stuck in snow, or hiking through deep snow, like you might while participating in other hunts in the winter. Colder weather also makes hiking less strenuous. And rattlesnakes are hibernating now, so you don’t need to be concerned about them either.

“In my opinion,” says Jason Robinson, upland game coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, “winter is the best time of the year to hunt chukars.”

Robinson says another advantage to hunting chukar in the winter—or anytime during the season—is the tasty meal the birds provide. “Chukar are the best-tasting game bird in Utah,” he says.

Be aware, though—to put a tasty meal on your table, you’ll have to earn it.

Another thing you can earn is a coin for completing the state’s “Blister Slam.” The slam is one of six upland game slams in Utah. You can learn more about Utah’s Upland Game Slam at

Great season so far

This winter should be one of the best winters ever to get out and hunt chukars in Utah. Hunting success this season has been well above average. “Hunters are reporting great success this season,” Robinson says. “They’re seeing more coveys of birds. And many of the coveys have good numbers of birds in them.”

The state’s chukar hunt runs until Feb. 15.

More information about where to find chukars in Utah is available on page 36 of the 2016 – 2017 Utah Upland Game & Turkey Guidebook. You can get the free guidebook at

Find the right spot

Before hiking up a hill to find chukars, you can save yourself time and energy by getting familiar with the landscape chukars live in. Robinson says chukars need three things: Cliffs for roosting, shrubby cover near the cliffs, and seeds and grasses to eat.

In Utah, this habitat is usually found just below ridgelines at about 4,000 to 6,000 feet in elevation. As you scout these areas, looks for steep slopes because the terrain you’ll find chukars in is steep—very steep.

To make the most of your energy supply, Robinson suggests hiking up to a ridgeline, and then walking along the ridgeline and then down from the ridge.

Chukars run uphill to escape hunters. And they flush downhill when spooked. For these reasons, getting above the birds will give you a big advantage. “There can be a lot of walking involved,” he says, “but it’s a great way to stay in shape through the winter.”

Robinson suggests waiting until midmorning before heading out. Giving the sun time to soften and melt the snow can make it easier to navigate the steep terrain chukars live in. “When the ground is frozen,” he says, “walking in this terrain is like trying to walk on a Slip’N Slide.”

There is an advantage to being out at first light, though. “The birds usually feed early in the 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.”

Focus on food

During the early part of the season, chukar spend a lot of time hiding from birds of prey that are migrating through Utah. Now that these predators have moved through the state, the birds are free to spend more time finding seeds and grasses to eat.

Unlike many upland game birds, chukars are not restricted to pockets of habitat that have stands of trees in them, so their habitat is expansive. In the winter, though, snow reduces the amount of area in which the birds can find food. Robinson says in the winter, you should look for chukar on south-facing slopes. The snow on slopes that face south melts faster. As the snow melts, grasses green up for the chukars to eat.

“That’s one of the big advantages to hunting chukars in the winter,” Robinson says. “Because the north-facing slopes have snow on them, the snow essentially cuts in half the areas where you’ll find birds.”

Use the right gear

To hunt chukars, you have to hike up steep slopes. Make sure the boots you’re wearing provide good traction and ankle support. Robinson also suggests wearing your clothes in layers. Wearing layers allows you to remove a layer if you get hot while hiking. Then, if your hike brings you to a cold and windy ridgeline, you can put that layer on again.

Shots at chukars often come at fairly long ranges. Robinson suggests using a 12- to 28-gauge shotgun, with a modified choke, shooting shot shells loaded with 4 or 5 shot.

Bringing a trained hunting dog with you can also be a great idea. Trained dogs will help you locate the chukars. And they can retrieve the birds you shoot. “That will save you from having to hike down steep slopes to find birds on your own,” Robinson says.

Another Great Chukar Hunt

General season opens Sept. 24 image-1

After 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

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 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

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.


Captures – 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:

David Dahlgren, PhD Assistant Professor Wildlife and Rangeland Habitat Utah State University 5230 Old Main Hill Logan UT, 84322-5230 435-881-1910

2016-2017 Upland Game Slam

Use this new website to get involved in the upland slam and to share with others. Those who participate in the upland slam program can be rewarded at our annual banquets. Each upland slam token earned for the 2016-2017 season may be presented to a board member at the banquet to receive 3 free raffle tickets per token earned. Anyone earning all 5 tokens will also receive a free custom made plaque to hold their tokens, contact Travis Proctor ( to get the plaque. Additionally, any person who accomplishes the entire Utah Upland Game Ultimate Slam may contact Travis Proctor ( to receive a free banquet dinner.
These incentives will be offered in future years as well, so if you didn't participate this year you can always participate next year. Remember all money earned from upland slam participation goes directly toward upland game projects in Utah. It is great way to support upland game in Utah. Thanks, Travis

Attention Ptarmigan Hunters

All: UDWR is conducting a white-tailed ptarmigan genetics study and we are asking for hunters help. Could you please help us get the word out to hunters that might be interested in helping UDWR collect genetic samples of legally harvested white-tailed ptarmigan in Utah? Click on the following link which has a flyer with all the information. Hunter help collecting ptarmigan 2016 We are hoping to get a good selection of samples.  Ptarmigan are very hard to find and hunting them is very difficult.  UDWR can use some help . Please contact Jason if you have any questions.
Jason D. Robinson
Upland Game Program Coordinator
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
1594 West North Temple
Salt Lake City, Utah 84114
(801) 538-4786

New Web Design

Welcome to the new and improved Utah Chukar & Wildlife web page. We were experience some issues with the old site and needed to upgrade to a new Content Manager which allows us an easier way to update information and display content that is most important to those who access the site. All information that is currently sent via email will now also be included as a post and will be visible on the home page. This will allow you to easily keep abreast with UCWF projects and activities. Since it is a new design, please let me know if there is any issues or mistakes that might have been missed. I hope you like it. Thanks, Alan Smith

Parker Mountain Sage-grouse Flush Counts July 29-30, 2016

UCWF members have been coming to Parker Mountain the last weekend in July since 2004.  We will again hold our annual flush counts this year (2016) July 29-30 (Fri and Sat).  We have multiple experimental plots where we try to keep track of sage-grouse use. Bird dogs are a great asset to this end.  Folks usually run dogs any time while down there, however, on Saturday morning we will run dogs all together in experimental plots.  I need as many volunteers as possible. If you are running dogs outside of the Saturday morning period we still need to keep track of the number of birds, classification (age, sex, etc.), and the location. I will have multiple transects across the mountain that could be run at any time and we can download them to your GPS unit. UCWF will provide dinner on Friday night around 7pm as we have done in the past.  Otherwise food and water (bring plenty of water) is up to you.  Camping conditions are primitive with no water or toilets, though some have brought camper trailers in the past.  I will be down there the entire week (Monday-Saturday) for those that would like to come early please let me know.  I would appreciate an RSVP so UCWF can plan food accordingly, please e-mail me at If you have already contacted me via email or Facebook don’t worry about RSVPs unless you need to back out. We will be camped in our usual spot just west of Red Knoll.  See map below.  Hope to see you there. Dave Dahlgren Parker Campground-New