Chukar partridge numbers are up in central Utah this fall.
Photo by Brent Stettler
Jason Robinson broke into a big grin as he flew over central Tooele County recently. Below him were the most chukar partridge seen by Division of Wildlife Resources biologists in the area since 2006.
"I think hunters will have a good chukar hunt in central Utah this fall," says Robinson, upland game coordinator for the DWR. "Conditions were good for chukars to nest and raise their chicks."
During a helicopter survey Robinson flew over the county on Sept. 12, he counted 46 chukars per square mile. That's more than double the 18 chukars per square mile biologists saw in the same area last year. And it's the highest number seen since 2006, when 97 chukars per square mile were counted.
Utah's chukar partridge and Hungarian partridge hunts start Sept. 29.
Based on what he saw during the survey, Robinson says Millard, Juab, Tooele and Utah counties should be chukar-hunting hotspots this season. Outside of those counties, the picture is a little different:
In southern Utah, hot weather in April and May made it difficult for hens to regulate their body temperature. And that made it difficult for them to incubate their eggs. Also, the hens had to leave their nests more often for water, which left the nests open to predators.
In northern Utah, it wasn't as hot in April and May, and most of the hens successfully hatched their eggs. Unfortunately, because the amount of rain received this spring was lower than normal, not as much green vegetation grew. Less green vegetation meant fewer insects for the chicks to eat. And that reduced the chicks' survival rate.
Robinson says he counted nine chukars per square mile during a helicopter survey he flew over Box Elder County on Sept. 10. "That's the lowest number of chukars we've counted in the area in the past three years," he says.
Robinson says fewer young chukars will be available in northern and southern Utah this year. But plenty of chukars are still available to hunt in those areas.
"There will still be plenty of birds to hunt," he says, "but they'll mostly be adult birds. These adult birds already 'know the game' and will often flush sooner than younger birds would."
You'll find chukars on steep, rocky slopes that are covered in cheatgrass and also have sagebrush, rabbit brush or other brush on them.
To find success, Robinson says you should hike to the top of the hill you're hunting, and then walk down the hill towards the birds.
If you try to hunt the birds on the way up the hill, the birds will outrun you and hide themselves in cover at the top of the hill. Robinson says for some reason, chukars don't run as much if they see you coming down the hill towards them. "If they see you coming down the hill," he says, "they'll usually hold tight and try to hide from you."
Chukars live in coveys that usually number between five to 20 birds. When one bird flushes, most of covey will flush with it. "Don't 'flock shoot' though," Robinson says. "Instead, focus on a single bird."
After the first birds flush, get ready-a few stragglers could fly up at any moment.
When chukars flush, they usually fly straight out and then turn right or left. "If you miss a bird when it flushes," Robinson says, "watch where it flies to. You can often go to that spot and flush the bird again."
When you arrive in an area, a good way to locate birds is to listen for their calls. Most coveys have a sentinel bird that stands on a rock and watches for hawks while the other birds feed. "The sentinel bird can be very vocal," Robinson says. "If you listen for its call, you'll know where a covey of birds is."
When you go afield for chukars, wear good, sturdy shoes. And if you take a dog, put boots on its feet to protect its paws from sharp cutting rocks. And make sure you take plenty of water, not only for yourself, but also for your dog.
Robinson says chukars are the most delicious game bird in Utah. "That's one of the major reasons I hunt them," he says.
A distribution map that shows where chukars are found in Utah is available on page 31 of the 2012-2013 Utah Upland Game and Turkey Guidebook.
The free guidebook is available at wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks
Unlike chukars, which live almost entirely on public land, Hungarian partridge live almost entirely on private land in Box Elder County.
Private land in Cache County also harbors some birds.
Fortunately, Utah's Walk-In Access program is opening more of this private land to public hunters.
"If you'd like to hunt Hungarian partridge," Robinson says, "I'd recommend trying one of the state's Walk-In Access areas. Several areas in Box Elder County have Hungarian partridge on them."
You can learn more about the Walk-In Access properties, and see which properties have Hungarian partridge, by visiting wildlife.utah.gov/walkinaccess/property_index.php
Once you arrive at the Web page, click on the properties under the Northern Region heading to see which ones have Hungarian partridge. Also, click on the map that's provided with each property to find the best partridge habitat on the property.
You can hunt on the WIA properties for free, but if you're 14 years of age or older, you must obtain a free WIA authorization number first. Numbers are available at wildlife.utah.gov/walkinaccess/authorization.php
When you hunt on a WIA property, make sure to sign in and sign out. And pick up your trash and the trash anyone else has left behind.
If you want to hunt on private land that isn't a WIA property, you must get written permission from the landowner. You can learn who owns land in the counties by visiting the Box Elder County Recorder's Office in Brigham City or the Cache County Recorder's Office in Logan.
Hun numbers down slightly
Robinson says Hungarian partridge populations don't fluctuate quite as much as chukar populations do. He says decent numbers of Huns should be available to hunt this year. "Many hunters have never hunted Hungarian partridge before," he says. "I'd encourage you to drive to Box Elder or Cache counties, and give it a try."
To find Huns in the two counties, Robinson says you should look for areas that are flat or that have slightly rolling hills. The areas should also have grass and shrubs on them. And they should be next to grain fields.
Because the agricultural areas Huns live on can be large, a trained dog is very helpful in finding birds.
Like chukars, Huns would rather run than fly. If you get close to them, though, they'll often hold tight.
"Just like chukars," Robinson says, "Huns live in coveys. When you flush one bird, you'll likely flush others too."
If your first shots miss, watch where the Huns fly to. "The birds will often hold even tighter the second time you approach them," he says. "That'll give you a good chance for another shot."
Robinson reminds you to respect the private property you're hunting on and to pick up your trash and any trash others have left behind. "And remember that you must be at least 600 feet from any dwelling or building before you can shoot," he says.