November 01, 2022
It's the last best public-land hunt in the West, where a hunter can walk for miles in pursuit of the Himalayan import we call the chukar. Experienced chukar hunters are already thinking about it. You have your eyes on November, December and January because you study these birds and you know some of the best hunting for the prepared, well-informed wingshooter happens in the late season.
We've pre-scouted. We’ve called biologists and outfitters. We’ve looked at the weather charts. Harvest trends are up in some places and down in others. Without further ado, here are our top picks for the West’s best chukar hunting in 2022 and early 2023.
"Last winter was pretty mild, with no concerns toward over-winter survival," says Mikal Cline, an enthusiastic chukar hunter and Oregon’s upland bird biologist. Chukar habitat was accessible through January, and that translated to a lot of hunters going to the places they couldn’t get to the season before. Then Oregon was soaked with "a winter's worth of precipitation in April," according to Cline. Moving into early May, conditions continued cold and wet with more typical May weather.
Cline reports Harney and Malheur counties in southeast Oregon produced more birds per hunter than other parts of the state, with a better harvest than expected. "We knew the Snake River-Baker-Brownlee area was going to produce. Overall it was a solid year," he says. "Chukar harvest picks up later in the season, and last year we had more harvest in January than in December."
One area that did not live up to its potential last year was central Oregon's Deschutes and John Day river canyons. Oregon's biggest fire last summer was the 413,000-acre Bootleg, which burned in the Fremont-Winema National Forest. Plans are underway to reseed some areas for wildlife. The bag limit is eight chukars or Hungarian partridge, with a possession limit of 24.
Washington's Asotin County is tops for chukar production. Chelan is number two. Yakima and Kittitas are next on the list with high numbers. Other top producers are Okanogan (also good for grouse) and Douglas counties.
Sarah Garrison, the state's small-game specialist based in Olympia, says the region experienced an overall mild winter, followed by good spring rains. Several large fires burned in eastern Washington last year, which is not necessarily bad for chukars. "Chukar hunters can benefit from last year's fires if they can get into those places," Garrison says.
For the best access and continuous chukar habitat, look to Chelan County, from the Colockum Wildlife Area south of Wenatchee all the way to the Okanagon County border and north to Chelan Butte Wildlife Area. Chukars can be found, too, in the breaks on the east side of the Columbia River, in Douglas County, but there is a higher percentage of private land.
The season runs from early October through the middle of January. The bag limit is six chukars and six gray partridge, with 12 of each species in possession.
Idaho's best chukar habitat can be found in the Clearwater, Magic Valley and Southwest regions. Starting in the Southwest region, a quick look at a map shows how some of Idaho’s best chukar hunting lines up with some of Oregon’s best chukar country. Chukar numbers were good in the Snake River and Owyhee areas in the 2021-2022 season, and we expect that trend to continue this fall.
Much of the Clearwater Region is only accessible by foot, boat or horseback. The breaks of the Salmon River and the Clearwater can hold a lot of birds, which are able to escape harsh winters by descending all the way to the banks of the big rivers, where temperatures can be moderate. In the Magic Valley Region, check out canyon lands south of Boise to south of Twin Falls.
Overall, chukar numbers should be stable from west-central to east-central Idaho. The western part of the state offers the best chance for a mixed bag with Huns and quail. Chukar season opens Sept. 17 and runs through Jan. 31, 2023. The daily limit is eight chukars and eight gray partridge, with a possession limit of 24 of each species.
Chukar are found throughout Nevada’s northern mountains and as far south as Tonopah and Las Vegas. Seventy percent of the chukar harvest comes from the Western Region. Look to the hills around Winnemucca (Humboldt County) for some of the state’s best hunting. Washoe, Pershing, Churchill and Storey counties can also produce high harvest and hunter success rates depending on the weather in the nesting season in May and June.
The Tamarack Fire burned 68,696 acres in Nevada and California. Combining resources from Nevada Bighorns Unlimited, Nevada Muleys, the Nevada Chukar Foundation and other partners, the Nevada Department of Wildlife is reseeding with 71,400 pounds of seed for grasses, flowers and shrubs across more than 8,000 acres of the burn in Douglas County. In the absence of reseeding, the cheatgrass comes in, which is good for chukars but bad for everything else.
Bird numbers have been trending up in Pershing County in units 041 and 042. Other bright spots include Elko County’s units 066 and 068. The season begins the second week of October. Nevada’s daily bag limit is six chukars or Hungarian partridge, and the possession limit is 18 birds.
Utah has been experiencing severe drought since 2018, which translates to limited chukar production. But chukars were made for hard times. Utah's best chukar numbers tend to come from the Central Region. Tooele County, home of the Cedar Mountains, kicks out the most birds, but Utah and Juab counties, featuring the Sevier River, are also chukar producers.
In the Northern Region, 13 percent of the average statewide harvest comes from Box Elder County. In the south, Millard and Sevier counties are the most productive. In the southeast, Emery and Carbon counties are the best bets.
The bag limit is five chukars with 15 in possession. Chukar season begins at the end of September and runs through mid-February. A map of chukar release areas can be found on Utah's upland hunting resources web page (wildlife.utah.gov).
Last winter didn't bring a heavy snow load, and temperatures remained mild overall. Early spring brought periodic rain and snow showers to grow the grass young birds need. The upper northwest corner of the state (Area 2) offers the best chukar hunting, including the west slope of the Bighorns in the Cody Region. Other good spots to set up base camp include Lander, Buffalo and the Powder River’s South Fork.
The Green River Region is on the fringe of ideal chukar habitat according to wildlife management coordinator Sean Yancey, but year to year, huntable chukar numbers can be found near Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Partridge season starts Sept. 15 and continues through January. The daily bag limit is five chukars or gray partridge, with 15 in possession.
Hard rains in May 2021 during nesting season, followed by severe drought in the summer and fall, hit upland birds hard in Colorado. But chukars are resilient and the winter of 2022 was mild.
Hit the slopes of the Colorado River and Gunnison River drainages below 6,600 feet of elevation. For walk-in hunting on private lands, visit the Walk-In Atlas page at cpw.state.co.us. Chukar season runs September through November. The daily bag limit is four, with 12 in possession.
GET OUT THERE
The best chukar hunting in the West is on public land, mostly managed by the Bureau of Land Management. It will likely never be developed or fenced off, and the roads will never be paved. Pack a map and compass, an extra box of ammo, throw in a bottle of water for the dog and start walking.
Great starting points for your next Western upland hunting adventure.
- Paisley, Oregon: Trust me, when you come off Abert Rim, you’re going to want a cheeseburger, and the best place in all of southeast Oregon to get one is the Pioneer Saloon and Restaurant in Paisley. Then, point the rig west to Summer Lake and The Lodge at Summer Lake. They cater to hunters and serve a great clam chowder.
- The Dalles, Oregon: Between the mouth of the Deschutes and the John Day rivers, The Dalles offers a great location with a full range of services. The best place for a chukar hunter to bend an elbow with a beer and pizza is Freebridge Brewing. For a great view of the Columbia River, check in at Celilo Inn.
- Cody, Wyoming: Trade your ballcap for a Stetson—this is cowboy country. There’s no shortage of places to grab a burger, but be sure to belly up to the bar at Buffalo Bill’s Irma Hotel. And don't miss the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, which features five museums, including the incredible Cody Firearms Museum.
- Riggins, Idaho: Riggins, they say, is a drinking town with a fishing problem. After a couple of days in your chukar boots, you’ll want a hot tub, and they have a good one at the Best Western Salmon Rapids Lodge (they’ll even loan you a swimsuit). For dinner, there are lots of options, but the River Rock Café is a personal favorite.
- Clarkston, Washington: Lewiston, Idaho, is on one side of the Snake River and Clarkston is on the other. The Quality Inn & Suites is my regular stop here. The best place for a burger is Roosters Waterfront, but I recommend the Attack Chicken Sandwich. You'll swear you can hear chukars across the river—unless the band is playing, then it gets loud.
- Winnemucca, Nevada: With Idaho and Oregon directly to the north, Salt Lake to the east and Reno to the southwest, Winnemucca is at the crossroads of the best chukar hunting in the West. In fact, the town bills itself as the "Chukar Capital of the Country." Check out the Martin Hotel for traditional Basque fare served family-style.