If you want to be a chukar hunter, start with gear and clothing suited for the rugged terrain and the birds who live there
The “glamorous” life of a chukar hunter is like no other. You will spend nights away from your family, sleeping in your trailer, tent, or in the bed of your truck. You will experience incredible vistas that stretch on for miles in all directions. The rugged mountains, steep hills, and grassy flats that make up chukar country are a monochromatic feast for the eyes. At different times of the season, there will be specks and patches of green, along with streams or pools of blue where water flows or settles, but mostly a sea of brown and tan. Later, there are the glorious snow days which, in addition to a landscape blanketed in white, brings with them cooler temperatures. These milder days provide your dogs with comfortable temperatures while they are putting in mile after mile pursuing their quarry.
To keep up with your dogs in the chukar hills, you, too, need to be comfortable; the only way to ensure your comfort is with the proper gear. Let’s look at the equipment that will help keep you safe and happy on your chukar hunting adventure.
Recommended clothing for chukar hunting
An essential component to a successful hunt is comfort. If you aren’t comfortable, you won’t want to be in the field for very long. If you’re not in the field, then you’re not shooting birds. Simple, right?
Chukar country is known for its varied range of temperatures. You could leave the truck dressed for the 20°F weather and return, stripped down to your t-shirt, in 70°F temperatures that afternoon. The key to managing those changing temperatures is layering. Layering allows you to regulate your temperature efficiently in the field without compromising your comfort or your hunt. Essential layers for a successful trip include:
- A base-layer shirt made of a wool or poly blend (never cotton); this should fit snugly to help move the moisture away from your body to keep you warm and dry
- A mid-layer shirt to help your body retain its heat; lightweight jackets and fleece are great for this purpose. They are easy to stuff in or strap to the outside of your bag/vest if you need to remove this layer after a cold morning has turned into a warm day.
- Outerwear. Although the outerwear choices on the market are mind-boggling, you want your outerwear to be a complementary finish to the layering process. The outer layer is there to protect you from inclement weather. It should provide protection from rain or show and be easy to manage if the weather warms and you need to take it off.
- Pants that are comfortable and easy to move in. You can wear jeans or upland-style pants if that is what you have, but a good pair of hiking pants will serve you best in the chukar hills. The ideal pants are either quick-drying or water-resistant and allow freedom of movement. If you find yourself climbing along the rimrock or crossing a field of scree, that flexibility will come in handy. Don’t let a soggy pair of jeans end your hunt early.
Beyond these layers, a few accessories will complete your clothing lineup for a comfortable chukar hunt.
First, bring a hat that is appropriate for the weather conditions. Hats serve many purposes on a chukar hunt: they can keep your head warm and dry on snowy or rainy days, or they can help to keep you cool while protecting you on sunny days. Pick a hat or two that you like and be ready for all conditions.
A neck gaiter is a great choice for cool mornings. They are lightweight and can be stowed in a pocket if the day warms up. Neck gaiters are the most overlooked way to stay warm on a cold day, especially if it is windy.
Bring a pair of gloves that are appropriate for the expected temperatures. Options include shooting or leather gloves, insulated leather gloves, fingerless wool gloves, and fingerless mitten-style wool gloves. Leather gloves will protect your hands during slips or falls, and wool gloves will protect your hands during cold, wet, or snowy weather. Have two or three types of gloves to choose from and pick what is best for your weather conditions on any given day.
Other accessories to bring on a chukar hunt
Eye protection is highly recommended. Your shooting eyewear will not only protect your eyes from dirt, dust, and any debris that comes your way, but also from the sun. If you purchase a pair with interchangeable lenses, they can help in any lighting conditions.
Hearing protection is just as important in the field as it is on the range. Today’s technology provides you with options from traditional earplugs to electronic noise-canceling protection.
Choosing boots for chukar hunting
Your choice in boots is essential enough to have its own write-up. The selection of boots on the market seems endless. In rugged chukar country, you need a stiff boot with good traction and support. There are many rocks in these hills, and walking in inflexible boots will take a toll. Those same stones love to move underfoot and, without good support, can lead to a twisted ankle.
Boots can be insulated or uninsulated, which is a personal comfort choice, but what isn’t optional is that your boots should be waterproof. Even if you aren’t walking through water, wet grass and snow can make you miserable in a hurry.
Good boots deserve good socks. An excellent synthetic or wool blend designed to wick moisture away from the foot is the best option. Cotton socks keep the moisture next to the foot, and wet socks cause wear problems that can make you uncomfortable in a hurry.
Once you have your boots, it is crucial that you break them in before your first outing. Put on a good pair of socks and wear the boots as often as you can before your first hunt. This break-in period helps the boot adjust to your foot and lets you identify any potential issue areas. Sore feet or a twisted ankle will quickly end a hunt.
Shotguns, shells, and chokes for chukar hunting
Now that we have clothes and comfort out of the way, let’s talk about guns and ammo. In any hunting situation, you want to use a weapon that you are comfortable with and can confidently shoot. All legal gauges are welcome in the field and come in multiple configurations, actions, and barrels to bag the emperor of birds. At the beginning of your chukar hunting career, a 12- or 20-gauge shotgun is probably the best, because the shotguns and appropriate shells are the easiest to find and purchase.
For single-shot, pump-action, and semi-auto shotguns with just one barrel, the preferred choke is modified in the early season, possibly changing to a full choke in the late season when birds are more jumpy and the shots tend to be longer.
For over/under and side-by-side shotguns with two barrels, the preferred chokes for the early season are improved cylinder for the first (closer) shot, then modified in the second barrel for the longer follow-up shot. Later in the season, it can make sense to switch to a modified for the first shot and full choke for the second barrel for those longer shots.
An excellent, middle-of-the-road shot size to begin hunting chukar with is #6 shot. It has good range and yet plenty of knock-down power. In the early season when birds are holding tight and shots tend to be closer, #7½ is an option, but as the season goes on and the pressure mounts on the birds, you can move to the larger #6 shot.
Choosing an upland vest or pack
Finally, we come to the bird vest or pack and, ultimately, what you carry into the field with you. Good vests are designed to carry not only your birds but also your shotgun shells, water, and food…not to mention any clothing layers that you’ve shed throughout the day.
There are many designs and manufacturers, but the standard vest comes in two styles: the traditional and the strap vest. The rules of thumb for vests and vest use are:
- Traditional, close-fitting vests are an old standby in all forms of upland hunting. They come with shell holders and oversized pockets for extra storage, but getting the bird in or a water bottle out of the bag may be a little tricky, though not impossible. On chilly days, the vest will help you stay warm as an extra layer, but there is a lot of fabric holding in the heat on hot days.
- Strap vests are loved by people who hunt wide-open spaces like chukar country. These vests have more room for storage and a more expansive, easily-accessed bird bag. Manufacturers of these bags have fastening systems and accessories, so you can have a place for everything and everything in its place. They also tend to sit more on the hips than on the shoulders, just like a good backpack. Walking and hunting with your bags settled on your hips is preferable to carrying the load around on your shoulders.
- Whether your vest comes with water bottle holders, a bladder, or you simply throw bottles into your bird bag, water is a must-have item. You need to stay hydrated with a minimum of two liters on a cool day and as much as five liters on a warm day, depending on how far you plan to hike. If you have a dog, remember to factor in their water too. Water is life in chukar country.
- Bring some snacks. You don’t want your energy running low because the birds might be over that next ridge. Jerky, nuts, electrolyte powder, your kids’ snack pack, or Lunchables are all good for an energy boost while also being easy to carry.
- Other must-have items are a multitool and your cellphone.
We have covered the basics to get you started as a chukar hunter. This list will get you into the field, but you will tweak it to fit your hunting style and circumstances. Get out there and put some boots on the ground. The birds and new hunting adventures are waiting. Be safe, be comfortable, and shoot straight.
Eric Thompson was born to a hunting family in the Willamette Valley region of Oregon. He grew up hunting waterfowl in the valley and upland birds in Central and Eastern Oregon. In the last 15 years, Eric has focused on pursuing chukars in Oregon and has traveled the country hunting other upland species. His Wirehaired Pointing Griffons are his constant companion, but he has owned Shorthairs, Golden Retrievers and will add a German Wirehaired Pointer to the pack in the next couple of years. As a champion of all things bird dog and hunting, Eric has never met a bird dog breed he didn’t like.