Jennifer Wapenski is the managing editor of Hunting Dog Confidential…
Chukar hunting demands large areas of land and plenty of space between hunters, so openly discussing good etiquette is an important part of mentoring new and returning hunters.
I’m not sure if it was the trendiness of chukar hunting on social media or the fact that 2020 had everyone stuck at home and thinking of new things to try, but it sure seemed like chukar hunter numbers were at an all-time high this season in my neck of the woods. That even includes me, since this was my first season of seriously targeting chukar instead of just going a few times as a change of pace from quail or ducks. If we are truly serious about hunter recruitment and increasing hunter numbers, this growth in interest is great news! Even so, there’s always a sharp pang of disappointment when you arrive at your favorite spot to find another hunter already there…even for the most enthusiastic supporters of R3 efforts.
With the influx of upland bird hunters ought to come an influx of discussions about hunter etiquette while in the field. I make no claims of being an expert, neither in bird hunting nor in consistently good etiquette. I am sure that I have unintentionally done things that have annoyed another hunter or affected their day afield. But along with how-to articles and photos of our time in the mountains, I believe it’s our responsibility to share perspectives on good etiquette to help new (and returning) hunters navigate some of these gray areas.
Unique considerations for chukar hunting etiquette
Chukar hunting is unique in the sheer land area that is covered by a hunter and a dog. Hiking 8-10 miles of ridge tops actually encompasses a huge area of surrounding land. Coveys are generally spaced pretty far apart and the average day afield can be a long, grueling hike. Ideally, you would do all of this without seeing another hunter—and in some areas, that’s absolutely possible. The reality in many locations, though, is that several hunters are likely to be working the same general area of public land. The primary etiquette concern in chukar hunting, then, is effectively spacing out in a way that works well for everyone.
My very first chukar hunt is seared into my memory for many reasons, but one of the memories is a clear mental image of excellent etiquette. I was atop a tall ridge when I saw three hunters approaching on the trail in the distance; they were tiny orange ants down in the valley. They saw me in the same moment, stopped, and waved. Then they turned around and headed off in a different direction for a different ridge to climb. It was the first time that I realized, wow, we have this entire mountain to ourselves! It made sense for them, too, since they could see we’d already worked the slope they were headed towards.
Then there have been the less-than-positive experiences. One time we’d just left the truck and were heading out to hunt when another truck drove past us on the access road. We exchanged waves and thought nothing more of it. After just another mile, though, we came into view of their truck and realized that they’d parked just ahead of us on our route along the ridge and had started their hunt in the direction that we were headed. That turned us back and, with the limited access in this particular area, ended our hunt much earlier than expected.
The thing with etiquette is that it’s rarely clear-cut. Your view of the situation is likely very different from someone else’s view. It initially seemed to me like those hunters jumped right in front of us, but upon reflection, it was also easy to see how our direction of travel might not have been obvious to them. If they weren’t familiar with the area, they might not have realized that it was a narrow point in the property where they effectively cut us off. Rather than assuming the worst about each other, we would all do well to extend a little grace and, hopefully, learn something new in the process. Above all, it helps to consider your actions from another person’s viewpoint. As I’ve reflected on my experiences—both good and bad—in the field, a few points come to mind.
So here’s the scenario. You’ve gotten up early, dragged the dogs out of bed, and had a caffeine-fueled drive to your favorite hunting spot…only to find another truck parked in “your” spot. What now?
Respect the person who got there first
We are all equal-share owners of public land. The right to access public land is not weighted to the person who hunts there the most or who has the longest history of hunting there as a kid. It’s first-come, first-served. That’s it.
Some areas can certainly handle more than one hunting party. It’s a good idea, where possible, to point your vehicle in the direction of your travel so that later arrivals can adjust accordingly. But if you are the second (or third, or fourth…) vehicle to arrive, be realistic about what the area can reasonably support.
Weather conditions can play a factor, too. A recent chukar hunt in a popular area ended quickly when the area became overrun with other hunters. A thick fog had descended on the landscape and, in some areas, safe shooting was impossible. And yet, shots were ringing out all around us; it felt dangerous and certainly was not a relaxing, fun day in the field. We arrived back at the truck to find six vehicles tucked in by the trailhead. If there had been enough visibility to safely see other hunters and spread out appropriately, the area could potentially have supported that kind of a crowd…but certainly not in the conditions that day.
Have a backup location in mind
When you’re scouting for hunting spots, make a mental catalog of backup locations in the vicinity. That way, if somebody is already hunting your first choice, you have a few other options to consider.
This tactic is not only kind to the hunter who got there first, but it can also make for a much better day for you, too. Trying new spots is one of the best parts of chukar hunting because you never know what you might find. The location could be a bust, but it could also be a hidden gem and become a new favorite spot.
Talk to other hunters
I hate starting conversations with strangers, but pre-hunt communication can make the difference between a great day and a frustrating one. If you see someone gearing up to hunt, stop and ask about where they plan to go so that you can avoid each other as best as possible.
We once bumped into someone else when coming up opposite sides of a slope. He hurried over to say hello, swap a little intel, and ask about our plans. Together, we were able to make a plan that gave everyone the opportunity to have a great hunt without encroaching on each other’s space.
If those guys who passed us in the truck had stopped to ask about our intentions, we could have easily avoided the frustration of getting cut off. I believe theirs was a genuinely honest mistake that a little bit of communication could have easily prevented.
Make the effort to go farther
For those of us who are able, we should push ourselves to take the longer and more difficult routes to get farther into the back country. The “easy” routes get overrun simply because they are easy. Better to leave those for the new hunters, those with kids in tow, or those who are less physically able to climb as far.
My primary hunting goal this season was to explore my local areas and really get to know them, inside and out. My goal for next season is to get farther off the beaten path, either through brute force or through more careful studying of the maps. I love having an area to myself and not having to worry about encroaching on anyone else’s space. Some of my less-than-stellar experiences this season have taught me that I really need to push harder to get away from the crowds.
The beauty of chukar hunting is that it takes place on vast areas of public land that we are all privileged to own and share. As co-owners, a little extra thought toward how our actions might affect others can go a long way in continuing to grow our numbers and improve our reputation.
Jennifer Wapenski is the managing editor of Hunting Dog Confidential Magazine and co-host of the Hunting Dog Confidential podcast. She has a lifelong passion for the outdoors, dogs, and wildlife; as an adult, she discovered that upland bird and waterfowl hunting were natural extensions of these pursuits. Jennifer lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their two Deutsch Langhaars.