We invest heavily in our four-legged friends. Make sure they’re properly trained and equipped to handle the rigors of hunting chukar
“Chukar dog” is a title held by many breeds whose owners love the thrill of chasing one of the hardiest upland game birds in the world. These dogs brave the dangers and extremes of chukar country while traveling on average three times as far as their owners walk in a day.
Here are some of the basics to ensure these elite athletes have a good hunt and many seasons to come.
Hunting chukar starts with basic training
Training is No. 1 on the list for a reason. You need to make sure your dog is in good shape. These dogs not only cover three times the distance as you hunt but do it running up and down steep terrain in search of birds.
Running and training a dog in the off-season will help them stay in shape and avoid sprains and strains when they hit the field. And, it goes without saying, your dog should be solid on the basics of obedience before they are turned out in unrestrained country. Good recall allows you to keep a green dog safe as they learn to navigate new and exciting environments.
There are deer, elk, and all manner of small creatures running around to distract a new dog and to lead them astray, and if the dog isn’t broke/trained on chasing fur, good recall training will help avert a potential disaster.
After a successful retrieve or for a needed water break, “whoa” or “stay” are easily taught commands that will allow you to water your dog or give them a snack. These basic commands are also valuable for getting your dog into the shade if they need to cool down and rest. The saying is that “birds make a bird dog.” Avid hunters and bird dog trainers know wild birds make an even better bird dog, and wild chukar will take your dog to the next level. But basics are a must.
Collars and other important tracking items to utilize when hunting chukar
A critical part of the control and regulation of your dog from the kennel to the field and during the hunt is its collars.
The kind of collar you use is dictated by how you like to hunt. Some prefer to hunt old school: no electronics, just the hunter and his dog. Others like beeper collars to keep tabs on a farther-ranging dog when they go on point out of visual range. Many of us, however, choose to run GPS collars. GPS collars give an added layer of comfort when working dogs in a wide-open country. But, like all your hunting gear, GPS collars are tools and not a fix-all. If your dog lacks recall training, the dog will run off with or without a GPS collar.
It would be best to train solid recall and know your dog before heading into the field, no matter which collar you prefer. But if your dog becomes lost or injured, you have hope of finding them as long as the GPS collar and transmitter have a charge.
Further, whether you have one dog or a string of eight, losing a dog in the field can be a nightmare. Lost dogs are found in the field every year, and an easy way to get your dog back is an identification tag or microchip. Many of us have put countless hours and thousands of dollars into these dogs, and most are part of the family. Simply keeping your microchip information up to date or phone number on a tag/plate can see your hunt partner returned safe and sound.
Pack plenty of water when hunting chukar
Chukar country is known to be high and dry. Chukars love the mountainous high-desert regions of the Western United States for these reasons.
In these areas, water is essential for birds, hunters, and dogs. If you have a couple of hours before you get to your hunting ground when it’s safe to feed your dog, you have the option of floating their food. The dog will drink the water to access the food giving them extra hydration before hitting the field.
Watering your dog during the hunt is a must, as the temperature can swing wildly while chukar hunting. You could start your hunt in 20-degree weather and end it with temperatures closer to 70. Make sure you carry enough water for you and your dog. On warmer days, you may need 3 liters for your dog alone, but never be afraid to take extra water. The worst case is you pour it out on your way back; the best case is you save you or your dog from a heat-related illness.
Food, first-aid, and other dog-related gear to have when hunting chukar
It is also essential to keep up your dog’s energy level since these dogs work hard and burn a ton of calories locating birds.
Suppose you can’t do a morning feeding because there’s not enough time between feeding and running the dogs, or it simply doesn’t fit with your feeding schedule. You can carry a small bag of food or high-protein snacks and give your dog a few pieces at a time when you water them. These little pick-me-up snacks can keep them in top form while in the field.
Another asset to have in your dog’s health tool bag is a first-aid kit. Chukar country can be 15 minutes from town and a vet or 6-plus hours to the closest emergency services. The large first-aid kits suitable for the vehicle could be the difference between life and death while getting your dog to the vet, but these kits can be too large and too unwieldy to carry in the field. Packing a small first-aid kit or the basics of gauze and vet wrap will be as valuable for getting your dog back to the truck as the big kits are for getting your dog to the vet. In typical scenarios, you will need to embolize a limb or stop bleeding. It may not seem like much, but these small additions to your pack can be lifesavers combined with a shirt or belt.
When injuries do occur, trying to care for or control a hurt dog can be a difficult—if not dangerous—task. A slip lead is a lightweight addition that you can keep in your vest to restrain a dog’s head or muzzle in case of injury. With the slip lead over the head and crisscrossed over the muzzle, you can safely control your dog’s head while positioning them to care for any damages or prepare it to transport back to the vehicle. It is one of the simple but most essential items to carry in your vest.
Additionally, if your dog gets hung up in wire or finds a porcupine in a woody hollow, a good multitool is what you need. These tools don’t take up much space or weight, and when you need multitool, it’s best to have one.
An optional item to have is a set of boots for the dog. A well-conditioned dog should be fine in the general terrain, but there are exceptions. There is a place where the ground is littered with flakes of gemstone and will cut the best-conditioned feet to shreds. Know your area, your dog, and what tools you need to use. Boots are a tool; use them if you need them.
Checking your dog for injury, foreign bodies after each hunt
Finally, we come to aftercare. Checking your dog over after the hunt is as important as training and conditioning before the hunt. Bird dogs have been known to hunt with legs, chests, and bellies cut open.
Their owners are unaware of the injuries until the hunt is over or they see bloody footprints in the snow. Hunting dogs are tough as nails and will go until we stop them. Rubbing your dog down from head to toe is an excellent after-hunt tradition to start. They will love the attention after a good day’s hunt, and you get to check for any cuts, strains, or sprains.
And, since chukar and cheatgrass go hand-in-hand, look in their eyes, ears, nose, gums, between their toes, and around the rear end for grass awns. A bottle of saline and a hooked syringe is excellent for rinsing awns out of those hard-to-reach places. Make the tailgate check part of every hunt. It can save your dog pain and you money.
The goal of chukar hunting is to have fun. A chukar dog will tell you all they need is some water, food, and lots of time in the field putting you on birds. It’s up to us to care for them in the field to keep the fun happening hunt after hunt and season after season.
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.