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Where have all the Chukars gone?

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Printed on: 04/28/2015


Topic author: TEvans
Subject: Where have all the Chukars gone?
Posted on: 04/09/2010 17:50:20

I have hunted chukars for 37 years in Oregon. During my first 15 years, daily limits were common. Over the past 20 years, I seldom limit out. Many have said the decrease in chukar numbers is due to weather, but I just do not buy that we have had 20 years of bad weather. The decline is surely not due to hunting pressure. Are we killing our chukars with changes in farming practices with the use of fertilizers and pestisides? Have the chukars populations in Idaho decreased over the past 20 years? Is there anything we can do to improve future chukars populations?


Reply author: Kirklan
Replied on: 04/09/2010 19:18:26

Originally posted by TEvans

Are we killing our chukars with changes in farming practices with the use of fertilizers and pestisides? Have the chukars populations in Idaho decreased over the past 20 years? Is there anything we can do to improve future chukars populations?

I don't think pesticides or farming practices are to blame. I would venture to say that 99% of chukars do not even live close to agriculture areas. I certainly have never hunted chukar anywhere near a farm. Pesticides used today are a lot less invasive and have a much shorter "life" than pesticides from the 60's and 70's. If pesticides were to blame, then populations should have been decimated by the late 70's. Huns and pheasants seem to be doing very well on our farm and huns in particular have increased significantly in the last 10-15 years.

Just 4 seasons ago in 2005, ID had a record year for chukar. It was the second highest year on record and the highest since the late 60's. If I recall correctly we had a mild winter, excellent rains right through spring and then great weather for the chukar hatch resulting in great recruitment.

Habitat is the largest contributing factor in any wild game bird population. If the habitat hasn't changed appreciably in the time frame you suggested then maybe disease or West Nile virus is affecting the birds.

Reply author: Anthony
Replied on: 04/09/2010 20:54:04

Actually where Tevans is referring to is along the lower Deschutes & John Day Rivers (I assume). These areas are practically all agricultural areas where they dry farm wheat and barley up on top. I shot many chukars with a gullet full of wheat. Some of the best places to find chukars was right where the canyon starts and the wheat field ends. I doubt it has anything to do with pesticides, but I don’t know. I know the Oregon Fish and Wildlife used to take samples from the geese taken in the wheat fields to check the effects of pesticides.

I think the fact that they can dry farm in this region is more indicative why numbers are lower. The Deschutes River is perfect chukar habitat except that is too close to the Pacific and many Springs it get way to much rain. Also, fires are a lot more common nowadays with the increase of people visiting these areas. I too remember when I first started hunting chukars on the Deschutes River there seemed to be a lot of birds and shortly after there numbers dropped for many years, but I think it was mostly weather related.

Reply author: grousehunter 61
Replied on: 04/10/2010 07:12:49

I live here on the Salmon River, our bird population is almost non-existent. In years past we had birds all over the place, it was nothing to see a hen with chicks on the road, now nothing. We do not have any agriculture here in the canyon, so its not pesticides. We haven't had any new building, no room, but we have had late cold, spring rains that have washed out a lot of nests and insect life. I think the key to it all is the insects are not out due to the cold weather so late into the year and the young birds have nothing to eat and are starving to death.

Reply author: n/a
Replied on: 04/11/2010 14:35:49

I feel the pain!! The Jarbidge and the Bruneau are both hurting bad. I found a few birds,and I even saw a lot in one place. But that was in the area of the old fire. The area was grazed off and the birds flushed WAY out in front. The most birds I saw in one day was probably 40 total. Five or six years ago I would see between 200 and 500 per day. To go from 20 + coveys a day to one, or maybe two stinks. It does sound like the Brownlee area hunters have good numbers so I have been telling all the hunters I know that we should all go over there. Ron

Reply author: gwebb86
Replied on: 04/11/2010 18:12:49

as for hunting on the john day and Deschutes I would say last year was the worst and the year before wasnt great either. The 2007 through 05 was great. I think the low numbers recently are due to the fires. My brother worked many of those fires on the deschutes and he wold say he saw hundreds of chukar so for them to die off that quick I would say they just were not getting the food they needed. I also so while hunting the john day that the birds would comtinue to stay in there normal spots but would see you coming and flush way out on you. The year before we got 30 in a day with 4 of us. I dont know if farming would have much to do with it but I believe chukar bounce back and forth really quick.

Reply author: Tuckota
Replied on: 04/12/2010 06:19:50

As gwebb86 mentioned, chukar numbers bounce back and fourth quite regularly. Add that to more chukar hunters due to the lack of pheasants and places to hunt pheasants and there will be times you might not see as many birds. I'm not saying that any of you don't hunt hard, but with the changes over time you have to work a little harder to find them. Statistics show that the birds are still there. I don't know why other areas wouldn't be the same, but the Brownlee and Lucky Peak bird counts show this. TEvans mentioned twenty years. The Brownlee count in 1989 was 54.1 birds per square mile. Twenty years later 73.7 birds per square mile. In 1993 the birds hit a low of 17.6 birds per square mile to rebound to 88.0 birds the following year. That number stayed about there for four years and than continued to rise through 2005 when we had 173.8 birds per square miles. Guess what, it was not uncommon to see many chukars within 2 to 3 hundred yards of the road. The numbers declined each year from that to 71.5 to 42.2 to 37.8 in 2008. 2009 the bird count doubled to 73.7. Hopefully 2010 will be over 100 birds. Although lucky peak counts show lower number of birds per square mile the data proves about the same. The birds are still out there, it's what we do to find them that's making the difference. If it's any consolation, I've been walking and training the dogs in areas from Brownlee to Mountain Home and have seen more pairs of chukar and huns than I can recall in many years. So, if spring conditions are favorable it looks to be a great year.

Reply author: n/a
Replied on: 04/12/2010 19:06:30

Tuckota, You said

“Statistics show that the birds are still there. I don't know why other areas wouldn't be the same, but the Brownlee and Lucky Peak bird counts show this.”

You got to be kidding right? Show me one Statistic for the Bruneau canyon, Jarbidge Canyon, The Bennet hills, or the South hills below Twin Falls that back up your thinking.
Do you really think all areas of the state from the Nevada line to Salmon and from Oregon to Burley all have the same habitat, Weather, and nesting conditions? Why don't they fly the canyon lands for Chukar counts?
Here are the facts. Hunters around the state are seeing drastically lower numbers of chukars and some are on here telling you this yet you still don't believe anything anyone says. Why are you not wanting to realize that the numbers are off in other areas? Are you that afraid that limits will be cut? You kind of sound like a cheerleader for a loosing team. You can say chukar hunting is fantastic all you want. We know what we know, and what we see is not through rose colored glasses.
I know you don't believe a word I say but the canyon lands chukar populations are hurting. Even with an amazing nesting season we will NOT see record numbers of birds. Not in one year.
As a side note my Sage grouse Lek counts are down about 50% from last year. I contacted the Biologist that is flying my area and all of the Diamond A. He told me that that is about what he is seeing. 50% decrease in Sage Grouse. Ron

Reply author: Tuckota
Replied on: 04/12/2010 20:07:35

Ron. No, I'm not kidding. Taka a look at the F&G bird counts. I'm well aware that your area might have different habitat and weather. Just like other states may have. But the chukar populations fluctuate everywhere else. Evidently your area defies logic. I'm sorry but I've seen more people commenting on the positive bird count this year than the negative as you say. I do believe what you and others say. I just wonder about the effort you have put in. I am a cheerleader for the birds and my glasses aren't tinted. No you won't have a record season in one year but you might have some great improvement. I never once mentioned sage grouse. I don't know the future of them because I spend my time finding chukar.

Reply author: Patrick
Replied on: 04/12/2010 20:41:11

Gents, remember civility in discourse. From what I read of your accounts, Ron, you have many valid points backed up by personal observation within your stated areas. But I think sharing viewpoints should be just that; sharing differing points of view while respecting each others' opinions.

I will probably weigh in with Tukota on my expectations of a good year, and as a math teacher, the historical data of increase in bird counts from 93 to 94 on one particular area went up fourfold plus! That statistic alone does shed light on the variability and potential increase in populations that may occur in a particular area.

In my chukar hunting grounds, where I spend the majority of my time, I have seen the fluctuations in bird numbers, but I have always run into enough birds to have action. I hope for the best this year with a decent spring and high insect populations coupled with the rain being gentle during brood hatches. Let's hope for the best populations in all areas for all of us chasing the chucks.

Reply author: IdahoNavy
Replied on: 04/12/2010 22:36:29

Awe heck!
Here's a story about Tuckota. A friend was at a check station near Twin. Tuckota, always proud of his Chukar limit, pulls up and says he'd been Chukar huntin in the South Hills and did they want to see his license, Chukars and his dawgs. The F&G augmentee says "yes sir" to all except the dawgs. So Tuckota shows his license and then reaches into his game vest and pulls out 8 beautiful black and white birds. The F&G augmentee tells Tuck that these are Magpies and Tuck yells, "What the hell is a Magpie!" "Hell! you mean all these years I'd thought I'd been killin Chukars, but instead I'd been killin 8 birds that ain't even a gamebird. So now I can see why Tuck thinks Idaho is full of Chukars even when there ain't any.

Moral of the story: Tuck you ain't gotta climb 4K ft to get a Magpie.

Reply author: n/a
Replied on: 04/13/2010 03:47:31

Oh so I don't know how to hunt chukar and I am too lazy to get out and do it?
That is why no one in the Bruneau river, Jarbidge river, Salmon river and many other area are not seeing birds. I dare you to hunt there. You have your self an area with some birds enjoy it. The rest of us I guess are just lazy no good do nothing wannabe chukar hunters.
I am not able to stay on this site with this kind of a guy any longer. You go out and kill between 500 and 800 birds a year.
When I tell guys around here you do that they think you are a game hog. So here is the deal. I am gone,finished with this site, and this is my last post. You can only insult me and the rest of the chukar hunters so far. You think you are some kind of special chukar hunting god. Good luck shooting 1000 birds this year. I won't be here to read about it. Ron

Reply author: Tuckota
Replied on: 04/13/2010 06:33:12

Patrick you are right. I apologize for getting to the point that makes it not fun to read posts. This is a fun site with lots of good, fun people on it. It should stay fun and informative.
IdahNavy. Now I know why the birds were so tough to eat.

Reply author: Shrthrcrzy
Replied on: 04/13/2010 07:16:03

Wow..this is starting to look like most of the shooting sportsman threads.

Reply author: swingandamiss
Replied on: 04/13/2010 09:58:07

Idaho Ron you have got to be kidding me, have another beer.

Reply author: situk
Replied on: 04/13/2010 10:31:15

Tucker and all,
Thanks for keeping things positive, I enjoy all of your threads and pictures. I know you guys had a banner year, and I’m glad. I had a banner year last year when you were all suffering. And now, I have to drive up to your neck of the words to find birds. Keep the good news coming.

Reply author: IdahoNavy
Replied on: 04/13/2010 10:32:10

Ron if your still on here,
I'm not reading what you're reading from Tuckota's posts. I don't think he said you were too lazy or didn't know how to hunt Chukars. I agree with you that numbers are down regionally, but within the region there are places that faired better or worse. Some of the places you mentioned above, I personnaly hunted and found higher numbers in different locals and then I hunted places where it's just as you say. But thats just it, LOCALLY. Seems the "tropical" rains in June had detrimental effects in a lot of places, but it didn't get 'em all.

I have a friend in Winnemucca that tells me back in the 60s the Chukar were so numerous that while you were driving your rig up to the mtns that you could get out while opening BLM gates below on the flats and kill a limit of Chukars, turn back and head for the house by 10AM. Of course, I asked him what's the difference now. He said fires and lots of them consumed that part of Nevada for several years if not a decade and whipped out the sage brush. And when you drive that part of NV you can readily see that there's roughly no Sage. There's still good numbers of Chukars in the good yrs (not last year nor this year), but it's not like it was. Winnemucca mtn is free of just about any Sage, just cheat grass and a few boulders n' rocks. Even with these extreme low numbers, he still is able to kill a greater number of Chukars than most. And that's my point...he's nearly double my age, but he's been hunting them since 1957, has a hell of lot more places to go. Some guys will always do better than's just the nature of the beast. Hell, he kills more than me and he's twice my age.

I think we open a can of worms when we tell our number of kills on any forum, we kind of beg for some heated discussion when bird numbers are this confusing. I'm personally not a numbers guy and don't care if I shoot 1, 8, or 16...but I don't knock the next guy that does keep a good talley cause good historical data can be a wealth of data for himself and others.

Reply author: Kirklan
Replied on: 04/13/2010 16:28:16

I'm amazed how many people are ignorant of simple biology. Utah had a record high year in 2005. That's right, a record high year in Utah and a record high year in Idaho in 2005. Nevada was very high as well as I recall. Anyone remember what happened that year? Average snow pack, great spring hatch conditions and it was the only year in the decade where Salt Lake City didn't break 100 degrees in the summer. In other words, perfect for chukar.

Since then we have had above avg. snowpack, wet cold hatch conditions in 2007, 6" of snow during the peak hatch time over Memorial weekend in 2008 and the wettest (by the 15th of the month) and coolest June on record in 2009. It's not hard to put 2 and 2 together and come up with why chukar numbers are down as well as most other game birds since 2005.

It only makes sense that in years like 2005 marginal habitat areas have very good numbers of birds. This happend in North Dakota with pheasants. Areas that hadn't typically had very good numbers historically, were at all time high due to mild winter weather of the last decade. In 2008 bird counts were the highest on record. Guess what, last year was a bad winter and all those areas had 80%+ winter kill. Some areas of ND were just as good as normal, but if you drove 100 miles further you couldn't find a bird. It's my opinion that the same thing happened to the chukar in ID, UT, NV, OR, etc. Brownlee and E Oregon is simply put the best chukar habitat in North America. It has water in the summer, low elevation resulting in milder winters, good spring hatch conditions and endless acres of good habitat.

UT on the other hand is fair habitat at best, in fact the best chukar counts in UT are still lower than the worst in ID. When you have marginal habitat like UT and the Twin area it can produce good numbers in great years, but when the conditions are poor it can be a disaster. I went from seeing 10+ coveys a day in my spot in UT in '05 to just 3 coveys in 2 days of hunting in '09.

I would make the assumption that the habitat, fires and weather conditions in the Twin area have been a perfect storm the last few years and numbers there have been affected far worse then in other parts of the state and country. A couple good years in a row weather wise and Twin will be back like normal.

I'm sure what IDRon is saying is completly accurate, I've seen the same here on the Farm in SE ID and the Challis area. So what did I do, I stopped wasting my time there and saved my time and money for road trips to where I knew it would be good and had some great hunting. An upland hunter needs to be able to adjust his habits and follow the birds. If you continue to pound the exact same areas you'll get the same typical results while others adjust and find success. When the birds come back here locally, I'll know where to find them.

Another thing that seperates some peoples success from others failure, especially in lean years is skill and desire. Simply put, some people are just plain better hunters, they work harder, shoot better, have better dogs, and their honey holes are better than yours. I don't fault them for it, I just spend the off season trying to improve myself and my dogs so that I can someday be as good as them.


Reply author: Karl and Zealot
Replied on: 04/13/2010 18:10:47

Hi all...I'm in Iowa visiting my family and I haven't been watching the forum. But I need to jump in here.

If you want to reply to someone else's comments on this forum DO NOT make it personal or I'll delete you as a member. There are a dozen ways to voice your opinion that disagrees with someone else's opinion without making it sound like you are attacking anyone.

All opinions are appreciated as long as they are given in the same light as they are paid for...all of them here are free including mine and just maybe that is what they are worth to other people...but you don't need to say that.

Keep it civil...PLEASE...AND THANKS

Reply author: Karl and Zealot
Replied on: 04/13/2010 20:10:34

By the way...thanks to all that try to keep it positive and productive.

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