Early Birds

**Chukars
** Natives of the harsh spine of mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan, introduced chukar partridge thrive in coveys of seven to nine birds in the rocky highlands of Idaho, eastern Washington, and Oregon. Hunting them on their own ground is not like hunting them on shooting preserves-and is not for the faint of heart or the weak of leg. Coveys run fast up steep hills and either drop over the other side of the ridge or flush back over your head and fly back down below you. Hunters in the know climb hard to get above the birds, then spread out along the top and hunt across the hillsides.

Why put yourself and your dog through such early-season misery? Because chukar hunting in Idaho has never been better than right now.

The Place Chukars need water, rimrock, and cheatgrass. They find all three in abundance along Idaho's rivers and impoundments. Currently, Brownlee Reservoir, an impoundment of the Snake, rules as Idaho's premier chukar spot. Helicopter surveys of Brownlee show numbers well above long-term averages. To hunters, that might translate into 10 to 12 coveys a day. Lake Owyhee, Hell's Canyon, the Snake, Lower Snake, and Lower Salmon Rivers all support good surrounding populations as well.

The Hunt You can go by land or by water. Hunters with access to a boat cruise the shorelines early in the season, looking and listening. Once they spot birds down by the water, they land the boat, climb above them, and start hunting. If you can break up a covey, the singles and pairs will sit well for a dog. For hunters without a boat, the simple drill is to park, climb, and hunt, concentrating your efforts wherever you find rocks and cheatgrass together.

Before you go, find a StairMaster for yourself and one for your dog. Dog boots are essential in rocky terrain. Choose leather ones, as a Cordura pair can wear out in half a day. Carry drinking water for you and your dog.

Idaho's season opens September 20 and runs through January 15. Many prefer to go early, counting on summer drought to concentrate birds low along rivers, springs, or creeks. October rains usually scatter the coveys. "It doesn't matter when you go," says biologist Andy Ogden. "If you've got the legs and the dog, you can find birds from the beginning of the season right up until the end."

Resources The state discourages outfitters from offering upland bird hunts. Chasing chukars is a do-it-yourself deal. Idaho Department of Fish and Game, 208-334-3700; www.state.id.us/fishgame.