This was probably not the most strategic year to try out chukar hunting for the first time, but that’s exacly what I did. Making use of NDOW’s apprentice program (where a licensed hunter can take you out without you needing your hunter safety or license), I was invited on a friend’s trip headed to the Gerlach area. As is always the case when entering a new sport, you have to balance enough gear to get a real picture of what it’s like, while not going overboard because you might hate it. I tried my best to walk that line. Here’s a brief list of seven things learned in my maiden voyage:
#1. Set your alarm.
Like fishing, a good hunt starts with an early bedtime. The beauty of Nevada is missed by most of us because we never see these hours.
#2. Up means up.
There’s a reason it’s called UPland game hunting. This particular day we hiked a modest amount in distance but the altitude changes we covered were significant. The birds were all on top of every range, meaning if you weren’t cresting you weren’t shooting. A shotgun blast travels quite a distance in these canyons.
#3. Pay attention.
We noticed a gorgeous wild horse on our hike in to the valley that was breathing and snorting aggressively as we passed. He was stout and tall, one of the biggest I’ve seen. I thought it odd that he didn’t distance himself once he spotted us like most wild horses I’ve encountered. It wasn’t until the hike out, that I noticed a heavy blood trail leading back the way we came. I carefully followed it up the hillside until it shot across a ravine that required more effort than my curiosity cared to bankroll. We concluded that the horse was either attacked or God forbid, shot at. It explained why he didn’t bolt upon seeing us. That same day, a friend of someone in our party “accidentally” flushed a mountain lion from some sagebrush at 25′ away in the next canyon. Who knows what happened to the horse.
#4. Secondary wins.
It was a slow day to be sure, but rewards can still be found on a day like that…namely the views and the company. The desert is certainly an acquired taste, but I enjoy it immensely.
#5. A dropping tide affects all ships.
This drought reaches more than I know. The birds were few and far between, a symptom that all the seasoned guys agreed was tied to the drought years that have stacked upon us. No water means no grass. No grass means no birds. Previous years ended in truck tailgates covered in birds. Between the eight of us and our four dogs, only one bird was headed to the oven for consumption.
6. Easy, ghillie sniper.
Chukar hunting is more of a stalk and flush game, than a hiding one. Still, I wanted to see what I looked like from 50 yards if I crouched down so my friend Nick took this picture. Silly to be sure, but it answered my question.
7. Gear matters.
Lastly, no matter what the reviews on Amazon say, under no circumstances should you violate your conscience, disregard your experience, and distrust your intuition by not breaking in your hunting boots before the big day. Don’t do it. Also, I was glad I snagged a gun sling, that turned out to be an essential, not an amenity.
Next year, I’ll need a proper license. The hunt was enjoyable for sure, but doesn’t have the magic I associate with fly fishing…yet. At this point, I would say that the license fee would be worth it. Wouldn’t mind a bird in the bag to go with the laughter and panoramic landscapes.