Hunting Chukars from a young age is what makes Richy Harrod a master at field dressing. His method has been used for more than 30 years to cool birds in the field, but still maintain identification for a fish and wildlife game warden check.
How The 30 Year Method Came To Be
Chukars were the first wild game I hunted when I turned 12 years old and had passed my hunters safety test. My guess is that not many hunters can say the same. My dad grew up in Vale, Oregon, and chased chukars as a young man in the 1950s and 60s. I tagged along with my dad in the early 70s when old enough to keep up and it was then that I became addicted to chukar hunting. Being addicted to something generally congers up thoughts of something bad because it means that you have a physical or mental dependency with adverse effects when you stop. I’m not sure it’s a dependency so maybe I became obsessed, at least that’s usually what my wife says about most my outdoor activities. Either way, if you have hunted chukars before, you’ll understand what I mean!
My dad, brother, and close friends hunted chukars regularly throughout our teenage years. We played high school football and basketball which took up most of our free time in the fall months, but we always seemed to find a way to go hunting. Football games were usually on Friday or Friday night (not every school had lights back then). Dad, Howard, and close friend, Ron, would gather all the gear needed for a weekend hunting trip, load us boys after our football game, and head south to the Owyhee country in the dark of night. We would stay at my grandparents’ house in Vale, Oregon, which was the perfect base for bird hunting.
Chukars and pheasants were abundant throughout eastern Oregon in the late 70s and early 80s. My grandfather and uncle owned farms with row crops, such as corn and sugar beets; the perfect habitat for pheasants. We’d get up early in the morning to grandma’s breakfast and gather up our vests, shells, and guns. At the strike of the legal shooting time, we’d walk out from the house and chase pheasants in the fields. Hunters and dogs would swarm the corn rows and if we shot well, the hunt was usually over by about 9 am. Once the pheasants were cleaned, the pickups were loaded with guns, dogs and kids, and away we went to the sagebrush hills.
We liked pheasant hunting but our true passion was chasing chukars. I’ll never forget the excitement as we drove out the rough two-track road to our favorite spots. It was not unusual for us to see birds driving out causing a mass exodus from the vehicle. Sometimes we’d never make it to our destination because those “road birds” would lead us up random ridges and draws that held more birds. There was always one more ridge line or draw bottom for us to explore. In those early years, we didn’t shoot many birds as we were just learning to be shotgunners.
As we got older, we got our driver’s licenses and our own vehicles which allowed for spur of the moment trips. My brother Ron, and our close friends (Riley, Kent, Troy) would explore new chukar hunting areas all over eastern Oregon. We became good shooters and with young legs, there was no place the birds would go that we wouldn’t go too. By this time, several of us had bird dogs and so our success was increased even more. Those were the days!
My dad, brother, our friends, and I hunted together all through high school and into the first years of college. Eventually, we all drifted apart and lived our own lives. My dad, brother, and I continue to hunt birds together a couple times every year but I haven’t bird hunted with my high school friends in nearly 30 years. So, it was with great anticipation that Kent and I planned a chukar hunting trip together this past October.
It’s ironic that I have only produced one upland bird hunting show for The Northwest Outdoorsmen in the past 10 years. It’s likely not obvious from our show content that bird hunting is a big part of what defines us as outdoorsmen. But, Ron and I have reconnected with the rest of our high school friends in the past couple years and experienced some amazing waterfowl hunts in southern Idaho near Kent’s house. While sitting in the duck blind, Kent and I talked many times about chukar hunting near the Nevada border and attempting to shoot an episode for our show. We finally picked a date and met in Mountain Home, Idaho, and headed south near Nevada.
The gravel road was well traveled but my excitement grew the further Kent’s dust cloud snaked over the rolling hills through the dry creek bottoms. Finally, he turned onto a small two-track road that lead to a beautiful grassy flat surrounded by willows growing along a creek. This would be our camp for the next couple of days. We set about put up our tent, cooking area, and organizing our hunting gear. I couldn’t wait for the next day!
The next morning was brisk with white frost covering our camp and gear. We made breakfast, loaded the dogs and supplies for the day into the UTV, and put on as many layers of clothing as possible for the long, cold ride into sagebrush country. Kent had several spots mapped on his phone where he had great success the previous year. We picked a likely spot and bounced out the two-track for about an hour.
Kent has two well trained English pointers and we brought both along for the hunt. He decided he would hunt them one at a time, so started out with his youngest dog, Hank. As we headed towards the canyon rim, Hank put her nose down continually and systematically covered 300-400 yards right, left, and out in front of us. We always keep our dogs close when I was a kid so hunting with pointers that cover lots of ground out of shotgun range always makes me a little nervous to start. I have it in my mind that they will jump the birds before we get there, but that anxiousness goes away after the first point. In case, Kent has a collar for his dogs that indicates their location and lets you know when the dog isn’t moving. So it was that Hank went on point within the 1/2 mile of our hunt and Kent and I approached with great anticipation.
I normally film 80-90% of the time when we make our hunting and fishing shows. Three people are ideal because there is better interaction among hunters and one of us (usually me) can focus on capturing the action. Kent and I decided we would have to take turns filming and being the shooter because there were only two of us on this trip. Kent was the shooter to start and he approached Hank slowly with his gun at the ready; my camera had the scene framed just right.
Chukars never do what you expect. Hank had these birds pinned on a sagebrush flat near a rocky rim, below which loomed a huge canyon. We expected the birds to fly towards directly towards the rim, but they came out at a slightly different angle. Kent quickly knocked the first bird down and took a shot at another that escaped his aim. Hank made several passes, round and round where the birds had just flushed and soon returned with our prize. Thirty minutes into our hunt and we had a point, flush, and our first harvested bird on film! At this point, my confidence was high that the bird hunting was going to be good.
We traded roles and Kent pointed me to the next likely location to see if he could capture me shooting a bird or two. We hiked over rims and flats for the next couple of hours and jumped two small groups of birds. One group was located in a huge boulder field with head-high sagebrush interspersed. Hank and I stumbled over the big boulders anticipating birds to fly as soon as I slipped and was balancing on one leg. And that is exactly what happened! “There they go,” Kent shouted out. Tall sagebrush blocked my view of the birds and I couldn’t even take a Hail Mary shoot. The second group was on a big side hill slope and I was able to easily connect with a bird. I was happy to finally put a chukar in my vest but I was starting to worry the bird population might be down. So, with one bird each, we headed back to the UTV to get a bite to eat, drink some water, and take a little rest.
The day was slipping by quickly and we realized that it was already after 2 pm by the time we had refreshed at the UTV. The next spot we wanted to hunt was going to take longer than the hours left in the day so we decided to scout a couple of other places in the bottom of a big canyon. We were hoping that the majority of birds might be down near water, but after a couple of short hikes we couldn’t find any sign of birds. With tired legs, the best plan was to return to camp with some remaining daylight and prepare for the next day.
I love a hunting camp. We don’t often camp in sagebrush country but our spot on this trip was particularly enjoyable. We were located at the base of 100-foot-tall basalt rock rim and in the opposite direction, we had beautiful views of the chukar canyons and hills. The sunset painted the clouds with pinks and orange. The only sounds to be heard were our conversation about days of old. We made a hearty meal in the fading light and then retired to the tent with a warm fire in Kent’s small Titanium stove. Our bellies were full, the tent was warm, and we enjoyed each other’s company. The 30 years since our last chukar hunt together seemed to be erased and we chatted as if only days had past.
The next morning, we repeated our motions from the previous day and drove the UTV to another promising spot. Today was Pat’s turn to hunt with us; she is the older of his two dogs. We hiked across a big flat for nearly two miles but Pat couldn’t locate any birds. We finally neared a small, rocky draw that seemed like the perfect place to locate a chukar. Still, there was very little bird sign and we couldn’t believe there were no chukars. Suddenly Pat went on point on the edge of a rock outcropping. It was Kent’s turn to shoot and I was one the camera. The dog kept creeping forward which generally means there isn’t a strong scent, and eventually she couldn’t locate anything. We made a loop lower in the draw and then came back up through the same area when suddenly a single jumped out at our feet. The bird caught us by surprise and Kent couldn’t get on the bird and I couldn’t get the camera started soon enough. We both laughed and shook our heads, dang chukar!
We traded roles and started hiking towards the next little draw that looked promising. Once again, Pat started getting birdy and our adrenaline started to increase. We crept up the grassy draw, intent on the dog and with gun and camera at the ready. We had walked about 100 yards when suddenly I saw about 7 or 8 birds scurrying through the sagebrush. “There they are Kent!” The birds jumped and I leaned into my gun and dropped two birds in rapid succession. Kent had the camera running and captured the whole scene!
We jumped the remaining birds one more time a few hundred yards away but they were out of shotgun range. The day was getting short and we were running out of ground to hunt so we headed back to the UTV and ultimately camp. Our sharp knives made quick work of dressing our two birds and the hard-earned meat was placed on ice.
Two days of hunting, over 12 miles of hiking, and only 4 birds might seem like a disappointing trip but Kent and I measured our success differently. Hunting chukars is difficult and often not productive. As with many situations in life, physical and mental challenges have a way of bringing people closer together. We hadn’t hunted chukars together in many years but the challenge of the hunt renewed and strengthened our friendship. Kent once said that hunts may come and go, but friendship still remains. Amazing how a small bird can foster a lifetime bond.
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