Terrain and tactics separate chukar hunting from all other varieties. A first timer in the high desert can be paralyzed by the daunting vastness of the country. With miles of homogeneous territory in every direction, the standard introductory question is "where do you start?"
Almost without exception, I choose to start hunting at the top. In areas without road access to the higher elevations, the hunt begins with a grueling climb. I frequently hunt a private ranch in steep country. To access the chukar hills, a 3/4 mile walk up a slight grade is followed by a torturous climb to gain 1900 feet of elevation in less than one mile. Reaching the top is a feat in itself. Several promising hunting partnerships have dissolved halfway up Legburn Hill.
Starting at the top is more than a macho "no pain, no gain" theory. Experience has taught me that chukars spend a high percentage of their time on or near the top of the hill. A desire for elevation and the quick escape it affords dictates the chukar's preference for the top. A second reason to start at the top is that chukars tend to fly downhill.
Coveys flushed from the top seek cover at lower elevations, allowing for follow-up opportunities on the way back down. My standard technique is to hunt a ridge to the end or until my "gas tank" shows about 1/2 full. For the return trip, I drop to a lower elevation - maybe 1/3 of the way down the hill - and work my way back by sidehilling. This frequently results in additional covey finds, either on birds that were bumped from the top or coveys that were loafing on the slope.
For an unknown reason, chukars are elevation sensitive. As you find birds, you will frequently notice a pattern where most coveys are in the same elevation zone -- as in 200 yards off the top. Once I establish an elevation pattern, I prefer to hold that elevation, resisting the temptation to chase a flushed covey to lower levels. You can always drop down. It's much more difficult to regain lost elevation.
Establishing a hunting pattern that fits the terrain is critical to successful chukar hunting. Perhaps more important is learning how to approach birds once you find them. My views on approaching chukars are somewhat unorthodox.
Nothing is more exasperating than completing a leg-burning ascent only to watch a covey of birds scuttle away just out of gun range. Prepare yourself for exasperation ... it happens. More than any bird I've hunted, chukars avoid hunkering down under pressure. Instead, they frequently walk (or run) from pursuit and keep moving until they reach acceptable cover, give you the slip, or are forced to take flight. For this reason, moving in on chukars requires different tactics.
My approach to pointed birds can be summarized in one concept: be aggressive. The odds of a good shot are dramatically improved if you approach a point swiftly and keep moving. Because chukars tend to move away from pressure instead of sitting tight, you can reasonably expect that by the time you get to your dog, the birds will be some distance away. I would estimate that over 80% of my pointed covey rises involve at least one relocation by the dog. When a dog relocates, the tendency is to stop and observe while the dog works the scent. When hunting chukars, this is often a mistake.
Chukars will frequently flush a good distance in front of a relocating dog. Moving aggressively with the dog will dramatically increase the number of good shots presented. Keep moving with the dog until you flush the birds or the dog determines that they have left the area. It is often necessary to circle uphill or downhill to locate a group of Houdinis. As long as my legs hold out, I use this approach whether I'm approaching from above, below, or on the same level as the birds.
The easiest situation for the chukar hunter occurs when the birds are pinned below you. Your presence above the birds cuts them off from their preferred escape route ... up. In this instance, the best approach is to move to a point where you can work straight down on the birds. This will usually stop the birds from running and has the added benefit of getting you in a better position for a shot. The most difficult shot for a chukar hunter is from a steep side hill stance when the birds are diving down the hill. Triple the degree of difficulty when the birds are moving to the right (for a right handed shooter). I've ended up on my backside countless times when trying to turn for a descending shot. On rare occasions I've regained my senses quickly enough to kill a bird after taking a seat.
The next best situation is approaching birds that have been found on the top in relatively flat ground. Some may prefer this situation to the downhill approach; however, I've found that birds on the top are usually more skittish. Robbed of their ability to quickly dive off the side hill, chukars pointed on flat terrain will move quickly toward the edge, often flushing to safety when they get there. This tendency becomes more pronounced as the season progresses and where there is heavy hunting pressure. In the adjacent picture, Maggie has a running covey trapped between us. This is the best situation you can hope for in chukar hunting and I wish I could report that I executed a nifty double. Unfortunately, the birds flushed before I put the camera away and my partners had a good belly laugh as they observed from a distance.
Much of a chukar hunter's day is spent on the side of the hill - thus the term sidehilling - with one foot higher than the other. This is a grueling workout, especially in very steep and rocky terrain. When a dog points on the side of the hill at approximately the same elevation as the hunter, the tendency is to walk straight to the dog. A better approach is to angle up the hill as you approach, since the birds will usually move uphill. While shuffling into position, I survey the terrain and make an educated guess as to where the birds are heading. If there's a rock pile or thick stand of brush nearby, I'll take a line of approach that puts me above the suspected hiding place. In clean country without an obvious hunkering spot, I angle uphill with a target of moving past the dog about 10 yards above the established point. It is not uncommon for the birds to have moved downhill, but it's far more likely that they have moved straight away or uphill. This positioning has yielded the highest percentage of shots for me.
Now for the ugh! scenario ... an uphill approach. If you hunt chukars long enough, you will eventually find your dog straight uphill and pointing away from you. There are only two options here: call your dog off or climb. It is rare and perhaps impossible to escape this scenario with a normal rate of respiration. Last season I was hunting with my father and my friend Jim when Maggie pointed 100 yards above us. It had already been a long day, so Jim and Daddy found a good sitting rock so they could watch comfortably from below. I could see the birds moving away from Maggie and knew I was in for a climb. As I moved higher up the slope, the laughter from below began to fade and I could hear the birds calling (maybe laughing) from above. After gaining 600 feet of elevation in a very short distance, I was just below the peak when the birds dove off the other side of the mountain. One bird peeled off and flew directly overhead. Balanced precariously on two boulders, I made the straight-up shot and watched the bird plummet and bound down the hill. It is rewarding when a climb is rewarded by a shot. Unfortunately, it doesn't always happen.