Sporting Lifestyle

Confessions of a First Time Chukar Hunter

When our guide compared chukar hunting to the Winter Olympics, I was at first confused. However, after an afternoon in the hills of eastern Oregon, I now understand what he meant. And I couldn’t describe it better myself.

Of all the sports in the Winter Olympics, my favorite to watch is the biathlon. In this event, athletes must demonstrate extreme physical conditioning in cross-country skiing, combined with the calm and focus of precision rifle shooting. The history of the biathlon stems from survival roots, as people hunted on skis in the snowy Scandinavian mountains.

So, then, what does an Olympic sport based in survival skills have to do with chukar hunting? Everything. Chukar are one of the most difficult birds to hunt. They are native to the mountainous regions of the Middle East and Asia, but now thrive in parts of the United States. In Oregon specifically, the chukar population is growing. They can be found at the tops of the rolling hills, in the rocky crevasses of the valley, or hidden in the low mountain grasses. The terrain is what makes these birds challenging, yet addicting, to shoot.

On my first chukar hunt, just a few months ago at Highland Hills Ranch near The Dalles, our guide drove us to the top of a steep hill. It was difficult to open the truck doors as the wind was blowing with force. He released two English pointers, their muscular legs driving them up and down the hills and valleys with ease. As soon as they went on point, one after the other, out of respect, the English cockers descended like tireless bounding jackrabbits upon the bird. Then, the chukar would fly. Some high, some low, some in the valleys, some off the side of the cliff. Regardless of the direction, we were ready and waiting in the shooting line. Bam, bam, I pulled the triggers of my side by side 28-gauge. Down went the bird. Another! Bam, my father shot as a second bird flew straight in the air, then hit the ground with a thud. Nothing is quite as satisfying as watching these round bearded birds fall from the sky.

As the afternoon sun lingered, the birds got tougher. Already hunting at a very high altitude, the dogs went on point. The cockers flushed. Nothing. As soon as the pointers were called off, they bounded down the side of a steep valley, out of sight. Naturally, they went on point at the base of the hill. We followed suit, quickly, though with care, so as not to lose our footing or our shotguns. Finally, we arrived at the bottom. Where was the chukar? The tireless cockers had come back empty handed. Rather than flying through the valley, the bird had ascended to the top of the next hill. With very labored breathing, we climbed, following the path of the pointers until they stopped. They were on point. The cockers went in. Up flew a chukar! We were out of breath, our legs shaking. Then, somehow, with extreme precision and accuracy, my father raised his Beretta and fired a single, perfect shot. The bird dropped. Our guide shouted in disbelief! Apparently, this was atypical of first time chukar hunters. For us, it was an Olympic-like moment.

On the way back to the truck, the guide once again reminded us of how chukar hunting was like the Winter Olympics. Apparently the average success rate for hunters is one out of every six. Somehow, we managed to take over 25 that day, with just a few that got away. 

Ladies' Sip & Shoot

JOIN US FOR OUR FIRST EVENT!

Ladies, this one is for you. Join us on Sunday, October 15th from 2:30 - 6:00, for a Sip & Shoot featuring a semi-private sporting clays lesson and a wine reception with Garage East. Space is limited, register now!

Event Details:

Date: Sunday, October 15th, 2:30 - 6:00 p.m.
Locations: Final Assembly at Barnone, Rio Salado Sportsman's Club
Cost: $30, includes gun rental, shells, targets, wine, and appetizers

 

An African Adventure

CAPE BUFFALO

As I looked down my rifle scope, my heart quickened as I only saw the eyes of a Cape buffalo herd approaching me. They came quickly, until something else spooked them and they ran away. I muttered under my breath. For the last ten days, I had been in these types of situations - standing in the middle of herds, running from them, towards them, or crawling between them. I had developed a far deeper appreciation for this animal than any other I have encountered to this point. 

The Cape buffalo are truly terrifying yet beautiful animals. The herds move as one unit, organized, and form a wedge during a stampede (I personally experienced this, as I stood behind a tree holding my breath waiting for them to pass). Heavily hunted by lions, they are extremely sensitive to sound, wind, and movement. Having the ability to stay still and remain calm while standing in their midst was an art I was forced to learn very quickly. 

THE DAILY GRIND

Each day, we hiked 10 - 15 miles, carrying our rifles. It was exhausting. The nights provided no relief, as the lions were never far from camp, and their roars filled the darkness. At first, I didn't think I could do it. Then, something changed. I am not sure what. Perhaps it was me. I began to look forward to the chilly African mornings, the walking, and the unknown excitement that each day would hold. I was beginning to fall for Africa.

Every morning began just before 5 o'clock, when the kitchen staff kindly woke me up with the words, "Good morning, madame." I quickly got dressed and headed to the fire, drinking my tea, and catching up with the professional hunter and my father. Then, we jumped on the safari vehicle and began to drive. First, we checked for watering holes. Were there any buffalo tracks? The trackers, including a rather unorthodox group composed of a former poacher, a member of the hunting conservancy's anti-poaching committee, and the cheeriest driver I have ever met, began walking, eyes glued to the ground and any nearby branch. Once the sign was picked up, we made a box with the truck around a specific area, until we were sure we knew where the buffalo were. Then, we began to walk, sometimes crawl, sometimes run, and then walk again.

We repeated this same pattern for ten days. In the bush, we experienced close run-ins with rhinoceros, both black and white, giraffe, baboon, kudu, klipspringer, impala, warthog, wildebeest, zebra, and countless other wildlife, including lions. Though we had been in the midst of countless herds of Cape buffalo, we still had no opportunity for a shot.

SUCCESS

The last day, we split up, and I went with a different professional hunter. My father had pursued a a small bachelor herd, and claimed his bull, a true trophy. His .416 Rigby did not disappoint, and perfect shot placement brought the bull down. It was taken just feet from where we had hiked the first day. Meanwhile, I tracked a large herd, numbering about 150. We split them four times, running, walking, stalking. Finally, at a road, the herd began to peek out their noses, and I took the second cow as she was crossing. Shooting the 9.3x62 rifle that my father had made me was truly a priceless experience. Many celebrations were held that day back at camp, though our hearts were saddened that the adventure had come to an end.

Zimbabwe is one of the most incredible places I have ever been. The people, the land, and the wildlife prove to be some of the most resilient. The experience taught me much about myself. I endured more physically and mentally those ten days in Africa than previous adventures had required. Being able to share those moments, both the extreme highs and lows with my father were also invaluable. Africa is not a place for the faint of heart, but for those who dare to venture there, the dark continent will leave you changed. I cannot wait to go back.