The chukar partridge is an introduced species found in the dry, rimrock country of eastern Oregon. Oregon stocks originated from India and the first successful releases began in 1951. Over several decades, chukars were released into all suitable areas east of the Cascades.
Extensive areas in eastern Oregon provide ideal habitat for chukars. Cheat grass, an introduced plant species, was already well established through much of eastern Oregon prior to the 1950s, and provides one of the most important year-around food resources for the chukar.
Habitat has not changed greatly on most Oregon chukar ranges since the 1950s, and it suffers few threats today. It is generally steep, rocky, dry, and largely unsuitable for development, agriculture or other commercial uses except grazing. Thus habitat loss is not the problem for chukars that it is for some other upland species.
Much of Oregon's chukar habitat might be described as "the land no one wanted." Therefore, much of it is in public ownership and under management by the Bureau of Land Management or U.S. Forest Service. Maps available from these agencies, which show public ownership, can be a chukar hunter's best friend.
Chukar populations have been characterized since their introduction by rather dramatic variations in population levels. Formalized population surveys did not begin until about 1961. Probably the highest all-time populations occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s, although numbers in recent years and the late 1950s are also generally acknowledged to have been quite high.
By its nature chukar habitat is usually difficult to hunt. Good boots, a water bottle and sufficient food and shells to stay afield all day are necessary. Binoculars are also helpful. Chukars are among Oregon's most challenging birds to hunt. They have the disconcerting habit of running uphill, usually faster than a hunter can follow, and they fly downhill at hissing speed. Hunters soon learn that the best way to get within range is to approach from above or on a contour. Use of its expansive habitat by chukars may vary depending on weather and the time of year. Early in the season birds are often concentrated near water sources. Later, after rains and "green-up" have begun, birds will be more widely distributed since they will meet their water needs from the food they eat. Chukars may also often be found around the edges of cultivated fields near canyon habitat where they feed on waste grain.
Since chukar habitat is relatively stable, annual weather patterns probably influence chukar populations more than any other factor. Factors most affecting chukar populations are severe winters and cold, wet conditions during the hatching period. With no other species is the self-limiting nature of upland bird hunting better demonstrated than with chukars. In years and in areas when populations are low, hunting pressure (and harvest) diminishes dramatically but the reverse is also true. Populations have on numerous occasions shown surprising ability to rebuild without implementation of restrictive harvest regulations or other management actions.
Public land allows chukar hunters to pursue their blistered feet without concern for trespass, but privately owned ranchland also provides significant chukar hunting opportunity. Important chukar areas in Oregon include the lower Deschutes and John Day Rivers, the Snake River and several of its tributaries, Malheur and Owyhee River drainages, and mountain ranges including Steens, Hart and Trout Creek Mountains.
Distribution Map (jpg)