Following Sheep Trails for Chukar Feathers

Being outdoors hunting can be a very diverse experience. I usually have a general plan, but it can be taken a few different ways once I get out there. This hunt had some real determination behind it. I had just lost a battle to a mountain and was determined to get on to some chukar. This time I decided to reach out to a Biologist with the DWR. I was referred to a mountain range not too far from where I live. She said she’d seen lots of birds when surveying Desert Sheep populations. I verified with her about it, as a fireman I knew that the portion of the mountain she was referring to had burned within the last two years. She assured me I’d have luck going there and there were still plenty of birds. She also told me that they had just stocked more chukar there a few months before. I had some good information on where to go.

img_5326OnXmaps has a pretty cool feature on it when it comes to seeing wildfires. It has two map features that I use when I’m going hunting. One is the historic fire maps. It shows when and where a fire burned. I use this map to help determine potential new growth and if there may be enough cover. This does not replace getting my eyes on the actual location. Some fires burn better than others. Last year, every brush fire I went on didn’t burn super clean, meaning that everything didn’t get burned. This means that some thicker fuels stuck around, and new growth would come a little quicker. The other map feature I like to use is the current wildfires. That doesn’t matter as much when the fire season isn’t happening, but it helps me plan my future hunts.

Getting that information helped me plan where I was going. I had seen this spot before and I’d been coyote hunting in the area. I had always been curious as to if chukar were in the cliffs and in the area. Heading out I worried about the dirt roads getting there. There had been some storms and I was tired of getting my truck stuck in the mud. My truck had been stuck earlier in the year and It filled my quota of digging in the mud. Heading out to this new spot I ended up having to pick the dirt roads carefully. There were still large puddles of water on different parts of the road. I looked at the OnXmaps app and found a spot I wanted to park my truck. The snow had been melting quickly and I wanted to use the snow to my advantage. The spot I was going to had a couple of advantages. There are a couple of water sources at the bottom of the hill. There were also lots of grassy areas and cliffs which means we had a great combination, cover, water, and food.

59562761124__783f0cf0-90d5-40ce-bb1c-7f9ebfef37e1The issue of the wildfires was about to become more real. Where I parked my truck there were some small grasses and bushes around. I was on a lookout spot. I could see what appeared to be miles of western beauty. Taking time to notice my surroundings is almost a tradition when I’m hunting. The mountains stood white-capped and the snow worked as a contrast on the light brown that covers the high mountain desert. I’ve driven past this area numerous times and now I was about to discover some of its mysteries. I shouldered my shotgun and looked up the hill. This is where I began getting a feel for the hunt. As I walked into the mountain, I noticed a few small green blades of grass, more like green stubs sticking out of the ground. This area had burned in 2019 and as I walked it was clear that I was in a burn area being reawakened to life. This was a new experience for me, I’ve seen what fire can do and how lifeless it can be right after a fire comes through an area. The new growth did give me some hope for the hunt. Those small green plants were signs of food and meant that I could be in a good area.

A few yards in I found a game trail that headed up the hill. I hadn’t seen any sheep in this area but from what the biologist had mentioned, I knew there was a chance for me to see some desert sheep. The game trail I had found had sheep tracks on it. Excitement filled me with the possibility of seeing sheep as I am hunting. I also know they like some similar terrain as chukar do, so I was expecting to find birds. I found my way onto a plateau. I had two choices to go to. I was standing in the heart of the burn scar. I had an east and west face of the mountain to choose from. The eastern face was burned and still black. On the western side, there were still some grasses and it seemed that the sheep trails went west. Both were topped by 20-foot cliff walls. I chose to follow the sheep trail. Eventually, I saw a spot above me with tall grasses that butted right up to the cliffs. I wanted to try and get to the top of the mountain so that I could hike the ridgeline. This path seemed like a good way to go. There was a trail heading up that way and I followed it. The grass was tall and had some new green grass in the middle of it. I was sure chukar would be there.

img_5199Once again, I found myself with the terrain issue. I had got my self in some steep country. Everything seemed so perfect. It was clear that if I had to take a shot, I better have a chukar drop straight down and I’d have to be quick on the trigger. The best way for me to walk this area was to walk along the sheep trail that hugged the cliff walls. I went as far as I could go. The trail ended in a cave with some animal’s white bones left behind. The sheep must jump up the side of the cliffs to make it to the grasses on top of the cliff I was standing next to. The problem was that I didn’t see any chukar as I walked along the grass. I decided that taking a shot wouldn’t have been good anyway and that I better make my way back down. On the way, I found some chukar scat. I had walked right by it. This confirmed that I was in the right area. I was ready to find some chukar. I noticed that below where I stood, there was a bigger grass area and that chukar would easily make it down to it and have lots of food available to them.

Carefully I crawled my way back down to that plateau that I was on before. This time I headed west into some tall grasses with a significant game trail cutting through it. If the chukar flushed uphill I’d be in good shape to retrieve a bird. This was still steep but not as steep. I had lost some altitude getting to this spot, but it seemed worth it. There was a lot of ground to cover and I was hoping for a flush. Hunting without a dog can be a lot of guessing. I try to make my guessing as educated as I can. My odds seemed to be in my favor. The only problem was that time was slowly running out. By now people had got off work and there were multiple people target shooting at the base of the mountain. I was glad that they were using a good backstop. Being 1,000 feet above them was a little scary but I was eager to get chukar in hand. After a while, I started to doubt myself. I looked for an opening to get to the ridge, but I noticed I was walking into a dead end. Maybe not a dead-end for a sheep but for a human, I was going into a dead end. My doubts started to eat at me, I was on the side of the mountain that I didn’t think would have any birds on from the beginning. I had some more decisions to make.

img_5198The trail I walked started getting thinner and thinner. Below me was another cliff and I knew that one slip could take me down the mountain in a way I did not want to go down. I decided that I should head back to my truck and find a drainage to try on the east side of the mountain. Out of curiosity, I did decide to continue following the sheep trail. It followed along the grass, but it didn’t seem to go where I wanted to go. I walked a little way and then decided to turn around. The sun was shining on this west face and the dry grass looked like gold on the side of the mountain. I’ve never seen grain fields in the Midwest in person, but I felt like this was our own little version here in the west. Hiking back, I was in a hurry, I had the clock ticking and I needed to get to my truck. I debated trying to hike across the burn scar but this was a steep bowl I would be trying to make my way across and after the earlier hunt in the week, I wasn’t about to do that and completely lose another opportunity.

Eventually, I realized that with the sun setting soon, finding chukar was not going to be easy. By now the birds are making their way back to their roost and I would be way behind the curve. I got to my truck, looked around again, saw the shadows growing on the valleys and decided that my hunt would have to come to an end. I stood in front of my truck and watched the semis on the highway and thought about all the times I had driven past this exact spot and not thought much of it. My hunt took me multiple different routes and I had a few choices to make. It was a fun little hunt. Now when I drive past this spot I’ll think of this hunt as part of me was left in that mountain and a little bit of that mountain is now part of me.



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2 thoughts on “Following Sheep Trails for Chukar Feathers

  1. Sounds like a worthwhile scouting adventure. Go back again early in the day when you can take time to spot and wait for their movement. Maybe have a hunting buddy along to flush them out. Four eyes and ears will see more than two. Great story. Thanks.


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