THE CHUKAR CONTROVERSY By Chad Betts, Newton, Kansas
Chukars have recently been used in two Kansas spring field trials. There have been mixed emotions and some debate on their use. A few people refuse to enter the Kansas chukar trials, while others enter that normally would not just because they like to run their dogs on a different type of bird.
I am for the use of the chukar in trials and will explain why. I will also try to confront the negative issues brought up by those against their use.
Some of the things I hear either back door or directly against their use are as follows.
1). Springer spaniels are pheasant specialists and show off the best on pheasants.
2). Chukars do not run, so the dogs can not get any runners.
3). Chukars cause springers to point.
I will counter these objections, then give some positive aspects of using chukars.
1). While it is true that springers are very good on pheasants it also is true that they are the most versatile of gun dogs and therefore should be tested on more than one type of game bird. Some of the same voices that claim the springer’s versatility, also do nothing to prove it on other game, besides pheasant.
2). Chukars do run, they just do not leave as much scent as a pheasant so not as many dogs will pick up the track. They also do not run in as straight of a line as a pheasant. In clumpy cover they tend to zig zag and wander around.
In our last field trial I saw about 6 dogs take runners. They all took a zig zag or semi-circular track, not much over 50 yds. The chukar will tend to dive in to cover when pursued, if cover is present. Therefore, a persistent dog is needed to follow their faint zig zag track then dig them out of the cover to force a flush. Those that say they don’t run, have a hard time explaining all the double flushes from birds that call together.
3). I believe a dog with a tendency to point is more likely to point a chukar than a pheasant, especially if the cover is heavy. Why? Because the chukar will often times hold very tight and will not flush simply because of the dogs presence, as pheasants usually do. So a dog with some tendency to point may not do so on a pheasant as the bird is often moving, and before the dog has an actual lock on the exact location of the pheasant (when a point will occur), the bird flushes. When the exact location of a chukar is found by the dog, the dog often has to get within inches of the bird to make it fly and if the bird doesn’t fly when the dog gets the exact scent fix, a point occurs. I know this is the case as I have trained many pointing dogs, and getting one to hold point on a moving pheasant is difficult, but very easy on stationary quail or chukars. I do not look at this in a negative way as some do. If the contention is, as I have always heard, that we do not want to promote the genetics for pointing in the springer, then perhaps using chukars would expose more of those dogs with pointing tendency.
I have found that if chukars in training are worked in cover light enough for them to move about, they do not bury in, so pointing is avoided and a strong flush promoted.
Now that I have countered the objections let me explain the other positive aspects.
The healthy, well feathered chukar is rarely ever caught on the ground when used in spring trials, as pheasants are. In the very best of spring pheasant trials a 20% – 30% catch rate is normal. I have seen it go over 50% in late spring. Why? The pheasant is an early spring breeder and stores fat reserves in preparation for the high energy required to breed, this makes the bird very heavy, and even healthy pheasants have a hard time getting off the ground quick enough to get away from a fast spaniel. Also the hens become egg laiden which makes them heavier, weaker, and broody, which means they don’t want to fly.
Our pick up rate on chukars in the last 2 spring trials and in 3 hunt tests has been less than 5%.
The chukar is a late breeder and does not get egg laiden until late June. Most hen pheasants are egg laiden by mid-March in the central U.S.. The chukar also does not naturally store as much fat, so stays light and gets off the ground and away, extremely fast.
Another positive aspect of the chukar, in my opinion, is they call together, so double and sometimes triple flushes occur, which makes for an interesting and exciting trial. Some people do not like the double flushes, saying they are too much excitement for their dog or the dog gets confused. But in my opinion, we, as field trialers, promoting our breed as hunting dogs, should see this as an opportunity to show our dogs off. Dogs can easily be trained to handle multiple flushes and the dog that handles them best is the best dog. An average hunting dog deals with multiple flushed birds every day hunting and our dogs should be better then the average hunting dog!
The chukar is a more economical bird in 2 ways.
1). The purchase price is usually about $1.00 less than a pheasant.
2). Fewer birds are caught on the ground, adds up to more flushes, more retrieves per birds used, so less birds are used in the trial.
Our club charged $65.00 entry fees and came out OK. Using pheasant, spring trials are commonly $75.00 – $85.00.
I do not advocate that all clubs and all trials go to chukar, as I believe the pheasant is a very exciting and challenging bird for our dogs in the fall.
But, if you’ve had poor results with spring pheasants, try the chukar.
As with pheasant, you need to find a good supplier with strong, healthy stock. They are commonly used at hunting preserves so this shouldn’t be a problem.