All gamebirds have their appeal. From the raucous flushes of pheasants to the frantic rises of Huns to the jinking flights of quail, different species are admired for how they are hunted and for their traits in the air and in the hand.
But there is something extra special about chukars. Perhaps it is the way they are built: like compact fullbacks with a penchant for running. Or in the rugged country they inhabit—their roots tracing back to the steppes of the Himalayas. Or in the way they fly uphill or downhill, chuckling all the way and exasperating hunters.
Nowhere is the attraction of chukars more evident than at Highland Hills Ranch, in north-central Oregon. Blessed with a variety of terrain and cover types, Highland Hills offers multiple species of gamebirds. In the valley where the lodge is located, food and cover crops teem with pheasants, Hungarian partridge and valley quail; but move up the surrounding hills and canyons and you begin running into chukars.
It is the siren call of chukars—chu-kar, chu-kar, chu-kar—that lures hunters into the high country. Just a short ride by four-door, four-wheel-drive vehicles transports guests to the tops of bluffs where bunch grasses interspersed with sagebrush and areas of shale rock harbor the “devil birds.”
Thankfully, hunters at Highland Hills can get into chukars without having to traverse the death-defying terrain that characterizes chukar country elsewhere. According to Highland Hills owner Dennis Macnab: “When we chukar hunt, it’s a 500- to 600-foot elevation climb. You drive to the top, and then follow the dogs. Most people don’t want to go down into the real deep crevices and then have a 400-foot climb straight up. There will be birds along the edges on top.”
Of course, there are those who relish the challenge. “We do get guys who want to do that,” said co-owner Mindi Macnab, Dennis’s wife. “They want to hike down into the draws and get in there. And that’s what’s cool. We have more gentlemanly type terrain, and then we have other areas where the terrain is more challenging. And if that’s what hunters want, we can put them in that area of the ranch.”
Either way, the pursuit isn’t easy. “Chukar hunting is challenging,” Mindi said, “because you’re hiking up the hills, gaining elevation, and if you miss, the birds are not flying uphill; they’re flying back downhill. So then you go downhill, and if you miss, they fly back uphill. It’s constant pursuit.”
A bonus of this type of hunting is the views it affords. “When you’re on top, depending on where you are, you can see 100 miles in all directions,” Mindi said. “On different parts of the ranch you can see Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson and Mount Adams, which are three extinct volcanoes. You can see the Blues Mountains in the east. For first-time guests to the ranch, once they enter the lodge and look out the two-story floor-to-ceiling windows that capture the expansive views, the phrase most repeated is: ‘Your photos are beautiful on your website, but they truly do not capture how really incredible and vast your view is.’”
According to Mindi: “Terrain in eastern Oregon is very similar to the terrain and topography where these birds originated. Introduced in the early 1950s, chukars have been pursued by bird hunters in the hills, canyons and draws around the ranch for over half a century.
“The drought and early, warmer-than-normal temperatures have pluses and minuses for wildlife. The pluses are that the chicks’ survival rate increases, and this is good for everyone. In fact, in early August when we were driving here along the 10-mile access road that runs from the highway through the valley that the ranch is in, we saw seven different chukar coveys that had probably 30 to 50 birds each.”
It’s little wonder that the birds have done so well. Twenty-five years ago, when Dennis Macnab purchased the 3,000-acre property, the spread was an overgrazed cattle ranch. Dennis removed the cattle, plowed up the irrigated alfalfa in the valley, and planted milo and other crops for forage and cover for birds. On the hills he fertilized the native grasses to support chukars and Huns.
The efforts have paid off in spades. “When I bought the place,” Dennis said, “what were on here were quail, pheasants, Huns and chukars. It’s a unique area to have all those species of birds. Today we still fertilize the grasses on top, and on the bottom we run it like a farm for cover crops. We have beautiful habitat in both areas.”
These days Highland Hills Ranch is one of the country’s premier wingshooting destinations—offering spectacular accommodations, gourmet meals and unsurpassed hospitality. The hunting with first-class guides and dogs for pheasants, Huns, quail and chukars—aka the “Grand Slam of Wingshooting”—is a challenge that must be experienced to be appreciated.
“It’s a unique experience to be able to have a true, mixed-bag hunt,” Mindi said. “From being able to hunt bottom food plots and not know what bird the dogs are going to flush to hunting chukars in their natural terrain that can’t be recreated—it’s a heart-pounding adventure that is truly unforgettable.”