Essential gear for late season upland hunts
Gearing up for late season upland bird hunts doesn't have to be a chore. By January, most big game hunts are in the rearview and many hunters are focused on application season. Yet, for a chukar hunter, January is the time to chase late season birds when snow has them consolidated to south-facing slopes. With long seasons (Utah’s runs from the middle of September to the middle of February) and broad distributions, chukar hunting is a great way to explore some new country and stay active — even when the doldrums of winter have the couch calling your name.
While the snow might help your hunt, it also makes it critical to have the right gear. Here are some of my favorites.
The right gear for late season upland bird hunts
Unlike busting cattails for roosters in Kansas or walking grasslands for sharpies in eastern Montana, chukar hunting can take you to some extremely remote and unforgiving terrain. As such, having the right boots is of utmost importance. On my Utah hunts, it’s not uncommon to find 3’ wind drifts on ridges just 20 yards from a muddy south-facing slope. Because of this, I pick a boot with a good tread pattern, waterproof lining, warmth and plenty of height to keep the snow out. For me, that’s the Hanwag Trapper Top GTX. A lower boot with gaiters would get it done, but I somehow have a knack for forgetting gaiters and the almost 11” height of the Trapper Top has saved me on numerous occasions.
Ask any upland hunter what their most important piece of gear is and they’ll probably say, “my vest,” after talking about their dog and shotgun. When you’re doing long days in chukar country, it’s important to have all of the essentials you might need for both you and your dog. My all-time favorite vest is the Final Rise Summit System. The bird pouch has a structure to it that makes it easier to put birds in while also pulling the exterior material off the mesh back panel, which gives you much more breathability. The bird pouch also doubles as an emergency dog carrying system that I’ve luckily not had to use, but am happy to have the option.
With two side pouches — each with an internal zipper pocket — and a third zippered pocket in the back panel, there’s a place for everything. For me, that means a snack, small first-aid kit and TP (you just never know). For my pup, that’s a roll of vet tape and a multi-tool with pliers — great for pulling out cactus spines in chukar country or porcupine quills in the grouse woods. The bungee system on the back neatly holds the layer that I’ll inevitably shed 100 yards from the truck, but keeps it handy for when the weather turns. Similar to the bird pouch, the side water bottle holders also have a rigid structure making it simple to get water bottles in and out. Final Rise also makes a handful of accessories that integrate with the vest which is a huge benefit. My Garmin 550 Plus handheld is always where it should be on my left shoulder strap. While this might not have been the intent of the unpadded shoulder straps, I noticed I can feel the vibrate (dog’s on point!) of the 550 Plus much better than other vests due to the minimal amount of material.
GPS tracking collar
Speaking of handhelds, the Garmin 550 Plus and TT 15X collar is another piece of gear I just will not hunt without. My tri-color setter happens to be the exact same color as everything in snowy chukar country. Even when I know he’s on point 80 yards away, I sometimes can’t see him, so having the guidance of a GPS collar is critical — especially since he typically ranges out to around 250 yards. The 550 Plus has a long range — miles more than I need, multiple stimulation/vibrate/tone settings and allows for multiple dogs on the same unit with accurate GPS tracking. Both the collar and handheld have a longer battery life than I would expect — I’ve only needed to a charge every third or fourth hunt for the most part.
Other items that I always like to have in the truck with me:
- Good gloves with enough dexterity to shoot. The Sitka Gunner WS Glove has a full goatskin leather outer with a GORE windstopper trigger finger. There are certainly warmer gloves out there, but I haven’t found one that allows me to shoot so effortlessly.
- Musher’s Secret (wax) for my dog paws. This goes on in the truck before we even start hunting.
- Self-rescue truck accessories, including a shovel, tow-strap and come-a-long. Those same snowy drifts from the ridges somehow also love forming on the roads. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen other people in chukar country, so if you get stuck, it’s on you to get out.
- A blanket and water. You just never know when you’ll need to spend the night.
- A communication device like a Garmin inReach Mini 2. I use this regularly during elk season and keep my subscription year-round just in case.
In most states, chukar season is winding down, which means it’s time to evaluate how it went and how it can go next season. What worked and what didn’t? Did you feel prepared in the event of an emergency? How would you handle a situation where you or your four-legged-friend can’t walk out? Even if you don't have any hunts currently planned, or the season in your state is winding down; take some time to update your gear now and your September-self will thank you.