Life on and off the waters of the Wood River Valley
For the Birds: Persian Chukar Hunters find Paradise in Idaho
It just so happens that besides being home to America’s original destination ski resort and being world famous for fly fishing, whitewater rafting, blue football turf and potatoes, Idaho has another claim to fame when it comes to its great outdoors.
“The best chukar hunting in the world happens right here in Idaho,” said Drew Wahlin, and he’d know. Drew is the president of non-profit Idaho Chukar Foundation.
Drew’s in Ketchum this week to help promote the presentation of “Persian Chukar Hunting” by Dr. Afshin Mofid, a Boise resident who originally hails from Iran. Dr. Mofid grew up in Persia hunting chukars in their native lands. After moving to Idaho 20 years ago, the former professional ballet dancer was thrilled to find incredible chukar hunting throughout the region.
Dr. Mofid’s presentation shares the similarities between Persian chukar hunting in their native range of southwest Asia and here in southern Idaho, where they were first introduced in the 1930s and have gone on to thrive. The free program runs from 6 to 8 pm on Thursday, February 21st at The Community Library in Ketchum and the photographs of the beautiful birds and of Persia are striking--and are strikingly similar to Idaho.
The Idaho Chukar Foundation (ICF) is a Meridian-based 501c3 non-profit, founded with the goal of helping to preserve the healthy but essentially regulated upland game bird in the Gem State. The ICF believes that there are seven major concerns for chukars in Idaho (which can be read on their Facebook page). Seeing as how seven is a lucky number, I asked the ICF's founding President, Drew Wahlin, that many questions about the sport of Persian Chukar hunting, why it's so good in Idaho and about its future in our corner of the Northern Rockies.
#1) How did Persian Chukar get here?
DW: Thanks to federal foreign aid grants they were introduced in the 1930s, first to Nevada and then to other states in the West. They were trying to help create more revenue sources for state fish and game departments. They’re very habitat sensitive and southern Idaho has the perfect habitat for them.
#2) What makes Idaho ideal for Persian Chukar?
DW: We have a high desert with lots of water. Chukars need steep, arid terrain with lots of access to water and that’s what we have. You step out the door when you’re in Boise and look around 360-degrees and it's all great chukar habitat.
#3): Where are the best places to find chukar locally?
DW: It’s the same terrain that elk, deer and antelope like. If you’re seeing any of those animals, there are chukars there, too. There’s plenty of chukar in that country from Fairfield past Picabo all the way to Arco. Timmerman Hill has a healthy population. The Challis and Salmon area is real good chukar country as well.
4): What makes them such a great game bird?
DW: Well, they live in such a harsh environment they’re a challenge to hunt. You have to do a lot of hiking and so it’s a good workout. I can get 10 to 12,000 vertical feet in a day hunting, easy. It’s very physically demanding. It’s basically rock climbing with a shotgun. As a former Ketchum Hot Dog ski racer, that’s one of the things I like about it, running around in the mountains.
They’re also at the top of the food arc. They’re a very tasty, good eating bird. Chukar are very healthy and physically fit birds. They’re always flying, running or walking.
Chukar hunting is also a dog sport, so most hunters have trained dogs with them, which adds a mystique to it. But as I tell people interested in the sport, you’ve got to be in as good shape as your dog.
#5) What is the state of chukar hunting in Idaho today?
DW: It’s the best in the world. Chukars are doing very well in Idaho. We’ve got the ideal habitat. Only eastern Oregon is similar. There have been lots of things that have had a negative impact on the terrain and populations in Iran.
But even though we know chukars are doing well in Idaho we still don’t know exactly what that means. Unlike other states, Idaho doesn’t have any data or staff dedicated to monitoring the species.
#6) What are the biggest threats to the local chukar population?
DW: Wildfires are the biggest threat as they destroy the habitat. And we need to understand how to manage them. We lost our pheasant population because it wasn’t managed properly. We need to make sure that doesn’t happen with another upland gamebird.
#7) What do we have to do to assure chukars continue to thrive in Idaho?
DW: We need to study them, get statistics on chukars. All our neighboring states have data on their chukar populations, we don’t. So we need to get some data and then come up with a management plan. All the other states also have management plans, and then we need to implement that plan. We have an incredible resource here, we don’t want to lose it.