Our fascination with this bird started only a few months ago when reading the newly released NDOW regulations for the upcoming season. Having never heard anything about this bird, it began a process that involved hours of research online, some phone calls to NDOW biologists, and several weeks of tossing around ideas and prepping for the actual trip. Online we managed to find about five reports of people hunting them, some complete with pictures and video. Of those, we only found two successful hunts. I even managed to dig up an old NDOW study from the 90's that listed the average statistics of hunter success, as well as the total number of birds harvested since the season began in 1971... 82 birds.
With this information(or lack there of), we knew we were in for a pretty unique and challenging hunt. Operation "Super Chukar" commenced this past Friday. My two buddies and I left Reno at 1pm and hit the road to Elko. We arrived at the Lamoille Trailhead at 6:30pm, and the canyon was already nearly completely dark, and the thermometer on the dash read 29 degrees. The Ruby Mountains had received 4-8" over the past 48 hours, and with the sky clearing on Friday, it made for the coldest conditions of the week. We debated over camping at the trailhead and hiking in at first light, but we decided that it might actually be warmer up higher rather than down in the canyon. We planned on getting to Liberty pass and either setting up there for the night, or just dropping down to Liberty Lake to get out of the wind, and then pressing on in the morning the last few miles to Favre Lake, where we planned on base-camping for the weekend. We zig-zagged up the trail, luckily with two sets of tracks in the snow from earlier in the day keeping us somewhat on the barely distinguishable trail covered in snow.
The lower slopes of Liberty Pass...
We continued over the pass and unknowingly right past Liberty lake, as it was pitch black and impossible to see more than 100 yards in front of you. Skipping on and off what seemed like a trail, and eventually heading towards the faint light of a distant campfire below. As we neared the flickering light, we came upon a trail marker labeled "Favre Lake Trail". We had unintentionally busted out the entire 5 miles in under 3 hours. We crossed the creek to a thicket of trees and settled into a somewhat flat campsite. After clearing the 6" of snow we pitched our tents, skipped a hot meal, and crawled into bed at just after 10pm.
The next morning we arose at 6:30, giving the sun a chance to warm things up a bit, and allowing us to catch a few extra minutes of sleep after the long night that dipped into the high teens. We pulled out the map and set out our plans for the first push. We followed the drainage up to Castle lake and then split up, side hilling the bowl at three elevations and stopping to glass several times along the way. We worked our way up to the ridge-line and then followed it as it became narrow and vertical. It was only a few minutes later that we had our first bird sighting. Unfortunately it was in flight after diving off the cliffs in front of us and gliding around a point on the hillside now below. This both motivated us, and at the same time perhaps emboldened us. We scrambled across rocky cliffs and wind blown drifts before reaching the end of the passable ridge towards Lake Peak.
Right about here is where we must have spooked the bird that took flight from the cliffs ahead of us.
Sheer cliffs just below us made for some exhilarating and precarious footwork.
From up here we built our next route. We would work down and hit the exposed ridge-line seen here, from left to right .