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Birds (Upland)

Estimated reading time: 9 min

Talk about hunting opportunity!?! Upland bird hunting is available in some form in all 50 states, and the list of species you can hunt is long. The upland birds in North America alone could truly comprise a bird hunting life list for any adventurous hunter who wants to undertake the pursuit. In addition to the native species like various grouse, quail and doves to name a few, North America offers fantastic hunting for highly popular introduced upland species as well, including ringnecked pheasant, gray partridge (Hungarians or Huns), and chukar.

If you have the opportunity to travel outside of North America to scratch your upland bird hunting itch, then your life list can include every upland game bird imaginable right in its home turf. There are many highly prized and exciting species to pursue like dove, pigeon, guinea fowl, and dozens more. Europe alone offers many types and methods of upland hunting steeped in the traditions of royalty.

Wherever you choose to hunt upland birds, a hunt can be nearly as simple as walking out the back door with a pocketful of shotgun shells and the company of a good bird dog. However, if you choose or must travel to do your upland bird hunting, the services of a highly-rated outfitter can assure you get the most from your precious time and money. An outfitted upland bird hunt is a fantastic, pure-pleasure vacation option because everything can be taken care of for you – accommodations, meals, good dogs, access to prime land, licensing and more. All you need focus on is enjoying the hunt and the experience.

Top-quality operations can be selected to take you on either wild bird hunts or on managed hunts and driven shoots across a range of prices and services. Game farm hunts are especially a good option when time for travel is limited. Many operate within easy driving distances of major metropolitan areas to offer access to upland bird hunting where it would not be available otherwise. Game farm bird hunting is also a consideration for the introduction of a beginning hunter who should get lots of action to maintain initial interest. Many of these operations also combine clay target shooting and professional shooting instruction for hunters just getting started or those seeking to polish their field shooting skills.

Travelling internationally to hunt upland birds demands the services of a trustworthy outfitter because of the logistics involved. The well-versed outfitter can provide assistance with all aspects of the trip including air travel, ground transportation, gun importation and permitting, gun rental, acquiring ammunition, licenses, etc. as well as all of the usual outfitting services.

North American Upland Bird Opportunities

With the opportunity to hunt so many species in North America, delving into the specific characteristics and details of each here is space prohibitive, and there may be some great hunting that you’re not even aware of. So we’ll quickly provide a breakdown of the birds and where they are at so that you can dive deeper into the ones that interest you the most.

Pheasant – The ringnecked pheasant wasn’t even introduced as a game species into North America from Asia until the mid-1800s, but today it’s hard to imagine our Midwestern United States without these birds. This foreigner to American soil is the most pursued upland game bird in the States today. Actually, as the staple of game farm hunting, pheasants can be hunted in all of the Lower 48 states as well as Hawaii in one form or another.

Wild bird pheasant hunting is most prevalent in the Midwest and Prairie states, but stocking is also done in other states to provide hunting opportunities. Outfitters offer great pheasant hunting opportunity across the country. Pheasants can be hunted solo, in small groups or in massive pushes that sometimes put hundreds of birds in the air at a time. They are also the featured birds in driven or tower shoots on game farms.

Mourning Dove and White-winged Dove – More shells are fired in pursuit of bag limits of dove in North America than any other type of game. Originally hunted primarily in the south and southwestern U.S. prohunting organizations have made great inroads into the expansion of dove hunting from coast to coast and border to border in America. Primarily an early-season pursuit in September and October, many outfitters offer dove hunting packages and dove hunting combined with other wing shooting opportunities. Doves are unique among true upland game birds in that they are a migratory species and therefore fall under federal regulation.

White-winged Doves are a bird of the southwestern deserts and are hunting primarily in parts of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona as well as Old Mexico. They are a slightly larger dove, but prone to more drastic population swings than mourning doves, so season lengths and bag limits tend to vary from year to year.

Quail – the most widespread and widely recognized of the quail subspecies in America is the bobwhite. These are the quail of the Old South traditional hunts with big running pointing dogs and hunters, huntsmen, dog handlers and a gallery all on horseback. However, the bobwhite range is actually from the central Eastern Seaboard south to southern Florida and west to Texas and Oklahoma and up through Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, and into Iowa. Sadly modern farming and forestry practices north and south diminish quail habitat and have greatly reduced the opportunities for wild bird hunting. While some plantations, ranches and farms manage specifically for wild quail  the opportunity to hunt truly wild bobwhites remains low relative to what it was in the 1800s and early 20th century. However, many top-quality operations in the South and Texas offer a taste of the old traditions via outfitted, managed hunts for released birds.

The West and Southwest are home to other species of quail that while not as widespread offer terrific hunting opportunities via highly-rated outfitters who specialize in these challenging wild bird hunts. These quail species include scaled quail (blue quail or blues), Mearns quail, valley quail, mountain quail and California quail. Compared to the bobwhite these species are all desert dwellers. They are hunted primarily in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, and up the Pacific Coast.

Partridge – the two partridge species hunted in America today are the gray partridge (also called Hungarian Partridge or “huns” for short) and the chukar (or red-legged partridge.) Both are imports that have taken up distinctly different habitats in North America. Huns are birds of the agricultural prairies found in the prairie provinces of Canada as well as northern tier states like Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Idaho and Washington, and to a lesser extent in Midwestern states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois. They are usually found in coveys numbering as high as 30 birds or more. They tend to be wary birds and flush at longer distances making for very challenging shooting and dog work.

Chukar are birds of the mountains – steep and high mountains at that. Some of the most rugged and renowned chucker hunting is to be found in the Snake River Canyon in Idaho. They are also hunted in Colorado, Utah and other mountain states. For those who have not had the chance to hunt wild chukars, the “chukar station” at the sporting clays course mimics the most common shot taken at these birds. The usually flush below you and are traveling rapidly away flying down the mountain. It’s not a common shot taken at any other form of game bird.

Prairie Grouse – North America’s prairie grouse are the sharptail, prairie chicken and sage grouse. Sharptail and prairie chickens often inhabit the same terrain and in some states are included in a combined bag limit, though in most of the range sharptail are a bit more prevalent. The Prairie Provinces as well as the plains of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Kansas, Nebraska, and such are prime sharptail and prairie chicken habitat. With careful management, the birds have made a comeback in fringe states as well and offer limited hunting there.

Sage grouse is a large bird that must have expansive sage covered flats to survive and prosper. As this type of habitat has diminished, so have the number of sage grouse. Limited hunting is offered in a few states like Wyoming, but permits collected in drawings are frequently required and limits are low. Pursuing sage grouse is a “trophy” hunt these days, and trustworthy outfitters stand ready to assist you in taking one of these birds to add to your life list.

Woodland Grouse – The most widely disbursed and recognized of the North American woodland grouse is the ruffed grouse. They are the birds of classic hunting paintings depicting New England scenes of pointing dogs locked down on a brace of birds while hunters carrying side-by-side double guns approach anticipating the grouse’s thunderous flush.

Ruffed grouse live and are hunted from Maritime Canada including provinces like New Brunswick, Quebec, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia down the eastern seaboard of the United States to the Carolinas, and even Georgia. In the northern states they range as far west as Minnesota, then pick back up in the mountain west starting in the Black Hills. Ruffed grouse are forest birds, but can do well at nearly any elevation at which there are trees.

Highly-rated outfitters assist hunters in the pursuit of ruffed grouse throughout eastern Canada as well as in New England down to Pennsylvania and in the Great Lake states.

In the Mountain West ruffed grouse overlap with a slightly larger grouse known as the blue grouse. These are birds of the mountain forests requiring strong legs and lungs to hunt. They are often hunted in combination with chukar, though chukar are birds of the more open, rocky grassy heights.

Another North American woodland grouse is the spruce hen (sometimes called “fool hen). These birds are encountered in dense coniferous forests often by bear and moose hunters. With their limited contact with human predators, they seem to have little natural fear of man and can frequently be taken with a stick or well-aimed rock. This makes them good survival food, but poor sport to hunt. They also have dark, strong-flavored meat that makes them less than desirable on the table.

Ptarmigan – North America is home to three sub-species of ptarmigan – rock, willow and white-tailed. Ptarmigan are best known for their change in color. The birds are mottled brown in summer to provide camouflage for nesting and rearing of young. Then the ptarmigan molt and the winter plumage is stark white for camouflage in the snow.  Big game hunters of northern species like caribou, grizzly bear, etc. often encounter ptarmigan when the season has not caught up the plumage or vice versa. At these times of the fall and spring, ptarmigan are extremely easy to spot.

Though highly-rated outfitters stand ready to assist in the pursuit of ptarmigan, taking each of these birds requires travel to remote, distant locations. The rock ptarmigan habitat is the sub-arctic tundra of the north. Willow ptarmigan inhabit the dense willow stands of the north in Alaska. White-tailed ptarmigan are noted as one of the few bird species that spends its entire life in alpine terrain above tree line. Though many of the U.S. mountain states like Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana are home to white-tailed ptarmigan, they are seldom encountered because of the elevation and severity of the habitat in which they live.

If you wish to try ptarmigan hunting, ask your caribou, moose or bear outfitter if hunting these birds on your trip would be an option. If the answer is “yes” then pack along a shotgun and some shells when headed on your next big game hunting adventure.

Woodcock – Woodcock are included here, though technically they are classified as a shorebird. However, they are a shorebird that has “gone upland.” They are frequently encountered in the same habitat as ruffed grouse, particularly east of the Mississippi River. Woodcock are also migratory nesting as far north as central Canada and wintering in the Gulf Coast region of the United States.

Among a certain group of upland hunting enthusiasts, woodcock are a highly revered bird because of the challenging hunting they provide, their propensity to hold tight for pointing dogs, and because of their unusual habits and nature. Most outfitters providing hunts for woodcock do so in combination with ruffed grouse, however because woodcock are so highly revered by traveling European hunters, some outfitting services in Canada focus specifically on woodcock as a primary species with well-trained dogs, land access, and locations to hunt.

The Oddball Stuff – Then there are some upland bird hunting opportunities right here in the United States, it’s a good bet you’ve never even heard of — such as the chachalaca and the Himalayan Snow Cock.

The snow cock appears as sort of a cross between a ptarmigan and a partridge. It was introduced to Nevada in the 1960s from its home range in the highest mountain ranges in Asia. A population has established in the Ruby Mountains where it can be hunted on a limited basis. Snow cock is another “trophy bird” type of hunt in which it’s wise to seek the assistance of a qualified, experience outfitter to boost your odds of success.

The chachalaca is a brown bird, somewhat chicken-like but with longer legs, that is named for its call. These birds inhabit the southern Rio Grande valley of Texas on into Mexico and Central America. Texas has a limited hunting season on chachalaca, though it remains, perhaps, the least-recognized and least-known upland game bird in North America.

International Upland Bird Hunting

Highly-rated, trustworthy outfitters around the world stand ready to assist you in experiencing wingshooting adventures on every continent (except Antarctica).  Various regions are known for certain types of upland hunting. For example, South America is renowned for “high volume” wingshooting of doves and pigeons. There it is not uncommon to fire thousands of shells each day should you choose to do so. Outfitters there provide all that is needed to let you concentrate fully on the shooting during the day and enjoying the finer things in life during the evenings including gourmet meals and luxury accommodations.

Wingshooting safaris in Africa frequently combine upland bird hunting and waterfowl hunting for bird species that are found nowhere else in the world.  Frequently these safaris combine numerous styles of hunting including walk ups, pass shooting, decoying and driven shoots.

Europe has long-standing traditions of driven shoots for pheasant and partridge on well-managed properties. The pomp and circumstance that surround these hunts are nearly as important as the game bagged. Outfitters in England, France, Spain, Poland, Hungary and more stand ready to assist you in fully experiencing these unique hunting opportunities and the traditions surrounding them.

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