Hiking For Upland Birds
John Kruse, September 24, 2021
The forest grouse season opened on September 15th and general upland bird seasons for chukar, quail and gray partridge (formerly known as Hungarian partridge or Huns before the PC police changed the name) opens October 2nd across Eastern Washington.
Upland bird hunting, also known as going for a long walk with a dog and a gun, can be a rewarding day afield. All that’s needed is a shotgun, a pocket full of shells, a good pair of boots, plenty of water and a few snacks to give you energy to keep hiking after the birds you are looking for.
When it comes to where to find these birds the habitat varies. Forest grouse are, as the name implies, creatures of the woods and while they are not the smartest birds in the world, they can be difficult to hit if you take them on the wing (as opposed to on the tree branch, they are sitting on), simply because clear shots can be hard to come by.
Chukar present the ultimate cardio work-out. Generally speaking, you’ll chase them up a steep, rocky ridgeline or draw, flush them near the top, only to watch them fly to the bottom of the canyon or valley you just hiked up from. Then you get to repeat the process as many times as you like.
Hungarian partridge? I’ve always found them in the tall sage brush though they also hang out around grain fields too. They are pretty birds and I only wish there were more of them around.
Then there’s the California valley quail. These adaptable birds have exploded in growth over the last 30 years in Central and Eastern Washington and can be found in a variety of habitats from brushy draws to sagebrush flats to creek bottoms to berry patches. Unlike chukar, quail don’t always all flush at once, giving you the chance to get several shots off as they pop up from the brush like flying popcorn. Better still, you can often see where they land and head that way to flush them again though they do tend to run quite a bit from their initial landing point.
As for where to go, the Washington Department of Wildlife (WDFW) says historically, the best forest grouse hunting is found in Okanogan, Stevens and Ferry Counties. Yakima county is far and away the best place to hunt quail, followed by Grant and Chelan Counties. When it comes to Hungarian partridge, less than 700 a year are harvested per county but the best bets in order are Grant, Whitman, Asotin and Okanogan Counties. Finally, Asotin, Chelan, Douglas, Kittitas and Yakima Counties are all good places to look for those fast climbing and downhill flying chukar.
Within these counties there are state wildlife areas as well as federal Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands offering opportunities for the hiking hunter. WDFW also has partnerships with private landowners throughout the state who will let you hunt on their properties. Some of these lands are posted as “Feel Free to Hunt “where you can just park and go. Others require written permission which must be obtained prior to the hunt and still others require you to register in advance which limits hunting pressure on these private lands. You can find more information about WDFW’s private lands program and where these properties are at https://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/locations/private-lands .
John Kruse – www.northwesternoutdoors.com and www.americaoutdoorsradio.com
1. David Kruse on an upland bird hunt in Douglas County – J. Kruse