How Do You Find Places And Birds To Hunt?

So, autumn arrives and you're ready to go bird hunting. Your new boots are on, your vest is filled with shells, and your shotgun is in the truck. What's left? Finding a place where you can hunt birds.

Every season, hunters across the country face this problem. To solve it, they try everything from public lands open to everyone to very exclusive, very private Georgia quail plantations.

Public Hunting Areas

As the name implies, these places are open to everyone. They come in three basic types. For the first two, go online to learn more about their locations and the types of upland birds and waterfowl they hold. And regardless of where you hunt, remember: All state hunting laws apply, including the need for a state license and duck stamps.

  1. Federally-owned lands: These offer incredible opportunities, especially in western states. They include national wildlife refuges and national forests. Some military bases also allow hunting. Note: Hunting is not permitted in most national parks.
  2. State-owned lands: From Florida to Hawaii and Alaska, most states have wildlife management areas, game production areas or some other type of land open to the public for hunting. Note: Most state parks are NOT open to hunting.
  3. Privately-owned lands open to the public: While every state has these, knowing which private lands you can access is tricky. In some states, you can hunt private property unless it's marked with "No Hunting" or "No Trespassing" signs.

In other states, you must assume any land not marked as open to the public is off limits. Check local regulations to see which rules apply. Also, be aware state-issued hunting licenses are required on all private land.

Paying To Play

Fifty years ago, hunting wild birds was simply a matter of driving out to the country and stopping at promising looking areas. Today, this is hard to do. In some states it's practically impossible. That's why more and more people pay to hunt private land, preserves, and lodges.

  • Private land: In states like Texas, South Dakota, and Kansas, many landowners limit hunting access to people who pay per-day rates or week/season-long leases. Note: Regardless of how much you pay or what a landowner tells you, all state hunting rules apply on these lands--especially around bag limits.
  • Private preserves: If you're new to upland hunting, private preserves are a great way to experience the thrill of a flushing pheasant or a busting covey of quail. These operations raise pheasants, Chukars, and quail and release them into areas before you arrive. Because you're hunting stocked game, most allow you to pick the number of birds released. The only limit is how much you want to pay.
  • Private lodges and plantations: For special experiences, private lodges and plantations are the places to go. Some offer superb wild-bird hunting while others offer an unlimited supply of stocked-birds. A third type supplements wild bird populations with stocked game. All offer knowledgeable guides and well-trained bird dogs to help you get into action.

Finding Birds By Yourself

Once you figure out where to hunt birds, the next step is finding the birds. Unfortunately, this takes time and work. There's no way around it. The good news is there are all sorts of books and videos out there describing what good bird cover looks like. Study them; then get your boots on the ground and start searching.

When you flush a woodcock or come across Chukars, pay attention to the terrain and the type of trees, grasses, and vegetation you see. Note the time of day. While this is a slow process, this is how you go from being a newbie bird hunter to an old pro.

You can also make friend at a local sporting club or chapter of The Ruffed Grouse Society, Ducks Unlimited or Pheasants Forever. They may point you towards birds. If you're lucky, you'll find someone willing to show you where to find game. One thing, though: Never, ever poach these spots. Never. Unless your host say it's OK, do not return to hunt them on your own.

Getting Some Guidance

When you're new to bird hunting, finding game can be more frustrating than finding a place to hunt. A great way to jump right into things is to hire a guide.

With a guide, all you do is show up with your gun and pay the bill. They do the rest: From taking you to good looking spots and cleaning any birds you kill to making sure you don't get lost (a reasonable concern if you're new to the woods).

A good guide will know where to find lots of birds and have decent, hard-hunting dogs. These will get you into action right way. If you pay attention, it will also teach you lessons you would spend seasons trying to learn on your own, like knowing where to find grouse in late October and the types of cover pheasants favor midday.

Go Online. Then Get Outside.

Decades ago, learning where and how to hunt birds took seasons, especially if you didn't have a relative or friend willing to show you the ropes. Today, though, the web puts countless resources at your fingertips.

With a just a few clicks and few minutes of time, you can track down everything from where in your state you might find birds to tips on the right habitat to focus on in the field. By tapping into all this info, you kick off your first day in the field with the kind of knowledge hunters used to spend years trying to uncover on their own.

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