What Is Upland Hunting?
Now that you're psyched to get in the field and hunt birds, let's talk about where you'll be going. Basically, there are two areas to focus on: the wetlands and the uplands.
The definition of "wetlands" is obvious: swamps, marshes, land along rivers or lakes that's often under water or flooded, etc. Basically, land that's usually wet.
"Uplands" is not as intuitive. So, what is it? The smart-alecky answer is "The area between lowlands and highlands". More precisely (and according to Wikipedia), "Upland is generally considered to be land that is at a higher elevation than the alluvial plain or stream terrace, which are considered to be lowlands." OK, so that helps a bit.
It's All About The Birds
A better way to think about this is to consider the types of birds you'll pursue as an "upland" hunter. The big four are:
- Ringneck pheasants These are America's most popular gamebird. Each fall, more than two million people hunt them in states from Maine to California. In states with mainly wild birds, hunters are restricted to shooting the cackling, gaudy-colored males (called "roosters). Pheasants are big birds, and most roosters are chicken-sized. In flight, they look even larger.
- Bobwhite quail The most common quail in North America (there are five others), a bobwhite will fit in your hand and weigh less than a softball. But when a covey of them busts in front of you, the thrill is huge. Huntable populations of wild Bobwhites are found from Florida to the panhandle of Texas and as far north as Kansas.
- Ruffed grouse Even though they're thought as a Maine-to-Minnesota gamebird, ruffed grouse can be found in 39 states across the continental U.S. Pigeon sized, they get their name from the collar—or "ruff"—of dark feathers around their necks. Throughout the year, males "drum" to mark their territory. Come fall, both sexes thunder into the air when flushed.
- American woodcock The oddball of our upland gamebirds and the only ones that are migratory. American woodcock spend springs and summers in Maine, southern Canada, the Great Lakes area, and as far south as parts of West Virginia. Come fall, they migrate as far south to states like Louisiana and Texas.
Along with these four, there are other "upland" species people pursue, including: Chukar partridge and Blue grouse in mountainous parts of the west; Hungarian partridge and Sharptail grouse in the Dakotas, into Montana and in parts of Canada; And across the Southwest other quails like Scaled, California, Gambel's and Mearn's.
Where You'll Find Birds
That's a lot of birds. To find them, you'll have to explore a lot of different terrain. Here's a crash course on where to hunt each one:
- Ringneck pheasants love corn and other agricultural grains. To hunt them, try areas in and around the fields where farmers raise these crops. Shelter belts between active fields are ideal. Later in the season, wet spots filled with cattails are ideal.
- Bobwhites also love grains, but they prefer a more complex mix of foods. So, look for planted as well as wild types. Like pheasants, quail can be found in fencerows, ditches and other overgrown areas between crop fields and found throughout farm lands.
- Ruffed grouse are more of a forest bird. They favor pockets of young trees with plenty of ground vegetation. You'll also have luck if you focus on clear cuts and logged woodlots up to twenty years old. Abandoned farms and the edges of overgrown fields are also great places to find them.
- American woodcock can be found in many of the same covers that Ruffed grouse favor. But because they eat earthworms, you'll should focus on areas where the ground is damp to almost wet. The classic cover for them is a stand of alder trees. When woodcock migrate, they can also be found at the edges of open fields and in stands of pines and fir trees.
Of course, the only real way to learn where to find these birds is to get out there and look for them yourself. If you have a mentor, ask them to introduce to some likely looking spots. Whenever you flush a bird, make note of where you find out, the time of day and types of plants and cover in the area. Over time, you'll gain the experience to spot prime locations and have more success in the field.