My Beginner’s Guide to Hunting Upland Birds

My Beginner’s Guide to Hunting Upland Birds

As an avid outdoorsman and hunter, I love getting out into nature and going after upland game birds. There’s nothing quite like watching your bird dog lock up on point, heart pounding as you approach, not knowing whether a wily old rooster pheasant or a covey of quail is about to burst into the air. I live for that thrill!

In this guide, I’ll share everything I’ve learned about hunting upland birds over the years. I’ll cover when and where to find birds, the gear you need, training your dog, and effective techniques to put more birds in your bag. I can’t promise you’ll get a limit every time out, but follow my advice, and you’ll gain the skills and knowledge to become a successful upland hunter.

Prime Times to Hunt Upland Birds

One of the keys to upland hunting success is knowing when to be out in the field. Here are the best times to target birds:

Early Morning: Head out before sunrise to catch birds returning to feed after roosting overnight. The first two hours of daylight are prime time.

Late afternoon: birds feed heavily again for 2-3 hours before sunset as they prepare to roost—great action on late-season hunts.

Mid-day is the least ideal time overall, but it can work on overcast or rainy days when birds stay active between morning and evening flights.

Poor Weather: Hunt during or right after rain, snow, or wind. Birds tend to hold tight instead of flushing wild.

Mid-October to November: Cooler temperatures trigger more active feeding. The young birds from the hatch are mature.

Moon Phases: Hunt when the moon is full or new. Bird movement increases during peak moonlight or darkness.

So, in summary, my favorite times to hunt upland birds are early morning, late afternoon, poor weather days, and during peak moon phases – especially in October and November when young birds are grown. Skip the middle of hot, bluebird days when birds tend to be less active.

meadow pipit, nature, anthus pratensis

Prime Habitats and Locations For Upland Birds

Finding the right habitat and location is crucial for upland hunting success. Here are the best places to find major upland species:

Pheasants

  • Creek bottoms and rivers with tall grass & brush
  • Grain fields, especially milo, corn, or wheat
  • Shelterbelts and tree groves
  • CRP lands with switchgrass and other native plants
  • Food plots with sunflowers, millet, buckwheat, etc.

Pheasants love areas with ample cover to hide and thick vegetation to feed in. Focus on the edge habitat between crop fields and brushy creek bottoms. The Midwest states, like South Dakota, offer prime pheasant habitat.

Quail

  • Overgrown fence rows and field edges
  • Patches of native grass and wildflowers
  • Dense shrubs and young woodlots
  • Acres enrolled in CRP, like old farms
  • Shelterbelts, hedgegrow areas

Look for quail in brushy cover across the southern states, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona. Find coveys along shrubby field edges and creek crossings.

Grouse

  • Aspen woodlands and young forests
  • Brushy foothills and mountainsides
  • Overgrown logging roads and trails
  • Forest openings like logged areas or burns
  • Berry-producing shrubs like hawthorn

Scout timbered foothills from the Appalachians to the Rockies to jump grouse, which used brushy cover. Find ruffed grouse in young aspen woods and forest openings.

Chukar

  • Steep, rocky hillsides and bluffs
  • Wide open sagebrush flats
  • Alongside streams and dry washes
  • Brushy draws and canyons
  • Areas with cheatgrass and scattered shrubs

Look for these rocky mountain upland birds in arid habitats across the West. Chukar loves to run and hide in jumbles of boulders, dry washes, and cheatgrass.

Must-Have Gear for Upland Hunts

Having the right gear can make or break your upland hunt. Here are my top picks for essential upland equipment:

Upland Shotgun: A 20 gauge or 12 gauge semi-auto with a modified choke allows quick follow-up shots on fast flushers. I like models around 6.5 lbs.

Shotgun Shells: Target specific birds with sized shots. Use #6 for quail, #5 for pheasant or grouse, and #4 for chukar. Pick high-velocity loads for more impact.

Bird Vest: A vest with game pouches and shell holders keeps everything handy. Choose a lightweight, breathable vest for comfort.

Whistle: essential for working with bird dogs. Use whistle blasts for commands at a distance.

Small Game Call: Calling can convince hesitant birds to flush. Quail, pheasant, and grouse calls all work.

Hat – A hat helps conceal your profile. Go with camo or neutral earth tones that blend into the cover.

Hunting Boots: Durable upland boots with ankle support protect feet while traversing rough terrain all day. Waterproof models keep feet dry.

Don’t skimp on essential gear like your vest, boots, and gun. Having quality upland gear makes hunting more enjoyable and successful.

upland sandpiper, shorebird, bird

Choosing and Training an Upland Bird Dog

An experienced bird dog is by far my greatest asset in the field. Their nose will help you find more birds than you can alone. But it takes work to develop a dog’s natural talents. Here’s my advice:

Breeds: Pointers, English setters, Brittanys, and German shorthairs all make great upland dogs. Find a breed that matches your hunting style.

Obedience: Start training commands like sit, stay, heel, and whoa early on. Obedience is crucial before introducing birds.

Bird Introduction: Use launchers and planted birds on check cords to teach steadiness and bird drive. Take it slow.

Field Work: Get them on wild birds! Nothing replicates hunting experience in progressing training. Expand field time each season.

Discipline: Gauge their range and reactions to wing flushes. Give commands consistently. Enforce with an e-collar as needed.

Advance Handling: Work on whoa, hand signals, directional casting, and retrieving as they mature. Be positive!

Put in the time for training, and your pup will become the ideal upland partner. Their passion for birds is unmatched!

Employing Effective Upland Hunting Strategies

Alright, you know where to find birds and when to hunt them. You’ve got quality gear and a well-trained dog. But there are still some key strategies that separate successful upland hunters from the rest. Follow these tips, and you’ll shoot more birds:

Leverage the wind: Always approach with the wind in your face. Upland birds rely heavily on scent and will go wild if they smell you.

Be quiet. Noise spooks upland birds before you ever see them. Whisper commands to your dog and communicate with hand signals.

Watch your dog. Let them quarter back and forth, working the wind. Pay close attention and be ready when they lock up on point!

Follow their lead. Allow your dog to guide you rather than charging ahead. Trust their nose! They’ll take you to the birds.

Take your time. Many hunters rush and overload their dogs by covering too much ground. Go slow and be methodical. Persistence pays off.

Focus on edges. Birds want quick access to escape cover. Concentrate on transitions between habitat types.

Kick bush: flush hidden singles using your foot to kick into clumps of grass and brush along field edges.

Finish birds: When birds flush wild, keep shooting lead until they’re down. Don’t assume a first miss means giving up.

Mark downed birds: Keep your eyes on birds from shot to fall and note landmarks to retrieve the downed ones.

Follow those strategies, and your bird bag will begin to fill. But wings in the bag are only part of the upland hunting experience. There are some deeper rewards to this sport as well.

Why I Love Hunting Upland Birds and Why You Will Too

As enjoyable as harvesting birds is, I’ve come to appreciate far more than just full game bags after years of upland hunting. Here’s what really keeps me coming back season after season:

Time with my dog: Watching experienced bird dogs work is its own reward. Their enthusiasm and determination amaze me every time.

Appreciating nature: You gain a deeper connection with the land and wildlife. I notice so much more now when outdoors.

Peace and solitude: Leaving the noise behind and absorbing the tranquility of nature is therapeutic.

Friendships: Upland hunting builds bonds. I’ve made some of my closest friends while chasing birds.

The challenge: No two hunts are the same. Adapting to the conditions and birds keeps me striving to improve.

Conservation: I contribute by improving habitat and supporting conservation efforts to preserve our upland heritage.

Hunting has shaped who I am and given my life richness. I hope sharing all I’ve learned helps you start your own upland journey! It’s a rewarding experience I think all outdoor enthusiasts should try.

Now grab your gear, put some birds in the oven, and reminisce after a memorable day afield. Then start planning your next upland adventure! It won’t be long until next season.

Upland game Birds

Frequently Asked Questions About Hunting Upland Birds

What shot size is best for upland birds?

For quail and doves, use #6-7.5 shot. For pheasant and grouse, the #4-5 shot works well. A larger shot like #2 or BB is good for turkeys and chukar.

How close should I let birds get before shooting?

Ideally, within 30 yards. Pattern density becomes too dispersed beyond that. Only take shots you’re confident in making.

Where can I find public hunting land?

Look for state game lands, national grasslands, WMAs, and BLMs. Apps like OnX Hunt can identify public parcels with upland habitats.

What dog breeds make the best upland hunters?

Pointers, English setters, Brittanys, German shorthaired pointers, and spaniels are all excellent upland breeds. Choose based on your hunting style.

How much does an upland hunting dog cost?

$500 – $2000 typically from a reputable breeder. Adoption can be cheaper, but training is key regardless of cost.

How many shells should I carry upland hunting?

Carry at least 2-3 boxes (25 shells per box) for a good day’s hunt. More for hunting hot spots or late season.

When does the upland season start and end?

Dates vary by region and species, but most common seasons run October-January. Check regulations for your state.

What license do I need?

A basic hunting license plus stamps for upland birds and migratory birds. Some states require additional permits to hunt on public lands.

I hope those answers help explain some of the FAQs about getting started upland hunting. Don’t hesitate to contact me with any other questions that pop up along your journey!

Captain Hunter is a seasoned hunting mentor with over 20 years of experience in the field. His passion began as a young man on trips with his father and grandfather in the Colorado mountains. Today, he shares his unmatched skills in survival, tracking, and marksmanship through his website CaptainHunter.com. When he's not volunteering with youth hunting programs, you can find Captain Hunter providing expert hunting tips, gear reviews, and answers to your most pressing questions. His decades of experience make him the trusted guide to help any outdoorsman master the sport.

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