Bird Hunters Utopia

Paul Fuller is the gun dog columnist for Northwoods Sporting Journal. The Journal has granted permission to re-print Paul’s articles. Thank you Northwoods Sporting Journal.

February 2010

This columnist is a hard-core bird dog man and upland bird hunter. Dreams of the perfect dog, perfect bird coverts and an endless season are almost daily occurrences. All of these ingredients are fantasy; however, how close can we come? To me, living in a location that offers the most birds and the longest seasons would be Utopia. Does this Utopia exist? Staying within the continental United States, let’s examine different regions and determine the best location for a die-hard pointing dog enthusiast to live.

New England. For pointing dogs, New England has a rich tradition. Many of the old-time bird dog and bird hunting authors were born and raised in New England. Men like Frank Woolner, Tap Tapply and Burton Spiller walked the beautiful October coverts in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont and then delivered eloquent articles in the national magazines for our enjoyment. Ruffed grouse and woodcock were the birds they held in high esteem. The English Setter was usually their dog of choice. But wait; let’s be honest with ourselves. Are woodcock and grouse enough? After waiting almost a year from season to season, is October really enough? Let’s explore further.

Mid-Atlantic. Going back thirty years or more, this region may have been a good choice. Wild quail populations were plentiful in farm regions and Ruffed grouse were plentiful in the mountains. Today, practically all quail hunting is over pen-raised birds and the mountains harbor few grouse. This region would not be my choice.

The South. For this article, let’s include South Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Alabama. This is the heartland of quail hunting. We’ve all read about, or perhaps even visited, the grand old quail plantations. Visions of mule drawn wagons, fine English Pointers, a dozen covey flushes in a morning and a gourmet lunch served in the field are all ingredients of a traditional Southern quail hunt. Wow, let’s go right now. Well, it sounds perfect, however, back to reality. Most quail hunting in the South is done exactly as I’ve described and that means big bucks. There are very few open lands that contain wild quail. Unless you have the money to access the many fine plantations, bird hunting is difficult and almost non-existent in many areas. I think I’ll continue my journey.

The Southwest. For this region, we’ll consider Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and, although on the fringe, Southwestern Kansas. All of these states contain quail. The difference between these quail states and the South is that there is more open land and more wild quail. In the most Southern states, you’ll could find Mearns’, Gambel’s and Scaled in addition to Bobwhite. In Southwestern Kansas, in additional to quail (Bobwhite), you’re now entering the Ringnecked Pheasant range. Also, there are areas with the Lesser Prairie Chicken. Now my interest is beginning to peak. In Southwestern Kansas we have multiple species and with multiple species, we have longer seasons. We can also drive 200 miles west and find Chukar in canyon country. Are we getting closer to Utopia. In my mind, we’re getting closer but not quite there.

The West. With great apologies to the West coast, this doesn’t do it for me. Southern California has quail and as you go north you’ll find Chukar in Oregon and Washington; however, I’m now too far from my traditional Ruffed grouse and woodcock. So, I need to get back in my truck and now head toward the Midwest.

The Midwest. I’ve never seen a map that actually identifies what we call the Midwest. What I’m describing might be West/Midwest. My Utopia state for the pointing dog enthusiast and upland bird hunter lies within this region. I will reveal that state and then explain why. It’s Minnesota. And here is why I selected Minnesota. First, it is one of the Ruffed grouse and woodcock glory states in the Midwest. The others include Wisconsin and Michigan and both of these states are within a day’s drive. Now that we still have what New Englander’s are used to, what else does this bountiful state have to offer? As you leave the northern Minnesota woods and travel southwest, you’ll discover farmland and pheasants. Continuing your drive, you’ll enter the Minnesota prairie country. Now this is pretty exciting…how about Hungarian Partridge (huns) and Prairie Chicken? Prairie Chicken is a draw-only license but that’s okay. It demonstrates that this once plentiful bird is making a rebound. There is also an open Sharp-tailed Grouse season. It’s only open in one zone but, again, that’s fine. So, we’ve just landed in a state that offers six species of upland birds. That’s pretty exciting. And, depending upon the species, we have seasons that begin September 19 and stretch into early January. Almost four months of multiple wild species upland bird hunting.

There’s more, however. Once you’ve hung up your cap in Minnesota, you’re only a day’s drive from many other big-time upland bird states or provinces. South Dakota is the pheasant capital of the world. Let’s say we’ve chosen Bemidji, MN to settle down. Mitchell, South Dakota is a five-hour drive from Bemidji, MN. We’ve all read about the large numbers of huns and sharptails in Montana. Lewistown, MT is an eleven-hour drive. How about driving up to Winnipeg, Manitoba and getting into huge numbers of huns and sharptails? It’s only a little more than a four-hour drive.

Okay, you’ve grown tired of these six species of birds. You can find wild Bobwhite quail in western Missouri. You’ll need to talk with farmers, but they’re there. A ten-hour drive will get you to Macon, MO. That’s seven species of upland birds within a day’s drive. Now that’s what I call upland bird hunting Utopia. Dillon (my German shorthair) and I would smile for months. Am I packing the truck? Probably not. My wife has strong roots in New Hampshire and I suspect that’s where we’ll stay. Is there a compromise? A four-month cabin on the North Dakota/Minnesota border might just be the answer. Time will tell for me.