A state-by-state look at 2008's best bird-hunting hotspots on public and private land. (November 2008)
Last season, I found myself on a weedy point near a small river, following my young and inexperienced German wirehair pointer.
Author Jim Foster and Chip, an English setter, show a brace of Rocky Mountain ringnecks.
Photo courtesy of Jim Foster.
The pup went on alert and doubled back along the river. Turning, she stuck her nose into the weeds and stopped. I pushed the safety forward and was about to take a step when two birds cackled into the air. The left barrel of my L.C. Smith tumbled the first bird, while its right barrel punched little holes in the sky.
That lucky rooster reached its height and sailed into a stand of cattails several hundred yards away.
* * *
If you're looking for information about chasing pheasants in the Rocky Mountain States, where to find wild pheasants and where the shooting may be good, keep reading.
Note that prices for preserve hunts will vary, depending on the services and game they offer. It's wise to give them a call.
The Grand Canyon State has decent pheasant hunting. It's just that there's no substantial population of wild pheasants.
The problem is a lack of suitable habitat. Hardcore pheasant nimrods must either travel out of state or else hunt one of the shooting resorts with pen-raised birds.
Many of these resorts offer only quail and chukars, so be sure to ask before you make the trip.
Two I can recommend are:
- Desert Pheasant Recreation in Coolidge. Call them at (520) 723-7234, or check out their Web site at http://pheasantrec.com/index.html.
- YMCA'S High Desert Hunt Club in Mayer. You can visit them at www.ymcahighdeserthuntclub.org, or call (928) 632-7226.
Offering more than 160,000 acres of walk-in access property, Colorado can easily be called a pheasant state.
However, success on public land when the season opens is the direct result of time spent planning and burning shoe leather.
The most popular areas, located in northeast Colorado, can be found in Phillips, Logan and the top county, Yuma. Of course, you also can expect to find other hunters enjoying these same popular areas.
I, for one, would rather drive a bit farther and avoid the crowds.
Denver upland hunter Wallis DeBoult said he drives into the southeast part of the state to unleash his dogs.
"You won't find places in the southeast written up in those large sporting magazines," said DeBoult, "but three days hunting there gets results. During my last three-day hunt, I believe I encountered only one other hunter, and we got up plenty of pheasants."
In many parts of Colorado, a pointing or flushing dog that will "hunt dead" can retrieve its worth of every kibble poured in its dish.
Don't forget to bring along plenty of water for the pup.
A word of caution: Before you hunt, check the state game regulations. In some areas, Colorado has different opening days and varying regulations. Seasons east of Interstate 25 are different than the seasons west of it. A pheasant permit is required of anyone hunting pheasants in the state.
For state information, log on to http://wildlife.state.co.us.
As a hunter, I call Idaho "the most improved pheasant state," and it just keeps getting better. I've hunted mostly public land and wild birds, but I've also hunted several of those management areas where the state releases pheasants.
Pheasants were first introduced to southern Idaho and have thrived near irrigated farming acreage. As has been the case in many other states, changes in farming methods reduced their cover and nesting habitat. This lowered the number of surviving chicks in these areas and moved the birds from row crops to high weeds, grass and Conservation Reserve Program areas.
For Idaho ringnecks, habitat is the key. You can find some of the best pheasant hunting in southeastern and south-central Idaho and around Lewiston and Moscow. At one time, pheasants were numerous along the Boise River valley. Their numbers are down, but you can still find them on private property.
Near the center of Idaho and along the Bear River, there are thousands of acres of CRP land. And where you find blocks of CRP, there's a good chance you will find pheasants.
But don't forget to ask permission. Call ahead or make a pre-season scouting trip to improve your chances and increase your time in the field.
I hate to mention this next area because it's one of my favorite morning hunt spots -- the Lemhi Valley near Salmon, Idaho. Over the last several years, the number of pheasants has grown considerably and the hunter numbers have remained low.
Several spots are located on Access Yes! properties. This state program opens private land to public hunters through agreements with landowners.
Most pheasants here are found in the property adjacent to the Lemhi River and the many irrigation ditches running across the landscape.
While hunting these grassy areas, a good dog will come in very handy. Shooting at least a 20-gauge shotgun with high-base No. 6 loads is also recommended.
Idaho has many Access Yes! areas that are free to the hunters, but a sign-in and a permit from the landowner are required. For locations, visit http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/ifwis/huntplanner/accessyesguide.aspx.
Other options in Idaho are its nine Wildlife Management Areas where about 16,825 pheasants are released.
A special place for myself and a few other ringneck hunters is the Mud Lake WMA. When I hunt this spot near the town of Mud Lake, I always find birds and encounter very few hunters.
Hunt slowly here. The birds hold tight. This is an area where a well-trained and hard-hunting pointing dog will save your day. Hunting recently with a dog, a partner and I followed fou
r hunters through the same fields and found several birds they had walked past quickly.
There are quite a few preserves in the state. Two of these are the Teton Ridge Guest Ranch at (208) 456-2650, and Western Wings at (208) 228-2581.
Information about licenses, permits and Access Yes! details are found on the Idaho Fish and Game Web site at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov.
Hunting in Montana is always a pleasure and a rewarding experience. Along with thousands upon thousands of acres of public lands, there is a number of quality shooting preserves.
And then there are also all the federal and Native American lands available to hunters.
Montana has a cooperative program between the state and private landowners. Block Management Areas (for details, visit http://fwp.mt.gov) provide the public with free hunting access to private land, but are available only in the fall.
Last season, Montana had about 9 million acres enrolled in the BMA program. There is no charge to hunt on BMA lands, but check-in and permission are required.
Selecting an area in Montana can be hard, but several hardcore pheasant hunters believe that the best chances lie in the eastern two-thirds of the state. Many hunters, myself included, prefer the northeast for its miles of pheasant habitat and easy access to many of the better places.
I should mention the area around Shelby and the farmlands along the Marias River. Some large BMA tracts have reportedly been thick with pheasants. This area relies heavily on moisture for successful hatches and good pheasant populations.
Montana's pheasant season opens Oct. 11 statewide and runs through Jan. 1, 2009. For the season, an upland bird license will run a resident $7.50, and a non-resident $110. The daily bag limit is three roosters, with nine birds allowed in possession.
A top preserve is the Orvis-endorsed Forrester's Lodge on the Bighorn River. With excellent cabins and food as a bonus, their dogs and guides are first-class. Contact Nick Forrester at 1-800-665-3799, or check out www.forrestersbighorn.com.
New Mexico is one state where pheasant hunting can be compared to leaving on a trip, only to find you have two flat tires. You can prepare, plan, work your dog and oil your shotgun and then find no place to go.
The regular season lasts only four days and drawing a permit for one of the special hunts is equal to winning the lottery.
These outfitters and pay-to-hunt places offer pheasant hunting:
- Santa Fe Guiding Company conducts hunts on all types of property and in all areas of New Mexico. Call them at (505) 466-7964, or pull up www.santafeguidingco.com.
- Grouse and Quail Guides, at (505) 466-7964, offers guiding services on both private and public lands.
Here's another state where finding wild pheasants on public lands may involve more scouting than actual hunting. Considering that Nevada does not release pheasants anywhere in the state, many hunters are finding other areas of interest.
Pheasant hunters are a dying breed in Nevada. Those who remain will seek their quarry in other states.
State Department of Wildlife officials will tell you that pheasant hunting is open statewide. But a brief look around will reveal very little pheasant habitat. Hunters who do take to the field this fall should try Lyon, Pershing and Humboldt counties. But no one will go on the record to saying that you'll find pheasants or even get a shot at one.
No pun intended, but Nevada pheasant hunting is a real gamble.
Of course, there are the few shooting preserves offering pen birds:
- Humboldt Hunting Club, at (775) 859-0303, and
- Canyon Pheasant Club in Wells, at (702) 267-3807.
In past decades, Utah ranked high on the pheasant hunter's list of places to go. But the decline over the last 40 years is now quite obvious.
Still, pheasant hunting remains a popular pastime, and there is still good pheasant habitat in Utah.
Some of these areas are found on WMAs around the state. One of the top ones is the Huntington WMA located in Emery County. This is one of the areas where the state's youth-only hunts are conducted.
There are public lands with pheasants in Carbon, Duchesne, Grand, Juab, Millard, San Juan, Sanete, Tooele and Uintah counties. The state does lease some private land for public hunting during the season.
You should check with the local game and fish personnel for closed areas and locations that will not run for the full 30-day season.
Hunters with access to good habitat can expect fair-to-decent hunting throughout the season.
Dean Mitchell, upland game coordinator for the state's Division of Wildlife Resources, said that the 2008 season should be about the same as last year's.
In a word, fair -- not bad for a declining state.
If you're inclined to hunt a shooting preserve, Utah offers several options. Here are a few:
- Falcon's Ledge in Altamont, at www.falconsledge.com, or (801) 454-3737,
- Hicken's Pleasant Valley Preserve near Myton, at (435) 646-3194, or www.hickenschickens.com,
- Rendezvous Bend in Amalga, at (435) 563-5304,
- Pheasant Grove Hunting Preserve in Corrine, at (435) 471-2245,
- and SunDown Ranch in Powell, at (435) 471-7107.
Before you spend the bucks, it's always a good idea to call ahead and check references.
Spending time in Cody, Wyo., and having good friends who outfit for a living gave me an inside look into the pheasant-hunting community.
Wyoming outfitters specialize mostly on elk, deer and pronghorn. Birds are way down on their list. Add to this the limited access to Wyoming's prime pheasant land, and you can see why the Cowboy State is not a pheasant hunter's dream. Not to dwell on the negative, but there's a lack of public-land opportunities.
Most wild birds are found along river drainages on private agricultural property. For pheasants, the top counties are Campbell, Goshen, Johnson Laramie and Sheridan, where most of the released birds can be found.
A $10.50 Special Management Pheasant Stamp is required to hunt these pheasant-release areas.
Of course, there's another met
hod that happens to be my favorite -- asking permission to hunt private land. That gives me a chance to look around and meet some of the local landowners.
Go in slow and don't act like a big, tough hunter from the East. Be ready to talk about what the landowner knows. Ask about his crops and stock. Then, once the landowner hunkers and starts drawing maps of his place in the dirt, you're almost home.
Wyoming is blessed with preserves that cater to pheasant hunters. To name a few:
- Canyon Ranch Gun Club in Big Horn, at (307) 674-6239
- Fly Shop of the Big Horns, in Sheridan at www.troutangler.com, or 1-800-253-5866, and
- Redneck Guide Service in Yoder, at (307) 262-4933.