Upland Game Update, 10/97
As expected, upland bird hunting seems to be improved this fall overall from last year and the 1996 season was the best in years.
by Ed Mitchell
Fish and Game does not monitor bird hunting as closely or as thoroughly as the department does big game, so laying on the statistics is not as easy. The department does run a few check stations in key areas and collects wings on a voluntary basis in many parts of the state. After the end of the seasons, trends will be fairly clear, if not absolute numbers.
For now, the best I can do is rely on personal observations and huntersí stories. I do try to listen to the more knowledgeable and expert bird hunters. Unlike fishermen, bird hunters are more likely to under-report success than exaggerate because they want to keep their honey spots to themselves. The tighter-lipped they are, the better you can assume bird hunters are doing. It all makes reporting more difficult. But we try.
Sharptails seem to have been spotty over their range this fall. A few folks found them just fine. In a one-day survey around the Curlew National Grasslands, my own little hunting party could not find them. One Arbon Valley grain farmer we talked with (who is not a bird hunter, so was probably telling the truth) said he had loads of them five years ago but they had dwindled on his place. The better success appears to have been on the western edge of sharptail range, maybe because moisture is higher there. What we did find in southeast Idaho was...
Gray partridge (huns) just about every place that looks like good hun country. They like deep grass, brush for cover and access to small grains. Sighting of three birds led us to three coveys within a half mile of brush bordering a huge grain stubble field. Other hunters are finding about the same situation and we all like it. More moisture leading to better nesting cover would probably explain it. I am seeing the same thing in western Idaho. Nice to see the little guys back.
Chukar followed the same pattern. Spots known for chukar in previous years have chukar this year. We have seen higher concentrations in some years past, particularly in Hells Canyon but it is 75 birds and higher per square mile, so nobody is complaining (except about rubbery legs and boot wear, the usual).
Forest grouse seem to have done a little better than expected. They are harder to predict than most upland species, mainly because theyíre harder to see until youíre hunting them. We found more blues and ruffs in the Hells Canyon country than we anticipated and I havenít talked to any experienced forest grouse hunters this fall who said they just could not find them.
Sage grouse hunting turned out about the way we did expect...disappointing almost everywhere. These big native grouse are in a long-term decline over all their range, not just in Idaho. We hear lots of different explanations, an indication to me that the problem is fairly complex and no one has a complete handle on it. Bird biologists in at least Idaho, Wyoming and Nevada are working on sage grouse studies that may eventually help turn this around. We can only hope so, or the sage chicken is headed for federal listing...something none of us wants to see.
Valley Quail are doing the opposite thing. The little beggars are booming wherever the habitat and weather is right, including the lusher yards of Boise. They kept raising babies all summer, so some of the early season birds were about the size of starlings, but they all ought to be in prime shape by the time the cover loses its leaves in November and December. Donít be surprised if the Fish and Game Commission approves a January season extension, as it did early in 1997.
Pheasants gained some numbers where the cover is still conducive to pheasant production and thick enough to hold predation down somewhat. As we all lament, that condition is sadly reduced these days. If you can find pheasant cover and if you can obtain permission to be in it, this should be a fairly satisfying season. The western parts of southcentral Idaho and most of the agricultural southwest will be the better choices.