Upland Game Birds
Every region of the continent has an upland game bird population that can be broken down into two groups or categories;
- Native Birds
Native birds are distinguished from the introduced variety by completely feathered legs and in Winter rows of small scales or Pectinations on either side of their toes. These form a kind of snowshoe which enables the birds to walk upon deep snow.
Feathers also protect the nostrils and generally a small bare area appears above the eye.
Alberta has eight varieties or species of Native upland Game birds
- White Tailed Ptarmigan
- Willow Ptarmigan
- Blue Grouse
- Spruce Grouse
- Ruffed Grouse
- Sharptail Grouse
- Pinnated Grouse or Prairie Chicken
- Sage Grouse.
- Introduced or Non Native Birds
These are fowl like birds with legs, toes, and nostrils bare of feathers. Some species have legs equipped with spurs.
Generally the introduced bird has a more spectacular coloration than the native bird and will usually be found only in habitat favorable to its survival
Four species have been introduced to Alberta.
- Ring Necked Pheasant
- Hugarian Partridge
- Chukar Partridge
- Merriams Turkey
White Tailed Ptarmigan
A small Grouse. In Summer mottled with brown, blacks and whites. Show white wings and tail in flight. In Winter entirely white.
Ptarmigan are found in the Mountains of Western North America, from Alaska to Mexico. Breeds throughout range.
On the ground, nest of grasses and feathers. Eggs usually six to eight, buffy with fine spots of darker browns.
The White Tailed Ptarmigan’s diet consists mainly of berries, weed and grass seeds. However during the deep snows of Winter they may migrate to lower elevations and feed on domestic grain.
Large amounts of white on wings and black tail are the best field marks in the Summer. In Winter, all white except black tail which usually shows only in flight.
The Willow Ptarmigan are found mostly North of tree limits in Summer. In Winter they migrate into Northern Alberta. Occasionally as far South as the Northern edge of the Prairies.
On the ground, nest of grass, leaves and feathers. Eggs 7 to 10, yellowish or brownish spotted with rich reddish browns.
Generally berries, grass and weed seeds, but may feed upon domestic grains during their Winter Migration southward.
During the mating and nesting period the male establishes a territory and does battle with any other male that may enter his domain. Like most Grouse, he is quite vocal at this time and emits a variety of booms and hoots. The downy young follow their mother from the nest a few hours after they hatch. Their colors blend in extremely well with the mosses allowing them to go unnoticed by predators.
Overall color is slate gray, darkest on the back, somewhat brownish on the wings. White on the throat and abdomen. White tips on feathers on sides and under tail coverts. Tail Black, occasional gray terminal band, small yellow comb over eye.
Fairly common throughout the mountain regions of Alberta
On the ground, nest of grass, leaves and pine needles near fallen log or foot of tree. Eggs, 5 to 10, buffy, finely spotted with light brown.
During the Summer, the diet consists mainly of berries and small insects. In the Winter, mainly buds and conifer needles.
In the Spring the mail struts about like a turkey cock. Occasionally pausing to fill his nuchal sacs and emit a guttural hoot. Both adult and young are quite tame, but if alarmed, take off with a startling suddenness in rapid flight.
A small very dark grouse found in thick stands of spruce and pine. Male, crown back and wings dusky brown to dusky blue. Each feather is finely barred with black. Face is black, a white line behind eye and a scarlet bomb above. Throat is black, sometimes marked with white, remaining or under parts black with white barring.
Generally throughout the coniferous forests of Alberta.
On the ground. Nests of leaves and grasses in the moss under low hanging branches of a spruce tree. Eggs 8 to 16, usually light brown beautifully marked with dark browns.
In the Winter much of their diet is made up of coniferous needles. During the Summer and Autumn, they eat on the ground upon insects, leaves and berries.
The Spruce Grouse is a sub species of the Franklins Grouse. At the approach of an enemy they flutter into the branches of a conifer tree, relying upon their protective coloration and immobility to make them inconspicuous. They are also known as a fools hen.
Head crested, a ruff of glossy black feathers on each side of the neck. Fairly long tail with a black band near the tip of the tail are the most prominent distinguishing marks of the this bird.
Forested regions throughout Alberta
On the ground, nest of leaves and grass usually near or under a fallen log or root. Eggs 8 to 14 buff unspotted.
Diet is varied, in the Winter I consists of poplar and willow buds, domestic grains and rose hips. In Summer and Autumn on weed seeds, grain and quantities of green vegetation.
It is more solitary in its habits than any other species of grouse. Small family groups may be found in early fall but these soon beak up. In the Spring the male displays upon a log, ruffs extended, wings trailing, and tail spread. From time to time he beats his wins against the air to produce a noise like the muffled roll of a drum. Occasionally he may drum in the Fall.
A large Brownish Grouse, mainly white below with V marks on breast and pointed tail. In flight the white sides of the tail make an excellent field identification mark. Male has an orange comb over the eye.
Throughout the province of Alberta but fairly scarce in the western rocky mountain region.
On the ground, nest of grass concealed in grass or low brush. Eggs 10 to 14. Finally dotted with reddish brown.
In the farming areas of Alberta. His fare is mostly grain and grass see. In the wooded regions, berries and grass seed.
Every Spring the sharp tailed grouse gather on their ancestral dancing ground where, at dawn the males perform a courting dance with much pomp and strutting. Large purple sacs on their necks are inflated with air. When this air is expelled through the mouth, a booming sound is produced through the mouth. A booming sound is produced. The female plays a passive role in this performance, they take no part in the dance but mating occurs here.
A large brownish Grouse strongly barred below with short, square tail. Throat, buffy with a few brown spots at sides. The lont feathers on sides of neck are positive identification.
Once found throughout the great plains of North America, now only occasionsl sightings are noted in the central prairie region.
On the ground, nest of grass concealed in tall grass or low bushes. Eggs 8 to 18, buffy olive, sometimes finely marked with brown.
Much of his food, summer diet is made up of insects, primarily grasshoppers. In the Winter grain is the main substance.
The pinnated or true prairie chicken was a migrant. Spending the summer in the central prairie and migrating to the Dakotas or Minnesota for the Winter. The Pinnated has been most often mistaken for the Sharp Tailed Grouse. No authentic sightings have been made in Alberta in recent years.
A very large Grouse, males may weigh up to seven pounds. Crown and hind neck gray, finely marked with black, back and wings gray, many feathers with white shafts and all but primaries finely barred or splotched with buff and black. The large black abdominal patch is very distinctive.
The Sage brush plains of South Eastern Alberta
On the ground, nest of grass and leaves usually in the shelter of sage brush. Eggs, 7 to 15, olive buff with fine spots of dark brown.
During the autumn and Winter the bulk of their food is sage leaves and buds. In the Spring and Summer they feed upon insects and grasses.
Sage hens form large flocks during Fall and Winter. In the Spring the males gather at dawn to perform a peculiar type of dance. The nuchal sacs are inflated until the stiff feathers covering them scrape the ground. As the air is released through the mouth. A guttural grunt is produced. The female is ignored during this performance.
Ring Neck Pheasant
The male is a large bird with a very long tail, brightly colored in iridescent purple on the head and neck. Irridescent bronze and black on the body, usually a white ring around the neck. The male has spurs on the inside of the lower leg. The female resembles the sharp tailed Grouse but is more buffy in color and lacks patches of pure white. Legs are unfeathered.
The Ring Nec was first introduced into Alberta in 1908 in the Calgary area. They have adapted reasonably well and are generally found in the central to south eastern part of Alberta.
On the ground, nest of grass, leaves and weeds. Concealed in tall grass or low bushes. Eggs, 6 to 12, olive or buffy in color.
Domestic cereal grains make up the bulk of their food with insects, grass, sprouts, and berries completing their fare.
Many releases have been done in Alberta with a relatively low ration of success. They seem to do best in those regions where there is plenty of tight cover close to cultivated fields. Tangled willows, rose bush, and clover, bordering streams or irrigation ditches, is ideal.
A small brownish partridge light brown face and throat, usually some evidence of chestnut horseshoe on the lower breast in flight the chestnut tail feathers are obvious.
Introduced into central and Southern Alberta, they are quite common in the prairie and parkland regions of Alberta.
On the Ground, nest of grass, concealed in grass or low bushes. Eggs ten to Twenty two. Olive or olive buff, unmarked.
Domestic Grain, Weed seeds. Leaves or grasses and berries.
Huns run and fly fast, hide well and rise with a disconcerting racket which unnerves the hunter. Since the Hun did so well in the Southern part of Alberta, they have been recently introduced into the Peace River District. A mature bird seldom weighs more than fifteen to sixteen ounces. However, the flesh is highly prized by the connoisseur.
Similar to Hungarian Partridge but much grayer. Unmarked on back, a black line across forehead through eye and over ear. Becomes very broad down side of neck and across upper breast. Breast Bluish gray, beak orange and legs are red.
Introduced into Alberta in 1954 in the extreame South portion of the Province along the Milk River
On the Ground, nest of grass and leaves lining a shallow depression usually well hidden in vegetation. Eggs 10 to 13 yellowish white speckled with brown.
Weed Seeds, berries and some domestic grains.
Like the Hun the Chukar is ground dwelling specie but prefers scrubby wasteland and grassy pastures to cultivated fields. Unlike the Hun it occasionally perches on fence posts and trees. In the autumn covey of varying size are formed, These do not break up until the following Spring.
The general appearance of the Turkey very similar to the Domestic Bronze Turkey. The Merriam has not much cinnamon brown on the top of the tail, and the tips of the tail and tail coverts are whitish or Buff instead of brown. The rump is velvety black.
Portions of Southern Alberta, the Cypress hills and the Porcupine Hills appear to form a favorable habitat.
On the Ground
It is a bird of the coniferous forest and forest opening. The food consists of a omnivorous diet of fruits, grain, green vegetation and insects. During fall and Winter months in Southern Alberta the birds must rely on dried berries, wed seeds, and waste grain from the accasional adjacent grain field. Because this bird is a fround feeder it cannot cope with continued deep snow conditions. Water should be available throughout the year.
This large bird was introduced to the Cypress Hills of Alberta from South Dakota in 1962. The fifteen birds released increased durint the Summer of 1962 to about 50 birds.
The turkey id native to the Central United States. The original range of the wild turkey was from Southern Mexico through New England to Eastern Canada and West to include 39 of the United States. Primarily a bird of open forests, it was unable to withstand deforestation and other advances of civilization.
Upland Game Bird Hunting Tips
In Alberta a favorite way of hunting upland game birds is to drive to the clumps of willow and poplar trees that spot the Province. Walk towards it, along each side. The birds may flush immediately. Sharptail should be shot on the first flush. For almost every time it will fly too far for the hunter to follow. Huns, on the other hand will fly from clump to clump and may even spread out and land in grass or wheat stubble. The man with the well trained bird dog is in for some great sport.
For sharptails from sun up to about 10 am try the edges of stubble field or the sunny side of bushes. On cold or rainy days they huddle beside small bushes in open spaces. When flushed they take off singly or in pairs rather than in a flock. Under certain conditions it will be noted that birds will always fly in the same direction with relation to the wind. This wind flight direction should be noted by the hunter in working the cover. They make exceptionally sporty targets when they pass high overhead. This shot can be set up by town hunters shooting over his partner presenting a rather tricky target.
One way of hunting pheasants is to spread out across the fields and move along cautiously. Checking for signs such as a half picked corncob. In Souther albert or the saucer shaped depression of a susting spot. Often you will see a long tailed rooster racing ahead. The birds flush at the end of cover giving the hunter a fast moving away shot. It is wise to place a watcher at the end of the rows or drive, otherwise the birds may run instead of flushing.
Hunters often complain because the Pheasant will not hold still for their setters or pointer. Although especially trained dogs sometimes hold them by ranging ahead of the bird and pointing back toward the shooter. Whether or not the pointing breed is used on pheasants, no hunter should go afield without a good retriever. Loss in heavy cover can run as high as 50 percent. A percentage which no true hunter can sanction. Wounded birds are almost impossible for a hunter to retrieve.
When hunting ruffed grouse in low level cover with a dog, move slowly for they will often lie close and allow the hunter to come within a few feet before flushing. One thing is sure the bird will take advantage of you if it can. It is one of the most alert of all game birds and the majority of the time is going to be hunted in dense cover.
This is strictly a touch and go business. Swift and sudden, and the advantage is usually with the bird. In flight the grouse is erratic likely to speed away dipping and dodging putting, if at all possible, some natural obstruction between itself and the hunter.
Before attempting to hunt any territory for ruffed grouse try to ascertain beforehand that there are birds in the locality. It is wise to inquire of the residents and preceding the season the serious hunter will take some casual strolls through the country he hopes to hunt that fall.
In spring the drumming of the males gives definite evidence of their location. And further examination may point out dust baths in sandy soil or beside sawdust piles on old mill sites.
One point never to be forgotten, walk them slow and easy, never make a bold or reckless approach or they will catch you off guard.
Shot, Shell and Choke
It is difficult to recommend a perfect combination of choke, shot size, gauge, and powder load to use. However by considering each in turn it is possible to establish a suitable combination.
First let us consider choke.
This referes to the degree of constriction at the muzzle of the barrel of a shotgun. Chokes range from cylinder bore to full choke which is the tightest. The tighter the choke the denser the pattern. Going down the scale from full choke, next we have modified choke, then improved cylinder choke and final full cylinder or cylinder bore. There are other degrees of choke but those named are the main ones. Full and modified are for long range shooting. Whereas improved cylinder and cylinder bore are for close range up to 30 yards approximately.
Shot of course referes to the lead pellets in the shot shell, they come in graded sizes starting with at least four buckshot sized and then bB, 2, 4, 5, 6, 71/2, 8, and 9. Most shot shell pellets are now made of Steel, Tungsten or Bismuth.
The hight the number the smaller the shot. With small shot there is more in a shell but being fine and light it loses its penetration power beyond the shortest ranges. Generally speaking long rang shots require large heavy shot but there are limitations placed on shot size when compared to the patterns produced. The larger the shot the less shot per square foot there is at the target and the pattern is said to be thin.
Bearing all these points in mind, the following is recommended.
Bird Shot Sizes Gauge Choke
Spruce Grouse 6, 7.5 12-20 Cyl or imp cyl
Ruffed Grouse 6, 7.5 12-20 Cyl or imp cyl
Sharptail Grouse 6, 7.5 12-20 Mod or full
Hungarian Patridge 7.5, 8 12-20 imp cyl or mod
Pheasant 5, 6, 7.5 12 -20 mod or full
Ptarmigan 6, 7.5 12-20 mod or full
Blue Grouse 6, 7.5 12-20 mod or full
The use of 28 gauge or .410 bore is really limited to experienced wing shooters who take their shots at short ranges. Their pinpoint accuracy compensates for the smaller load of shot. In the hands of a novice these guns are almost unsportsmanlike. In many cases they wound game which flies away as though unharmed but later dies.
There are in the main five general types of shot shell loads; standard, heavy, long range, special long range and standard length magnums. There are also reduced target loads and three inch magnums which require a special gun. But for the upland game bird hunter these do not merit serious consideration.
The selection the type of shells to use will depend upon the type of hunting. Generally speaking standard loads are suitable on the smaller birds all season and larger birds early in the season when they can be approached fairly easily. Long range and special long range shells are used in very open country or the latter parts of the season when the birds are wary and flush a fair distance away. At these times some hunters may even use standard length magnums on birds such as pheasants which have been heavily hunted.
Selecting a Gun
Numerous factors enter into the hunters requirements in choosing an upland game bird gun. Primarily he wants a light sort barred gun that can be carried through a long day afield without becoming tiresome. But at the same time he wants one that will shoot good patterns at ranges of 30 to 40 yards. He may have a preference as to gauge and in this matter his ability as a wing shot should be his guide. Finally he is confronted by the problem of type. Whether to select a side by side, or over and under double, a pump or an autoloader. Whenever possible the novice should give each of the four type a try before making a final decision.
When it comes to weight preference varies between 6.5 and 7.5 pounds. Depending upon the gauge. The 28 inch barrel 12 gauge is the big favorite over the others.
When selecting your gun the following points should be considered of primary importance is fit. The gun should swing to the shoulder easily and the shooter should not feel strained or awkward when handling it.
Before selecting a gun for purchase consider what you will be wearing while hunting. An insulated jacket can make a big difference in how you will handle a shotgun or rifle.
Another point worthy of consideration is the balance. Does it handle easily? Many claim that the double gun design makes it possible to obtain a finer balance and at the same time offer a reasonably wide range in weight.
Against this many claim that the two shots available in the double is a limiting factor. But the hunter who can manage more than two well pointed shots before the birds are beyond his range is an exceptional one.
All the advantage of the standard double are found in the over and under. Plus the extra feature of the single sighting plane which should not be ignored. If you should feel that the weight of your gun should be reduced, change from a 12 to a 20 gauge gun and spend more time practicing to compensate for the lighter loads of the smaller gauges.
There is a very definite trend towards the small gauges and a great increase is noted in the number of 16 and 20 gauge guns seen in the field. Many ladies now accompany the men afield and they favor the smaller gauges with less recoil and weight.
There are many good variable chokes available today. They give the one gun man a chance to use his scatter gun for all types of shotgun shooting.
For those who use double barrelled guns or prefer not to use a variable choke, they will find that their selection of chokes is based upon the range at which most of their hunting will be done. When hunting birds which flush at a close range say 20 to 30 yards. Cylinder and improved cylinder chokes are recommended with the latter being the most popular. For hunting at ranges over 30 yards, modified and full choke should be used. If one gun with one choke is to be used for all types of hunting, modified choke and 28 inch barrel is generally recommended.