Bird Hunting – Five tips for hunting upland game birds

EXPLOSIVE FLUSHES – Pheasant love to hang out at the edge of fields in thick cover. Walking these areas, moving from one end to the other, will often yield startling and noisy flushes. TIM E. HOVEY PHOTO

By Tim E. Hovey
WON Staff Writer

I’ve hunted upland game all over the western United States. In some spots, I had no previous experience hunting the area. However, in most cases, I could find birds by looking for some basic upland necessities. Whether it’s local spots I know or new spots, here’s how I find and hunt upland game.


Almost all ground-dwelling birds like quail, chukar, pheasant and Hungarian partridge, or hun, need to visit a water source usually twice a day. That means they will not be very far from water during their daily activities. So, when I get to the hunting grounds, the first thing I do is identify an area that will hold water.

Water seeps or small springs can easily be identified over the landscape. The first thing I look for is wherever the vegetation is greenest. This usually occurs in small canyons or creases in hills or mountains. A constant source of water will keep vegetation green throughout the year and will attract all types of wildlife, including upland birds.

UNFAMILIAR GROUND – Locating water and habitat during an out-of-state hunt enabled the author to locate Hungarian partridge even though he had never hunted the area previously. TIM E. HOVEY PHOTO

Being ground birds, upland species need ground cover to hide from predators. They also feed mostly on ground forage and the leaves and seeds of most ground plants like sage. Finding this type of habitat nearby or closely associated with a water source is the
second thing I look for when searching for upland birds.


These low sage areas are perfect for upland birds like quail to hide in and feed around. Searching closer, if birds are using these areas, the surrounding terrain will be covered in fresh bird prints. The tracks themselves often look like they have no set direction or purpose, but their presence is a sure sign that birds are around.

CLIMBING BIRD – Chukar love rocky areas in and around water seeps. Find this type of habitat around a water source and birds should be close by. TIM E. HOVEY PHOTO

Ground birds will often dust themselves to combat small feather parasites. These dust sites can be easy to spot if you know what to look for. In areas of silty dirt, look for depressions in the ground surrounded by bird prints. Often these dust bath areas are in groups, with several depressions concentrated together.


Ground birds like quail and chukar rely on vocals to gather birds together when they become dispersed. This can happen immediately after they fly off their morning roost, or after a predator has scattered the covey. Regardless of why they were scattered, a great time to locate birds in any area is to listen for the sentinel call in the early morning.

The call sounds very much like the word Chi-ca-go repeated over and over. Chukar have a more repetitive call that sounds like kak-kak-kak-kak, again repeated. Both species have nervous putterings that can be heard as they move away from danger without flushing. Most flushes of ground birds are sudden, loud and purposefully distracting.

NOISY BIRD – Quail are vocal birds and can be heard calling throughout the day. The best time to locate coveys is to listen for the sentinel call once they fly down from their morning roost. TIM E. HOVEY PHOTO

Familiarize yourself with game bird calls and get out there early. If you hear sentinel quail calling or the repetitive call of a chukar near good habitat and water, it’s time to grab your shotgun and start walking.


As mentioned, the flush of game birds is explosive and distracting for a reason — when grouped, game birds know that there is safety in numbers. More sets of eyes can identify potential danger and when things get too close, the group explodes in all directions.

These flushes can be sudden and almost at your feet. Escaping birds often fly in almost all directions, but a majority may try and stay together and land in roughly the same area. In my experience, there are two things to pay attention to during and immediately after a flush.

EXPLOSIVE FLUSHES – Pheasant love to hang out at the edge of fields in thick cover. Walking these areas, moving from one end to the other, will often yield startling and noisy flushes. TIM E. HOVEY PHOTO

First, watch where a majority of the covey lands. These birds and that landing area can still be hunted moving forward. Second, don’t just assume all the birds escaped during that initial flush. Frequently, stragglers can be flushed if you continue to search that location.


The preferred mode of travel for upland game birds is usually walking or running. When flushed or startled, they fly short distances to escape. Actually, once airborne, they do more gliding than actual flying. Being chubby ground birds, these glide or flight paths are almost always in a relative straight line. Picking out a single bird and tracking it for the shot is challenging but knowing they won’t be performing any dove-like maneuvers to escape should make for an easier shot.

Most upland birds are also low flyers, staying only six feet or so above the ground during the flushes. Knowing the escape strategy of upland birds can go a long way in putting a few in your bag. Shooting straight and being consistent when it comes to tracking fleeing birds will sharpen your shooting skills as well.

PATIENCE AND PERSISTANCE – A quail limit can be had if you shoot straight and stay persistent. The author likes to walk slowly and listen for puttering birds in thick sage. Paying attention to where birds head after a flush can also be a great strategy. TIM E. HOVEY PHOTO