Recognized as king of the game birds, the native American wild turkey has in the past been all but wiped out by civilization, having vanished from 18 (red map area) of the 39 states (dotted map area) it inhabited. Conservation and strict game regulations have increased the bird's numbers in recent years.
The turkey is the largest upland game bird in the U.S. (average size of mature gobbler 4 feet long, weight 14 pounds) and is unquestionably the wariest. Its conversational pattern, the familiar gobble, is the hunter's best means of locating the bird and imitation calls are a successful hunting device.
When a dog is used a cocker spaniel is considered best. More often, a man hunts the turkey with turkey calls or "roosts" it at dusk.
Turkey prospects this season are brighter than for any other bird. Not too many years ago biologists feared that the turkey would share the fate of the extinct passenger pigeon. But this year Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wyoming all report turkey populations increasing, and only New Mexico indicates a drop.
Pheasants were successfully introduced to the U.S. in 1881 when the U.S. Consul in Shanghai sent 28 ring-necks to Oregon. Hardy and prolific, they adapted themselves so amazingly well that only 11 years later the first shooting season was opened with 50,000 birds killed the first day. Where civilization has driven out many of the native birds the pheasant has moved in and flourished. More than 5,000,000 are killed each year during hunting seasons. Their range extends across much of the U.S., but is concentrated in the North Central states from the Mason and Dixon line north as far as deep snow regions.
Usually found in corn stubble, farmlands and brushy fields, the pheasant lies well to dogs and is a fast flyer. Setters, pointers and spaniels all make good pheasant dogs, but seldom achieve the excellence possible on quail.
The pheasant outlook this season is excellent. Most states report increases with an exceptional high in Illinois. In Vermont, Washington and Wyoming, populations are down and the ban on pheasant shooting will continue in Vermont. The remainder of the states in which pheasant are hunted report population static and shooting conditions comparable to the 1954 season. In places where public shooting domain is being cut down, new interest is developing in the professionally run game preserve at which, for so much a head, pheasants, cover and bird dogs are supplied for the hunt.
An overtrustful nature has earned for the dusky grouse the name "fool hen." It is to be found generally in the Rockies, ranging from north Utah, southeastern Idaho, and northwestern Colorado south to central New Mexico, central Arizona and west to Nevada.
Males weigh up to three and a half pounds; females are somewhat smaller.
The dusky prefers dense evergreen forests at altitudes from sea level to the timber line. The hunter finds it most often at the edges of clearings and along low openings near streams.
When flushed it is likely to seek shelter in a tall tree. In remote areas of its range the dusky has little fear of man and will sometimes hold its ground when encountered. If hunted frequently, however, it becomes educated and learns to flush swiftly.
The flesh of the dusky is most tasty while the bird is still feeding on berries, small leaves and insects.
A steady setter or pointer is best for this bird.
Dusky grouse populations are up in Colorado and New Mexico, with the latter anticipating an excellent season. Populations appear normal in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming. Utah reports its population is down.
Considered by some the craftiest of upland game, the ruffed grouse has survived the thinning of forest lands (its natural habitat) and in some regions has retreated to almost inaccessible areas, rocky hills and new timberland.
The ruffed grouse is found in all of the northeastern states, ranging west across the continent to the Pacific and north into the Canadian forest areas.
This bird takes its name from a collar-like neck ruff of triangular feather patches which it can raise and spread when excited. Like the quail, it feeds in the morning and late afternoon (wild grapes, sumac berries, rose hips), drowsing and dusting in the noon hours. Unlike quail it frequently feeds on trees and bushes rather than on the ground.
Mother grouse often employ the "broken wing" trick (hobbling and dragging along a wing) to distract attention from their broods.
Because few dogs are steady enough on grouse, hunters often dispense with them, preferring to hunt unassisted.
Ruffed grouse this season present a mixed outlook. Populations are up in Michigan, New Jersey and Tennessee, but down in Minnesota, New York, Utah and New Hampshire. In other states populations remain level. The ruffed grouse appears to go through a population cycle of increase and decline over a duration of 7 to 10 years. Biologists are beginning to feel that hunting pressure does not hinder the recovery of the birds and, in fact, may speed them on the upward climb in numbers. Studies made in New Hampshire indicate the best years in the most recent cycle in ruffed grouse population were 1951 and 1952. The year 1953 was poor, last year was worse, and this year is expected to drop even lower.
The American woodcock, a native North American, is a member of the snipe family and is related to the sandpiper, godwit and curlew. But unlike his relatives, the migratory woodcock lives in the uplands, swamps and soft beds and edges of creeks and streams.
Found in eastern North America from Newfoundland to central Florida, the woodcock in winter ranges from (red map area) the Gulf region north to Missouri, northern Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and southern Virginia.
Its characteristics include a long pointed beak and, unlike other birds, eyes located high on top of its head. Its hearing is extremely sensitive and it finds freezing to approaching danger more effective than flight. When it does flush it darts up from the ground at deceptively high speeds.
The popularity of the woodcock as a game bird has increased tremendously in the past five years, and statistics show that increased gunning pressure has not decimated population.
A close-ranging steady pointer or English setter is generally preferred for woodcock shooting because of the bird's tendency to sit tight in close cover. Careful, slow steps punctuated by pauses are most likely to drive out this bird.
Woodcock are on the increase in Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Tennessee and Wisconsin. With the exception of Maine, where populations appear to have decreased this year, they remain static elsewhere in their range. Louisiana is the largest wintering grounds of the woodcock in the U.S. and will provide excellent hunting. The overall '55 picture for this fast and sporting bird is good to excellent throughout its range.
A relative of the bobwhite, the Gambel's quail is native to the U.S. and Mexico and is found in brushy desert lands from southern Nevada and southeastern California through Arizona, western Texas and southwestern New Mexico to Mexico.
In a sporting sense, this bird falls short in relation to its cousin the bob-white in that it lies poorly to dogs and is more likely to employ its legs than its wings as a means of escape. It can easily be hunted on foot.
If succulent growth is not available it must have a free water supply within four miles of its feeding grounds. At the beginning of its season coveys are composed of family groups, but as early winter approaches they join each other, reaching 50 to 150 birds in number.
The Gambel's quail is a strong flyer but will probably run for cover when threatened. If cooked properly it has a tasty flavor and rates high on the eating list.
Gambel's quail show little change throughout their range, with the only increase in population appearing in Colorado, where it is reported that there aren't even enough quail hunters to scatter the flocks.
The low, sad cry of this bird is its chief characteristic and the reason for its name. Of all the upland game birds the mourning dove is the only one which breeds in every state. Part of the population remains on its breeding ground all year while others breed in the North and migrate as far south as Mexico in the winter.
There is little difference between male and female, both being about 11 to 13 inches in length and weighing about four ounces.
Primarily a bird of the open country, farmlands and plains, it is only where man has forced it back that the mourning dove has retreated to sparsely wooded or forest areas. The mourning dove is a rapid flyer and is considered among the most difficult targets to hit. It is occasionally hunted from a blind at a watering place, but most frequently in walk-up and drive hunts.
Populations are up in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Washington. The only state to show a drop in population is Louisiana. Arizona claims it has more mourning doves than any state in the Union. Imperial Valley, California is believed second. The entire state of Arizona, where a kill of 460,000 is anticipated, is open for dove shooting during its 45-day season.
One of the grouse that likes open spaces, the prairie chicken generally gathers in good-sized flocks, especially in autumn. It ranges from northern Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri west to Minnesota, North and South Dakota and Nebraska, eastern Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.
About 18 inches long with a short tail (most of its length is in its body), the prairie chicken moves over the ground relatively well and has a powerful, moderately fast flight. It will usually flush long (ranges from 35 to 50 yards), making it advisable to have a full-choked gun and heavier loads than used on other birds (see chart page 32).
A wide-ranging pointing dog is most suitable for the long grasslands in which the prairie chicken is found.
Prairie chicken populations show little change throughout this bird's range. The overall picture is poor because of decreases over the past many years. Several states in which the prairie chicken is found have closed their seasons on the bird completely, and unless the population increases markedly in the future, they will probably not re-open.
The largest true grouse in North America, the sage grouse, reaches a length of almost 3 feet and a weight of eight pounds in adulthood, second in size only to the wild turkey.
The sage grouse, as its name suggests, frequents the dry plains and sagebrush which provide it with food and cover. Its diet of sage leaves gives it a strong taste which limits its popularity on the table.
Its range includes Montana, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada and Oregon with scattered populations in Washington, eastern California, northern New Mexico, North and South Dakota and Nebraska.
Usually found in large coveys, the sage grouse is long-flying and is hunted on foot. In autumn the birds are to be found in large concentrations readying for moves to more sheltered valleys.
Sage grouse prospects are only fair, but increased populations in Colorado, Montana and Washington are promising. Nevada shows a decrease over '54, but throughout the rest of the range populations are static.
Some 11 million bobwhite quail are shot annually. Although they range over much of the country, they are best known in the southeastern states. Named for their distinctive "bob-white" call, they average 8½ to 10½ inches in length and weigh five to seven ounces. They are rarely found alone, preferring coveys. Open woodlands, fields and clearings are typical bobwhite haunts. When pressed, a bobwhite can fly 35 mph, but it prefers life on the ground. When flushed it takes to the air with a disconcerting roar; the flight is then usually short—only as long as is necessary to locate a safer ground spot. Another means of escaping detection is to freeze in one position. Because it seldom flushes prematurely, is a very sporting target for shooters and prefers settled country, the bobwhite is one of the most popular upland birds. English pointers and setters are recognized as the master quail dogs.
The outlook on bobwhite quail throughout virtually its entire range this year is better than ever. Good weather produced increases in populations in Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee and Wisconsin. Improved cover and a reduction almost to extinction of coyotes in Kansas have helped that state; and Delaware, anticipating one of its finest seasons on quail in many years, considers itself "a mecca for birds and bird hunters." Kentucky expects a kill of 2 million birds out of an estimated quail population of 4 million; Mississippi anticipates a similar number. Florida, North Carolina and Virginia all expect quail kills in excess of one million. Populations are down in Maine and West Virginia (where heavy rains destroyed hatches). In spite of an anticipated quail harvest of between 1.2 million and 1.5 million before the season's end, Florida still notes that populations are down this year.
SEASONS AND HAZARDS
Seasons on upland game birds vary from about September until January, depending on the geographical location, and hunters are advised to consult local and state laws before hunting. Because woodcock and mourning dove are migratory and pass through several states in their flights to wintering grounds, seasons on these birds are determined federally.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has divided the country into four flyways—Atlantic, Mississippi, Central and Pacific—which are the major routes used by the migrating birds. Length of seasons are determined according to conditions existing within the flyways.
The seasons for other game birds are determined by the state and are based on estimates, anticipated hunting pressure and prevailing weather conditions. Depending on what part of the country he is in, the upland game-bird hunter can expect to run into all kinds of weather, from hot sunny days to below freezing, sleet-snow conditions. Hunters will do best by checking September-January temperatures in areas they intend to hunt. Because most hunting will be done on foot, a little less clothing than usual is the rule.
Bird hunters in Arizona, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee can expect to run across snakes and should be prepared for them. Although the incidence of snake bite among bird hunters is low, rattlers and copperheads create a definite problem where dogs are used for hunting. Michigan has its own special problem—a dense population of hornets which enjoy the same locale as the best bird shooting in the state.
The greatest hazard which the bird hunter will face throughout the country is the hunter himself. The state of Tennessee, for example, predicts that at least four or five persons will drown this season while hunting; eight to 10 will be killed by firearms and another 25 will be wounded. The firearms accident probability is especially high in bird hunting. Walking through stubble fields, rocky areas, marshes and streams creates situations in which guns can easily be discharged accidentally.
Group hunters, in the excitement of a low flushing bird, have on more than one occasion mistakenly sprayed their companions or dogs with shot as they attempted to follow a bird's flight. The rules which apply to the handling of all firearms and to field behavior should be observed in bird hunting.