Bringing home a mixed bag: Hunting multiple upland game bird species

Work in other outdoor activities for a full outing

By Michael J. Foster/WDFW

“One thing at a time.”

“You have too much on your plate.”

“Do what you’re doing.”

No way.

When it comes to upland game bird hunting in Washington, you can sometimes really make the most of your outing by targeting multiple species.

What’s more is that when the timing’s right, you can even add some of your other favorite outdoor activities into the mix in a single-day effort or spread out over a few days.

With some planning, you could find yourself with a mixed bag of not only upland game bird species but also your favorite outdoor experiences thrown in with your quarry.

A male pheasant takes flight over an Eastern Washington farm field.

The likely combos

While hunting for multiple upland game bird species isn’t a tactic for every occasion, here are some likely combinations of birds you can pursue in the field, according to WDFW biologists.

Chukar can often overlap with gray (Hungarian) partridge, and quail can overlap with pheasant where farming areas are next to riparian thickets or brushy irrigation channels.

If you’re hunting pheasant, you might also have a chance to harvest gray partridges. These upland species have similar habitat preferences and you might be able to take partridge opportunistically when hunting for pheasant. Quail are also known to sometimes overlap with gray partridge.

There can be a seasonal angle as well to some combinations: Chukar almost always prefer steep slopes while gray partridge can be almost anywhere from flats to benches near steep slopes and quail are typically at the bottom of brushy draws. However, when it has been dry, all three species are often in brushy draws. If there is a fall green-up, all three species can be found on benches if there is enough sage and bitterbrush for quail. When Sandberg bluegrass greens-up, it can account for greater than 90% of crop contents in all three species in areas with shrub-steppe, so you can target feeding areas that could be holding multiple species.

Meanwhile, turkeys are more generalists and can be found in agricultural areas and forested areas, so the potential exists for them to overlap with multiple species.

Then there are forest grouse, with which, depending on your elevation and location, you can target ruffed grouse in the lowlands, blue (sooty and dusky) grouse in the higher elevations, and spruce grouse in the highest reaches. This can be a good way to reach the mixed bag daily limit on forest grouse of four birds but no more than three of any one species.

Hunting tips

When it comes to hunting upland game birds, turkey, and forest grouse, the WDFW has published quite a bit of information in recent blogs to help you be successful in your hunts.

· For pointers on hunting pheasant, gray partridge, chukar, quail, and forest grouse, read our blog on our top 5 hunting tips for upland birds.

· If you want information about the Eastern and Western Washington pheasant release programs, including where to hunt, read our blog all about Washington pheasant.

· For tips on turkey hunting, check out our blog on five techniques to help you bag a turkey.

· To learn more about forest grouse, including the key differences and similarities between the species, head over to our blog post on finding, identifying and hunting forest grouse in Washington.

Where to go

When it comes to where to go to target multiple species of upland game birds, on-the-ground conditions will of course be different for folks in different regions of the state and even to a degree within the same region. We encourage getting out to check out areas near you, both new and familiar, but below are a few options. In addition to the areas below, check out WDFW’s webpage on places to go hunting to explore other possibilities.

Three gray partridge look around warily in a farm field.

Eastern Washington

Of course, the potential for chukar and gray partridge and any species overlap involving them is going to be seen in Eastern Washington as opposed to west of the Cascades. In South Central Region 3, some areas see chukar, gray partridge, and quail overlapping, with the different species sometimes flushing not far from each other.

Along the breaks of the Columbia River north of Ellensburg, one can hunt grouse then drive 5–10 miles east and hunt chukar, gray partridge, and quail.

The WDFW Whiskey Dick Pheasant Release Site, part of the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area in Kittitas County, allows hunting several upland game bird species within a short distance. However, these hunts are best undertaken early in the season before modern firearm elk hunting seasons come into play.

Meanwhile, in the lower Yakima River Valley, it is strictly quail and released pheasant in places like the Sunnyside-Snake River Wildlife Area.

Elsewhere in Eastern Washington, the Kettle Range, out of Republic and Kettle Falls, and the Selkirk Mountains offer some multi-species upland game bird hunting.

One can hunt blue/dusky, spruce, and ruffed grouse in the same general area in the Kettles and Selkirks, with ruffed grouse being lower down, dusky grouse in the mid- to high elevations, and spruce grouse higher up in the mountains. Hunters can also find turkey in these areas, typically in valley bottoms and up into the foothills, and sometimes quail in the valley bottoms as well.

Two harvested ruffed grouse are seen next to lobster mushrooms.

Western Washington

In Western Washington, the range of upland game bird species a hunter can target is a little more narrow, but opportunities are still out there.

In Western Washington where elevation allows for it in the Olympic and Cascade ranges, both ruffed and sooty (blue) grouse can be targeted in a day with the ruffed grouse down low and the sooty grouse showing up in the higher elevations.

Quail can also be found in grouse territory in Western Washington, and the region is the only one offering the opportunity to hunt mountain quail in addition to California valley quail.

With quail and pheasant sometimes overlapping, look to the Western Washington pheasant release sites for that possible combination since pheasants don’t have a naturally sustained population in the region.

Where turkeys are found in Western Washington, such as Southwest Region 5, look for those generalists to potentially be found overlapping with quail and grouse.

Chanterelles are seen collected on a mossy forest floor amid grouse hunting gear.
Chanterelles are seen collected on a mossy forest floor amid grouse hunting gear.

A real mixed bag

If you really want to broaden the horizons on your outing, there is little limit to the breadth of other outdoor activities you can add into your upland game bird hunting, depending on the species you’re after and your location. This is especially true if you’re spending a few days afield:

· Big game: Grab your shotgun and keep an eye out for forest grouse and upland game birds while scouting for big game such as deer and elk, especially when navigating through brushy areas. While you’re out big game hunting, take note of areas where you jump grouse or quail for bird hunts later after you’ve filled your deer tag.

· Mushroom hunting: Depending on timing and location, an upland game bird outing can easily produce some great edible mushrooms that could even pair well on the plate with your bird harvest. Alder bottoms make for great grouse habitat, and they’re also a likely bet for a haul of oyster mushrooms. The timber behind brushy bird-hunting areas can also hide a number of mushroom species, including chanterelles, lobster mushrooms, and hedgehogs. If hunting trails or abandoned roadbeds for birds, keep an eye on decaying logs and stumps for chicken of the woods, cauliflower mushrooms, and bear’s head tooth fungus. For an introduction to some of these mushroom species, visit https://www.mywdfw.com/everything-else-october/.

· Hiking/backpacking: Plenty of people know the startling experience of flushing a forest grouse while simply out for a hike or wildlife viewing, so of course hiking/backpacking can turn into an upland game bird outing as well. Additionally, in winters where snowfall comes early, cross-country skiing can be added into the mix. If you or someone you know is a shutterbug, you can also marry outdoor photography outings with bird hunts.

· Firewood cutting: Harvesting firewood can also bring you into good habitat for finding upland game birds. For more information on firewood harvesting permits from the state Department of Natural Resources, some of which overlap with upland game bird seasons, visit https://www.dnr.wa.gov/programs-and-services/product-sales-and-leasing/firewood.

· Christmas tree harvest: National Forest Service permits for Christmas tree harvest also present a chance to get the family together for a holiday tradition of hunting for the perfect tree and upland game birds at the same time, particularly forest grouse.

· Fishing/small game: Making your way to remote fishing spots through alder bottoms or mountain trails or pursuing small game can also put you in prime territory for upland game birds. As with any hunt, just be mindful of how well-traveled the area is and watch for bank anglers and boaters.

While multi-tasking might not be for everyone, if you’re looking to add another layer to your next bird outing or catch the interest of someone just starting out, give some of these suggestions a try for your next adventure.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.