Finding bird hunting opportunities can seem daunting. In the Chicago are where I live, wild bird hunting opportunities are essentially nonexistent. If you are a pointing dog owner and are looking for bird hunting opportunities, here are your options.
Hunting with pointing dogs means hunting birds. Upland game birds. The United States has at least 15 different species which can be hunted with pointing dog breeds. This is very nearly a complete list:
- ringneck pheasant
- ruffed grouse
- bobwhite quail
- scaled quail
- blue grouse
- sharptail grouse
- sage grouse
- grey partridge
- white tailed ptarmagan
- prairie chicken (2 species, greater and lesser)
- California quail
- Himalayan snowcock
In Illinois, the species found are the ringneck pheasant, woodcock, and bobwhite quail. 60 years ago, the numbers of these birds found in the wilds of Illinois was substantial and a hunter could have a good day afield without much effort. Today, suburban sprawl and corporate farming had seriously reduced the numbers of game birds in Illinois.
So, if you have a pointing breed dog, live in Illinois, and want to hunt the dog, what are your choices?
Pen Raised Birds
A few of the birds in the list can be reared in captivity. There are proprietors who own relatively large tracts of land who have opened businesses which cater to people who want to hunt with their dogs. For a fee, pen raised birds are released so the hunter and his dog can have a day in the field that is somewhat similar to the real thing. Certainly, the dog does not know the difference. The hunter realizes that the birds hold tighter than their wild siblings, but the dog does not mind. And it is certainly better than sitting at home. These commercial outfits are nice in that they have an extended season that runs well into February (wild pheasant season covers November and December only).
In Illinois, the state has a few state-owned lands where pen raised bird hunting is supported. Hunters pay a fee to hunt the land and are allowed to harvest two birds a piece. The most popular place close to Chicago is called Des Plaines Conservation Area. The price is reasonable and I go there once a week. I am fortunate to be able to go during the week. Weekends there are a little crazy.
Knock On Doors
There are wild pheasants and bobwhite quail to be had in Illinois. The last count of wild pheasants harvested in Illinois was around 25,000 birds. This is nowhere near the count of a place like South Dakota where the harvest count easily exceeds one million birds. But these birds are available. The problem is that vast majority of these birds are found on private land. To gain access means you have to ask permission. The answers you receive will fall into one of these categories:
- Margaret, get my shotgun, we got trespassers
- Please come in, don't mind the shrunken cat heads
- Maybe. Lets talk about it.
Most answers will be one of the first 3 categories, with a startlingly large number of number threes.
Several years ago, I started a mass mailing to farmers with suitable habitat in Iroquois county. Most of my answers were no, but a couple were definitely in the "maybe" category. Due to some life issues, I wasn't able to follow up, but it proved to me that there are still people who will let you hunt in Illinois.
Simply put, if you want to have unfettered access to large numbers of wild game birds, you have to travel. You have to pack luggage, gun, and dog in the car and hit the road for a week of vacation. I realize that this is untenable for a large number of people. That is why I listed the other options first.
Where does one go to find birds? Two options: West and North.
In the west, places like the Dakotas, Montana, Kansas, Idaho, and Wyoming all have sustainable bird populations and public land access that is astounding. I just returned from a trip to Montana, where a single field of public land is over 7000 acres large. And there are dozens of such parcels. Truly astounding. The birds here are the pheasant, prairie grouse, and grey partridge. The mountainous west has things like chukar, ruffed grouse, and spruce grouse.
In the north, places like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, you'll be hunting forests, rather than prairies. The birds here are the ruffed grouse and the woodcock. Here too there are wide open tracts of public land that required nothing more than a compass, dog and hunting license.
One could go to the south...places like Texas, Georgia, and Alabama. Here, you are talking quail country. But here, the land is mostly private and gaining access will take some knocking on doors, and paying some money to gain access. Hence I list it only as an aside.
Those are your choices. Oh, then again, there is always Powerball.
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