2005 Upland Bird Forecast: East

Before you know it we'll be donning our blaze orange and following our dogs out into the field and forest.

The time to get ready is now. Here is a rundown of good places in the northeast and upper Midwest.


The northland of this state is host to fantastic ruffed grouse hunting. The town of Park Falls calls itself the "Ruffed Grouse Capital of the World," in fact.

Look for grouse throughout the state, except in the southeastern counties.

Quail do exist in Wisconsin, but they're primarily concentrated in the extreme southwestern portions of the state.

Pheasants are primarily grouped in the southern counties, with a narrow band extending up the eastern shore and ending at Green Bay.

For more information on hunting upland game birds in Wisconsin, contact the WDNR (dnr.wi.gov/org/land/wildlife/hunt).


In their "Pheasant Hunting Prospects 2004," the Illinois DNR listed the top pheasant counties as Ford, Iroquois, Livingston, McLean, Mercer and Will. They also recommended hunting northwestern Winnebago County and the Freeport area.

These findings were based on the average annual harvest from 7 to 12 years ago.

If you want to find pheasants in Illinois, you'll have to look for Conservation Reserve Program land. Look for fields with filter strips and lots of unharvested grass type land.

Quail are found in large numbers south of Highway 80, but their numbers have been steadily declining for the last several years.

For more information on hunting upland game birds in Illinois, contact the IDNR at (dnr.state.il.us/admin/systems/index.htm#upland).


During a recent ruffed grouse survey, the county producing ten or more hours of hunting with an average of two or more flushes per hour was Lake County.

Other notable counties that showed a lot of grouse were Charlevoix, Crawford, Emmet and Alpena.

Counties reporting an average of more than two flushes per hunter hour are Ingham and Tuscola. But once again, if you want to find the birds, you need to find suitable habitat. Contact your local farm bureau and search for Conservation Reserve Program land.

For more information on upland bird hunting in Michigan, contact the Michigan DNR (www.michigan.gov/dnr).


The best areas for pheasants include the extreme northwestern portion of the state and a band in the middle of the state.

Specific good areas are the Deer Creek Wildlife Area and Fayette, Madison, Pickaway and Williams counties.

Also don't forget the Wildlife Production areas of the northwest, central and west-central portions of the state.

If you want to hunt quail in Ohio, make sure that you're in a county where it's legal to do so.

Most of the counties that allow quail hunting are in the extreme southern portions of the state.

New York

Annually, more than 25,000 adult pheasants are released just prior to and during the fall pheasant hunting season.

Releases occur across the state on well-publicized state and private lands open to public hunting.

For a list of sites where the state stocks pheasants, log onto www.dec.state.ny.us/website/dfwmr/wildlife/pheasant/rnpstock.html.

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Con-servation, each year, approximately 75,000 grouse hunters harvest 225,000 grouse.

State Forests and Wildlife Manage-ment Areas are good areas to hunt for grouse. Look for them on Rattlesnake Hill, Erwin, and High Tor Wildlife Management Areas.

Ruffed grouse

Grouse are uniquely suited for harsh winters. Look for them in the northern forests, particularly on edges.

In the early season you'll want to search for these birds along the edges of fields, old roads, creeks, gravel pits or rights of ways.

Grouse eat all kinds of food. In the spring, it's mostly buds and newly sprouted leaves of aspens, birches, cherries and apple trees. As they become available, fruits (strawberry, blueberry, bunchberry and raspberry), seeds and plant parts become more important.

In the fall, grouse munch on other berries (dogwoods, viburnums), sumac, grapes, and acorns.

During the winter, the grouse's favorite food is aspen buds, but these birds also eat catkins and/or buds from hazelnut, willow, beech, birch, maple and some berry bushes.

Remember that if you find the right kind of food, you'll eventually find birds.


This colorful and ornate bird is not native to the United States. It comes from China, which is why it is sometimes called a "Chinabird."
"I would hunt food plots and heavy cover during the early season. If you can find the habitat around here (in northern Illinois) you will find the birds," said Gordon Kohn of Pheasants Forever.

A good farm field to start your hunt should have fencerows, a few tree lines and some plowed, grassy fields. Pheasants spend their nights in dense, grassy fields or briar patches and tree lines. They don't usually roost in trees.

"A trained hunting dog will help you both find and retrieve birds after they've been shot. Your chances are better of retrieving a bird in heavy cover," said Kohn.

"Once a bird senses danger it will hide in the heaviest cover they can find. A dog will 'point' to where the birds are and can sniff them out for you. You're pretty much just walking around in the fields in the hopes that you scare one up unless you have a good dog. I've seen birds run through cover that you would never have guessed they could go through. We never would have known there was a bird there without a dog."

Hunters can harvest a pheasant any time during legal shooting hours. They don't bed down during the day and are constantly on the move.

"Pheasants start their day before sunrise at roost sites, usually in areas of short- to medium-height grass or weeds, where they spend the night," said Dick Kimmel, research biologist at the Minnesota DNR Farmland Wildlife Research and Populations Station at Madelia.

Kimmel said that at first light, pheasants head for roadsides or similar areas where they can find gravel or grit.

Pheasants usually begin feeding around 8 a.m. When shooting hours begin, the birds are likely to still be feeding, often in grain fields while cautiously making their way toward safe cover.

"Look for the edges of picked cornfields," said Kimmel.

Pheasants will eat almost any seed, but they prefer smaller grains such as soybeans and field peas. Corn, milo and sorghum are other food sources. If you can find a concentration of these grains, you'll find birds.


Quail prefer ground in what foresters call the "early successional growth" phase, which in simple terms is ground that has been burned or plowed in the last three years.

The short, succulent vegetation that appears during this period satisfies quail's food and shelter needs quite well and is the reason that most hunting plantations burn parts of their land every two to three years.

Small fields surrounded by thick hedgerows are ideal neighborhoods, as they provide easy access to food as well as nearby cover from predators.

Many southern pine forests, which are properly thinned also satisfy the need for nutrition, nesting habitat and protection from other animals that find quail a delicacy.

As they grow older, the staple of their diet moves to seeds.

Wheat, millet, lespedeza, sorghum and corn fill the plate of many a quail, but other seeds that aren't commonly thought of as "food" also contribute.

Beggar's lice (sometimes called hitchikers), the seeds from sweet gumballs, partridgepeas and many other weeds and plants round out their diet.

Material from Fishing & Hunting News
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