Idaho's upland hunters will fare better up north

Drought has taken its toll on birds, but some have weathered it.

pzimowsky@idahostatesman.comSeptember 12, 2013 

Find water and you'll find upland birds. It's as simple as that.

Or maybe not that simple, considering how this summer's hot and dry weather has meant smaller game bird populations available for hunters.

The best hunting for birds such as chukars, doves and sage grouse will be found around perennial springs, seeps and creeks, and other water sources, according to Idaho Fish and Game biologists.

To complicate things, this summer's weather kept bird populations from really taking off in southwest Idaho.

"We needed a few good July showers and much cooler temperatures for upland birds to explode," said Michelle Commons Kemner, regional wildlife biologist with Fish and Game.

Despite that, the forecast for Idaho's upland game bird hunting is similar to last year. Biologists expect fair-to-good hunting depending on how much rain an area got this summer.

Here's a lesson in Idaho Upland Bird 101.

First of all, most upland birds had good over-winter survival because of the mild winter.

The mild spring generally offered perfect nesting weather for game birds. The hens that got off early hatches had chicks that tended to survive better because it was moist and there were insects and new growth for young birds to eat and cover to hide in.

Hens that had later broods weren't so lucky. By then, the temperatures rose, vegetation dried out, and the newly hatched birds couldn't find food or cover.

The Owyhees were extremely dry and bird numbers aren't expected to be good there. But there could be isolated pockets with good bird numbers, especially in wet areas.

Hunters who know the country well will probably find chukars, but it won't be a place to send first-time hunters.

Farther north in western Idaho, where conditions were cooler with more moisture, upland birds like chukars fared better.

Here are a few notes on the fall upland bird outlook from Fish and Game:


The areas around Brownlee Reservoir and the Cecil D. Andrus Wildlife Management Area, northwest of Cambridge, should be better hunting than the drier areas south and into the Owyhees.

But hunters should beware of wildfires burned in the area, which could affect hunting.

Before the wildfires near Brownlee Reservoir, biologists had seen slightly more chukar broods compared to last year.

The summer weather farther north was better for chick survival, so chukar hunting will be better there, according to Fish and Game reports.

It's traditionally better in Hells Canyon and along the Lower Salmon River, both of which should have good chukar populations.

Hunters generally will find smaller coveys of chukars this year - say about 15 instead of 30 - because the birds only got off one brood due to dry conditions.

Chukars can have two broods in summers when the weather is favorable to produce greenup and insects for the chicks.

That occurred in 2005 and 2006, Kemner said.


Fish and Game officers in the field report that there were a significant number of broods produced in the Treasure Valley, so hunters will find the birds on agricultural grounds with good cover.

With such a mild winter in the Valley, most expect that there was also good over-winter survival.


Quail are plentiful in Southwest Idaho's valleys, even though most of the birds only had one brood because of the hot and dry land. Populations look favorable for hunters.


Expect a decrease in the gray partridge population. After three years of good hunting, it looks like the birds suffered a major setback this summer.

This species was most affected by "bone dry" conditions, said Kemner.

The broods came off just as things were really drying up, so there was a lack of food and cover.

There may be isolated areas where hunters will find birds, but it won't be like past years.


There are lots of doves in the Valley and hunting should remain good through September.

Late August and early September cold fronts didn't materialize like in some years, which tends to drive the birds south.

However, last week's rains may have the birds thinking about heading in that direction. Mourning dove season closes Sept. 30.

Hunters are reporting seeing an increase in Eurasian collared doves in Southwest Idaho, which are larger than mourning doves and have a black band around their necks.

There is no bag limit or closed season for Eurasian collared doves.


This is a bright spot in the upland picture. Fish and Game is seeing good populations of forest grouse.

The hatch was strong based on findings from the agency's recent wing barrel studies, and biologists monitoring broods have seen a good number of birds this month as hunters took to the field after the Aug. 30 opener.

The agency puts barrels in traditional grouse hunting areas where hunters can leave bird wings. Biologists can get population data from wings for the current season.

Hunters may still have difficulty finding birds in their traditional hunting areas because of dry conditions, which could also have an affect on the birds' upward migrations. They are definitely hanging out in moist areas.


Sage grouse is Idaho's shortest upland game bird season, which runs from Sept. 21-27. Check regulations for open areas.

The birds will be closely tied to wet meadows and springs.

Due to a second year of drought, hunters may not see a lot of broods, but they should still find birds in traditional hunting areas.

Hunters should keep in mind that Idaho lek counts were down between 10 percent and 15 percent compared to last year, and Fish and Game expects to see similar declines next year.

A lot of sage grouse habitat has burned during wildfires in recent years.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors

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