The upland bird hunting season is more than a month old but for some wingshooters, the true season starts today, Oct. 9, when several species join forest grouse on the list of legal species to pursue.
The season for blue and ruffed grouse started Sept. 1.
But hunters have had to wait until now to try their shotgunning skill with fast-flying quarry including chukar and Hungarian partridges, rooster pheasants and California and mountain quail.
Bird populations vary across Northeastern Oregon, according to reports from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW).
Although the dry spring was conducive to a healthy hatch of chicks — cold, damp weather can kill the delicate newborn birds — a summer of drought was less than ideal for birds.
The season continues through Jan. 31, 2022, for most species (see breakout box, “More Information,” for details.)
Following are prospects for upland birds from ODFW biologists.
Upland game bird hunters should see a better than average year in Baker County. A mild winter and favorable spring conditions led to good chick production. Birds had good reproduction, chicks were of good size, and broods were generally large.
Quail seem to be still trying to recover from the hard winter of 2016-17 and their numbers have been down the last several years. Hunters should expect to see birds scattered in pockets of good habitat. Access and Habitat properties offer good upland hunting and access to public land.
Trend counts for quail, turkey and chukar are all stable for the 2021 season while forest grouse were difficult to find in surveys. However, they tend to follow the same pattern as other birds and are likely stable as well. While the area did experience a drought this year, it appears not to have affected game bird production.
Turkey and chukar offer the best opportunities this season for upland hunters, with turkey widely distributed through the county. Turkeys tend to congregate in large numbers in the John Day Valley, Ritter area, and Monument during winter months. However, many of these birds are on private land so hunters must be sure to obtain permission before hunting. New for this year, within Grant County only, fall turkey opened Sept. 1. This change was made to allow hunters the opportunity to harvest turkeys on public lands before turkeys migrate to private lands.
The Philip W. Schneider Wildlife Area is open to the public and offers good bird hunting. Quail, both California and mountain, can be found in brushy and riparian areas throughout the county but hunters will have to work to flush them out of cover. Hunters will find grouse throughout the national forest with blue grouse on ridge tops, like Strawberry Mountain or Vinegar Hill, and ruffed grouse along brushy creek bottoms, like Murderers Creek or Camp Creek.
Last winter was very mild and dry. This was good for overwinter survival for upland bird, but lack of late winter/early spring moisture was not good for providing good quality forage for pre-nesting hens.
• Chukar — Surveys on established routes yielded 25 birds per 10 miles, a 14% decrease from last year and 47% below the 10-year average of 46 birds per 10 miles. Brood production was good at 11.1 chicks per brood but total number of brood classified was significantly lower than previous years.
• Pheasant — Surveys along established routes yielded 3.9 birds per 10 miles, a 9% decrease in number of birds observed from last year’s survey and 39% below the 10-year average. Chick production was great at 4.8 chicks per brood. Hunting prospects will vary depending on the farming practices in the area where you have permission to hunt. The outlying areas around Willow Creek and Vale have higher bird numbers than areas closer to Ontario and Nyssa.
There are very few public lands in the area available to pheasant hunters and the few parcels that are available tend to get hunted daily.
• California quail — Surveys on established routes yielded 39 quail per 10 miles, a 24% increase from last year and 4% below the 10-year average. Production was good at 9.8 chicks per brood with most of the production observed in agricultural lands.
The majority of upland hunting is on private land, so be sure to ask permission prior to hunting. Hunters looking for public land can access the Columbia Basin Wildlife Areas, including Power City, Irrigon, Coyote Springs and Willow Creek. Cold Springs National Wildlife Refuge is also an option for upland hunting.
Surveys indicate that the pheasant population is way down this year in Umatilla County, but data gathered outside of regular surveys indicate brood numbers to be fairly normal. California quail hunting in the county should be average this year also. Quail surveys indicate the population to be around 72% of the ten-year average. There are some Hungarian partridge and chukar in suitable habitat in the county but none were observed on surveys this year.
The best hunting opportunities are pheasant on the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area and forest grouse on national forests. Hunters should work ridge tops above 5,000 feet for blue grouse and stream corridors with heavy cover and water for ruffed grouse.
Ladd Marsh is open Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday and federal holidays through Jan. 31, 2022.
It’s looking like a moderate upland season on the Marsh, with good brood sizes, but they’re few and far between. We are seeing good brood sizes but they’re few and far between. A historic drought has left Union County and the marsh with low numbers of broods.
• Pheasants — Surveys showed some very good sized broods around the area, with birds ranging in age from a few weeks to almost completely grown.
• Mourning doves: — It looks like another stellar year on Ladd Marsh for doves, with very large numbers congregating around what little water is left. The birds are either in the leave strips of grain or next to water, or transitioning between the two.
• California quail — Numbers are still down from years past but the brood sizes were good. Most are around the safety zone borders a few birds should be scattered around.
Grassland, fencerows, brush and areas adjacent to agricultural fields are good locations to key on — but don’t overlook dry and receding wetlands. The wetland habitat provides more opportunity for pheasants than all the other areas combined.
All visitors, including hunters, must have in their possession a free daily permit to access the wildlife area. Permits will be available at self-check-in stations at entry points and parking lots. All visitors are required to have an ODFW Wildlife Area Parking Permit. Hunters receive a free parking permit with their hunting license. Parking permits are to be displayed on the vehicle dash. Learn more about ODFW’s Wildlife Area Parking Permit Program.
Call the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area with any questions at 541-963-4954.
Mild winter and spring conditions were likely good for production; however, the drought conditions throughout the summer may have impacted brood survival due to limited forage resources.
In general, surveys for blue (dusky) and ruffed grouse indicate that blue grouse populations are still below the long-term average. Nevertheless, these species should provide fair opportunity into October, especially in more heavily forested areas in the Snake River Unit.
Chukar remain abundant in more arid areas, specifically in patches of cheatgrass above the Imnaha River and on vegetated slopes along the Wenaha and Grande Ronde rivers.