I’ve hunted 30 states for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever magazines in my 14 years as editor – some east, but most west of the Mississippi River. For those of you who have never hunted upland birds west of the Mississippi, here are a few tips.
It’s dry out west, so bring your drinking water. As for the dog, if the prairies are dried up, bring water for them too or carry it in your truck in a large cooler. If the prairies potholes and cattle ponds are full, I don’t worry about the dogs finding enough water to drink and dunk in. Because the ground is often dry, it usually is hard and often rocky, making walking on 50-year-old legs an ordeal if you go too long. Bring good boots, socks and know your limit.
Bring a field lunch. It takes too long and gas is too expensive to drive to any far away town, and many don’t have restaurants or grocery stores anyway. Why waste time driving, bring some chow. The sun can also be brutal out west where dry air, high altitudes and sunny skies can fry your eyes and exposed body parts…I wear a brim hat, sunglasses and kerchief for my neck.
By and large, you’ll eventually find birds, so don’t lose your cool: take your turn, slow down. While hunting near Winner, S.D., I once saw a flock of wild birds fly from corn into a grass field for a night roost that was some 20 yards high and about half mile long. Some folks might come unglued, start salivating and run at such a sight, but in the land of Great Faces and Great Places, this ain’t all that unusual.
Be ready to shoot at any number of other upland birds (if they’re in season) such as Hungarian partridge, sharp-tailed and pinnated grouse (prairie chickens), doves, waterfowl (non-tox shot only) and quail…..bobwhites in the near west, valley quail in the northwest.
Speaking of diverse wildlife, bring some field glasses. The west is great for spotting game or just birding or looking for big deer because of few trees and unobstructed views go further than you can see. Once, on my way home through Montana, I stopped and glassed some rimrock country and spotted a big mule deer bedding on a high ridge; on a butte in Wyoming, I came upon a family of red fox romping around; on South Dakota’s Badlands Loup (a great break from I-94), I glassed trophy bighorn sheep, antelope and bison.
Western landscapes are big and potentially dangerous: I’ve hunted such remote areas of Wyoming and other states that if the truck broke down, we probably would have died if unprepared. Tell folks where you’re going; bring survival supplies. The Great Empty is great until you keel over from exposure.
By and large, western licenses are cheaper, come in 1-3-7 day tags (if you prefer) and there aren’t as many regulations to remember – a welcome reprieve from red tape. Hey, this fall, try something adventurous……and go west young man, go west.
-Mark Herwig is editor of the Pheasants Forever Journal and Quail Forever Journal. Email Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.