By the time winter rolls around in Idaho, many of the state’s hunting seasons have closed, but for hunters who aren’t quite ready to pack it in for the year, early winter can be an excellent time to hunt for upland birds, particularly chukar, quail and gray (Hungarian) partridge.
“Idaho offers a diversity of upland game bird hunting opportunities on millions of acres of public land," said Jeff Knetter, upland game bird program manager. “Seasons in parts of the state stretch through the end of January, and hunters willing to make the effort often find good success.”
Hunting for birds in the early winter isn’t much different than hunting them earlier in the year, and all you really need to hunt comfortably in the winter are a pair of warm boots, a shotgun, and appropriate layers, but there some other things hunters should keep in mind when extending their hunting season.
Don’t forget to buy your new license
Annual licenses expire on Dec. 31, so if you are planning on doing some upland hunting in January, you’ll need a new annual hunting license before heading out. If you are still on the fence about renewing your hunting license this early, here are five reasons to hunt small game this winter.
Be prepared for wary birds
Hunting seasons for chukar, Hungarian partridge and quail have been open since mid-September, so by late December and early January, birds have likely experienced some hunting pressure. Couple that with winter conditions and the potential for crunchy snow, and hunters should be prepared for birds to flush wildly, or at longer distances.
Mind the weather
It pays to be mindful of snow conditions. While light or spotty snow shouldn’t pose a problem, consistent, heavier snow will likely take a toll on success for upland hunters. If it has been snowing, upland hunters should focus their attention on areas with a southern exposures, or west-facing aspect and some winter green-up, and at the bases of rock croppings where there is bare ground, or light snow cover.
Be ready to log more miles to fill a bag limit
To access open areas with a southern or west-facing aspect, you’ll sometimes have to make your way through snow-covered ground to reach areas that are likely to hold birds. In addition to that, coveys of birds may be smaller and more dispersed. All of this can mean lots of hiking, so invest in a good pair of waterproof hiking boots that hold their grip in snowy or icy conditions. Since nobody likes wet feet in the field (particularly in the winter) or the blisters that often come with them, a pair of gaiters will help keep your feet dry if you find yourself trudging through snow shin-deep snow.
Don’t let the cold fool you
Don’t forget the essentials just because it’s cold outside. Bring plenty of water for yourself and your dog, if you’re hunting with one. Also, remember the sunscreen and a pair of sunglasses, particularly on those gorgeous, crisp, cold and sunny winter days — your face will thank you after a long day in the field.
Trapping season also remains open
While traps and snares are rarely encountered by bird hunters, hunters with dogs should be aware that fur trapping seasons are open during winter, and be prepared to act quickly if their dog becomes trapped. Most traps and snares are simple in design so you can easily free your dog from one if you know how they work.
Some of the larger foothold and body-gripping traps can be challenging because they require more effort to open, but the principles are the same. Idaho Fish and Game provides information on how to spot and avoid traps, and what to do if a pet gets caught. Both videos and brochure are available online.