Press Release

Upland game bird update: Here's what hunting looks like in 2018

Hunting will be mixed across the state, but Idaho offers a variety of upland game bird hunting opportunities

Idaho is a big state with a broad mix of habitats, elevations and climates, and the state contains a variety of upland game birds. Upland bird populations are cyclical, and their health and numbers typically depend on favorable weather conditions, which are often very localized. 

All that means upland birds are tough to forecast on a statewide basis except to say there's ample opportunity for upland hunters to pursue a large variety of birds across a variety of landscapes. 

To provide an idea of what's available this hunting season, Fish and Game's wildlife biologists in each region have compiled an update of what they're seeing and hearing on the ground with bird populations, so hunters can get a look at their favorite areas and  quarry.

To learn about upland game bird hunting rules and seasons, and more information, see Fish and Game's Upland Bird Hunting webpage, and here's the digital copy of the 2018 Upland Game, Furbearer and Turkey Seasons and Rules booklet

To find places to hunt upland game, check out the Hunting Access webpage, which include's Fish and Game's Wildlife Management Area, and Access Yes! properties. 

Here's a look at upland bird hunting in each region: 

Panhandle Region

Snowpack in 2017-18 was above average at low elevations and we had a late spring, which is typically tough on chicks.  The Panhandle has also had very long, hot summers with minimal precipitation the last two years, which means that forage dries up more quickly.  Many species, including turkeys and quail, renested and had late broods. 

Turkeys have continued to expand in numbers and range and hunting is forecasted to be good this fall. Forest grouse are not as abundant as in previous years. 

Quail appear to be expanding north into the Sandpoint and Kootenai Valley area of Unit 1 and have been seen with healthy broods this summer.  Pheasants and gray partridge are uncommon and restricted to the southern portion of the region.  

Pheasant

Trend from 2017: Down

10-Year Trend: Down

Sparse populations in the southern portion of the region.

Gray (Hungarian) partridge 

Trend from 2017: Stable

10-Year Trend: Stable

Sparse populations in the southern portion of the region.

California Quail

Trend from 2017: Up

10-Year Trend: Stable

Small populations in the valleys of Units 1, 2, 3, and 5.

Forest Grouse (Dusky, Ruffed, Spruce)

Trend from 2017: Down

10-Year Trend: Stable

Late wet spring weather appears to have had an impact on grouse broods in some areas. Forest grouse distribution is patchy across the forest. 

Clearwater Region

Twelve, 20-mile upland game brood routes are surveyed annually from mid to late August across the Clearwater Region to index game bird population trends and productivity.  These data provide an index of relative abundance and are used to monitor annual changes and long-term trends in regional populations. 

Due to low detection rates, however, these data are imprecise and should be interpreted cautiously. The 2017-18 winter was fairly mild to start but winter conditions returned late with cold temperatures and heavy snow across the Clearwater region. The impacts of these conditions on upland game bird survival are largely unknown, although no abnormally high mortality rates were detected. 

During the spring 2018 nesting and early brood rearing period, weather conditions were cool and abnormally wet through June.  Cool and wet weather can provide for excellent summer brood rearing habitat, but can also result in chick mortality, depending on the timing and intensity of precipitation events. No broods were detected this year indicating the cool wet spring likely took its toll on upland game birds. Overall, population trends were mixed, depending on the species.

Pheasant

Trend from 2017: Down

10-Year Trend: Down

The 13 pheasants observed in 2018 represents a 81 percent decrease from the 69 birds tallied in 2017, and is also a 68 percent decrease from the previous 10-year average of 40.6 birds. The 13 birds observed this year represent just 7 percent of the historical high count of 199 pheasants tallied on these routes (in 2005).  The 13 pheasants observed on the 240 miles of routes surveyed in 2018 equates to 0.004 pheasants observed per mile surveyed.  No broods were encountered this year. An average of five broods was tallied on these routes over the past 10 years.  However, the lack of broods counted in 2018 is only the third time in the 28 years of the survey (1995 and 2009).  

Chukar

Trend from 2017: Up

10-Year Trend: Up

Chukar helicopter trend surveys are no longer conducted by Fish and Game. The Clearwater Region has experimented with some ground-based survey methodologies in recent years, but to-date, has not identified a reliable trend index. Chukar productivity and populations have appeared to be trending upward in recent years. Observations and reports from field staff and the public this year (although somewhat tentative due to relatively small sample sizes, i.e., numbers of reports), appear to indicate very good chukar nesting success and chick survival with observations of many birds, including numerous large broods.

Gray (Hungarian) partridge 

Trend from 2017: Down

10-Year Trend: Down

The number of gray partridge observed this year was down from last year’s total and down from the long-term average. A total of 59 gray partridge were counted in 2018 (0.25 gray partridge per mile surveyed). This figure represents a 36 percent decline from the 92 birds tallied in 2017 and is 41.5 percent lower than the previous 10-year average of 100.8. Over the past 10 years, the number of gray partridge tallied on these routes has varied from 42 (in 2008) to 176 (in 2015).

California Quail

Trend from 2017: Up

10-Year Trend: Down

The number of quail counted this year was higher than last year’s total. A total of 146 birds were counted in 2018, or a 76 percent increase from the 83 counted in 2017. However, this total is 4.3 percent lower than the previous 10-year average of 152.6 and is 38 percent lower than historical high count of 385 tallied in 2003. The 146 quail tallied on these routes in 2018 translates to 0.61 birds per mile surveyed.  

Mourning Dove

Trend from 2017: Down

10-Year Trend: Up

A total of 444 mourning doves were counted on regional routes in 2018 (1.85 doves observed per mile surveyed).  This total represents a 18 percent decrease from the 541 tallied in 2017, and is 8.6 percent higher than the previous 10-year average of 408.7.

Forest Grouse (Dusky, Ruffed)

Trend from 2017: No Data

10-Year Trend: No Data

Forest grouse are not surveyed in the Clearwater Region.  Incidental observations and reports from field staff and sportsmen indicate that forest grouse production was likely below the long-term average in 2018. 

Southwest Region

Good production during 2017 followed by mild winter and average spring 2018 were favorable for upland birds, so  carryover and production should be high. Spring and early summer conditions during 2018 were excellent for production. Most species are up compared to 2017.

Quail and chukar had very good production this year. There have been reports of good-sized chukar broods near the Bruneau and East Fork Owyhee Rivers, the hills above Emmett, Andrus Wildlife Management Area, and Lucky Peak Reservoir.

Pheasant numbers look excellent this year as larger broods were observed along established brood routes. Upland bird hunting should be good to great across the region this year.

Pheasant

Trend from 2017: Up

10-Year Trend: Stable

Pheasants should have over-wintered well following good production during 2017. Favorable spring precipitation likely contributed to good hatch during 2018. Pheasant hunting should be good around the valley. 

Greater Sage-grouse

Trend from 2017: Down

10-Year Trend: Stable

Males counted on lek surveys in 2018 decreased in most of Owyhee County. However, favorable spring moisture in 2018 and early forb production should be favorable for nest success and brood survival. Hunters can expect to find good numbers of grouse near water sources. Popular hunting spots include the area around Big Springs, Riddle, Cow Creek, and Antelope Ridge Road.

Chukar

Trend from 2017: Up

10-Year Trend: Stable

Chukar hunting should be good to excellent this year.  Chukar populations appear to have rebounded during 2018 following the harsh winter of 2016-17. Favorable spring and winter conditions during 2017-18 should translate into excellent chick production. Andrus WMA, Owyhee Front, South Fork Boise River, and Owyhee Canyonlands are popular places to hunt chukars. 

Gray (Hungarian) partridge 

Trend from 2017: Stable

10-Year Trend: down

Gray partridge numbers have bounced around during the past three years. However, favorable spring conditions in 2018 should translate to good partridge production. Hunters can expect to find gray partridge in the uplands near agricultural fields and in sagebrush/mountain brush near water sources. Good hunting can be found in Gem, Washington, and Adams counties.

California Quail

Trend from 2017: Up

10-Year Trend: Stable

Quail production was excellent in both 2017 and 2018.  Quail should have overwintered well in the valley and hunting should be good to excellent this year across the Treasure Valley and west central areas. Quail can be found in areas with green-leafy shrubs, forbs, and berries near perennial water sources.

Mourning Dove

Trend from 2017: Up

10-Year Trend: Stable

Dove production appears to be very good with a lot of young birds observed.  Favorable winter and early spring also translate to good carryover from 2017. Dove season runs through Oct. 30. Daily bag limit is 15 and possession limit is 45.

Ruffed Grouse

Trend from 2017: Stable

10-Year Trend: Stable

Hunters in Units 32A and 22 should check current fire closure information, as closures may affect some popular grouse hunting access. 

Dusky grouse can be found in the transition zone between sagebrush and mountain shrub communities and open slopes in pine forests between Pilot Peak and Swanholm in Unit 39. There is also excellent dusky and ruffed grouse opportunity on West Mountain in Unit 32A, in areas southwest of Riggins in Unit 22, along the South Fork Boise River above Featherville, and the Trinity Mountain area. Spruce grouse can be found in areas dominated by Douglas fir and spruce forests in the area around Bear Valley, Sulphur Creek, and warm lake to Johnson Creek. Forest grouse hunting should be good to excellent this year thanks to a favorable, wet spring and mild winter.

Dusky Grouse

Trend from 2017: Stable

10-Year Trend: Stable

Spruce Grouse

Trend from 2017: Stable

10-Year Trend: Stable

Magic Valley Region

Hot and dry weather during spring and summer were generally unfavorable for upland bird nesting and brood rearing.   Department personnel are reporting below-average numbers of broods for all upland game species. Generally, bird numbers are slightly less this year compared to the 2017 season and lower than average.  Hunters are encouraged to contact the Magic Valley Regional Office at 208-324-4359 if they would like to learn more about upland game bird status and trends.

Pheasant

Trend from 2017: Stable

10-Year Trend: Down

Pheasant numbers have remained relatively low in the Magic Valley since the mid-1980s because of changes in farming practices and the resultant loss of habitat. Pheasant stocking will continue at Niagara Springs WMA and on several Bureau of Reclamation tracts in Minidoka County. Hunters might also want to obtain a Wildlife Tracts map from the Magic Valley Regional office that shows the locations of 284 tracts of public land with nearly 33,000 acres that provide upland bird hunting opportunity.

Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse

Trend from 2017: Stable

10-Year Trend: Stable

Spring lek surveys and anecdotal information suggest sharp-tailed grouse numbers may have experienced a small decrease during the past decade. However, populations remain strong and currently provide liberal hunting opportunities (Oct. 1–31; 2-bird daily bag). The best hunting is typically in or near fields enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program. Fields with a forb component (e.g., alfalfa) are typically the best. If conditions are dry, hunters should expect early movement of grouse up into mountain shrub communities (serviceberry) and to areas where green forbs can still be found. Land enrolled in the Access Yes! program in Cassia, Power, and Oneida counties provide ample access to hunting areas. Here's an online guide to Access Yes! properties, and you can get printed maps at Fish and Game offices and at many license vendors. 

Chukar

Trend from 2017: Down

10-Year Trend: Stable

No chukar surveys are conducted in the Magic Valley Region, but early reports from around the region suggest that hunters will find fewer birds compared to last year.  Hot and dry conditions this spring and summer likely impacted brood survival.  

Gray (Hungarian) partridge 

Trend from 2017: Down

10-Year Trend: Stable

The 2017 harvest was above average. Given poor habitat conditions from the hot and dry conditions, hunters should expect to find fewer birds compared to last year. Reports from the field indicate fewer and smaller broods compared to previous years.  

California Quail

Trend from 2017: Stable

10-Year Trend: Stable

During the past several years, quail hunting has been very good in the Magic Valley. However with the hot and dry conditions, this year’s crop may be slightly less than average. Hunters should expect to find areas with abundant quail along the Snake River and its tributaries west of Twin Falls although good quail numbers are also being observed as far north as Shoshone.

Forest Grouse (Dusky, Ruffed)

Trend from 2017: Stable

10-Year Trend: Stable

No population surveys are conducted in the Magic Valley Region, but anecdotal reports from field personnel and early reports suggest an average hatch in the Magic Valley Region.

Southeast Region

Conditions in the winter slightly above average in the eastern portion of the region and slightly below average in the western part of the region. The early nesting season received good precipitation resulting in excellent grass and forb growth. The remainder of the summer, however, was extremely dry. Observations have been mixed with some reporting large broods while others are seeing very few young birds and broods. 

Pheasant

Trend from 2017: Stable

10-Year Trend: Stable

There are no surveys conducted for pheasant in the Southeast Region; however, field observations suggest numbers and productivity are relatively stable compared to last year. Pheasant stocking will continue at Sterling WMA in 2017.

Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse

Trend from 2017: Decreasing

10-Year Trend: Decreasing

Lek surveys suggest that sharp-tailed grouse numbers have declined over the last 10 years.  Most notably has been a decline in lek counts in some localized areas over the past five years. The conversion of CRP fields back into agricultural crops coupled with poor nest and brood success are suspected to be the primary causes for decline. 

Chukar

Trend from 2017: Stable

10-Year Trend: Stable

Chukar numbers remain low and in only a few localized areas in the Southeast Region.

Gray (Hungarian) partridge 

Trend from 2017: Stable

10-Year Trend: Stable

There are no surveys conducted for gray partridge in the Southeast Region, but incidental information suggests numbers are stable.

Forest Grouse (Dusky, Ruffed)

Trend from 2017: Stable

10-Year Trend: Stable

No surveys are conducted for forest grouse in the Southeast, but harvest data over the past 5 years suggests relatively stable numbers.  

Upper Snake Region

Winter conditions in 2017-2018 were mild compared to long term averages. Snow accumulation came late and levels did not last long, likely allowing for good carryover. Spring moisture was good with near average temperatures favoring hatched birds. However, a hot and dry summer in 2018 may have affected brood survival. These factors combined with few severe weather events during the nesting season should equal a fair upland bird season in the Upper Snake Region this year. 

Pheasant

Trend from 2017: Stable

10-Year Trend: Stable

There are no surveys conducted for pheasant in the Upper Snake and last year’s harvest data indicates declines in both hunters and harvest. The Upper Snake Region continues to stock approximately 2,500 pheasants per year on Mud Lake WMA, Market Lake WMA, and Cartier WMA. Areas that hold pheasant in the Upper Snake have reported many good sized broods. Pheasant hunting should be consistent with what we have seen the last few years.

Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse

Trend from 2017: Stable

10-Year Trend: Stable

There was no sharp-tailed grouse production monitoring conducted in the Upper Snake this year, so the best indicator for sharp-tail number would be nesting and brood rearing conditions. Nesting and brood-rearing conditions were in the normal range for the Upper Snake, so bird numbers likely followed suit with expectations for stable to potentially slightly increasing populations except for those areas that are recovering from recent fire activity (Tex Creek and west of the Red Road in the Sand Creek area).  

The best hunting is typically in Conservation Reserve Program fields that have green alfalfa and/or other forbs, and in more native sagebrush-steppe habitats. If CRP fields are relatively dry, hunters should expect movements of sharp-tailed grouse up into areas where green forbs can still be found (mountain shrub communities). Tex Creek WMA is still recovering from the fire a couple of years ago and sharp-tails are at lower densities than hunters had traditionally found there.  In addition, the Grassy Ridge fire in the Sand Creek desert this past summer will likely impact the western distribution of birds in that area, meaning birds will be distributed differently on the west side of the Red Road than in previous years.

Chukar

Trend from 2017: Stable

10-Year Trend: Stable

Chukar numbers remain low in the Upper Snake and harvest data over the last five years suggest stable numbers. No chukar surveys are conducted in the Upper Snake Region. With nesting and brood rearing conditions being fairly normal, hunters should anticipate average chukar numbers in the Upper Snake.

Gray (Hungarian) partridge 

 Trend from 2017: Stable

10-Year Trend: Stable

There are no surveys conducted for gray partridge in the Upper Snake, but harvest data over the past five years suggest numbers have been stable. A few reports from landowners indicate normal broods observed. 

Forest Grouse (Dusky, Ruffed)

Trend from 2017: Stable

10-Year Trend: Stable

No surveys are conducted for forest grouse in the Upper Snake, but harvest data over the past five years suggests relatively stable numbers. Sportsmen reports give a general trend for both ruffed and dusky grouse numbers and the early reports are variable, which likely indicate numbers are likely stable and hunting should be average across the Upper Snake Region.

Salmon Region

Late spring conditions were cooler and wetter than average. Nest success and chick survival appears to have been good. As a result, game bird population levels should be around average, with the exception of a recovering chukar population.

Pheasant

Trend from 2017: Up

10-Year Trend: Down

There is little pheasant habitat in the Salmon Region and numbers are very low. Pheasants are occasionally harvested on private lands in the lower Lemhi and Pahsimeroi valleys, and on the Pahsimeroi River Access Area.

Chukar

Trend from 2017: Up

10-Year Trend: Stable

Chukar habitat is widespread in the Salmon Region but marginal due to a wide variation in weather conditions.  Around 90 percent of the region’s chukar population was lost during the 2016-17 winter.  However, favorable weather last winter and this spring /summer should provide some chukar hunting opportunities this fall. Hunt near springs and perennial streams early.

Gray (Hungarian) partridge 

Trend from 2017: Up

10-Year Trend: Stable

Gray partridge are uncommon in the Salmon Region and harvest is generally incidental to chukar hunting.

Forest Grouse (Dusky, Ruffed, Spruce)

Trend from 2017: Stable

10-Year Trend: Stable

Dusky grouse are the most common forest grouse species in the Salmon Region and are well distributed through most of the drier forested habitats. Dusky grouse production this year appears average and hunting will be good. Ruffed and spruce grouse habitat is limited to riparian habitats and moist, high-elevation forest types. 

Greater Sage-grouse

Trend from 2017: Stable

10-Year Trend: Stable

Lek route counts were stable across most of the region. Production was average and hunting will be good, particularly around springs.

Mourning Dove

Trend from 2017: Stable

10-Year Trend: Stable

Upland habitat seed production is normal for the year.  Doves generally migrate south early from the region and few doves are remain for harvest in September.