Idaho is home to six native species of upland game birds, ruffed grouse, blue grouse, sage grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, Franklin grouse, and mountain quail. Idaho’s forest grouse are holding their own and provide unlimited opportunities for those willing to burn the boot rubber to find them. There is no longer a season for mountain quail as they have been extirpated from the majority of their range in Idaho. I suspect that cheat grass and its attendant wild-fire propensity has something to do with their demise. Sage and sharp-tailed grouse are still holding on, although we are losing much of their habitat.
For a time, the ringnecked pheasant, a Chinese immigrant, thrived in Idaho, but I joke that they are now an endangered species because of clean farming practices and predation. Unless you have access to some private property with suitable cover or pay money to Idaho Fish and Game to hunt planted birds, pheasant hunting is just plain tough in Idaho. I hardly even bother anymore.
Chukar partridge–also an introduced species–have taken to Idaho’s rimrock country, as cheat grass has taken over and destroyed much of what once was primarily sagebrush terrain. Chukars thrive in some of the most inhospitable country in the state. For the dedicated (of which I am admittedly not), there is no finer game bird.
The state still has some awesome hunting for valley quail, another nonnative, but mostly on private property. I’ve had days where I have seen hundreds of quail and the action was nonstop and I begged Shawn to borrow some of his shells as my two boxes were spent. With the loss of favorite covers to posting and Idaho’s new trespass law, I suspect that those quail days are mostly gone for me.
And then there is the Hungarian partridge, or gray partridge. Having hunted all over the state, I would venture to say that Huns are more widespread and numerous than any other game bird in Idaho. I’ve seen them on private property and on public land. I’ve seen them up on mountain ridges and down on high-plains desert floors. I’ve seen them in lush alfalfa fields and in and around the edges of cut wheat fields. I’ve found them near civilization and far away in no-man’s land. I’ve seen them up in the rimrocks near chukars and down along creek bottoms with quail and pheasants. I’ve watched them hunker together in a blizzard. They are hardy little suckers. They are survivors. I say this tongue in cheek, but if there is ever an atomic bomb dropped on Idaho, the only game birds left surviving would be Huns (and maybe a few flippin’ Chukars). I call them “Birds of the Void” because they have filled the vacuum left by the decline of Idaho’s other game birds.
In my younger days, Huns were pursued only incidentally as I searched for other games birds and my dogs and I stumbled upon them. Of course, I missed way more than I ever hit as Huns are just plain fast. I found them to not be very gentlemanly (unlike their quail cousins) as they seemed to mostly flush wild out of range. They frustrated me more than anything and I dubbed them one of my nemesis birds.
Over the last ten years or so, my negative outlook on Huns has slowly changed. In fact, so much so, that I really love to puff their little gray feathers. While it takes a little scouting and time to understand their habits and habitat, Huns can be found in excellent numbers in Idaho and oftentimes do allow good dog work.
Every October, Shawn and I spend a few days chasing Huns and have learned some good areas and how to hunt them. We’ve had good success hunting sagebrush benches near dry wheat farms. When the wheat is cut, the birds concentrate in the sage along the edges. Honestly, this is some of the funnest hunting we’ve ever experienced.
This past October, we located tracts of BLM land near irrigation pivots and also found good populations of Huns. On one such tract, we spooked a herd of cows in the pasture along side us and their stampede flushed a covey of Huns right into the corner we were already heading to. Rainey beat us to the corner and went on point. Lo and behold, when Shawn approached Rainey’s point, he flushed not one, but two big coveys of Huns. Brother Shawn dropped one off the covey rise and then the second covey flushed and flew right at me. I dropped one, but when the dogs went in for a retrieve, that bird flushed again and struggled to fly away. I could not shoot as I was reloading and our friend Ron also was unable to take what would have been an easy shot. We marked the bird down perfectly and looked for it for a long time, but never could find it, which was a bummer.
Notwithstanding, for the next hour and half as the day drew to a close, we chased those Huns all over that BLM tract and had some good shooting and dog work. These crazy birds made what would have been mediocre into a red-letter day. Of course, we celebrated afterwards with Mexican food.
I once tried to say on Instagram “Huns are fun and frustrating.” However, I mistakenly wrote: “Huns are fun, frustrating, and fun!” When I realized the typo, I did not go back and fix it because it summed up my sentiments on these challenging game birds. They can be so darn fun and frustrating, but mostly fun.
I always say that I am a grouse (any kind of grouse) hunter, first and foremost. But I must confess that I also have a soft spot in my heart for the Birds of the Void.
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Great write up on the status of game birds in Idaho. I know from what I have read that introduced cheat grass is taking over the high desert, crowding out native grasses that the native birds need to exist while at the same time providing excellent habitat for another introduced species-chukar. Much like Texas, where introduced grasses(i.e.,bermuda grass, king ranch bluestem, etc.) have largely displaced the prairie grass and unfortunately, at the same time, bobwhite quail. Kansas overtook Texas this past year for total bobwhite quail harvest, because so much of that state is still covered up in native prairie. Very interesting that the Huns are doing so well.
Sorry chukar hunters, but cheat grass is one of the worst things to happen to Idaho. It burns too often and wipes out important habitat for other species. I’m worried about its effect on sage grouse and mountain quail. I’ve seen it destroy tons of habitat for valley quail too.
Great article! Love your state of Idaho and in fact, hunted birds there several years ago. We used to hunt Huns in Saskatchewan a few years ago when the limit was 24. Since then it was reduced to only 8 a season – not enough for the dogs to work for now!
It sounds like your Huns are doing well there now, no doubt due to the changes in habitat. Have gun and enjoy the fields and Brittany’s…! (By the way, your latest book was a good one – keep writing them!)
Thanks Wes! Glad you enjoyed this blog (and IRGH). Depending on the weather and cover, hun numbers can fluctuate, but they are so adaptable to so many different terrains that have done well in Idaho. They are a wonderful, challenging game bird