May 3, 2013
The 25 Best Bird Hunting Towns in America
Last year’s list of the 25 Best Pheasant Hunting Towns in America selected locales predominately based in the Midwest where the ringneck is king. Because Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever members hail from all reaches of the United States, from Alabama to Alaska, we’ve assembled this year’s list to include pheasants as well as multiple quail species, prairie grouse and even forest birds. The main criterion was to emphasize areas capable of providing multiple species, along with destinations most-welcoming to bird hunters. In other words, there were bonus points awarded for “mixed bag” opportunities and neon signs “welcoming bird hunters” in this year’s analysis. We also avoided re-listing last year’s 25 towns, so what you now have is a good bucket list of 50 destinations for the traveling wingshooter!
What towns did we miss? Let us know in the comments section.
1. Pierre, South Dakota. This Missouri River town puts you in the heart of pheasant country, but the upland fun doesn’t stop there. In 2011 (the last year numbers were available) approximately 30 roosters per square mile were harvested in Hughes County. Cross the river and head south of Pierre and you’re into the Fort Pierre National Grassland, where sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chickens become the main quarry. In fact, the U.S. Forest Service manages the Fort Pierre National Grassland specifically for these native birds. Just North of Pierre also boasts some of the state’s best gray (Hungarian) partridge numbers as well.
While you’re there: Myril Arch’s Cattleman’s Club Steakhouse goes through an average of 60,000 pounds of aged, choice beef a year, so they must know what they’re doing.
2. Lewistown, Montana. Located in the geographic center of the state, Lewistown is the perfect city to home base a public land upland bird hunt. Fergus County has ring-necked pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse, gray (Hungarian) partridge, as well as sage grouse. You’ll chase these upland birds with stunning buttes and mountain ranges as almost surreal backdrops, and find no shortage of publically accessible land, whether state or federally owned. Two keystone Pheasants Forever wildlife habitat projects are 45 minutes from Lewistown. Located six miles north of Denton, Montana, the 800-acre Coffee Creek BLOCK Management Area is located between a 320-acre parcel and an 880-acre parcel of land – all three areas are open to public hunting. Pheasants Forever also acquired a 1,000 acre parcel known as the Wolf Creek Property, a project which created 14,000 contiguous acres open to public walk-in hunting.
While you’re there: Once the birds have been cleaned and the dog has been fed, head over to the 87 Bar & Grill in Stanford for their house specialty smoked ribs and steaks.
3. Hettinger, North Dakota. Disregard state lines and you can’t tell the difference between southwest North Dakota and the best locales in South Dakota. Hettinger gets the nod in this region because of a few more Private Land Open to Sportsmen (P.L.O.T.S.) areas.
While you’re there: A visit north to the Pheasant Café in Mott seems like a must.
4. Huron, South Dakota. Home to the “World’s Largest Pheasant,” Huron is also home to some darn good pheasant hunting. From state Game Production Areas to federal Waterfowl Production Areas to a mix of walk-in lands, there’s enough public land in the region to never hunt the same area twice on a 5 or 10-day trip, unless of course you find a honey hole.
While you’re there: The Hwy. 14 Roadhouse in nearby Cavour has the type of good, greasy food that goes down guilt free after a long day of pheasant hunting.
5. Valentine, Nebraska. One of the most unique areas in the United States, the nearly 20,000 square mile Nebraska Sandhills region is an outdoor paradise, and Valentine, which rests at the northern edge of the Sandhills, was named one of the best ten wilderness towns and cities by National Geographic Adventure magazine in 2007. Because the Sandhills are 95 percent grassland, it remains one of the most vital areas for greater prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse in the country. Grouse can be found on the 19,000-acre Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge and the 115,000-acre Samuel McKelvie National Forest, and grouse and pheasants may be encountered on the 73,000-acre Valentine National Wildlife Refuge.
While you’re there: Head over to the Peppermill & E. K. Valentine Lounge and devour the Joseph Angus Burger, a finalist in the Nebraska Beef Council’s Best Burger Contest.
6. White Bird, Idaho. Hells Canyon is 8,000 feet of elevation, and at various levels includes pheasants, quail, gray partridge and forest grouse. Show up in shape and plan the right route up and down, and you may encounter many of these species in one day. It’s considered by many wingshooting enthusiasts to be a “hunt of a lifetime.” Nearly 40 percent of Idaho’s Hells Canyon is publically accessible, either through state-owned lands, U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands or U.S. Forest Service lands.
While you’re there: Floats and rafting adventures are popular on the Salmon River, in case your bird hunt also needs to double as a family vacation.
7. Heppner, Oregon. Nestled in the Columbia Basin, within a half-hour drive hunters have the opportunity to harvest pheasants, California quail, Huns, chukar, and in the nearby Blue Mountains, Dusky grouse, ruffed grouse and at least the chance of running into mountain quail. With the exception of the Umatilla National Forest for grouse, the hunting opportunity is mostly on private land in the area, but the state has a number of agreements in the area for private land access through its Open Fields, Upland Cooperative Access Program and Regulated Hunt Areas.
While you’re there: As you scout, make sure to drive from Highway 74, also called the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway, winding south from Interstate 84 through Ione, Lexington and Heppner.
8. Winnemucca, Nevada. Winnemucca claims legendary status as the “Chukar Captial of the Country.” Long seasons (first Saturday in October through January 31), liberal bag limits (daily limit of six; possession limit of 18) and the fact that these birds are found almost exclusively on public land make chukar Nevada’s most popular game bird. The covey birds do well here in the steep, rugged canyons that mirror the original chukar habitat of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the birds’ native countries. Just know the first time you hunt chukar is for fun, the rest of your life is for revenge.
While you’re there: Nearby Orovada, 44 miles to the north of Winnemucca, is known for excellent hunting areas as well as breathtaking views of the Sawtooth Mountains.
9. Albany, Georgia. Buoyed by tradition and cemented with a local culture built upon the local quail plantation economy, Albany has a reputation as the “quail hunting capital of the world” and a citizenry that embraces “Gentleman Bob.”
While you’re there: save an hour for the 60 mile trip South to Thomasville, Georgia where you can visit Kevin’s, a landmark sporting goods retailer devoted to the bird hunter.
10. Milaca, Minnesota. There are places in Minnesota where pheasants can be found in greater abundance, ditto for ruffed grouse. But there are few places where a hunter may encounter both in such close proximity. While pheasants are found primarily on private land here, state Wildlife Management Areas in the region offer a chance at a rare pheasant/grouse double, including the 40,000-acre Mille Laces WMA. The nearby Rum River State Forest provides 40,000 acres to search for forest birds.
While you’re there: For lunch, the Rough-Cut Grill & Bar in Milaca is the place. This isn’t the type of joint with a lighter portion menu, so fill up and plan on walking it all off in the afternoon…before you come back for supper.
11. Sonoita, Arizona. Central in Arizona’s quail triangle – the Patagonia/Sonoita/Elgin tri-city area – the crossroads of U.S. Highways 82 and 83 puts you in the epicenter of Mearns’ quail country, and 90 percent of the world’s Mearns’ hunting takes place in Arizona. Surrounded by scenic mountain ranges, the pups will find the hotels dog friendly, and moderate winter temps extend through the quail hunting season. Sonoita is also close to desert grasslands (scaled quail) and desert scrub (Gambel’s quail). After your Mearns’ hunt in the oak-lined canyons, you can work toward the Triple Crown.
12. Abilene, Kansas. A gateway to the Flint Hills to the north and central Kansas to the west, the two areas in recent years that have produced the best quail hunting in the Sunflower State.
13. Eureka, South Dakota. Legend has it the town’s name stems from the first settler’s reaction to all the pheasants observed in the area – “Eureka!”
14. Wing, North Dakota. Located just northeast of Bismarck, this town’s name is a clear indication of its premiere attraction. While primarily a waterfowler’s paradise, bird hunters looking to keep their boots dry can find pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse and Huns on ample public ground.
15. Redfield, South Dakota. By law, there can only be one officially trademarked “Pheasant Capital of the World” and Redfield is the owner of that distinction . . . and for good reason!
16. Tallahassee, Florida. Home to Tall Timbers, a partner non-profit focused on quail research, this north Florida town is steeped in the quail plantation culture and quail hunting tradition.
17. Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. This fisherman’s paradise also makes for an excellent October launching off point for the bird hunter. Head south toward Fergus Falls to bag your limit of roosters, then jog northeast to find ruffed grouse and timberdoodles amongst thousands of acres of public forest lands. Point straight west and you’ll find prairie chickens in nearby Clay County if you’re lucky enough to pull a Minnesota prairie chicken permit.
18. Park Falls, Wisconsin. For more than 25 years, Park Falls has staked its claim as the “Ruffed Grouse Capital of the World.” It’s more than just proclamation – more than 5,000 acres in the area are intensively managed as ruffed grouse and woodcock habitat.
19. Iron River, Michigan. Four-season recreation is Iron County’s claim to fame, and with the nearby Ottawa National Forest, it’s no coincidence the county bills itself as the woodcock capital of the world.
20. Lander, Wyoming. Wyoming is home to about 54 percent of the greater sage-grouse in the United States, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Wyoming manages millions of publically-accessible acres.
21. Miles City, Montana. Sharp-tailed grouse are well dispersed throughout southeast Montana, and the state boasts the highest daily bag limit – four birds – in the country. Thicker cover along riparian areas also provides chances at ringnecks. Did we mention there are roughly 2.5 million acres of publicly-accessible land in this region?
22. Spirit Lake, Iowa. The many Waterfowl Production Areas and their cattails make northwest Iowa a great late-season pheasant hunting option.
23. Holyoke, Colorado. Lots of Pheasants Forever and state programs – including walk-in areas – are at work in Phillips County which has made the rural, northeast Colorado town of Holyoke the state’s shining upland star.
24. Barstow, California. San Bernardino County is a top quail producer in the state, and the vast Mojave National Preserve is the most popular destination for hunters from throughout southern California, where wingshooters can also find chukar in addition to quail.
25. Anchorage, Alaska. From the regional hub of Anchorage, bird hunters can drive or fly to excellent hunting areas in all directions, which include ptarmigan, ruffed grouse and spruce grouse. To maximize your chances and stay safe here, consider hiring a guide.