Bird Hunting 101: A Beginner's Guide

Bird Hunting For Dummies | A Beginner's Guide

Bird hunting is one of the most exciting and enjoyable outdoor activities. It can also be a very challenging sport for beginners due to the complexity of choosing the right gear, knowing when to hunt, how to hunt, where to hunt, and understanding game laws.

Bird Hunting

Where to start with bird hunting

Enjoying the outdoors, longing to put some food on the table, and or just spending time with friends or family. These are just some of the reasons people get started with bird hunting. Upland birds are game birds, including quail, pheasant, grouse, woodcock, prairie chicken, or partridge. Upland birds are found in grasslands and wet meadows and can provide some excellent hunting opportunities.

Bird Hunting Safety

You'll want to enroll in a hunters' education course where you will get the best information on all the hunting basics and safety. Many states require successful completion of a hunter safety course before issuing a hunting license. The laws and seasons for upland bird hunting vary from state to state, so always check with your state's fish and game commission to know the latest in-laws and what is in season.

Even where a hunter safety course is not mandatory, I'd recommended taking one anyway. The system will also answer several beginner questions, including the best types of guns to use and what kind of ammunition works best for specific game birds.

Bird Hunting 101

Time to go hunting

Either an informal hunting party of friends or a paid guide can take you out, and you can start to put what you learned from the hunter education course into practice. Unlike guided big game hunts for animals like deer, bear, moose, or elk, which can cost thousands of dollars, a guided bird hunt will usually run around $100.

A guide will teach you what you need to know, and they can help you get out for an authentic and fun hunting experience. I'd say a guided bird hunt is really the most accessible entry point into the sport of hunting.

It can be a daunting task to embark on a hunting trip without a guide, but you'll still have a great time. You just have to be mindful of the risks and know your limits, and have a little courage and a lot of preparation.

Bird Hunting Equipment and Gear - What do you need? 

Let's start with the basics - a shotgun, ammo, and a lot of patience. 

A 12-gauge shotgun is great for bird hunting and should be outfitted with a "choke-tube." A choke tube is a tapered attachment for the front of a shotgun barrel. It can be set to shoot the shot from a shell in a narrow to wide, scattered path. Which is extremely useful. By mixing and matching the type of shot used in individuals shells and the set-path for that shot, you can custom-configure the shotgun to specific birds or the terrain. This makes it a very versatile weapon.

Wearing either a hat or vest that has blaze orange on it is a strong choice. This makes you visible to other hunters who are in your group or in the area. It's a very, very, very good idea. You may also want to wear a vest with pockets to place a whistle, ammunition, a compass, and anything else you might need for the day. Vests often have a larger pouch in the back to place dressed birds. 

Where do the birds hang out?

Successful bird hunters know that upland birds prefer to hang around in good cover made up of scrubby brush and new growth associated with old pastures that go back to trees. It's the kind of sparse cover found in places like dry, overgrown fields, roadside ditches, and patches of brushy undergrowth along creek banks. When a cover area grows up to the point it no longer meets the needs of the birds, the birds move on to a new spot.

These covers age-out over time. Even more than a favorite fishing spot, the active cover area is protected by bird hunters. Walking through forestland that has been cut within five or so years or on old pasture is an excellent way to come across bird cover and the birds themselves. Because the birds will likely see you before you spot them, they may not freeze in place.

A bird hunter's best friend...

Bird Dog Hunting

The single best piece of equipment a bird hunter can have is a good dog. For someone starting out, that is often not possible given the time and expense of obtaining and training a good bird dog. You can try to make a friend with someone who has a bird dog, but there are plenty of resources out there to get you on a hunt with a good bird dog. I'd personally love to go on hunts with my rescue pup, but I'm sure he'd be far more interested in catching game for himself than tracking for me.

Bird dogs are one reason when starting out; it's a good idea to contract with a guide, primarily if they hunt with dogs. Not all bird dogs do the same work. Some bird hunters hunt with dogs, who can help locate birds, flush them out and retrieve them. 

There are "flushing dogs" like the cocker spaniel who flush the birds out of cover and open.

Then there are the "pointing dogs" like the Brittney Spaniels. They sneak up on the birds, stand still, and use their nose and one leg to point out the hidden bird.

There are so many different types of bird dogs; I'll make a list sometime. It really comes down to breed preference. I will say the smaller dogs like the Cocker Spaniels tend to make better indoor pets for those who want their hunting dogs to also be part of the family.

So Now You've Got a Bag Of Birds.

I'm not going to get too much into the nitty-gritty of bird cleaning, as I feel like it'll be super confusing in written form. There are so many videos on YouTube showing how to clean birds, and they will be your best friend, that is if you don't have a best friend that knows how to clean a bird.

The options are endless when cooking upland birds. You can fill coolers with cheap champagne and brine the birds in it overnight. You can smoke an entire bird. You can deep fry whole birds in peanut oil or just roast the breasts. It's common to simply sauté the breast of a grouse or woodcock in butter with a bit of garlic. Others like to parboil and cook the breast meat in a batch of baked beans. Soups and stews are also popular. There are many great recipes on cooking wild birds on the internet, and they're only a google search away.

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