The most enjoyable upland bird hunting trip I have experienced in quite some time occurred Saturday. I had the privilege of hunting with a knowledgeable fellow -- Andy Lowe -- who had Hungarian partridge figured out quite well.
Wyoming upland bird hunters are fortunate to have an extended season for Hungarian and chukar partridge. The season lasts through Jan. 31 and offers hardier hunters a chance to pursue elusive birds in uncrowded fields. Because I had not hunted pheasant or sharptails that much this fall, I was anxious to hunt one more time -- particularly since I hadn't hunted my little female, Peppy, because she had a litter in late September. Consequently, she missed all of October, November and December.
Andy had secured permission for us to hunt a ranch southeast of Sheridan that had a good number of Huns. It looked like an ideal place to me: brushy south- and west-facing slopes with openings here and there that were dominated by grasses. Most of the snow was gone from those slopes, while the east- and north-facing slopes were snow-covered. A good number of the grass patches were composed of cheatgrass, which made the ranch even more ideal in my eyes. I had learned many years ago that both Huns and chukars utilize cheatgrass heavily. Huns especially like to eat the green shoots.
Andy outlined his plan as we were gearing up to tackle a half-mile-long ridge to the east.
"We'll work the ridge from south to north. If you will take the bottom contour at the edge of the brush, I'll hike up the ridge toward the crest. Wherever we flush the Huns, we should analyze it a bit, for it is almost a certainty the other coveys we encounter will be in the same general parameters."
Andy and his dog, Sadie, climbed 30 yards or so up the ridge and then headed north along the contour. Peppy and I hunted lower.
I had forgotten how hard hunting Peppy was -- she was checking out every patch of brush and working a swath about 20 yards wide or more. I had to call her back several times, but she minded well and stayed within range most of the time.
We had walked the first portion of the ridge to where a grassy patch opened up in the brush in front of me. Peppy became very animated running about in tight circles and covering the ground quickly. All of a sudden the whir of many wings jolted me to my senses. A flock of 15 Huns took to the air and flew north. I promptly blew two holes in the sky and quickly remembered that Huns weren't the easiest birds in the world to hit. I would be reminded of that fact many times over during the hunt.
The covey broke to the east and put down in a grassy draw about 200 yards ahead. Andy and I were pretty sure that we would jump them again so we kept walking ahead. When we got to the draw, I moved to the north side of it and Andy took the south. I hadn't gone but a few steps east when a covey of Huns burst out taking me by surprise. A single got up about a second later and I managed to track it and knock it down. Peppy was more than happy to make the retrieve.
I thought that the first covey had landed farther up the draw than where the birds I had just encountered flushed. By the time I had pocketed my Hun Andy and Sadie had reached the top of the draw and flushed a covey. Andy blew a hole or two in the sky and lamented that he wasn't prepared for the birds.
We hunted on and discovered that there were Huns in singles, doubles and triples scattered along the ridge. We also discovered that not only were the smaller numbers of birds sitting quite tight -- I walked within 15 feet of two in a brush clump and they didn't flush until Peppy jumped them a minute later -- but the coveys were getting up in reasonable range. Normally late in the season the coveys will flush well out of range.
The remainder of the hunt we worked the bottom contours of the slopes and found plenty of action. Andy's prediction about the birds being at the same height on the ridges as the first covey was true. The coveys we flushed were toward the lower end of the ridge, and the area usually held some cheatgrass. Once we busted the covey up, the birds were a little more dispersed.
While Andy's shooting percentage got better as the hunt progressed, mine declined. Thank heaven that I got one bird! At the end of our three-hour hunt, Andy had three Huns in his bag and I had my one. We both expended double-digit numbers of shotgun shells and had a good laugh over our combined average of four for 30.
We estimate that we saw six coveys of Huns and couldn't get over how plentiful they were so late in the season. We are hoping to sneak out one more time before the season ends Jan. 31.
If you are suffering from cabin fever and want to try your hand at hunting Huns, why not get out this weekend? The hunt will do you good.