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Introduction to Upland Hunting: Understanding the Basics

Introduction to Upland Hunting: Understanding the Basics

Introduction to Upland Hunting: Understanding the Basics

Upland hunting is a captivating and rewarding pursuit that beckons to those seeking adventure in the great outdoors. It's a walk with a gun, a quest to flush ground-dwelling birds into flight and test your shooting skills. The thrill of an unseen bird bursting into the sky is matched only by the delectable feast these birds provide. This comprehensive guide delves deep into the world of upland hunting, equipping you with the knowledge and skills needed to embark on this exhilarating journey.

What is Upland Hunting?

At its core, upland hunting is a simple and primal experience. It involves traversing diverse landscapes, from mountaintops to marshes, in search of upland birds. These birds, such as pheasants, bobwhites, grouse, and quail, require ample space, food, cover for nesting, and protection from the elements to thrive. Upland hunters find themselves in pursuit of these avian treasures, contributing to the conservation of crucial habitats while enjoying the bounties of nature.

Why Upland Birds Matter

Upland birds are not just game for hunters; they serve as vital indicators of ecosystem health. The survival of upland birds is intrinsically linked to the well-being of their habitats. When forests are cleared or prairies are disrupted, these birds lose their homes. The same landscapes that support upland birds are also vital for pollinators and a wide array of songbirds. As upland hunters, we bear the responsibility of advocating for conservation and preserving these invaluable habitats.

Species of Upland Birds You Can Hunt

North America boasts a diverse array of upland gamebird species, each with its own unique characteristics and habitats. These species include:

Ringneck Pheasant

Originating from China, ringneck pheasants thrive in northern U.S. regions with a mix of farmland and grasslands. They are especially fond of cattail marshes, offering a challenging and rewarding hunting experience.

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed grouse, native to North America, inhabit young forests with dense vegetation, typically found in the Great Lakes states and the northeast, particularly in Maine.

Bobwhite Quail

Bobwhites are known for their exciting covey flushes and were once abundant in the south. Today, their stronghold remains in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas.


Woodcock are skilled in probing for earthworms and migrate as the ground freezes. They inhabit the eastern third of the United States, favoring brushy, young-forest cover.


Imported from the rugged mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan, chukar are known for their high-altitude habitats in western states like Oregon, Washington, and Utah. Hunting chukar is both physically demanding and a test of marksmanship.

Hungarian Partridge

Gray partridges, originally from Hungary, found their home in Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Minnesota, parts of Iowa, and southern prairie Canada. They are known for flushing at longer ranges.

Sharptailed Grouse

The most popular of prairie grouse, sharptails prefer short-grass prairies and are found in parts of Minnesota, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, and Canada.

Mearns Quail

Hunting Mearns quail is a challenging endeavor, typically taking place in the rugged grass and oak savannahs of Arizona and New Mexico. Their striking plumage and delectable meat make them a prized target.

Gambel's Quail

Gambel's quail are distinct for their striking topknots and thrive in the Sonoran desert of the southwest. They often run rather than fly when evading hunters.

Scaled Quail

Also known as the blue quail, scaled quail inhabit sharp desert environments and have distinctive crests, making them a unique and fascinating quarry.

California Quail

Found along the west coast, California quail are adaptable and often coexist with human populations in suburban areas, farms, and parks.

Mountain Quail

The largest quail in North America, mountain quail prefer higher elevations and various types of forested habitats in the western states.

5 Things to Consider Before Hunting Upland Birds

1. Game Laws, Restrictions, and Legal Requirements

Before you embark on your upland hunting journey, it's crucial to acquaint yourself with the laws and regulations specific to your hunting destination. Game laws, bag limits, shooting hours, and firearm requirements can vary significantly from one state to another. Ensure compliance with local rules to enjoy a safe and lawful hunting experience.

2. Hunting Safety

Safety is paramount in upland hunting. Wearing blaze orange caps and vests, even when not required, enhances visibility and minimizes the risk of accidental shootings. Maintain muzzle awareness, always pointing your firearm away from other hunters, and unload your gun when crossing obstacles or obstacles like fences and walls. Vigilance in safety practices ensures a secure outing for both you and your hunting companions.

3. Upland Hunting Seasons

Upland hunting seasons vary by state, reflecting regional wildlife patterns and hunting traditions. Some states may close upland seasons during firearms deer season to prevent conflicts. However, travel opportunities abound, allowing hunters to extend their upland pursuits throughout the fall and into winter. Exploring different regions can provide a diverse and extended hunting experience.

4. Stocked Upland Birds vs. Wild Birds

In some states, hunting opportunities for upland birds are sustained by stocking birds in wildlife management areas (WMAs). This practice is especially prevalent with pheasants, chukar, and quail. While hunting released birds can closely mimic the experience of hunting wild birds, preferences vary among hunters. Upland hunting preserves offer additional options for those living in regions with limited wild bird populations.

5. Hiring an Upland Hunting Guide

For novice hunters, hiring an upland hunting guide is an invaluable investment. Guides possess local knowledge, prime hunting locations, and trained dogs, enhancing your chances of a successful hunt. When choosing a guide, prioritize safety, education, and, most importantly, an enjoyable experience. Additionally, hunting at a shooting preserve can provide newcomers with essential exposure to the basics of upland hunting.

Best Upland Hunting Gear for Beginners

Upland Hunting Boots

Selecting the right boots is pivotal in upland hunting. The terrain and climate in your hunting area dictate your boot choice. An 8-inch leather or leather-and-Cordura boot with minimal insulation and waterproofing is ideal for most environments. Rubber knee boots are suitable for wet and muddy conditions, requiring minimal maintenance.

Upland Hunting Vest and Jacket

An upland vest or jacket is essential for carrying your live shells, harvested birds, and various necessities like water, leashes, and extra clothing. Vests offer freedom of movement and can be layered over warm clothing. Ensure your choice features ample orange for safety, pockets for shells, and a spacious game bag to accommodate your harvest. If hunting with a dog be sure to carry plenty of water for them. We recommend carrying our Field Bottles in your vest as they are designed specifically to be easy for dogs to drink from and prevent wasting water in the field. 

Dog drinking from FowlBound Field Bottle

Upland Hunting Pants

Upland hunting pants should be durable, comfortable, and briar-resistant. They protect your legs from abrasive vegetation and maintain your comfort during extended hunts. Many upland pants feature briar-resistant facings, which prove invaluable in brushy cover. Alternatively, you can opt for briar chaps that slide over your pants and attach to your belt, offering an effective solution to protect your legs.

Other Upland Hunting Gear

  • Protective Glasses: Wearing protective glasses enhances safety by safeguarding your eyes from stray pellets or debris. A reddish-orange tint is recommended for improved visibility during upland hunts. Glasses are highly recommended if hunting grouse and woodcock in thick cover. 

  • Thin Leather Gloves: Thin leather gloves strike the right balance, allowing you to shoot while offering hand protection. They are an essential addition to your gear for a comfortable and safe hunting experience.

  • Layered Clothing: Layering your clothing is pivotal to ensure you remain comfortable during your upland adventures. Overdressing can lead to overheating, so choose lightweight and breathable materials that allow you to adapt to changing conditions.

As you prepare for your upland hunting expedition, remember that safety and comfort are paramount. Dressing appropriately, equipping yourself with the right gear, and familiarizing yourself with local regulations will contribute to a successful and enjoyable experience in the field.

How to Choose an Upland Hunting Gun

Selecting the right firearm for upland hunting is a critical decision that can significantly impact your success. The choice of a shotgun depends on several factors, including the type of birds you'll be pursuing, your shooting style, and personal preferences.

Common upland hunting shotgun choices include:

Over and Under Shotguns

Over and under shotguns are prized for their balance, versatility, and precision. They offer two barrels, typically with different choke constrictions, allowing you to engage various bird species at different ranges effectively.

Side-by-Side Shotguns

Side-by-side shotguns exude traditional elegance and can be ideal for classic upland hunting. Their streamlined design and quick handling make them suitable for fast-moving birds like quail and grouse.

Semi-Automatic Shotguns

Semi-automatic shotguns provide rapid follow-up shots, valuable when facing multiple flushes. They are known for their reliability and reduced recoil, enhancing shooting comfort.

Pump-Action Shotguns

Pump-action shotguns are robust and dependable. They can be cost-effective options for upland hunting, providing single-shot precision and adaptability in varying conditions.

When choosing your upland hunting shotgun, consider factors such as your preferred gauge, fit, and balance. It's advisable to visit a reputable firearms dealer and test different shotguns to find the one that feels most comfortable and natural in your hands. Remember, your shotgun is an extension of your skill, so choose wisely.

3 Necessary Upland Hunting Skills

To excel in upland hunting, you need to hone essential skills that encompass both the art of hunting and firearm proficiency.

1. Shotgun Handling

Effectively handling a shotgun is paramount to upland hunting success. Practice mounting your shotgun smoothly and tracking your target with precision. Developing muscle memory for quick and accurate aiming is essential for clean shots.

2. Bird Identification

A vital skill in upland hunting is the ability to swiftly and accurately identify different bird species. Knowing their flight patterns, habitats, and behavior allows you to anticipate their movements, increasing your chances of success.

3. Working with Upland Hunting Dogs

Many upland hunters rely on bird dogs to locate and retrieve game. Understanding how to work with these skilled companions is crucial. Training and communication between you and your dog are key elements in a successful hunt.

Honing these skills through regular practice and experiential learning will elevate your proficiency as an upland hunter.

What You Need to Know About Upland Hunting Dogs

Upland hunting dogs are invaluable allies in the pursuit of upland birds. These highly trained canines enhance your hunting experience by locating birds, pointing, flushing, and retrieving game. Several breeds excel in upland hunting, each with its unique set of skills and characteristics.

Common upland hunting dog breeds include:

  • English Pointer: These dogs are renowned for their excellent pointing ability and steady demeanor.

  • German Shorthaired Pointer: Versatile and enthusiastic, German shorthaired pointers are adept at pointing, tracking, and retrieving.

  • Brittany Spaniel: Known for their agility and affectionate nature, Brittany spaniels make excellent bird dogs.

  • Labrador Retriever: Labs are proficient retrievers, making them ideal for recovering downed game however, will not point birds. 

  • English Setter: English setters are distinguished by their elegant appearance and keen hunting instincts.

The success of your upland hunting expedition often hinges on your partnership with a well-trained bird dog. Whether you decide to train your dog or collaborate with a professional trainer, the bond between hunter and canine is a fundamental aspect of the upland hunting experience.

Frequently Asked Questions About Upland Hunting

  1. What is the best shotgun gauge for upland hunting? The choice of shotgun gauge depends on the specific birds you'll be hunting. 20-gauge and 12-gauge shotguns are the most common choices for upland hunting. A 20-gauge is suitable for smaller birds like quail, while a 12-gauge provides versatility for a wider range of game. In recent years we have seen a major push into sub-gauge shotguns like the 16ga and 28ga, both of which are phenomenal choices for most upland hunting. 

  2. Is upland hunting only for experienced hunters? Upland hunting is accessible to both novice and experienced hunters. Beginners can benefit from guided hunts, where experienced guides provide valuable insights and support.

  3. Do I need a hunting dog for upland hunting? While not mandatory, a well-trained hunting dog can significantly enhance your upland hunting experience. They assist in locating, flushing, and retrieving game, improving your chances of success.

  4. What is the best time of day for upland hunting? Upland birds are most active during the early morning and late afternoon. These times offer optimal conditions for hunting, as birds are more likely to be on the move.

  5. Can I eat upland game birds? Yes, upland game birds are not only edible but highly prized for their delicious meat. Numerous recipes allow you to savor the flavors of these birds, making them a sought-after delicacy for hunters and food enthusiasts alike.


In conclusion, upland hunting offers a unique blend of adventure, conservation, and culinary delight. This guide equips you with the knowledge and skills needed to embark on an upland hunting journey. Whether you are a seasoned hunter or a novice, upland hunting presents an opportunity to connect with nature and contribute to the conservation of vital ecosystems. Embrace the challenges and rewards that come with pursuing upland birds, and remember that every trip to the field offers a chance to learn and grow as a hunter.

As you embark on your upland hunting adventures, stay informed about local regulations and safety guidelines, invest in the right gear, and continuously improve your skills. Building a strong partnership with your hunting dog can be a fulfilling aspect of the journey, and the culinary delights that upland birds provide are the perfect reward for your efforts.

Upland hunting is not just a recreational pursuit; it is a way to become a steward of the environment, preserving the habitats that these remarkable birds call home. Your participation in upland hunting supports not only the continuation of a time-honored tradition but also the well-being of the ecosystems that these birds depend on.

In closing, may your upland hunting expeditions be marked by success, camaraderie, and a deep appreciation for the natural world. As you traverse the diverse landscapes and savor the flavors of your harvest, may you find fulfillment and joy in the pursuit of upland birds.

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