Adrian Skok

Hunting ptarmigan in winter: The 5 things you need to know

Snow birds

How to venture north for willow ptarmigan—some of the best wingshooting in Canada 

#4: Target the trees

Denali National Park and Preserve
Denali National Park and Preserve

During mid-winter ptarmigan hunts in Labrador and northern Manitoba, I found that willow-choked shorelines out-produced all other habitat types. Think of prime moose country: Look for clusters of small lakes with expansive willow and alder bushes growing along the shorelines, as well as low-lying marshy river segments that back onto old-growth conifers stands. Throw in some patchy burns or exposed rocky ledges for grit, and wintering ptarmigan have everything they could possibly want.

You’ll find the birds are very conspicuous as they perch on willow bushes, whether sunning themselves or feeding on buds and catkins. Likewise when they take shelter in stands of black spruce—they stick out like sore thumbs, despite feeling safe in their perches several feet above the ground. Such scenarios conveniently allow hunters to spot the birds early, then plan a stalk into shooting range.

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