From waterfowl, snipe and cranes to pheasant, grouse and partridge, the Prairie provinces offer wingshooters unparalleled opportunities
With the extirpation of the greater prairie chicken in Canada and sage grouse populations below huntable numbers, the sharp-tailed grouse reigns as the true native son for prairie bird hunters. Sharptails are birds of the edge, associated with native prairie; ideal habitat for them will have an abundance of snowberry, buffalo berry and other shrubs.
Early in the day, they can often be found feeding in harvested grain fields, their heads poking above the stubble, giving them away to keen-eyed hunters. As morning progresses, they’ll invariably move back into cover. Most often, they’re hunted with wide-ranging pointers and flushing dogs, and you must be prepared to put many kilometres on your boots—the reward can be numerous random flushes of singles and pairs. Without dogs, your best bet is to hunt the headlands between stubble and pasturelands, as well as the perimeters of willow sloughs.
As the season progresses, sharptails begin to congregate in larger coveys, but that means more eyes alert to approaching danger. Be warned—they’re the wariest of our upland game birds and they get jumpy easily, often flushing out of shooting range. For that reason, many hunters consider the early season to be more productive.
Be ready to cover a lot of ground when hunting sharptails
Unlike Hungarian partridge, which typically flush as a covey, sharptails are prone to flushing in succession, in a series of singles and pairs. Experienced hunters always have extra shells at the ready to quickly reload after a flush. The key is to reload before taking another step, as that often triggers the next flush.
Most consider the dark meat of sharptails to be the poorest table fare among prairie upland birds. That may be true, but cooked low and slow in a sauce, they can make for surprisingly fine dining.