What hunters should expect during the pheasant and quail hunts

SALT LAKE CITY — Many upland game and waterfowl hunts are already underway across Utah, and the general rifle deer hunt will be opening soon as well. The youth pheasant and quail hunts take place Oct. 12-14, and the general pheasant and quail hunts open Nov. 2. If you are planning to target either of these birds, here is what you should know.

Pheasant (ring-necked)

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Biologists estimate that Utah’s wild ring-necked pheasant populations have slightly increased from last year, due to a wet spring that resulted in good brood-rearing conditions.

Biologists estimate that Utah’s wild ring-necked pheasant populations have slightly increased from last year, due to a wet spring that resulted in good brood-rearing conditions. The largest wild populations are located in the wetland areas around the Great Salt Lake, Cache Valley and Utah Valley.

“Hunters should also target the Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) located throughout the state because we will be releasing about 11,000 pen-reared rooster pheasants in these areas,” Heather Talley, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources upland game coordinator, said. “Birds will be released each week throughout November to help increase hunter success and give everyone a good opportunity to harvest birds this season.”

Visit the DWR website to see where pheasants will be released throughout the season. For a full list of WMAs that can be hunted for upland game and which seasons they are open for, visit pages 33 and 34 of the 2019-20 Upland Game and Turkey Guidebook.

Pheasants like areas that have nearby fields of wheat or corn, which provides feed for them. Hunters should remember that written permission from landowners is required to hunt on any agricultural private lands.

Pheasants also prefer habitat with stemmed grass that provides nesting cover, as well as areas with dense woods or wetlands with thick cattails that provide shelter during the snowy winter months.

These birds are good at hiding in brush, so hunting with a well-trained dog will increase your chances of success.

“If you don’t have a dog, you can still be successful by walking slowly to flush out the pheasants,” Talley said. “Many times, they will flush if you stand near them for a few minutes because they think that they’ve been spotted.”

Walking along ditch banks or fence lines is also a good hunting strategy. Pheasants typically prefer to run rather than fly away, so if you walk along these areas, you are more likely to drive them out into the open, where they will flush.

“If you do choose to hunt on one of our WMAs, be willing to hike a long way away from parking areas and other hunters to increase your chances of finding the wild birds,” Talley said.

Hunters should also remember that several of the WMAs require non-toxic shot (for example, steel shot) when hunting. Lead shot may not be used. For more information about the pheasant hunts, visit the DWR website.

The pheasant season runs from Nov. 2 to Dec. 1.

Quail (California and Gambel’s)

Throughout the state, California quail are increasing, although populations declined last year, due to drought. Washington County has a decent population of Gambel’s quail this year.

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Throughout the state, California quail are increasing

Hunting quail differs in each area of the state. In northeastern Utah, quail populations reside mostly on private property, so be sure to obtain written permission prior to the hunt or hunt on Walk-In Access properties to increase success. In the West Desert part of central Utah, quail hunting is limited due to the majority of the population inhabiting urban areas, which are off limits to hunting. The highest numbers of quail in central Utah are found in and around Tooele City.

Quail are not widespread in the southeastern part of Utah, but there are localized populations near farmlands along the Colorado and Green rivers as well as in lower Huntington Canyon and along the Price River. The southern part of the state has California quail populations in the valleys near the town of Fillmore (there is a Walk-In Access property, GBeestonGolf, that offers hunting access outside of city limits.) To obtain an authorization number to use Walk-In Access properties, visit the DWR website. Additional hunting opportunities exist throughout Sevier County, as well as south and east of Kanab and along the Arizona border.

California and Gambel's quail are hunted using similar methods — just in different habitats. When hunting Gambel's quail, look for Joshua trees, dry washes, and draws with black brush or desert almond. California quail will occupy washes containing water and brushy cover, and will eat flowers from grasses, trees and shrubs, as well as seeds and leaves.

“It's best to hunt quail with a trained hunting dog, since quail would rather hunker down and hide than fly away,” Talley said. “Holding the quail in place with a dog will enable you to get close enough to flush the birds and get a shot. If you don't have a dog, you can still hunt quail successfully. If you get close enough to running quail before they fly, you can still get a good shot.”

The quail hunting season runs from Nov. 2 to Dec. 31.

Youth hunts

The statewide youth hunt for pheasant and quail is Oct. 12-14, and pheasants will be released just before the hunt. If you were 17 years of age or younger on July 31, and you’ve completed Hunter Education, you can participate in the hunt. If you haven’t yet finished Hunter Education— and you’re at least 12 years old — you still might be able to participate through Utah’s Trial Hunting program. You must also have a hunting license and follow all of the state’s upland game hunting rules.

DWR has partnered with conservation groups to offer young hunters some special guided pheasant hunts in southern Utah on Nov. 2 and Nov. 9, and in northern Utah on Nov. 9. These hunts are limited and are first come, first served. Sign up on the DWR Eventbrite to reserve your spot.

Upland Game Slam

To add an extra challenge to your hunts, consider participating in the Upland Game Slam. Similar to the Utah Cutthroat Slam, it encourages hunters to harvest a variety of upland game species, while generating money to help fund a variety of habitat and upland game-related projects.

There are currently six different slams, which you complete by harvesting the target species. Each slam is designed to give you an extra challenge while you're hunting, as well as the opportunity to earn a commemorative, collectable coin.

Hunters no longer need to pick up slam cards from retail partners to participate. Learn more about how to participate in the Upland Game Slam here.

See page 20 in the 2019-20 Upland Game and Turkey Guidebook for a complete list of legal weapons for each upland game species.

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