Try hunting the upland bird that lives above the goats and sheep.
[By Worth Mathewson]
THE TITLE OF THIS ARTICLE DESCRIBES A MAJOR DISAPPOINTMENT. Perhaps not the greatest I’ve encountered in my life, but close: I had hoped to title it “All of ‘Em.”
Which is to say that I have shot all the legal non-waterfowl game bird species, native and introduced, found in the United States and Canada—but I haven’t quite, lacking just one bird. Due to many things—age, a reduced competitive drive—my guess is that I never will bag ’em all, so I decided it was time to write an article on the subject.
For a period, I stated that I had shot almost all species in North America. That wasn’t correct either, as a friend pointed out that Mexico is part of North America, and there are a bunch of species there I wouldn’t even make an attempt to hunt.
So at this point I’ve bagged 50 species. It took me a while to do so, having shot my first game bird in 1951. That was a mourning dove in a peanut field near Lake City, Florida. Because I’m a Southerner, it was entirely fitting that my second species was bobwhite, shot near Martinsville, Virginia, two days after Christmas 1953. I can recall both those birds with clarity. Other species were added to the list over time. Some I can recall; others are lost to memory as to time and location. Some of the species on my list amount to a single individual; others comprise several or many birds.
I have had my list reviewed by two individuals from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They gave me passing marks: I hadn’t missed any birds. If a reader of Gray’s knows of a species not on my list, I guess I would welcome hearing of it. But I wouldn’t exactly be wild about it, because the pain of being unable to get the “last” bird on my list isn’t something I take lightly.
The native species I have bagged are:
Grouse—ruffed, blue, spruce, sharp-tailed, lesser pinnated, greater pinnated, sage, willow ptarmigan, rock ptarmigan, white-tailed ptarmigan.
Quail—bobwhite, valley, mountain, Gambel’s, Mearns’s, scaled.
Doves and pigeons—mourning, white-winged, white-tipped, band-tailed.
Rails and gallinule—Virginia, sora, clapper, king, coot, purple gallinule, common gallinule.
Wild turkey (five races)—Eastern, Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Osceola, Gould’s.
Crane—lesser and greater sandhill.
And the introduced species: chukar, gray partridge, ring-necked pheasant, green pheasant, kalij pheasant, chestnut-bellied sandgrouse, Eurasian collared dove, ring-necked dove, lace-necked dove, zebra dove, spotted dove, rock dove, Japanese quail, gray francolin, black francolin, Erckel’s francolin.
Several on this list—green pheasant, kalij pheasant, chestnut-bellied sandgrouse, lace-necked dove, zebra dove, Japanese quail, gray francolin, black francolin, Erckel’s francolin—might be met with a Huh? from wingshooters. All these species can be found on the Parker Ranch in Hawaii. It took me two trips to get them all. These aren’t pen-raised released birds. All have been established for many years, and are totally wild. Days spent on the vast ranch are more than excellent, and certainly worth the substantial expense involved to shoot there.
It was on the Parker Ranch that I bagged the most striking of all birds on my list, the chestnut-bellied sandgrouse. Once in hand, they command several minutes of appreciative study. They are outstanding in every sense of the word. Close behind the sandgrouse is the beautiful, small black francolin. And a bird of amazement is the adult Erckel’s francolin, with its two long leg spurs on each leg; those sharps would give a fighting rooster second thoughts.
I don’t hesitate to name the lesser pinnated grouse as the most memorable bird I’ve shot. For several years my wife and I traveled to New Mexico while there was a strong number of lessers in one remote, sparsely populated county. Sadly, those grouse nearly disappeared, and the season has been closed for many years. But I’m left with the vivid memory of early morning flocks flying strongly across the seemingly uninhabitable landscape. And due to their wildness, with flushes at great distances, I greatly appreciated the Purdey live pigeon gun, choked full and full, that I had at the time.
Several on this list—green pheasant, kalij pheasant, chestnut-bellied sandgrouse, lace-necked dove, zebra dove, Japanese quail, gray francolin, black francolin, Erckel’s francolin—might be met with a Huh? from wingshooters.
You will note that I refer to the grouse by its proper name, not the common nickname prairie chicken. Charley Waterman once told me I was “awful stuffy” about formal names. In large part because of my strong dislike for the name Hun for the gray partridge. Most accounts of the bird’s introduction into North America give credit to the famed Michigan sportsman William Mershon and celebrate his role in importing gray partridge from Hungary to be released near Calgary, Alberta, in 1908. But actually, J. A. Balmer predated the Mershon release in 1906 in Eastern Washington. Very likely those first grays came from England. It’s entirely possible that with more publicity, the bird could have become known as a Limey partridge rather than a Hun. Whatever, I think birds should be called by their proper names solely as a matter of respect.
Without question, the hardest bird to bag on my list was the chachalaca. I was lucky to get one, and even though that was years ago, I still question why I even tried. The bird, which looks like a cross between a pheasant and a chicken, is found in a small area of Texas near the Rio Grande, inhabiting the smack-dab center of godawful mesquite patches, with branches bending under the sheer weight of ticks.