What hunters should know about the Utah upland game hunts this fall
Salt Lake City — If you didn’t draw out for any of Utah’s big game hunts but still want to hunt this fall, you may want to give upland game a try! The majority of the upland game hunts in Utah are open to anyone with a Utah hunting license. So whether it’s a long-standing family tradition or you just want to harvest a new species like chukar or grouse, here are some tips that will help you have success hunting upland game this fall.
Doves (mourning and white-winged)
Due to this year’s extreme drought, many of the main food sources for doves decreased (seeds from native grasses and dry farm crop production), which has likely led to a decrease in dove populations across the West.
“During surveys, we located fewer doves across the state than in past years,” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Migratory Bird Coordinator Blair Stringham said. “Hunters should be prepared for a potentially difficult hunt this year.”
Box Elder and Millard counties are the best areas in the state to hunt mourning doves. These birds can often be found near agricultural grain fields (especially those with wheat and safflower) because they provide food for doves. Doves also need lots of water throughout the day, so hunting over water sources (including springs in sagebrush rangelands) and near feeding and roosting sites can help hunters find more doves.
If you want to hunt on private land, like on an agricultural field, you must obtain written permission from the landowner in advance.
White-winged doves are more rare in Utah, but can occasionally be found in the southwestern areas of the state. Hunters should also keep an eye out for white-winged doves in the same areas as mourning doves.
Doves tend to begin migrating south when nighttime temperatures drop into the 50s, so hunters should plan to target them earlier in the season to increase their chances of success.
Because mourning and white-winged doves are migratory birds protected by federal law, you need a Harvest Information Program number to hunt them. Getting a HIP number is easy and only takes a few minutes. You can register for a free HIP number on the DWR website.
The hunting season for mourning and white-winged doves begins Sept. 1 and runs until Oct. 30. For more tips on hunting doves, visit the DWR website.
While DWR biologists don’t do formal surveys for pigeons in Utah, the population has been relatively stable in recent years.
Look for band-tailed pigeons in southern Utah in areas with Gambel oak, aspen and conifers. However, Gambel oak acorn production has been low in many parts of the state, which is typically what pigeons rely on for food in the fall.
“Most Utah hunters don’t take the time to hunt band-tailed pigeons because they are a fairly secretive bird that is difficult to find,” Stringham said. “Due to the drought impacts on their food supply, hunters can expect to have a difficult hunt this year. However, they can be a unique challenge for hunters who are willing to put the time in to find them.”
Hunters should note that Eurasian collared-doves and band-tailed pigeons are often mistaken for one another. Eurasian collared-doves are primarily located in agricultural areas, while band-tailed pigeons are typically found in forested areas. Eurasian collared-doves are not protected in Utah and can be hunted year round without a license. Visit the Upland Game and Turkey 2021–22 Guidebook for more details about identifying each species.
Hunting band-tailed pigeons does require a permit, but the permit is free and available on the DWR website. You also need a HIP number to hunt band-tailed pigeons. You can register for a free HIP number on the DWR website.
The pigeon hunting season runs from Sept. 1–14.
Grouse (dusky and ruffed)
There are several grouse species throughout Utah: dusky grouse, ruffed grouse, greater sage-grouse and sharp-tailed grouse. To hunt greater sage-grouse and sharp-tailed grouse, you need a special permit in addition to a hunting license, and the application period for that permit ended July 21. However, you can still hunt dusky and ruffed grouse (species of forest grouse) this fall with just a hunting or combination license.
The dusky grouse and ruffed grouse population numbers are either similar to or higher than last year’s numbers in most areas of the state. However, the population numbers have decreased in southeastern Utah, likely due to drought conditions.
Hunters should be able to locate grouse in the following areas:
- Central Utah: The Oquirrh, Stansbury, Sheeprock, Deep Creek, Nebo and Manti mountain ranges
- Northern Utah: Dusky grouse in the Raft River Mountains and forest grouse in Cache, Morgan, Davis, southern Rich and Weber counties
- Southern Utah: In the Zion, Pine Valley and Southwest Desert areas
Dusky grouse, also known as the blue grouse, pine hen, pine grouse and fool hen, are about the size of a chicken and have drab brown and gray coloring. Their tail feathers are black except for the tips, which have a lighter gray color, and look like a wide band when the tail is fanned. Dusky grouse are found in higher elevations along the borders of aspen and conifer forests.
Ruffed grouse, also known as the willow grouse, are gray and red and have a group of black feathers on the sides of their neck. Their tail feathers are the same color as their body, but have a dark black band near the end. Ruffed grouse are found in stands of aspen, particularly young aspen. The aspen stands that also have shrubs with berries and a water source are the best places to spot a ruffed grouse. For more tips on distinguishing between dusky and ruffed grouse, visit this Utah State University Extension link.
During fall and winter, grouse forage on the ground in areas where flowering plants (such as elderberry or serviceberry) or grains are available, and in areas dominated by sagebrush or in trees or shrubs with fruits and buds.
“Hunters who can locate the areas with the most berries should find good concentrations of grouse,” DWR Upland Game Coordinator Heather Talley said. “The birds migrate upslope as the season progresses and can be found in high-elevation conifer forest areas by early October.”
If you’re able to hunt with a dog, the best time to hunt grouse is an hour or two after sunrise, while the birds have been feeding, so that there will still be scent on the ground for your dog to track. If you hunt grouse without a dog, try early in the morning or late in the afternoon because that is when the birds are actively feeding and will be the most visible.
“People usually hunt grouse with dogs, but you will still want to move slowly and stop routinely to listen for birds. You may even be able to see them crouched down as you pass,” Talley said. “Sporadically stopping may cause the grouse to flush because they get nervous if you are close to them. And because grouse can escape quickly when they flush, be ready to shoulder your gun for a shot. Since grouse spend most of the day on the ground, you can still find them at any time during the day. This means you can still be successful if you are hunting without a dog between prime feeding times.”
The dusky and ruffed grouse season runs from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31. For more tips on hunting either species of grouse, visit the DWR website.
Partridge (chukar and gray)
Biologists estimate that chukar populations are similar to last year in northern Utah, but they have decreased in the central, southern and southeastern parts of the state, due to dry conditions.
Hunters should look for chukars in the following locations:
- Central Utah: The Tooele District offers some of the best chukar hunting in Utah, with several populations in a variety of mountain ranges and lots of public land. Rocky slopes west of I-15 contain the highest densities of birds.
- Northern Utah: Public lands in the western part of Box Elder County and private lands in the eastern part of the county may provide the best northern Utah chukar opportunities. Pen-reared birds are released each year before the hunt on the Brigham Face, East Canyon and Henefer-Echo wildlife management areas.
- Northeastern Utah: Pen-raised chukars will be released before the opening days of the youth and general-season hunts.
- Southern Utah: Try hunting the mountain ranges in Beaver and Millard counties, the foothills along the west side of the Monroe Mountains, areas west of Fillmore, the east sides of the Pahvant and Tushar mountains, foothills on both sides of the Sevier valley, along the Sevier River, and in the rocky slopes of Kingston Canyon.
- Southeastern Utah: Look for chukars in the cliff areas along the Price and Green rivers and near the face of the Book Cliffs.
Hunters should focus on steep slopes with rocks and bunch grass, sagebrush or cheatgrass, as well as areas with water. The best time to hunt chukars is early in the morning since that’s when they’re feeding and when they tend to be vocal, making them the easiest to find.
“If one of the birds sees you while the rest are feeding, it will call out to alert the others, helping you to know where their group is located,” Talley said. “You may increase your success rate hunting near water, but chukars aren’t completely dependent on water, and rely on it even less later in the year. Once winter hits, hunt the south-facing slopes, where the sun will be melting snow and warming the rocks, making it a good area for chukars.”
Gray partridge (also known as Hungarian partridge or Huns) also have about the same population numbers as last year. They are only located in northern Utah, and can be found in the following areas:
- Northern Utah: Look for gray partridge in the western part of Box Elder County and on private land in eastern areas of the county, as well as in the Bear River Mountain Range in Cache County. Don’t forget to get written permission from the landowner before entering private property.
Both partridge seasons will run from Sept. 25, 2021, to Feb. 15, 2022.
Cottontail rabbits and snowshoe hares
Cottontail rabbit population numbers have decreased statewide compared to last year and are still at the low end of their population cycle.
Look for these rabbits in riparian areas (like creek bottoms and washes) with sagebrush and willow trees, and try hunting early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when the rabbits are feeding. Cottontail rabbits can also be found near rocky outcroppings.
“Hunters also often have success finding cottontails in the transition areas between sagebrush and agriculture fields,” Talley said.
If multiple hunters walk in a straight line with several yards between them, they’re likely to find some rabbits feeding or resting. Be sure to walk slowly and quietly because cottontails have incredible hearing. Be sure to wear hunter orange, since it won’t deter the rabbits, and will make it easier for other hunters to spot you.
Small caliber rifles, such as .22 and .17, are great for rabbit hunting, or you can also use shotguns with No. 6 shot. Note that some areas require lead-free ammunition, so be sure to look up restrictions before you head into the field.
Find more cottontail rabbit hunting tips on the DWR website.
Snowshoe hare populations are also low statewide. They can be found in high-elevation forest areas with conifer and aspen trees. The best habitat for hares is typically 8,000–9,000 feet in elevation and is more difficult to access than where cottontails are found.
Hunters should be able to find snowshoe hares in the following areas:
- Central Utah: In the Nebo, Wasatch West, Tintic and West Manti hunting units
- Southern Utah: On the Parker Plateau and in the Monroe and Fish Lake hunting units
- Southeastern Utah: Along the Avintaquin Ridge
While they are a brownish-gray color in the summer, snowshoe hares are completely white in the winter, except for the black tips of their ears. The best strategy for finding hares is to wait for the first snowstorms of the year, and then look for the hare’s unique tracks. Their track looks like a miniature snowshoe, hence their name. Snowshoes or snowmobiles are often essential if you want to hunt snowshoe hares after the snow falls.
Snowshoe hare (in the summer)
Snowshoe hares have a limited home range, so if you find an area that has plenty of tracks in it, there’s a good chance a hare is hunkered down in some vegetation nearby. Move slowly through their habitat, watching for the outline of a hare and its dark black eyes. Kicking brush piles as you walk can also cause hiding hares to flush into the open.
Small-caliber rifles and shotguns are great firearms to use for hunting hares.
Hunters should also note that rabbit hemorrhagic disease serotype 2 (RHDV-2) was confirmed in several wild rabbit populations in Utah in 2020. Specifically, it was found in cottontail rabbits in the Teasdale area of Wayne County, the Monticello area of San Juan County and in Uintah County.
“The good news is that, so far, it doesn’t look like rabbit hemorrhagic disease resulted in widespread, permanent losses of rabbits in these areas,” Talley said. “Young cottontail rabbits have been observed this summer in Uintah County, even in areas that are not far from where the disease was detected last year.”
Infected wild rabbits may be lethargic and not flee when approached. If the rabbit you harvested seemed to act normally at the time of the hunt, it is unlikely that it has the disease. However, if you notice any discoloration or excessive bleeding on internal organs after harvesting the rabbit, or if you see anything that appears abnormal or causes concern, please contact your local DWR office and do not consume the rabbit, as a safety precaution.
The cottontail rabbit season runs from Sept. 1, 2021 to Feb. 28, 2022. The snowshoe hare season runs from Sept. 1, 2021 to March 15, 2022.
Upland Game Slam
To add an extra challenge to your hunts this fall, 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.
Hunters complete a slam by harvesting the required amount of the target species. There are currently eight different slams that hunters can participate in. Each one is designed to give you an extra challenge while you’re hunting, as well as the opportunity to earn a commemorative, collectible coin. The entry fee is $20 for hunters 18 years of age or older, or $10 for hunters 17 years of age or younger. Learn more about how to participate in the Upland Game Slam on the DWR website.
Check the 2021–22 Upland Game and Turkey Guidebook for details on regulations for hunting each species, including the legal weapons for each upland game species.
The dates for the youth hunting seasons are as follows:
- Chukar: Sept. 18–20
- Quail: Oct. 30–Nov. 1
- Pheasant: Oct. 30–Nov. 4
The DWR and partners will also be holding several organized youth pheasant hunts on Nov. 13 in different areas of the state, including the Annabella and Pahvant wildlife management areas and part of the Ogden Bay waterfowl management area. Visit the DWR website for more details about those upcoming events.