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6 Must-Visit Late Season Bird Hunting Destinations

If you couldn't get enough dog work and fistfuls of feathers, several states offer opportunities long after the holidays.

6 Must-Visit Late Season Bird Hunting Destinations

Your bird hunting adventures don't have to end just because the season closed in your home state. (Photo By: Scott Linden)

Late last fall in a time zone different from home, we sat on the tailgate toasting a stellar day with an old single malt. The spicy, peaty dram chased the growing chill and slowed our emotional pace enough so we could revel in every quivering point, each toe-curling flush, and the vividly-colored wild birds brought to hand.

Between belly-warming sips, David asked “What is it about this point in the season that makes it so special?” “Simple,” I replied, then poured us each a refill. “Let me count the ways: little competition, friendlier weather, welcoming communities and landowners, unpressured birds, cooler conditions for our dogs, and a different face on Mother Nature—often rimmed in frost.”

We took a poll of two minds, both slightly clouded by drink and dazzled by dog work, but still scientific, at least to us. The consensus: better weather is the main reason to consider a late-season road trip. January in Louisiana resembles October in South Dakota. The same can be said for parts of California, Kansas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada, among others. Sure, the birds may have been pestered for the better part of four months, but odds are, they haven’t been chased much in the past few weeks. And when did that ever stop you anyway?

Mail your Christmas thank-you notes, buy the license, check the regulations, and call a friend. Then load up the dog and point your truck at one of these upland hunting winter wonderlands.


Western setting for upland bird hunting
Setting for a western movie ... or late-season hunt. (Photo By: Scott Linden)

Late Season Bird Hunting Destinations

Arizona’s quail season is just getting started in December and usually runs through the second weekend of February. If summer rains worked their alchemy, Mearn’s, Gambel’s and scaled quail can cure the sub-zero blues being sung in much of the country. Most hunting is on public land near the towns of Patagonia and Sonoita—Mearn’s quail Mecca. Surrounded by the Coronado National Forest, with oak woodlands and serious hill walking, you’ll find a winter culture built in part around visiting hunters. Arizona Quail Guides’ Steve Hopkins suggests you learn the lay of the land in Gardner Canyon north of Sonoita, targeting scrubby woodlands above 5,000 feet. 

California’s arcane gun and ammo laws may discourage you, but if you’re seeking sunshine and dry ground, the hassles may be worth the angst. Gird yourself for posers and dilettantes, each carrying a screenplay in their hunting vest. The Mojave National Preserve sees a lot of Los Angeles hunters, but Gambel’s quail skittering up the arroyos make the risk of company tolerable. Look for water sources and search nearby cover. No birds? Trudge upslope, as they won’t hang around any longer than it takes to drink and dash.

With a long season and relatively fair weather compared to those states that get all the publicity, Kansas boasts bobwhites and ring-necks to dazzle those with cabin fever. I’ve hunted one side of a county road with bare ground, while the other had two inches of snow. A few feet of elevation can make all the difference. Don’t neglect shelterbelts. Ever. The western part of the state, near Osborne, Goodland, Dodge City, and Jetmore is where birds concentrate, and walk-in land is ever abundant.

a pile of ring-necked pheasants
Is there anything better than a pile of late-season roosters? (Photo By: Scott Linden)

Nevada is known for many temptations, but bird hunting isn’t often on the list. A jackpot full of public land is, though. The northern, chukar-y end of the state is often knee-deep in snow, but if you’re willing to drive a bit from Las Vegas, there are Gambel’s quail south of Caliente and in the Mormon Mountains. The Delamar Range can also produce, as can the arroyos and slopes near the town of Searchlight, just 50 miles south of town. Start in the bottoms of draws, especially those with sandy soil. According to the U.S. Weather Service, the chance of snow there is exactly zero percent.


Louisiana doesn’t have the notoriety or lore associated with storied woodcock hunting destinations, but it doesn’t have their brutal winter weather, either. The terminus of timberdoodle migration can be a Mardi Gras of shirt-sleeve temperatures and dozens of flushes per day on public land, but keep your shirt on as nobody will throw beads your way in bogsucker country. Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area (WMA) between the Mississippi and Red Rivers has good habitat, as does the southern Atchafalaya Basin. Look at the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Area, Sherburne WMA, and the Army Corps of Engineers’ Indian Bayou area of the Atchafalaya Basin Floodway System. Keep your dog close and once he points, set up so your gun swing is unhindered by tree trunks. The birds start arriving in November, with the peak of the migration arriving around December.

New Mexico is a faint speck on bird hunters’ radar screens, but it’s one of the few states that offers four different wild quail species: Scaled, Gambel’s, Northern bobwhite, and Mearn’s. Scalies are the predominant specie, found almost everywhere, but you can also find Gambel’s in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests along the New Mexico-Arizona border and in the Pecos River valley. Split up and perform a pincer movement on the quick-footed sons-of-guns, squeezing them toward your partner, and vice-versa.

upland bird hunter hiking mountain in the desert
Snow-free climbing "down south". (Photo By: Scott Linden)

Code of the West, Winter Edition

I won’t caution you on the usual bugaboos of bird hunting, from dog safety to travel considerations—you’re prepared, right? But if you’re new to late-season hunting, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Hot tips from internet “experts” are often based on early season conditions (or vivid imaginations fueled by a heaping helping of ego). Birds move, weather hinders access, some places (i.e. wildlife refuges) close their season before the rest of the state.

Many facilities, campgrounds and businesses are closed, so ammo, groceries, lodging and fuel could be a long drive in the wrong direction. Conversely, if you find open businesses, patronize them—hunters are economic development.

Driving conditions are often treacherous. Sudden snow or rain can wreak havoc if you don’t have decent tires, dual batteries, or a winch; roadside assistance is a punch line among local cowboys.

Pickup truck in snow
Preparing yourself and equipping your vehicle for late season will help you avoid hiccups along the way. (Photo By: Scott Linden)

Karma is real. If you encounter someone else in trouble, help. Always.

Crops and livestock may not be in the same places as they are in the fall. Gates may be locked. At least the rattlesnakes will be hibernating.

gun dog in snow
Extending your bird hunting season will be enjoyed by both you and your gun dog. (Photo By: Scott Linden)

Approaching New Territory Strategically

Not a completely blank canvas, but the map of a new area is certainly devoid of familiar landmarks. If you’re planning a trip to new country, sprinkle on a few grains of salt and consider these tips:

-          Google “bird hunting in X” for a start. Split your screen and put a Google Map next to it. Poke around and learn the lay of the land, associating places with the information you find.

-          Search for guides and outfitters in the area. Study their websites for general information on where they take paying clients.

-          Go to the state’s wildlife department website and see what they have to say about best regions for your targeted species, population estimates, and harvest statistics.

-          Contact the area’s wildlife biologists and those who work for conservation groups of which you’re a member.

-          Get the state’s hunting atlas, hard copy and online/mobile app.

-          Mobile hunting apps like OnX Hunt have the basics, plus somewhat-recent satellite imagery. Public-access information, maybe not so current.

-          Reach out to area chambers of commerce and visitors’ associations, your conservation and dog club’s nearby members, and friends of friends.

-          If you’re booking a motel room or campsite, ask those people where to go.

-          Remember, you find—and kill—birds with boot leather. Scout. Strike out. Score. Good luck.

Celebrating a day in the field in January will likely include a steaming mug of something mixed with rum, not a frosty bottle pulled from an ice-filled cooler.  But the real treat isn’t a tingle on the tongue, it’s memories forged of wild birds in untamed places, chased by a loyal hard-working dog and shared with good friends, weeks after most hunters have cleaned and cased their shotguns for the season. That’s worth toasting.

upland bird hunter holding a Hungarian partridge
If you've been intimidated by late-season destination hunts; take the trip, you won't regret it. (Photo By: Scott Linden)
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