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Bird Hunting State Spotlight: Washington

Considered a “sleeper state” to some, Washington offers adventure for anyone willing to endure its hassles to find less-crowded and more challenging public land wild birds.

Bird Hunting State Spotlight: Washington

Say WA?! That's right, the Evergreen State has a plethora of solid upland bird hunting opportunities. (Photo By: Scott Linden)

Way up in the left-hand corner of the Lower 48, Washington holds secrets known only to a few diehard uplanders. The arid east side is where most of the action is, from the golden rolling hills of Palouse country to the breaks of many desert rivers. Much of the scabby ground is publicly-owned and open to anyone willing to walk. It’ll hold valley quail on the flats and chukar on the slopes and benches. As a bonus, privately-owned croplands hold their share of walk-in properties with ring-necked pheasant and a chance for Hungarian partridge — if you did all your chores before you left home.

Yakima River Basin

The Yakama Indian reservation’s ridgelines along the Yakima River are worth a chukar foray. So are the square-mile sections of public land dotting the same area. Don’t neglect the brushy river bottom, where valley quail skitter and chitter, and vexing pointing dogs. Check current rules in this sovereign nation, get the right paperwork, say goodbye to the west-side’s IPA drinkers, and start hunting.

Last time I did, the sun beat down mercilessly from a cerulean sky. Our out-and-back hunt was into the home stretch as the transmitter beeped “point.” Three hundred feet down a rockslide, my dog balanced precariously on the boulders. As I swept wide to cut them off, a dozen chukars popcorned in ones and twos, hooking around a lava flow and out of range. Those are the breaks, in the breaks.

german wirehaired pointer in desert
Pointing dogs are preferred when canvasing for coveys in the vast expanses of desert terrain. (Photo By: Scott Linden)

The Yakima Training Center is another worthwhile destination. The U.S. Army trains armor troops here, so you might see dust plumes from tanks rumbling in the distance as you’re hightailing after running valley quail. The hills on the base are more forgiving than chukar country, but gentler elevation gains are countered by more mileage between coveys.

On my last visit, a white-muzzled German longhaired pointer paused, casually raised its tail (a bit) and gave us the side-eye. We took the (very subtle) hint and closed our guns, flanking the veteran as we pushed through sage and bunchgrass. The pit-pit-pit of nervous birds prefaced a blur on the ground as six — or was it 60? — valley quail pinballed from bush to bush, erupting in a cloud. The old dog was rewarded with two retrieves, brought gently to hand in slow motion.

Snake River Basin

Near the town of Wenatchee, the scablands of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area hold quail. Better known as a waterfowl spot, the Sunnyside/Snake River Wildlife Area is worth investigating. Walla Walla National Forest near the town of the same name also has a few birds.

dead chukar partridge
A bounty of desert birds including chukar, valley quail, ring-necked pheasant, and Huns inhabit the Washington landscape. (Photo By: Scott Linden)

The Snake River winds its way along Washington’s southeastern border with Idaho, with climbs to dizzying heights guaranteed to take your breath away—literally. Near the town of Asotin (south of Clarkston), the rewards can be commensurate, and a good rule of thumb is the higher you climb and farther you walk, the better your odds of finding chukar. Look for benches and saddles in the landscape’s folds, flora primarily consisting of sagebrush and cheatgrass. If there’s water nearby, all the better. Climbing an old wagon road from the river’s edge, I once found a covey lolling like overfed tourists in the shade of a chokecherry bush on ground dampened by a tiny seep.

While the Snake is a major source of liquid sustenance, once rain and snow begin falling, an indentation in a flat rock will hold plenty, so extend your search beyond the “usual places” later in the season. Often, wheat carpets the flatlands at the top of the breaks. If you’re lucky, a combine will push a pheasant down into the rocks where you’re panting after chukar.

Columbia River Basin

The mighty Columbia River defines the border between Oregon and Washington, and public ground will hold chukar, occasional ringnecks near croplands, and a few quail. Begin your search near the towns of Umatilla, Oregon, or Goldendale, Washington. Be mindful of the confusing checkerboard of public and private lands. The Hanford Reach upstream from those towns is one starting point.

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Take advantage of adventure and ample public lands in Washington. (Photo By: Scott Linden)

Get After It!

We citizens own much of the best upland hunting country in the West. Keep that in mind as you negotiate the vast, faceless bureaucracies that control information. One agency expert tried to convince me there were no valley quail in that state, even though I’d shot dozens in the past three years. Be polite, but persistent.  You’re often better checking with on-the-ground sources—from gas station attendants to grocery clerks, UPS drivers to sheriff’s deputies. Be humble, sincere, and honest with residents, spend some money in the area, hang out in the local café, and you may be blessed with more reliable intelligence.

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