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Sharp-Tailed Grouse: Game Bird Profile

Also known as “sharptails” or “sharpies,” this grouse thrills hunters throughout much of the Western and Midwestern parts of North America.

Sharp-Tailed Grouse: Game Bird Profile

Because much of its range is in the northwest United States, the sharp-tailed grouse is a species that can be hunted quite successfully on public lands in many states. (Photo By: Tom Reichner/Shutterstock)

A number of different grouse species can be found throughout much of the United States and North America, providing many opportunities for those who love hunting and gun dogs. And throughout their vast range, these different species of grouse all have unique characteristics and prefer vastly different types of habitat than their many feathered cousins.

A member of the family Phasianidae, the sharp-tailed grouse, Pedioecetes phasianellus, is far different in both appearance and preferred habitat type than its more well-known cousin the ruffed grouse, commonly called “the king of the game birds.” Looking much like a prairie chicken (they are closely related), the sharp-tailed grouse has been known to put gun dogs—and hunters—to a rigorous test on America’s vast, open prairie lands. 


Sharp-Tailed Grouse Range

Mostly a midcontinent species, sharp-tailed grouse populations flourish in roughly the northern half of Nebraska, both Dakotas, nearly all of Montana (except the far western one-quarter) and down into the northeastern third of Wyoming. Further west, the birds can be found in southeastern Idaho and pockets of western Idaho, with a few limited populations existing in the northeastern portion of Washington state.

sharp-tailed grouse habitat
Sharp-tailed grouse remain a popular target for bird hunters in prairielands across the central part of North America. (Photo By: Jordan Feeg/Shutterstock.com)

While mainly a northern latitude bird, the sharp-tailed grouse’s range does dip down into some more central states, stretching as far south as southern and southwestern Colorado. Farther east, the birds can be found in the northern part of Minnesota, stretching over into Wisconsin and even some parts of central Michigan. Interestingly, the sharp-tailed grouse also inhabits much of Alaska, where the birds inhabit nearly half of the middle portion of that state.

In Canada, the south-central tiers of the central provinces hold the most sharp-tailed grouse. The birds inhabit much of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, with the southern half of those provinces holding the best populations. Sharp-tailed grouse are also found in much of the southern half of Alberta and Ontario, as well as southern British Columbia and parts of Quebec.

Sharp-Tailed Grouse Biology & Habitat 

Sharp-tailed grouse are roughly crow-sized, grayish birds with a small head and bill, short legs and a medium-length pointed tail. Contrasting them to other game birds, they’re larger than a gray partridge, but smaller than a ring-necked pheasant. They are a muted, mottled color, looking a nondescript grayish or brownish hue when flushed. When studied more closely, they are a mottled brown with black, white and even gold feathers interspersed. They have a white lower belly and undertail coverts. 

Since many hunters find sharp-tailed grouse when hunting on the open prairie for them along with a number of other prairie species, most consider them to be strictly a prairie bird. But while common on the prairies in their southern range, the birds are more often found along bog edges in boreal forests in their northern range. The northern birds typically have a much darker color than their southern counterparts. Sharp-tailed grouse feed on seeds, grains and insects, and many can be found near croplands when grain crops are ripe. They also feed on berries, buds, and flowers. Insects like grasshoppers are a staple of their diet in summer, especially for young birds.

Looking to cook your kill? Don't miss our favorite sharp-tailed grouse recipes!!

In the spring, males gather on display grounds to attract females for mating. Females will visit these grounds, mate with a male, and then go about building a nest. Female sharp-tailed grouse lay anywhere from five to 17 eggs, with about a dozen being average. Incubation period is 23 to 24 days, and young are precocial, able to walk and care for themselves soon after hatching. Within a week or two, they are able to take their first short flights. 

sharp-tailed grouse males displaying
Male sharp-tail grouse put on impressive shows as they display and compete to breed. (Photo By: Stephan Olivier/Shutterstock.com)

Hunting the Sharp-Tailed Grouse

Since they are found in several different states and provinces, hunting seasons for sharp-tailed grouse vary somewhat. For example, the season in North Dakota typically opens on September 1, while further west in Idaho the season for sharpies doesn’t begin until October 1. As with any species of game bird, always check the regulations in the area you intend to hunt before heading afield.

While some people hunt sharpies without a dog by simply walking until they kick up some birds, the vast expanses of land that often must be covered to find the birds lends itself more toward a canine companion or two. Pointing dogs are probably the most popular, with bigger running dogs that are able to cover a lot of prairie ground in a short time are preferred by most in the more open areas. Where birds are located in pockets of boreal forests or in thick areas along bogs, a closer-running pointing dog will also yield good results.

sharp-tailed grouse hunter and dog in prairie
Long-ranging pointing dogs that can cover large expanses of ground and remain within eyesight are often the choice for sharpie hunters. (Photo By: Steve Oehlenschlager/Shutterstock.com)

As with many other species of game birds, some hunters prefer to pursue sharp-tailed grouse with flushers. Many a sharpie has fallen to the shotgun of a hunter following a Labrador retriever or well-trained spaniel across the prairie. In a nutshell, whatever kind of gun dog you own and enjoy, that’s the one you should take along on a sharpie hunt!

Like hunting other grouse, the best place to begin is near the birds’ preferred food sources. Such areas that also have a good water source nearby are sure to hold birds. Because much of its range is in the northwest United States, the sharp-tailed grouse is a species that can be hunted quite successfully on public lands in many states.

english setter retrieving a sharp-tailed grouse
Another successful day on the prairie. (Photo By: Steve Oehlenschlager/Shutterstock.com)

While guns and loads are always very personal considerations, most sharp-tailed grouse hunters chose a 12- or 20-gauge shotgun. In early season when birds are less pressured and typically flush closer, an improved cylinder choke works quite well. Later in the season when pressure birds have learned to flush at greater distances, those I/C chokes are often switched out for modified. For shot, #7.5 and #8 are often used early, with #6’s loaded later in the season when distances tend to increase.

Interestingly, with these grouse able to fly more than 42 miles per hour, most misses aren’t caused by using the wrong guns, chokes or loads, rather by hunters not getting enough shooting practice on fleet-flying targets before making a trip to sharp-tailed country!


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