You’ll be saying ‘winner winner, prairie-chicken dinner’ with these DIY prairie chicken hunting tips
For many upland hunters, the greater prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus Cupido) is on the top of the hit list for birds to harvest and mount. They are more common than the lesser prairie-chicken, and, more particularly, these birds are known for their unique breeding behavior and mating rituals.
It’s nearly impossible to get close enough for a wing shot opportunity in their residence among chewed-through cow pastures. But after many failed attempts and a handful of successful ones, these prairie chicken do-it-yourself hunting tips ought to help you bag a few more of these strutting upland game birds.
Just like any other bounty offered by Mother Nature, understanding the habits and habitat are imperative if you want to have a story to tell around the campfire. Greater prairie-chickens currently reside in 10 states in the lower 48 with the strongest concentrations are located in Kansas and Nebraska. Don’t waste your time kicking the CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) elsewhere. In Kansas, the Flint Hills are above and beyond the best habitat and harbor the largest concentration of these birds in the nation. The Flint Hills of Kansas more specifically span from the Oklahoma border all the way north to Nebraska. Focusing efforts in these areas—home to the most abundant booming grounds—increases the odds of a harvest.
Booming grounds, also known as leks, are heavy concentrations of male Prairie Cocks shaking their stuff in hopes of proving they are the dominant bird! When fall descends, these birds can be found in similar pastures with surrounding CRP grasses, grain, and a source of water. At this point in the season, the birds are coveyed up and often stay in large groups. Large groups mean lots of eyes. Lots of eyes mean 200 yard wild flushes and a frustrated bird dog and handler. But with a knowledge of the birds down, you should be well on your way to scouting a land full of good chicken habitat.
Getting on prairie chickens before the mid-morning graze in the short stubble of their afternoon pastures puts the odds in the hunter’s favor. These birds roost and nest on the ground in thicker CRP-type cover. It’s harder for those pesky eyes to spot a hunter and a dog in the thick stuff. Get up early and get after it! The greater prairie-chicken acts and behaves much like its cousin, the sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus). They both prefer the sunny side of the hills in the early mornings since they wake up to a dew-covered prairie and a potential frost. Sunbathing in the morning is a guarantee for these birds, and we can use this to our advantage.
With the sun rising in the east, and the east side hills warming up first, it might be good to hunt from the west. Walking west to east allows the hunter to crest the back, shady side of the hills coming over the top of the morning roosted birds. By doing this, it allows the hunter to have the element of surprise as the birds have less time to spot the danger coming. Even if the wind is not in favor of the scent cone of the dogs, hunting west to east ensures more shots on target and happier dog mouths full of feathers.
The most desperate of tactics is the ambush method. Prairie Chickens are creatures of habit and can be scouted and studied much more so than any other upland species. You can watch them in their routines as they fly over the exact same fence post every night from a roosting field to a feeding pasture and then from the feeding pasture back to the exact same evening roost field. Grab a few road-legal cold beverages, a pair of binoculars—and get to glassing. Once you’ve located a group, mark the flyover location and come back the following evening.
It’s not uncommon for hunters to successfully ambush shoot these birds in the last two hours of shooting light. Whether there is a good ditch to hunker down in or a thick main fence in the area, sit tight and wait for the flyover! The ambush method is not as sporting nor as exhilarating as shooting over a pointed dog, but it is a proven method that will produce a puffed-up strutted mounter!
Understanding the bird’s habits, hunting the sunny side of hills on early mornings from the west to east—paired with some good old fashion luck—produces more shooting opportunities for the elusive greater prairie-chicken. If all else fails, run a spot and stalk or ambush to let them have it on the flyover! At the end of the day, nothing produces more birds than getting out early and kicking brush. Hunt hard, hunt safe, and Fetch Feathers.
Anthony Ferro is a Kansas native chasing his dream via the uplands. Anthony wasn’t born into a hunting family, but by God’s grand design he was destined to walk among the wild things. With passion as his source of fuel, he has proceeded in chasing birds by living in 5 cities and 3 different states over the past 8 years. This is how Fetching Feathers was born, it became that place where passion and tradition collide, where judgment and bias do not exist. The traditional elements of an outdoor lifestyle are married with a modern approach. Born from the love of the pure pursuit of all things feathered and inspired by the dance with the spurred quarry, Fetching Feathers is an ever-growing line of essentials and clothing the is sure to resonate with the modern outdoor enthusiasts. With his dogs at the heart of the journey, the emotions are as pure as they come.