Upland bird hunting in this Rocky Mountain state features a variety of species, habitats, and season dates.
It’s mid-September and you’re scouting for an early season mule deer hunt in western Colorado. While hiking along the edge of where the sagebrush meets a spruce-aspen forest in search of game trails, rubs, and fresh sign, you notice grouse prints in the dust alongside your own footprints. You look up, noticing a small group of duskies feeding on a rocky outcrop that haven’t noticed you. Yet.
You’ve seen this sight before. You only have to learn to bring a shotgun along on scouting trips the hard way once.
Although Colorado offers excellent big game hunting opportunities, the state also hosts a wide variety of upland bird species. Not known for its easy hiking and welcoming terrain, Colorado offers a challenging upland bird hunt for anyone willing to try. Whether you’re seeking chukar in western canyons or Greater Prairie Chickens in the eastern sagebrush, there are opportunities to hunt upland birds in every part of this sleeper state.
|Species||Season||Daily / Possession Limit||Notes|
|Dusky Grouse (Blue)||Sep 1 – Nov 27, 2022||3/9||West of I-25|
|Mountain sharp-tailed grouse||Sep 1 – 18, 2022||2/4||Only GMUs 4, 5, 12, 13, 14, 131, 211, 214 and 441|
|Sage Grouse||Sep 10 – 16, 2022||2/4||GMUs 3, 11, 13, 18 except east of Colo. 125 in Grand County, 27, 28 except north and east of Grand CR 50 (Church Park Rd.) and U.S. 40, 37, 181, 201, 211, 301 and 441.|
|Sep 10 – 11, 2022||2/2||Only GMUs 6, 16, 17, 161, 171 (North Park)|
|Prairie Chicken||Oct 1 – Jan 31, 2023||2/6 *per year||Only GMUs 93, 97, 98, 100, 101, 102, 103 and 109, and all of Morgan Co., and those portions E of Colo. 71, and S of Colo. 14 and Hwy. 138.|
|Chukar||Sep 1 – Nov 30, 2022||4/12|
|White-tailed Ptarmigan||Sep 10 – Oct 02, 2022||3/6||Statewide except GMUs 44, 45, 53, 54, 66, 67, 68, 70, 71, 74-81, 444 and 751|
|Sep 10 – Nov 27, 2022||3/6||Only GMUs 44, 45, 53, 54, 66, 67, 68, 70, 71, 74-81, 444 and 751|
|Bobwhite, Gambel’s & Scaled Quail||Nov 12 – Jan 31, 2023||8/24 combined with Gambel’s and Scaled||East of I-25 and south of I-70 from I-25 to Byers and Hwy. 36 from Byers to Kansas, and the parts of the following counties that are west of I-25: Pueblo, Fremont, Huerfano, El Paso and Las Animas counties.|
|Nov 12 – Jan 2, 2023||8/24 combined with Gambel’s and Scaled||East of I-25 and north of I-70 from I-25 east to Byers and Hwy. 36 from Byers to Kansas.|
|Nov 12 – Jan 2, 2023||8/24 combined with Gambel’s and Scaled||West of I-25 except those areas west of I-25 in Pueblo, Fremont, Huerfano, El Paso and Las Animas counties.|
|Pheasant||Nov 12 – Jan 31, 2023||3/9 (male only)||East of I-25|
|Nov 12 – Jan 2, 2023||3/9 (male only)||West of I-25|
|Wilson’s snipe||Sept 1 – Dec 16, 2022||8/24|
|Mourning Dove||Sept 1 – Nov 29, 2022||15/45 combined with White-winged|
|White-winged Dove||Sept 1 – Nov 29, 2022||15/45 combined with Mourning Dove|
|Band-tailed Pigeon||Sept 1 – 14, 2022||2/6||A band-tailed pigeon permit ($5) is required in addition to the small game license.|
|European starlings, House (English) sparrow||Year-round||Unlimited|
|Crow||Nov 1 – Feb 28, 2023||Unlimited|
Dusky Grouse Hunting in Colorado
Dusky Grouse, or blue grouse, are found throughout the western half of Colorado. Given their flexible range, varied diet, and resilience to cold temperatures, they can be found in most forested locations along Colorado’s front range and even west of the Continental Divide. In my experience, I see them most in steep edge habitats around 8,000 feet of elevation.
Hunters can hunt Dusky Grouse west of I-25. Their season is September 1st through November 27th. Hunters are allowed to take three per day with a possession limit of nine.
Greater Sage Grouse Hunting in Colorado
Greater Sage Grouse are a beloved Colorado bird. Emblematic of the eastern front, sage grouse feature mesmerizing feathers, unique hunting opportunities, and delicious dark meat. They’re one of the largest upland game birds to hunt in Colorado, too. Sadly, their populations are being negatively affected by habitat conversion and loss due to development. This has decreased their bag limits over time.
Greater Sage Grouse hunting can only be done in a handful of specific Game Management Units (GMUs). They’re all on Colorado’s front range. Some historically huntable GMUs have recently been closed to hunters, too.
This bird has two very short seasons. Season one is restricted to specific units and takes place from September 10th through 16th. The daily bag limit is two and the possession limit is four. Their second season occurs September 10th through 11th and is only for the units near North Park, Colorado. The bag limit is two and the possession limit is two.
Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse Hunting in Colorado
Colorado is home to one of six subspecies of sharptail grouse: the Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse. Historically prolific across the western slope, the sharptail population here has decreased significantly due to habitat overuse, human development, and natural resource extraction. However, populations in the northeast section of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains are doing well. Studies are actively taking place to understand why the sharptail is surviving better in the northeast than in the west.
Sharptail season starts September 1st and ends on the 18th. Sharptail hunting is only available in a handful of GMUs. They can only be hunted in GMUs 4, 5, 12, 13, 14, 131, 211, 214 and 441. The daily bag limit is two and the possession limit is four.
Greater Prairie Chicken Hunting in Colorado
Northeastern Colorado is home to another large game bird: the Greater Prairie Chicken. They’re commonly found in the northeastern sandhills in Yuma county. Out there, they prefer medium-height grass with sand sagebrush grasslands on sandhills mixed with cornfields. Currently, there are no public lands open to prairie chicken hunting in Colorado; you need permission from private property owners prior to hunting prairie chickens in this state.
The Greater Prairie-Chicken season kicks off October 1st and ends January 31st, 2023. Hunting is available in a limited number of GMUs. The daily bag limit is 2 and the possession limit is 6 per year.
Chukar Hunting in Colorado
The vast majority of Colorado’s chukar reside on the western slope. A notoriously difficult bird to hunt, chukar prefer rocky, sagebrush-grassland areas on dry mountain slopes and canyons generally below 6,600 feet. Right now, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) is working on a conservation project to introduce more chukar to the front range.
Chukar hunting season is statewide and opens September 1st and ends November 30th. The daily bag limit is four and the possession limit is twelve.
Quail Hunting in Colorado: Bobwhite, Gambel’s, and Scaled (Blue)
Northern Bobwhite, Scaled Quail, and Gambel’s Quail can all be found in Colorado. Although low levels of moisture in the state are hampering quail populations, these species can still be found in good habitat. Bobwhite are typically found sagebrushy rangelands or cottonwood-filled riparian areas on the eastern plains. Scaled Quail are found in southeastern Colorado. Unfortunately, Gambel’s Quail populations are quite small and typically found in residential areas in the southwestern part of the state. They don’t “have a ton of hunting opportunities,” said Ed Gormund, a small game manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
There are three different seasons for quail hunting in Colorado. Season one is November 12th through January 31st, 2023. This season is specifically for east of I-70. Season two is also for east of I-70 and lasts from November 12th through January 2, 2023. Season three is for west of I-70 and begins November 12th and lasts until January 2, 2023. Check Colorado’s small game brochure for the limitations on each of these seasons.
The daily bag limit and possession limit numbers don’t differ between species. The daily limit is eight of each species and the possession limit is 24 for each species.
White-tailed Ptarmigan Hunting in Colorado
White-tailed Ptarmigan arguably offers the coolest upland bird hunting in Colorado, both in style and in temperature. Ptarmigan are the smallest grouse in North America and live at very high elevations up to 14,000 feet. They prefer rocky alpine habitats and may move lower in elevation in search of food and snow roosting areas in mid-October. In addition to moving to lower elevations, they also turn bright white when winter rolls around.
Ptarmigan hunting has two concurrent seasons in Colorado. Season one takes place from September 10th through October 2nd. Season two goes from September 10th through November 27th. Both seasons have special unit restrictions. Daily bag limits are set at three birds and the possession limit is six birds.
Dove Hunting, Pigeon hunting, Pheasant Hunting, and Other Colorado Bird Hunting Opportunities
Besides the aforementioned species, there are at least seven other upland bird species to hunt in Colorado. This state is home to three species of dove: mourning, Eurasian collared, and white-winged. Mourning and White-winged Doves share a season and bag limits. Eurasian Collared-Doves are an invasive, nonnative species and have no season dates, bag limits, or possession limits. Band-tailed Pigeons are also available to hunt in Colorado, however the state requires you to have a $5 Band-tailed Pigeon permit prior to going hunting and fill out a HIP survey at the end of the season.
Stocked pheasant hunts are widely available on Colorado’s front range. However, bird numbers this year are low and prices are high due to the outbreak of avian influenza. Pheasant has two concurrent seasons depending on whether you’re hunting on the east or west side of I-70. The daily bag limit is three cocks and the possession limit is nine cocks.
Shorebird species like snipe, Sora, and Virginia Rails are also available to hunt here. Snipe can be found at surprisingly high elevations in pockets of wetlands in addition to more traditional snipe habitats. Soras and rails generally stick to larger riparian areas where good cover is easily found.
Upland bird licensing fees and hunter orange requirements for Colorado
|Small Game (1 Day)||$14.46||$17.64|
|Small Game (Additional Day)||$7.05||$7.05|
|Band-tailed Pigeon Permit||$5||$5|
|Habitat Stamp (Required)||$10.40||$10.40|
Anyone born on or after January 1, 1949, must have a hunter education card to hunt in Colorado. A hunter education card is needed to apply for and buy a license. People under the age of 18 must have a license to hunt small game. A youth small game license is for hunters 17 and younger. An apprentice certificate can be obtained for hunters who are at least 10 years old and who must be accompanied by a mentor in the field. As of 2021, this hunter education waiver can be obtained twice in a lifetime.
Habitat stamps are required for all hunters. They cost $10.40. Only one stamp is required per person, per year for anyone ages 18 through 64. Habitat Stamps are valid March 1 through March 31 of the following year, or 13 months.
Small-game and migratory bird hunters are not required to wear solid, fluorescent orange or pink clothing. However, CPW and Project Upland encourages you to wear fluorescent orange or pink clothes for safety.
*These fees were last updated in August of 2022. Please refer to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife small game brochure for the most up-to-date information.
Hunting Dog training and Dog Restrictions for Colorado
Dogs are allowed to hunt small game, waterfowl and furbearers, but only to pursue, bring to bay, retrieve, flush, or point. It is illegal to use dogs to hunt cottontail rabbits, snowshoe hares, and tree squirrels on land where any regular deer, elk, pronghorn or moose season is in progress. See CPW’s big game brochure for those season dates.
State Wildlife Area-specific information is in the back of Colorado’s small game brochure. If you’re planning on hunting an SWA, check that SWA’s specific regulations to make sure you’re staying legal.
*The bird hunting season dates, game bird species available, and other information is subject to change. The article may not reflect this. Please visit Colorado Parks and Wildlife for the most up to date information on bird hunting in Colorado.
Gabby Zaldumbide is the managing editor of Project Upland. She lives on Colorado's western slope where she teaches hunting, angling, and shooting skills. Gabby has an undergraduate degree in wildlife ecology, a master's in public land management, and an honorary PhD in loving her pets.