- Last Updated June 15, 2021
Down country roads, mountain ridges, and river valleys you’ll find people bird hunting in the Mountain State
It’s no shock that, as with many Appalachian and mid-Atlantic states, West Virginia’s upland bird populations have taken severe losses over the last 40 years. It began with the harsh winters of 1977-79 that all but decimated the declining populations of bobwhite quail following continuous habitat loss, and culminated with the prolific declines of ruffed grouse due to the one-two punch of habitat loss and West Nile Virus.
Luckily, however, the Mountain State’s grouse population has stabilized. Despite the season slightly changing in 2020, the birds are still very much huntable but only in the mountainous pockets of the state’s south-central and southeastern Appalachian range.
For born and raised West Virginian Amanda Ballengee, she remembers going on walks with her father and flushing tons of birds only to nowadays have to navigate the mountains in search of just a few birds with her English Setter Rohan.
“We talk about it every time we’re together,” Ballengee said. “When I was younger, obviously there were more birds and I guess because of that you didn’t have to hunt the best-of-the-best cover or come up with this equation of where they’re at. We’d just go for walks, even when we weren’t hunting, and you could put up a couple of birds in a clump of grapevines. Now, it just seems like they’re few and far between. If it was in the shape it is now when I was a kid, I’d be completely bored with it. But that’s mainly what’s changed – the numbers. My dad, when he was a young, he remembers when we had bobwhite quail. When he was growing up you could even hunt without dog, just go out in the woods and walk trails and shoot birds.
“Yeah,” she added with a sigh. “It’s sad.”
|Game Species*||Dates||Daily/Possession limit||Notes|
|Ruffed grouse||Oct. 17, 2020-Feb. 28, 2021||4/16|
|American Woodcock||Oct. 17 – Nov. 21, 2020|
Nov. 30 – Dec. 8, 2020
|Pheasant||Nov. 7, 2020-Jan. 2, 2021 |
Nov. 14, 2020-Dec. 5, 2021*
|The special season only pertains to Hillcrest WMA|
|Bobwhite quail||Nov. 7, 2020-Jan.2, 2021||3/9||Quail hunting is prohibited on Tomblin WMA.|
|Mourning dove||Sept. 1 – Oct. 11, 2020|
Nov. 2 – Nov. 15, 2020
Dec. 21, 2020 – Jan. 24, 2021
|Snipe||Sept. 1 – Dec. 16, 2020||8/24|
|Rail||Sept. 1 – Nov. 9, 2020||25/75|
|Cottontail rabbit||Nov. 7, 2020-Feb. 28, 2021||5/20|
|Snowshoe hare||Nov. 7, 2020-Feb. 28, 2021||2/8|
|Squirrel||Sept. 12, 2020-Feb. 28, 2021||6/24|
|Wild turkey||Spring: April 19-May 23, 2021|
Fall, 3-way split:
Oct. 10-18, 2020
Oct. 26-Nov. 1, 2020
Oct. 26-Nov. 15, 2020
|Only 2 birds can be taken in the spring, and they must be gobblers. Only 1 can be taken the fall.|
Hunting ruffed grouse in West Virginia
Ballengee’s favorite upland bird of the two available to hunt in West Virginia is ruffed grouse. American woodcock comes in second, only when the grouse chase is fruitless.
“There’s something about the grouse – they’re special,” she said.
Ballengee’s first experience with grouse came when she was 5 or 6 years old, walking through the woods with her father. She didn’t start hunting them, though, until a few years ago Even then, she didn’t chase the birds independently until this past year. The reason? Rohan.
“This past year was actually my first year of independently hunting and putting a lot of time into it,” she said. “We have a new pup, so we’re trying to get him on as many birds as possible. So I’m new as far as hunting on my own, but I’ve been around it my whole life.”
West Virginia isn’t without it’s challenges when it comes to grouse hunting. A lack of public land supporting the birds – Kumbrabrow State Forest in Randolph County is one of the best areas for grouse numbers and population enhancement – means networking with private landowners and timber companies.
“Finding grouse cover in general is difficult,” Ballengee said. “Then, trying to narrow down where the grouse are within your limited places to go hunting. And obviously the terrain is tough – you’re either climbing or sliding down a mountain.”
But, with more challenges comes a greater reward. Ballengee sums it up well.
“It’s difficult from my standpoint to learn a lot about a bird you don’t run into as often as you would up north,” she said. “So you try to put together these pieces that, when I flush a bird I look around and seeing what caused that bird to be there. So, in that sense, it’s rewarding that when you do come in contact with birds that I’m doing something right. Just in West Virginia, the terrain and country is so unique. After going up north for our first trip last year and then having that in contrast, just being outside is rewarding. That is something. And of course watching your dog work is something, too.”
The ruffed grouse season runs from Oct. 17 to Feb. 28, 2021, with a daily bag limit of four and possession limit of 16.
Hunting American woodcock in West Virginia
The migratory woodcock is the easier of the three upland bird species in the Mountain State to hunt.
There are plenty of public land options available to hunt these birds, but Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge is by far the best option hunters have to fill their game bag. Because you’re searching for dense, early successional habitat with moist soil, plenty of private farms and wildlife management areas with marsh areas are your best shot at shooting a timerdoodle.
Make sure you have completed your HIP registration and have a signed copy on you when hunting these migratory birds.
Hunting ring-necked pheasant in West Virginia
There are a number of hunting preserves open for bird hunting in West Virginia. You should be able to find good ring-necked pheasant hunting at places like the Stoney Brook Plantation or the Greenbrier Hunting Preserve. For a more wild-bird experience, Hillcrest Wildlife Management Area in New Cumberland is a great place.
The general pheasant season runs from Nov. 7 to Jan. 2, 2021, and allows hunters to hold both a daily bag limit and possession limit of two birds. A special season for Hillcrest WMA runs from Nov. 14 to Dec. 5, and only one bird is allowed for both a daily bag limit and possession limit. In both cases, only cock birds can be killed.
Hunting bobwhite quail in West Virginia
Because populations were essentially wiped out in the late 1970s, bobwhite quail numbers are not sustainable to hunt. Recent efforts to rebuild the state’s population have taken place on Tomblin WMA in the southern part of the state, and hunting birds here is restricted.
Though bag limits still exist, this likely pertains to pen-raised birds, or birds that escape from game preserves.
Hunting crow in West Virginia
Crow hunting is also permitted in the Mountain State, running in two parts from Oct. 1 to Nov. 21 and Jan. 1 to March 6. In certain circumstances, crows can be killed year round if they are a nuisance animal (i.e. harming agricultural crops, home garden, livestock or wildlife, or when in such great numbers it can create a health problem.) There is no bag limit or season limit for crow.
Hunting wild turkey in West Virginia
The Eastern wild turkey is historically a popular game species in West Virginia, but harvest numbers have fallen in recent years. In the spring of 2021 hunters harvested 10,134 gobblers, 10% lower than 2020 numbers, but slightly lower (2%) than the 10-year average. The 2020 fall harvest is also low, nearly 7% below the 2019 harvest and 13% below the 10-year average with a total of 1,038 birds.
Mast plays a significant role in the declines.
Hunting squirrel in West Virginia
If you want a break from woodcock or can’t seem to find grouse, there are plenty of squirrels running around the Mountain State to make your game bag a bit heavier.
With vibrant Eastern gray squirrel populations, it’s hard to not find a place to knock a few out of a tree or off a fallen log.
Hunting cottontail rabbit and snowshoe hare in West Virginia
Like squirrel, the cottontail rabbit population is booming in the state and it’s hard to not find them on most public land.
Though not as popular as their cotton-tailed cousin, the snowshoe hare season opens and closes the same day as cottontail. You’ll need to head to the highest parts of the state’s mountain ranges, though, to find the renowned hare.
Other bird hunting in West Virginia
West Virginia is a wonderful stop for mourning dove on their migration path, highlighted by the bird’s bag limit. Doves are found on most WMAs in the state, as well as private farmland. Look for areas that have gravel access paths/roads, telephone poles, or right of ways with electric lines. Or, contact your nearest farmer that grows cover crops – especially sunflowers – and corn.
All three birds require hunters to fill out the HIP survey and have a signed copy, physical or digital, on them.
The hunter safety course, license fees, and dog training for bird hunting in West Virginia
|Sportsman Hunting and Fishing (Class X)||$35|
|Sportsman H&F 3-year (X3)||$105|
|Hunting and trapping||$19||$119|
|6-day small game||$27|
|National Forest Hunting and Trapping||$2|
Anyone born after 1974 must complete the appropriate hunter education courses. West Virginia requires you to possess a hunter education certificate before purchasing a hunting license. The course is free. But if you’d like to take the online course instead—and you are over 10 years old—you will need to pay a fee. Check out the online hunter course.
You may train your dog for bird hunting in West Virginia once you have obtained a permit. The permit allows you to train your dog on pigeons or commercially pen-raised quail on private land. This is if you are training during a closed season and if the birds are being killed. Residents may train dogs on wild birds on public lands or on private land with the landowner’s written permission at any time. Nonresidents may train dogs during any open small game hunting season.
All hunters, except those that purchase a resident sportsman license, must also buy a conservation stamp. This is $5 for residents and $13 for non-residents.
Project Upland content from West Virginia
To see more of Ballengee’s forays, you can watch “Perspectives: A West Virginia Hunting Film” by clicking here.
Related conservation and non-profit organizations for bird hunting in West Virginia
*The bird hunting season dates, game bird species available, and other information is subject to change. The article may not reflect this. Please visit the website for the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources for the most up to date information on bird hunting in West Virginia.
Project Upland is an editorial initiative to capture the cultures and traditions of upland bird hunting. We seek to inspire a future generation of upland bird hunters to understand the essence of hunting traditions and the critical cause for conservation.