Understanding the laws and regulations of transporting upland game birds after hunting.
The long-tailed birds are removed from the orange game vest and placed on the tailgate of the truck. It is almost a limit of rooster pheasants, their chromatic feathers gently moving with the wind. Three plump bodies are also placed next to their bigger, more colorful cousins, their bold black-and-white facial mask giving their sex away. All gentlemen. Five additional birds are gently taken out from the very bottom left corner. A quintet of brown marsh rockets with their elongated beaks were added–bonus birds having been flushed from along the edges of the cattails while hunting pheasants.
Water is poured into a bowl for the dog. She’s earned it. The over-under is returned to its soft case stacked barrels first. The Ruger stayed busy on this day with a mixed bag of birds.
The small green canvas bag is zipped open and like a surgeon preparing for a procedure, all the contents are removed and neatly placed on a cloth. Two pairs of scissors–a small one for doves, snipe, and quail; the other, a pair of Take-a-Part Gerber Game Shears for larger birds. Along with the scissors are a bird knife and a Work Sharp Guided Field Sharpener to keep the cutlery’s edges honed. Sharp matters when cleaning birds as one must also cut leg and wing bones.
Before cleaning the birds, you realize with three different species that each bird may require it to be dressed differently for transportation.
Laws on Transporting Birds
Hunters should reference their state’s DNR office or website for detailed regulations and information pertaining to how game birds should be transported for identification purposes if they are not consumed in the field. Each state determines how an upland game bird is to be transported while in possession or shipped until it reaches the hunter’s residence.
The practice behind this is to positively identify the type of gamebird legally harvested and in some cases to make sure only the correct sex is taken. In the upland bird world, the pheasant is the ONLY species where hunters are limited to shooting only the male ring-neck pheasant, or rooster. Kansas regulations state that only cocks may be hunted and pheasants in possession for transportation must retain an intact foot, plumage, or some part of the bird that can determine the sex.
There are some states, mostly in the East (think New England area) that release pheasants (roosters and hens) onto public lands and designated release sites where hens can be legally hunted.
For the most part, in states where wild pheasants are hunted, ONLY the male ring-neck rooster can be shot. These same states adhere to the most common method of identifying rooster pheasants in that one of the following portions must be attached: a foot (leg), or a fully feathered wing must be affixed to the bird for legal identification purposes if field dressed. Some state regulations include the option for hunters to leave a fully feathered head attached. Through research I discovered states such as Montana include the word “naturally” attached in the verbiage for transporting upland birds.
Under South Dakota pheasant hunting regulations for transporting and packaging pheasants, if the head or wing is used for identification, it should have sufficient plumage attached to allow for prompt identification of the game bird. This includes grouse as well.
Of Grouse and Wings
Those hunting grouse in Montana must leave one fully-feathered wing naturally attached to any sage grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, mountain grouse, or partridge when it is transported so the harvested bird can be identified at game check stations. It further states that if the game birds are left for a period of time or are given to someone else to transport, additional measures must be completed. These include the birds being tagged with the following information: a hunter’s ALS number (Automated Licensing System), signature, address, the total number of bird species and the dates the birds were harvested.
Spruce Grouse vs. Ruffed Grouse
In most states where multiple species of grouse are present, hunting regulations dictate that a fully feathered wing or head be attached for identification purposes. In states such as New York, Vermont, and Wisconsin where ruffed grouse and spruce grouse are present or overlap, it’s prohibited to shoot or hunt spruce grouse. The bird has been listed as an endangered species in those states.
The Many Varieties of Quail
Similar to those states where multiple species of upland game birds abound, some states that have more than one type of quail also require that hunters provide proof of identification.
Arizona and New Mexico are two of the few states that offer hunters four different species of quail. These include Scaled quail, Gambel’s quail, Northern bobwhite, and Mearns quail. New Mexico requires hunters to leave one foot of each quail harvested, whereas Arizona states that one leg must be retained for identification if cleaned in the field. California quail hunters must leave a fully feathered quail wing or head attached if hunting California quail, Gambel’s quail, or Mountain quail.
Those “Other” Upland Birds
Some upland birds, such as snipe and American woodcock, fall into the realm of migratory game birds. Besides waterfowl (ducks, geese, swans, and brant), the list includes doves and pigeons, and rails. These long-billed, alien looking birds fall under Federal Migratory Bird Regulations. It requires that persons hunting migratory game birds, except doves and band-tailed pigeons, that the head or one fully feathered wing remain attached to each bird while transported for proper species identification.
Hunters should check local and federal hunting regulations when hunting migratory game birds as non-toxic shot may be required when hunting specific areas.
In those states where the law is different from federal law, hunters must comply with the most restrictive law. Remember, anyone required by law to buy a hunting license must participate in the Harvest Information Program (HIP) if hunting migratory game birds. The stamp goes on sale every year on July 1, and is required for opening day dove season. Upon purchasing the stamp, hunters are asked to indicate what birds they hunted the previous year and the amount taken of each species. Hunters who purchase a HIP stamp may be randomly selected to participate in a survey conducted at the end of the hunting season. The information gathered from these surveys provide important information for setting and justifying future migratory game bird seasons and limits.
The HIP stamp costs $2.50.
Law and Ethics
In order to preserve our privilege to hunt, it’s essential that each hunter, as a representative of our hunting community, conducts themselves in an ethical manner in the field. In all, no matter what species of upland game bird being hunted it is imperative that hunters be responsible and check local, state and federal laws to determine the legal and correct method of transporting harvested game birds.
Edgar Castillo is a recently retired law enforcement officer for a large Kansas City metropolitan agency. He also served in the United States Marine Corps for twelve years. Edgar longs for the colors of autumn and frosty, winter days so he can explore the landscapes in search of wild birds in wild places. His passion lies in the uplands as he self-documents his travels across public lands throughout Kansas hunting open fields, walking treelines, & bustin’ through plum thickets.