Bird season is fleeting. Sometimes it feels like you wait all year for it, blink and it’s gone. But wingshooters at north-central Idaho’s Flying B Ranch, in Kamiah, get to enjoy seven glorious months of nonstop hunting. And as the season progresses, hunters experience not only changing conditions but also varying opportunities.
The Early Season (September through November)
“The B’s” season kicks off September 1, with mixed-bag hunting for pheasants, chukars, Hungarian partridge, valley quail, and ruffed and blue (dusky) grouse. Temperatures tend to be warm at this time of year, but it is a dry heat, with little humidity.
Dense early season ground cover is favorable for Hungarian partridge, which like to hole up in thick grass, so often there are more Huns for the season’s first few months. That said, there is a variety of birds from the get-go.
According to Marketing Manager Karen Syron: “If you’re an experienced wingshooter and are used to shooting different species, it’s fun in the fall because the ground cover is typically so dense. This can make it more difficult for walking, but one of the cool things is that you can be six feet from a bird and not be able to tell what it is. So it’s fun to be able to go in and flush a bird and have it be a total surprise what’s going to come up. And you do get all those mixed species. A flush could be a chukar, Hun, pheasant or valley quail.”
An added bonus through December is ruffed and blue grouse, which are hunted in the ranch’s forested draws. These birds also inhabit thick cover, and shots are often challenging.
Fall is also a great time for hunters who want to bring their own dogs—especially young dogs. With such dense ground cover and so many birds, there are plenty of training opportunities on birds that the dogs can’t see—and be tempted by. “Young dogs are impulsive,” Syron said, “and once they get the hang of it and are pointing and holding, it’s really difficult when they get that sparse cover and can see a bird right in front of them. It’s a big self-control issue. Here a young dog can have 30 interactions a day, so over three days that’s almost 100 birds.” That’s plenty of opportunities to “proof” good behavior.
Another nice thing about fall at “The B” is that it is the peak season as far as different activities taking place. Bird hunters might find themselves sharing the lodge with big-game hunters as well as anglers. This often results in an energetic atmosphere and genuine camaraderie.
Said Syron: “We had a guest last year who told me that, ‘Being in the lodge in the fall, I feel like I could be writing Hemingway journals. It’s so different than a lot of wingshooting lodges, because when I come back to the lodge, during cocktail hour I’m not only visiting with other wingshooters from across the country but I’m also visiting with whitetail hunters and elk hunters and steelhead fishermen. It’s kind of the mingling of all those activities at once.”
For those who want to mix pursuits, the Flying B offers a variety of combinations. In September there are Fin & Feather trips, in which guests hunt birds in the morning and drift-boat fish for smallmouth bass in the afternoon. Once steelhead move into the nearby Clearwater River (usually by October) there are Cast & Blast trips, which include two days of bird hunting and one day of fishing. Of course, big-game hunters—whether they’re after deer, elk or mountain lions—can choose to bird hunt once they’ve tagged out.
Mid-Season (December and January)
As one might expect, in the winter the weather begins cooling down—although the hunting certainly doesn’t. “It’s often cold and dry,” Syron said. “We typically don’t get a lot of snow. In fact, at the ranch it’s pretty rare that we have any holdover snow. This is great for bird hunters. Sometimes hunters will wake up to a skiff of snow on top of the canyon breaks, but by afternoon it’s gone.”
The conditions are prime for hunters who like working the canyon breaks and rock-canyon rims—the steeper terrain where you get into more wild chukars and Huns. These more physical hunters tend to prefer December and January, “because when you’re hiking that kind of country, you want it to be cold,” Syron said.
As for bird species in other areas of the ranch, things are pretty consistent with the fall. “Once you get into January, you lose the option for grouse,” Syron said. “But in the winter we’re still getting plenty of pheasants, chukars and Huns—and a lot of quail.”
The other nice thing about the mid-season is that it’s usually quieter in the lodge. This often is attractive for couples (which The B has been seeing a lot more of lately) According to Syron: “This is a great time if you want a more intimate environment—if you like it quieter in the lounge in the evening. There’s just not the hustle and bustle of that peak season. You can sit by the fireplace in the great room and read a book. Family groups who want to bring kids—they especially like it. We decorate the lodge top to bottom for Christmas. We’ve had guests who helped pick out the Christmas tree, cut it down and decorated it—and then put their own gifts under it.”
For those interested in combo trips, mountain lion hunting is picking up at this time of year. And drifting the Clearwater for steelhead is very productive as well.
Late Season (February and March)
Idaho in late winter? You bet! A lot of people have the misconception that northern Idaho in winter is miserable, but in actuality, thanks to its lower elevations, the area is quite nice. “Typically February and March are beautiful at the ranch,” Syron said. “We have days over 70 degrees. Often it’s that sweet spot of 60s during the day; so it’s perfect for wingshooting. It’s hard to get people to realize that. Idaho sounds like, Oh my gosh, rugged mountains and glaciers, but it’s really not. It’s low-elevation river canyon, so we have that really mild late-season weather.”
The late season offers an opportunity—especially for hunters with dogs—to not have to go six months without a bird hunt. It’s a chance to get in another mixed-bag hunt and keep dogs working more of the year.
Understandably, due to mid-season rains, some of the ground cover is starting to diminish. One result is that there typically are fewer interactions with Huns, which like to be concealed. But hunters start finding more chukars, which don’t seem to mind being exposed. “Chukars are funny,” Syron said, “because they will be five feet from you, and if they don’t move, they think you can’t see them . . . .”
Because of the more-open ground-level grasses, it's better for hunters to bring more-experienced dogs that are steady on point and know not to go after birds on the ground. Hunting at this time actually can intensify steadiness and self-control, because dogs sometimes can see the birds right in front of them.
Another advantage of the late season: Hunters can spread out more in the lodge. The reason is that The B takes hunting areas with inferior cover out of the rotation, so the number of hunting parties at the lodge is reduced. (Thankfully, the diverse habitat in the canyon includes several hunt areas that maintain cover all season with creek vegetation, brush, timber and rock outcroppings.) This lends itself to corporate groups that prefer a quieter atmosphere for personal interaction and team building. The relaxed atmosphere and great shooting make for a great way to round out the year.
With such a long and diverse bird season, Flying B Ranch offers something for everyone. From large groups to couples, wingshooters of every stripe can find activities and conditions to their liking. And they can enjoy their pursuits not only at one of the nicest lodges in the country but also in one of the most picturesque settings on the planet. Who could ask for more?
Flying B Ranch is a full-service Shooting Sportsman Endorsed Lodge. For more information on Flying B Ranch, call 208-935-0755 or email [email protected].