By Evan Claassen
Hunting prairie chickens in my area is a treat that I look forward to all year. That is because in Eastern Nebraska there are only 400 tags for three birds each, yes three birds, all season! So while many of our upland hunting brethren head west to the Sandhills for chickens and sharptails or for chickens in the Southwest part of the state, a small percentage of us head to the lesser know Greater Prairie Chicken hangouts in Johnson, Pawnee, Gage and a few other counties along the border Kansas in Southeast Nebraska.
Hunting chickens in the early season can be a blast, with groups of chickens holding in all sorts of weedy cover along the lightly rolling hills and farmland of our area. The best place to start in the morning is along the tops of the ridges where they have begun to spread out and feed on small berries, seeds and insects.
Let your dogs cover ground and test every high spot for birds. Chickens usually like the higher ground, for the same reason a sniper likes a crow's nest, it's a good vantage point from which to monitor your surroundings for predators. If your dog is acting birdy and sniffing about in an odd pattern, there are birds near with multiple birds moving ahead leaving a zig-zag scent pattern, if the birds flush now they will more than likely be at or near the edge of shotgun range, so make your shots count.
If the dog holds point and isn't creeping then the birds will probably hold, but you need to hurry up and get up by your dog and ready for the flush. The flushes can be explosive with anywhere from three or four birds to thirty-five taking to the air. Sometimes they will flush in waves, but not as often as a covey of bobwhite will. Usually most all birds take to the wing at the same time. But unlike bobwhites they may fly over a mile before landing, usually putting them off your hunting grounds and often leaving you with no idea how far they flew. Pressured chickens will become more and more flighty as the season progresses. Soon forming bigger and bigger flocks and flushing at the smallest noises or sign of movement.
The ideal setup for an early season hunt is a light 12 or 20 gauge choked I.C. or I.C./MOD in a double gun. The best loads are from an 1oz. to 1 1/8oz. of #6 or #7.5 shot, moving to high brass 1 1/4oz. to 1 3/8oz. of #5 or #6 shot through a I.M. or MOD/FULL in a double gun. The setup may vary with conditions and personal preferences, but the info here is just a suggested guideline.
Now matter where you hunt make sure you and your dog are in shape and have plenty of fluids for the day. Enjoy grouse season this year, I know I will!