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Put in time & miles for north Idaho pheasant

Idaho hunting map feature

By Louis Bignami
Fishing and Hunting News

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho. — Get in shape, bring a good hunting dog and plan on working two or three times as many miles per bird this year.

This is good news for serious hunters who will find the casual types won't be out after the second weekend of the season.

How bad is it?

According to my roadside bird body count system that keeps track of pheasants struck along the highways and byways, I expect to bag a pheasant every couple of hours after the opening weekend.

On average years here in northern Idaho I expect a bird an hour, and on good years my dog Spud can point up my personal two-bird limit even faster.

Fortunately, quail numbers seem up, ruffed grouse are about average and Huns should show up when the snow flies.

Bird-hungry hunters might consider preserves in Idaho, Washington and Oregon. Special preserve-only licenses are reasonable and seasons can run until April.

Fred Walasavage shot this white rooster pheasant near the Snake River by Homedale, Idaho.

Otherwise, the key factor early is water.

Creeks, ditches, rivers and marshes collect birds after the grain harvest, and it's an open question how the "bale to burn" requirements will effect birds.

The other option is Conservation Reserve Program ground, and there's lots of that, normally mapped at county agricultural agents.

Late in the season, of course, it's cover and protection from weather and hunters that sends birds to the "deep and dirty."

Coeur d'Alene area

Frankly, Coeur d'Alene is now so chopped up by small land holdings and trophy homes that it's tough to get permission to hunt the few remaining good patches.

The Rathdum Prairie and the grasslands up north towards Sandpoint used to hold birds.

There are still permissions to hunt here if you can look pitiful enough.

Those with Washington licenses will probably do better over at the Fish Lake Pheasant Release Site or at the site near Kettle Falls.

The waterfowl hunting out of Sandpoint deserves a try too.

Fortunately, there's better hunting south of the big casino on Highway 95 towards the Palouse and on the Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation.

Several of the valleys that take off to the east hold pheasants, California quail and ruffed grouse, and permission to hunt is possible, if not always easy.

However, the best hunting north of McCory Ridge is in the narrow band between Highway 95 and the Washington border.

This is heavily patrolled on both sides, so a lot of hunters bypass this area as they head south.

If you use maps or a GPS, you can hunt right to the border and collect birds driven in from both sides.

As a rule the border buttes where the grain fields transition to brush and native grasses are better bets than grain fields.

So work the ditches and creek bottoms with flushing dogs and let pointing pups run free.

Moscow and the Palouse

I moved here for the hunting and fishing 13 years ago, and I'm convinced that Latah County in Idaho and Whitman County in Washington have some of the best accessible bird shooting in the West.

Farms run from about 320 acres on up and permission is reasonably easy to get, so hunting within 25 miles of town is pretty covered.

Most farmers grow grain or peas in the rolling terrain, which features pheasant-holding "eyebrow" ridges before the Palouse breaks off into wooded canyons, dropping down into the Potlatch and Clearwater rivers.

The ground here is so disked that it sometimes feels like hunting in a bird desert for little islands of pheasant paradise.

Birds hide in pockets of cover, and the best cover seems to be either so obvious that most pass it by or so difficult or out of view that most people don't get there.

We hunt off dirt roads until they mud out, and then move to pavement until things freeze — driving the Palouse in the mud is a good way to make new friends with local tow truck operators, and a lot of dirt roads close.

One the weather cools, savvy hunters do well out on the breaks for a mix of quail, ruffed grouse, chukars, pheasants and, along creeks before freeze-out, the odd puddle duck.

So consider steel shot and go with a party so you can hunt down to cars and save the uphill slog.

Most of this ground is private up top, but permission is possible for the responsible.

After it gets cold up on the Palouse, birds seem to drift down into the canyons and along the river.

Orofino area

The Palouse breaks drop off into Potlatch River Canyon, and that's all most Moscow or Coeur d'Alene hunters cover.

But there's considerable wheat land and some excellent pheasant and quail hunting on the west tip of the plateau roughly bordered by Spalding, Bovill and Dworshak Reservoir.

Last year we saw lots of turkeys here too.

If it's still warm on the pheasant opener, hunt the north breaks above the Potlatch River.

At a glance
Fishing and Hunting News

What: Chasing ringnecks around the hills and fields of the Idaho Panhandle.

Where: The fields and ranges from Coeur d'Alene south to Lewiston offer great pheasant hunting.

When: It's mid-October, which means that it's time to hit the field.

The season opened Oct. 12 in northern Idaho and opens Oct. 19 in the rest of the state.

Contacts: Idaho DFG offices: Panhandle (208-769-1414); Clearwater (208-799-5010).

Snake River Canyon

While the Snake River Canyon is cast-and-blast chukar and steelhead country, with boat-access only on the Idaho side upstream from the State Park in Lewiston.

You can launch small boats or canoes in properly selected spots from the Washington side of the river all the way to the road end at Heller Bar.

We row or paddle across and do very well in some of the canyons on a mix of quail (lots this year), pheasants and chukars.

Decent water skills, life jackets and dry clothes in the vehicle are a must.

You can hunt canyons and flats 30 miles downstream to the State Park, but that's a very, VERY long day.

Take a shorter 10-mile slice of the river, and bring steelhead gear!

I hunt this area with a pair of well-trained shorthairs and a rather large buddy from a 12-foot Porta-Bote, but gave up on canoes because of the jet boat traffic.

Again, bring steel and enjoy the passing duck or goose. There are depredation goose hunts out of Lewiston, too.

We've done even better on birds up in the Salmon River, but that's a jet boat haul from Heller Bar and country better suited for chukar than pheasants.

Lewiston, the Clearwater and Grangeville

Lewiston used to have wonderful pheasant hunting up in the now developed "Orchards" on the plateau above town.

While this area is well built out now, there are pockets and small canyons to the east on both sides of the highway around Spaulding, Lapwai and Winchester all the way to McCall.

These get rather well covered by locals, but hold lots of birds.

The Nez Perce Indian Reservation ground to the east has pockets of pheasants. The action here is best where the breaks level out into agricultural land.

The entire Kamiah-Lewiston-Grangeville triangle holds pheasants anywhere they grow wheat, with the areas between Winchester and Cottonwood the best bets and the upper ends of Lawyer's Creek and both branches of Cottonwood Creek good choices.

I've also hunted the "if you have to ask, you can't afford it" Flying B operation up Lawyers Canyon over by Kamiah, but rarely further upstream on the Clearwater than Orofino.

The Flying B puts out lots of club birds and I'm told locals do well way up on the top of the steep canyon.

Material from Fishing & Hunting News
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