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Thread: Winter ptarmigan

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    Member ferns's Avatar
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    Default Winter ptarmigan

    So I have been out looking for Ptarmigan and grouse lately. I've gone on five or six hikes lasted anywhere from a half-day to a full day. Usually bring my 22 Long rifle and my black lab. I've been snowshoeing a lot for all of the hunts. This is my first season hunting ptarmigan and also my first winter in Alaska. I have not seen any birds yet and I'm looking for any tips anybody has to offer. It seems that looking for windswept areas or expose ground with the snow has melted is a good bet. I am wondering if I should spend my energy on going up to high elevations? What are the best signs to look for that Ptarmigan have been in an area? I am starting to recognize what I think the tracks look like in the snow. Thanks guys

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    Forum Admin Brian M's Avatar
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    High altitudes is your best bet. Get up into the country where the willows and alders spread out somewhat and hunt the edges of the brush pockets. Look for their tracks, then look very closely for their beady black eyes, as that may be all you see.

    As for grouse, my recommendation would be to leave them for fall. They taste truly awful in the winter - at least spruce grouse do.
    Last edited by Brian M; 01-08-2014 at 21:42.

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    Member Anythingalaska's Avatar
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    It would help to know what part of Alaska you are in. Down here in southeast (on the islands) I have seen very few ptarmigan in my life, maybe 3 or 4 ever. However on the mainland, and up in the Matanuska Valley and down on the Kenai Peninsula, they are quite plentiful; as are Spruce Grouse. I saw more Spruce Grouse up there than Ptarmigan, though I did see both species. My friend in Anchorage would see them all the time up Flat top and on other higher elevation hikes. All the Spruce Grouse I saw were low, and in the forest/trees. Down here in southeast, all the ptarmigan I've seen have been in the alpine. I believe they feed on Spruce and Pine needles in the winter time. They are nearly all white in the winter and can be fairly difficult to see. I am definitely not a ptarmigan or game bird expert, I'm sure someone else will chime in too.

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    I've always seen them in willow thickets. If they are in a group, they usually are situated with the majority on the ground, and maybe a couple in the tops of the saplings as lookouts. They are pretty dumb either way, so sneaking up on them doesn't take much effort. The tracks will be a little three toed print with one foot being put in front of the other; almost in a straight line. Droppings look like wood pellets and are yellowish-brownish.

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    hi ferns, would you be interested in a newbie hunting partner for a half day trip on weekend? pls PM me if interested. I am looking to hunt ptarmigan but got no clue

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    Sponsor Hoytguy's Avatar
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    Default food

    If you find the food source they are eating at a specific time of year, you will find the birds. In winter months (now) their diet consists of the tips and buds of willow branches.. Find pockets of willow, you should be able to find the birds. Look for their fresh tracks.. follow em and at the end shold be a covey of birds..This is the crop of one from a limit taken last weekend.

    securedownload.jpg

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    Member ferns's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hunterwannabe View Post
    hi ferns, would you be interested in a newbie hunting partner for a half day trip on weekend? pls PM me if interested. I am looking to hunt ptarmigan but got no clue
    Yes I'm always interested in meeting a fellow hunter. Nice to have people to call in certain situations for some company. As long as you have the right gear and are willing to going to long hike I'm in. Send me yer number and I'll give you a shout.

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    Member ferns's Avatar
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    Well thanks for all your help guys. After my fourth day of hiking and hiking for about 3 to 5 strenuous hours. I finally ran into a flock of Ptarmigan. I took six with my 22 but could easily gotten 10 as the Birds all just kind of sat there on the ground near me. I realize the 22 kind of beat the birds up a little bit. Do today The ammo crisis I haven't been able to shoot my 22 very often. I had to go for body shots and he noticed it ruined the Fairmont me. I think I'll bring the shotgun on the next time any suggestions on the shot. I picked up some 7 1/2 I'm hoping that'll work out. I'm open to suggestions. Good luck to everyone out there this winter! Can't fig out how to post pics?
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    Moderator LuJon's Avatar
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    I hunt bunnies and grouse with 6 shot. Fewer pellets and they tend to pass through vs stick in the breast. I suspect that the same would hold true for ptarmigan but I have only killed them with a 44 mag.

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    Forum Admin Brian M's Avatar
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    Nicely done! Now that you've figured it out, you shouldn't have a hard time replicating your success. I have a few places that I hunt winter ptarmigan on backcountry skis, and I'd say that 75% of the time I can find a covey or two of birds within a single bowl given a couple hours of busting brush. Not a bad way to spend a warm winter day, eh?

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    Premium Member kasilofchrisn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LuJon View Post
    I hunt bunnies and grouse with 6 shot. Fewer pellets and they tend to pass through vs stick in the breast.
    That is my preference as well. I like that with #6 if a Hare pops up I can get it also as I think #6 is great for them.
    I figure if I can't hit a flying grouse with #6 would #7.5 really be that much better?

    BTW nice job Ferns apparently persistence does pay off.
    "The closer I get to nature the farther I am from idiots"

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    Member ferns's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian M View Post
    Nicely done! Now that you've figured it out, you shouldn't have a hard time replicating your success. I have a few places that I hunt winter ptarmigan on backcountry skis, and I'd say that 75% of the time I can find a covey or two of birds within a single bowl given a couple hours of busting brush. Not a bad way to spend a warm winter day, eh?
    Sweet! I felt lucky to find those birds. I was thinking of trying out hunting on skis. Seems like you can move faster. Do you use a wider ski for getting into off trail stuff?

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    Member PG13's Avatar
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    Default Congrats

    For some of us, birds are the pinnacle of an outdoor pursuit. A hearty congratulations for birds well earned. Sounds like you've learned your first lesson in grousing in Alaska, miles kill birds. Hoytguy nailed it with his recommendation. There are 3 species of ptarmigan and two have very specialized digestive tracts so you'll find them only in certain habitats. The third and smallest in North America, the white-tailed, is a little less picky but they occupy the highest altitudes and the best way to find them is to go to the top of where any brush sticks out and either 1) glass or 2) hike and hike and hike. If you arrive early enough you can sometimes hear them talk to one another before they leave their roosts for the morning.

    Hopefully you have the itch. It's one that can scratch relatively quickly and cheaply and the season is FOREVER.
    Go Big Red!

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    Member sayak's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anythingalaska View Post
    ... However on the mainland, and up in the Matanuska Valley and down on the Kenai Peninsula, they are quite plentiful...
    Maybe... but you'll be climbing for them!
    I've only seen small flocks at lower elevations at the very tail end of the season.
    Coincidentally to your post, I was reading a book by an old Sitka hand who talked about a particularly cold winter when the ptarmigan were everywhere right in town.

  15. #15
    Sponsor Hoytguy's Avatar
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    Few weeks ago I set out on a quest to get all 3 species in a day trip. Knowing what they eat played a key part in finding them and suceeding in the limited Dec daylight. Starting at the top where the wind had blown the snow off the peaks, in the rocks and crags I found the whitetail.. a tad lower above brush line were the rock eating and scratching frozen blueberries, their chest and faces stained purple from the berries, and in the draws and drainages were coveys of willow.. I think willow is the most prominant and abundant in the state so 90% of my bag limits each time I go out consists of those. Rock are the prettiest IMO, with dark masks on their faces and the sounds they make are pretty neat.. I been searching for along time for a whitetail, once I found em, I only took 1 and let the rest go to ensure their will be more next time or next year if I should go again. As suspected in the crop of the Willows were twigs and willow buds, the rocks had on average 35-50 blueberries in their crop and the whitetail is in the freezer to be mounted at a later date..
    Quality Counts @ Dahlberg's Taxidermy

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    Forum Admin Brian M's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ferns View Post
    Sweet! I felt lucky to find those birds. I was thinking of trying out hunting on skis. Seems like you can move faster. Do you use a wider ski for getting into off trail stuff?
    I use my backcountry alpine skis (AT skis, Randonee skis...there are lots of names for the setup). It would probably be better to get a really lightweight telemark setup if hunting was the primary focus, but I like to combine turns with birds. Basically we go skiing, then bust brush near the bottom of the run or on the climb back up (aided greatly by ski skins affixed to the bottom of the skis), then repeat as long as our energy allows. I don't get as many birds as I would if I were solely focused on hunting, but we usually manage a few in 3-5 hours of skiing. Anyhow, any mid-fat or fat alpine or backcountry ski will do as long as you have a boot/binding setup that allows for comfortable touring.




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    Member ysr_racer's Avatar
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    How do you guys prepare them? Do you just eat the breast?
    brad g.
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    Nice work Ferns,

    Bullet choice may help out with using the 22. Any solid will do the trick and somewhat less splatter. I often use 7.5's for wing shooting and 6's for swattin but would also be fine for wing shooting.

    Put a rimfire scope on that gun and you can popheads at 50 yards......if not head shooting, I try to aim for the backside of their lungs if I have a broadside shot, that way it only messes up a little of the breast on the thin edges instead of blowing a hole in the middle.

    Eitherway great effort and congratulations.....

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    Member ferns's Avatar
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    Wow so the Whitetail Ptarmigan are the smallest species and not most abundant ehh? They seem pretty big to me after years of quail hunting down south. I may have to switch the strategy up to target the willow pTarmigan given that post said they are most abundant. I prepared my birds by cleaning them and de feathering them then I breasted out three of them. Took the breast and Seared them on real hot heat for about one minute on each side then I dice them up like Carne Asada and put them into tacos. It was absolutely the best bird taco I have ever had. I took the rest of the body and threw in the crockpot for Ptarmigan stew. Well I have to look into getting some backcountry skis. that sounds pretty fun skiing and hunting... Kill two birds with one stone.

  20. #20
    Member ferns's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian M View Post
    I use my backcountry alpine skis (AT skis, Randonee skis...there are lots of names for the setup). It would probably be better to get a really lightweight telemark setup if hunting was the primary focus, but I like to combine turns with birds. Basically we go skiing, then bust brush near the bottom of the run or on the climb back up (aided greatly by ski skins affixed to the bottom of the skis), then repeat as long as our energy allows. I don't get as many birds as I would if I were solely focused on hunting, but we usually manage a few in 3-5 hours of skiing. Anyhow, any mid-fat or fat alpine or backcountry ski will do as long as you have a boot/binding setup that allows for comfortable touring.



    where do you keep the gun while skiing?

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