Hunters looking for a unique, upland game bird-hunting opportunity in northeastern Colorado should try their luck on greater prairie-chickens. Some veteran wingshooters believe that prairie-chickens are the most challenging species to be hunted with a shotgun.
Greater prairie-chickens are fairly common local residents in the sandhills of northern and central Yuma County, extreme eastern Washington County and extreme southern Phillips County. They prefer mid-grass sandsage grasslands on sandhills, mixed with cornfields.
Once numbering in the millions, the greater prairie-chicken population dwindled during the last century. First due to over-hunting and later to loss of suitable habitat. Hunters are now lucky to get a chance to target these birds. Only four states offer seasons for greater prairie-chickens, and some of those states require special permits.
Between 1973 and 1993, Colorado’s greater prairie-chickens were listed by the state as an endangered species. In 1993, the birds were delisted to threatened and in 1998 they were delisted to a special concern/nongame status. Through Colorado Parks and Wildlife recovery efforts, which included cooperative habitat projects with eastern Colorado landowners, greater prairie-chicken numbers have grown from a low of 600 birds in 1973 to an estimated fall population of 10,000 to 12,000 birds, which can easily sustain a limited harvest.
Early morning hunters who position themselves near the birds’ roosting areas may be rewarded with pass-shooting opportunities as the birds fly to feed on cut corn, sorghum or soybean fields. No public lands are open to prairie-chicken hunting. Applicants don’t need permission to hunt from landowners before buying a small game license. However, hunters must obtain landowner permission before hunting on private property.
The 2013-14 hunting season is now underway and runs Oct. 1 through Jan. 5, 2014. Game management units 93, 97, 98, 100, 101 and 102 are the only areas open for greater prairie-chickens. The bag and possession limit is two birds per year.
Greater prairie-chickens aren’t actually a variety of chicken, but they are large birds in the grouse family. Possibly the most dramatic feature of greater prairie-chickens is their spring courtship display which can be seen here: