Check Your Harvest: A Game Bird’s Harvest Tells the Story

Don’t be afraid to open that bag on your first game of game birds. It can prove invaluable for the rest of your hunt.

On a late-season quail hunt in January, located in the middle of the Flint Hills of Kansas, we found flock after flock. Our goal was to walk along a tree line that turned into a series of thickets of plums for about a third of a mile.

A dry creek bed ran down the middle. The plan was for two hunters to walk within the limits of the trees with the dogs, and the other two hunters to work on the edges. Eventually the dogs would take the lead once we reached the bushes.

The day was perfect. The temperature that morning was cool with a light wind blowing gently in our face, and the property was a mix of native grasses and plum bushes that provided ideal cover. Groups of trees were interspersed creating small protection belts. The crack of snapping twigs and the sound of grass being parted were welcoming. The jingle of my dog ​​Staley’s brass bell had suddenly gone silent. I immediately started scanning, but couldn’t see her: Staley’s rust-colored coat had turned her into a chameleon against the shadows of the brown and tan background.

Then a faint clang of metal on metal: Staley had inched forward, causing his bell to seize.

I was able to locate it among a tangle of branches and bushes. I inched closer as the flapping of wings hit the cold air. Like a starburst, plump little feathery bodies flew in all directions. Yelling, “Quail!” I moved my shotgun to my shoulder and followed a quail that headed away from me. She was already hearing gunshots. When the smoke cleared, it was necessary to take a closer look at the reward of the morning.

The craw of a particularly strong bird was clearly getting fed up. Opening the crop revealed small reddish-brown, oval-shaped seeds. It seemed to be Milo. Most of the section appeared to be rolling grassland. I surveyed the area and did not see any standing crops. We continued to bump into flocks as we hunted, eventually finding a small patch of overgrown milo bushes, small enough to remain hidden. This little “grocery store”, as we ended up calling the public space, was where some of the quail fed. We also found two other long-forgotten strips of milo across a field that had also produced a flock of bobs.

The point of the story is, don’t overlook the area you’re hunting and make it a good practice to check the harvest of harvested birds. We probably would have come across the milo anyway, but because the quail had been feeding on it, we knew for the most part that sorghum could be found somewhere on earth.

It is a good habit for bird hunters to inspect the first birds that are placed in their hunting vests. I am amazed at the number of wing shooters I meet in the field who do not regularly open crops. Doing this can help determine what the birds are eating. This, in turn, can help direct hunters to a specific food source and area.

American sour berries provide food for quail and pheasants. It is a vine that often coils around trees and covers low-growing shrubs that provide winter cover.

What is a crop?

The crop, sometimes called a “crop,” functions as a food holding area during feeding hours. Think of it like a food pantry. The crop can get so large at times, that whatever the game bird was feeding on sometimes sticks out. In addition, it functions as part of the digestive system. Pigeons, grouse, quail, and pheasants start foraging for grit (sand or fine gravel) when the crop is full, which helps grind up food.

Also, locating the crop on a game bird is easy. Especially if they’ve been stuffing themselves. Grab the bird by the bottom of the throat and look for a lump. If the culture is full, carefully with a knife cut apart a thin membrane to reveal the contents. If it is empty, then there will be no food.

The Maven logo above a hunter with the sky behind him and a pair of binoculars to the right.

By examining and comparing the contents of the crops, it will provide a bit of knowledge that can lead the hunter to find more birds. Even comparing different crops can provide clues about the birds’ habits. During one of those hunts, we had been walking between rows of corn pushing the roosters out of the water. After a couple of drives through the field, a vest full of birds appeared. Upon closer inspection of the crops, it clearly showed that the pheasants fed on corn. But to our surprise, one had also been raiding a bean field.

Corn kernels present in a bird’s crop.

Pulling out our public land access atlas, we circled a couple of parcels within a mile or two. Driving to these areas, we found a bean field with waist-high grass and scrub around the edges. It definitely had a “bird” look to it. A couple of hours later, we left the field with a couple more roosters. Guess what was in their crops? You guessed it, beans! He wants to know what else was found… sunflower seeds. Reading the content or ingredients of each crop is like deciphering a treasure map. The harvest was giving clues. Take each of those clues to determine areas to lounge, feed, and rest. Grains from farm fields, as well as grass, leaves, roots, wild fruits, nuts, and insects will lay the groundwork you want to focus on.

Although I have never had the opportunity to hunt traditional grouse, I know that they eat a variety of foods. By checking the crops of these birds, you can direct it to certain food sources. For example, if you devour a Rufous Grouse and, upon reviewing the contents, it is full of orange berries, then your focus should be, or at least keep an eye out for, those types of berries as you traverse through woods and brambles in search of the King of Birds. hunting. . I have also noticed and even read that some game birds feed on “subjects”. By “themes,” I mean that when a variety of foods exist and is available, some birds will tend to stick to one type at a time. Move from one food source to another. Sort of like going through a food line at a buffet and eating each delicacy at one meal and then moving on to the next.

Crop monitoring should also be done to help identify certain insects they are feeding on.

Leafy forage present in a crop.

A variety of species of grouse tend to feed on the leaves of many different plants and the needles of conifers. During the winter months, some grouse eat mainly spruce, pine, and spruce needles. Therefore, being aware of your surroundings while walking through the woods and forests will help you spot potential food sources.

Keep in mind that checking what upland birds eat is not a guarantee that you will find them. What it does mean is that it gives you knowledge and understanding of the birds we hunt. Hunters who are knowledgeable, understand, or should know the birds we hunt eat a variety of foods. Diets can be composed of seeds, grains, fruits, leaves, shoots, flowers, tubers, and roots. Being aware of how these food sources intertwine with our quarry makes us better hunters.

This knowledge gives us an advantage and another means in our upland toolbox to improve our chances of catching a bird or two. The feeling of a little weight in our game vests as we walk through meadows, fields and forests is always welcome.

This is especially true since, in the end, what matters most are the dogs we love and hunt with, the weapons we use, the memories we make and treasure, and ultimately the respect we give the bird of game we eat These are the things that fuel our passion as bird hunters.

How to hunt Sora rails

Sora Rails, while a small quarry, make an excellent game bird to chase during the lull between waterfowl seasons.

A bird catcher knows that once fall comes, we make marriages with our shotguns.

Beginning September 1, enthusiastic hunters, families and dogs from across the United States take to the fields to participate in the annual Labor Day mourning dove hunt. Shortly after this, waterfowl hunters rush into the swamps to watch teals arrive from the north. Once cooler weather pushes birds farther south and seasons close, birders face a lull in activity until duck, pheasant and quail seasons open.

But there is another birding season that stretches through these early fall months that tends to go unnoticed. The sora, a lesser-known game species, is a small brown and gray bird of the rail family (Rallidae). These stealthy birds are about the size of a sparrow and spend their lives in freshwater swamps and make their homes in emerging vegetation. Sora feed primarily on seeds during the fall migration and can be found in areas filled with reeds, grasses, wild rice, millet, and smart grass.

The sora has earned several nicknames, including sora rail, soree, meadow chicken, and Carolina crake. To hunters in particular, soras have been given the nickname “ortolan”, which comes from a small bird, called the pennant ortolan (Emberiza Gardenalisten)) that was considered a delicacy in France. European settlers hunted sora after arriving in the new world and found that they were more delicious than the prized ortolan of the old country.

Today, ortolan hunting is illegal, but luckily, sora hunting is still legal in 31 states. Sora hunting has lost its popularity in the 19th century and to this day remains an underused form of bird hunting. There are also three other species of rails that are hunted in the United States: clapper, Virginia, and king rail.

The author with her bird dog and a fallen Sora in a wetland.

Sora hunting rails on public land

When determining where to find these small game birds, explore public lands that have semi-aquatic habitats, such as wetlands, marshes, and flooded fields, with abundant seed-producing vegetation. The easiest way to determine the presence of soras is to listen for their vocalizations throughout the swamp.

Soras can be heard calling throughout the day, but active calls often occur in the twilight hours. Loud noises can startle these birds into calling, much like a tom turkey will gobble up in the spring. A hunter can be sure that there are soras in an area by listening for these strange chirps, hisses, and neighs. Also, these birds can congregate in the hundreds on migratory stopovers, so be ready to shoot fast.

Sora hunting involves scaring away birds by walking through shallow water with dense vegetation. When hunted, a Sora’s instinct is to run rather than fly, which creates a challenge when it comes to scaring away birds. Locate patches of dense vegetation where Sora may be feeding or hiding, then work to move birds away from dense vegetation to patches of open water, sparse vegetation, or higher ground, such as a dam. The birds will likely follow your escape route to find more cover, but will be forced to run, giving them a chance to shoot. Often the soras will close in and fly low, quickly landing back under cover.

Fallen Sora Rails Marking

Most of the time, the birds will drop into the thick vegetation and, even with a dog, they can be difficult to find. Marking birds as they fall is an effective way to retrieve fallen birds. Pick a target in the line of a falling bird. Keep your eyes on that target and walk directly towards it, without taking your eyes off it. Maintaining this strategy should increase the probability of finding birds.

A dead sora in the hand of a hunter.

Equipment and ammunition for hunting sora rails.

Sora hunting takes place in swamps or flooded fields, so wellies or tall boots are a must.

The Maven logo above a hunter with the sky behind him and a pair of binoculars to the right.

These can be your running galoshes, as camouflage is not necessary when hunting soras. Lightweight, breathable chest waders are best because sora hunting involves a lot of walking through mud, vegetation, and some deeper water. In addition, a small game or mountain hunting vest will make it easier to capture birds.

When it comes to cartridges, lighter is better. I use a 20-gauge Weatherby shotgun with an improved barrel choke loaded with No. 7 steel shot. A 20-gauge is light and easy to carry while walking through the swamp. Any shotgun works well for hunting Sora, but remember that this bird is the size of a sparrow.

Sora rails as table fee

The English settlers hit the nail on the head when they dubbed this bird for the Old World delicacy. Sora’s meat is lean, dark, and rich in flavor. Some hunters peel back the skin to remove the breast meat. I like to pluck whole birds.

If you are hunting birds at a stopover migration site, these birds will gorge on seeds and pack on tons of fat which are delicious. You will miss out on making this fat if you breastfeed the bird. A whole roast bird sprinkled with salt, pepper, and lemon juice is all you need to enjoy the full flavor of sora. I would not stop pairing this food with wine. A full-bodied dark wine, such as malbec, syrah, or cabernet sauvignon, are good choices to complement the rich flavors of sora meat.

Sora hunting may seem physically challenging and time consuming for such a small quarry, but these birds have generous bag limits, make incredible table fare, and can fill the lull as we eagerly await our favorite opener. So, grab a couple of friends, your hunting dog, and head out into the swamp. Don’t forget to check local regulations and brush up on species identification before heading out into the field.