How Well Do You Know Your Upland Birds?  


By: CJ Steely | February 17, 2020


Test your knowledge!

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Angelica Wisenbarger

Click here to view more of her stunning art that captivates the true essence of Upland Birds.

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Featured here are a few images of Angelica Wisenbarger's amazing take on some of the most famous Upland Birds. 

As a young boy, I fondly remember hunting with my grandfather in the various North American woods. I was always entranced by his knowledge of the world around him including the ability to know the difference between the diverse animal tracks we would encounter. He would take time to stop and examine the animal sign(s) and teach me about how to know what animal had created the track, if they were fresh or old, and which likely direction the animal had sauntered off to. He would point to the moisture level of the ground, how indented the tracks were and how each track spacing told a story. He was a remarkable teacher and is my upland hero.

Before you read the rest of the article, take a moment for an upland bird tracking quiz. See if you can identify the different tracks. I am making it more difficult as the tracks in the quiz, are being presented not to scale. The answers will be provided at the end of the article. If you get a chance, post a comment as to your score.


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I found the following excerpt and illustrations by Josef Brunner from his book, “Tracks and Tracking” and interesting read for upland hunters, also a big shout out to Angelica Wisenbarger for allowing us to illustrate with her AMAZING works of upland art.

"To derive the greatest pleasure from the pursuit of game, either large or small, it is necessary that the disciple of Nimrod be versed in the science of interpreting the meaning of tracks and trails. Nature is as an open book to the man who can read the signs of the woods and plains correctly; and where the uninitiated see only meaningless tracks, experienced hunters find them in many instances the guide to exhilarating sport and a desired trophy. To the tyro the finest tracking snow is useless and the marks he sees everywhere around him simply bewilder him. Were he able to read them as every hunter should, his day's sport would mean enjoyment and success, instead of disappointment and failure.

Game is not so plentiful as it used to be, and for this reason it is generally a waste of time—from the standpoint of the game bag—merely to tramp through the woods and trust to luck. 

 Every sportsman should consider it a sacred duty to bring to bay any animal he has wounded, and he should also regard it a matter of honor to acquire a working knowledge of tracks, trails, and signs. Then he will not, through ignorance, make carrion or wolf-bait of a noble creature which, in all reason, he should have secured.

A sportsman who is unable to interpret the meaning of tracks he encounters, however much game he may have killed by chance, luck, or with the assistance of others, will be considered a tyro in woodcraft by companions who have learned their lessons in this art.

Lack of opportunity on the part of the majority of sportsmen to become versed in tracking lore by actual experience, as well as the incompetence of a great number of guides, necessitates needed lessons learned.

No space has been given to microscopic intricacies, since in the woods plain tracking lore is intricate enough. In practice whoever looks for exaggerated, fine, distinctive features in tracks and trails soon sees things which a sober-minded expert recognizes as imaginative.

It is generally understood that a track means the imprint left on the ground or snow by a passing creature. From its form and appearance the initiated are usually able to tell the species, and in some cases the variety, of animal that made it. Where the latter is not possible, a succession of tracks—the trail, in short—is invariably the means of reaching a proper decision. The expert considers not only tracks and trails, but also the "signs," among which are the behavior of animals under certain circumstances, blazed trees, bear logs, beaver stumps and cuttings, excrements, etc., etc. A mere treatise of tracks, trails and signs would in many instances leave the inexperienced man without a comprehensive knowledge; therefore certain actions of the hunted, and notes on hunting methods which have proved practical, although they are not generally known, have been introduced into the text.

It is believed that a thorough study of this book, including the illustrations, will enable the reader to become as well versed in tracking lore as he could by years of actual experience in the woods. woods.

The Turkey

The tracks of this, the largest of game birds, differ in nowise from those of the domestic kind. In the woods—in wild turkey country—they usually indicate their presence by scratching up the ground cover in search of food, just as domestic fowls do under similar circumstances, and by their droppings. The latter are the more important as a means of identification.

Wild turkeys, when habitually or temporarily frequenting a given locality, have their favorite trees upon which they roost, and under these trees the droppings will be very plentiful. Some hunters wait at such roosting places during the evening or morning and get their game; sometimes the bird may have treed five hundred yards or more away, but the expert, who is not given to guesswork, makes it his purpose to ascertain all the turkey trees in a district, notes the easiest 200way to approach them, and then, during the early evening hours he will, from a convenient point, mark down the birds which he hears treeing. Then during the hour before daybreak he will go noiselessly as near as possible to a roosting tree which he knows harbors one or more turkeys, and after it is light enough to shoot he will experience little trouble in stalking as close as is necessary to get his bird.

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"turkey" by Angelica Wisenbarger

The Pheasant

The middle toe of the pheasant stands almost in a straight line in the trail, and this feature is the most striking one whereby to distinguish its track from the tracks of any of our native game birds.

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"ring-necked pheasant" by Angelica Wisenbarger


The members of this class, in which are included the various varieties of the ruffed grouse and those of the Spruce or Blue grouse, all spread their feet in similar fashion, and walk with the middle toes pointed inward to a considerable 204degree. Because of this similarity the size of the tracks and the length of steps are the only means by which to identify the particular species which made them. The ruffed grouse make the shortest steps and the smallest tracks.

The Sage Grouse

The track of the sage hen is about the size of that of a small domestic chicken, but the toes at their base are somewhat broader, giving the entire track a different aspect.

In the spring and autumn months the birds frequent sagebrush flats and hillsides, and during the early autumn they seek the vicinity of water, and there, if it were not that their toes are rather short in comparison with their broadness, the tracks might be mistaken for those of the pheasant in any place where that game bird has been introduced.

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"ruffed grouse, painted with coffee" by Angelica Wisenbarger

The Sharp-Tailed Grouse


The drawings were made under ideal tracking conditions; and only then is it possible to note the difference in the number of the knots of the 206middle toe. Though, as a general rule, the ruffed grouse usually frequents rather low country and the blue-grouse tribe is generally found on high grounds, the locality where a track is seen gives no sure indication of the species. The 207writer has frequently encountered the ruffed grouse at altitudes of over seven thousand feet, and the blue grouse lower down than he ever found the ruffed variety.

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Prairie Chickens


From the prairie hen to the sharp-tailed grouse, they all belong to one order as far as their tracks are concerned. A prairie chicken does not spread the toes to the same extent as does the grouse of the woods, and the middle toes stand also somewhat straighter in the line of the trail. The tracks made by the sharp-tailed grouse are always of a rather blurred appearance because of the heavily feathered feet.


The Quail


The size of the quail's track is about that of a domestic pigeon. A peculiarity of the track is that the mark of the hind toe stands comparatively far off from the track on account of its singular disproportion to the size of the foot.

In the pursuit of grouse, chickens, etc., the hunter usually notes tracks less than other signs. Foremost among the latter are the places where the birds take sand baths, where stray feathers will usually be found. Countless interwoven 209small paths, leading everywhere and nowhere in grass and grain fields, are infallible signs that birds have fed there.

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"bobwhite quail" by Angelica Wisenbarger

The Woodcock

The neatest bird track seen in upland hunting is, in the writer's opinion, that of the woodcock. True, this fascinating Long-face has generally gone to warmer climes before winter sets in, but 210occasionally an early snowstorm catches him, and then his tracks are a striking feature near springy places in forests, or under dense trees that hold most of the snow aloft on their branches. The splendid imprints are as unmistakable among bird tracks as the tracks of the mountain sheep among big game, and as unforgettable if once seen.

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"American woodcock" by Angelica Wisenbarger

{End Quote: The Project Gutenberg EBook of Tracks and Tracking, by Josef Brunner May 4, 2014}

I realize we left out the Chukar, Hungarian Partridge, and Ptarmigan. If any of you have additional images you would be willing to share please email me and I will revise the post to add them. For now, hone up on your upland tracking skills, the season opener is only five months away. Ugh!


Quiz Score Answers:

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