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Survival Resources

Survival Hunting: The Top 10 Game Birds

Top 10 Game Birds
by Sam Abeyata and Mark Lawrence, Copyright © SecretsofSurvival.com
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Hunters kill tens of millions of game birds each year for food, sport, and other uses.
Game Bird Hunting
Currently game birds can only be hunted according to state or federal hunting regulations but in a survival emergency, when you need to find food and in a hurry, a game bird can be an easy meal, and a tasty one at that.

You can find game birds in a variety of terrain, sometimes fields and forest in and around suburban communities, often near areas of water or where certain crops are grown, depending on the game bird.

Crops - Many farmers, who are also bird hunters, are known for growing crops that game birds feed from and seek cover in, giving these farmers (as well as people who pay to hunt these lands) a place to hunt game birds throughout the year. If you find yourself lost in the mountains, descending down to the lowlands can often bring you to the outskirts of large farms or commercial agriculture where you may find game birds in the general area, especially near water (always get permission first of course to hunt private lands but in a survival emergency, when you need food, sometimes a few laws need to be broken in order to survive.)

A word on bird dogs

Certain dogs are known for their skill at aiding hunters in seeking game birds. This article doesn't discuss this aspect of game bird hunting because most people in a survival emergency aren't likely to have the aid of a "bird dog" -- but if you do have a good bird dog, and he or she's been trained to hunt game birds, you have yourself an advantage.

Native American bird hunting tactics

Survival Bird Hunting
Native American hunters in centuries past are recognized for their skill and ingenuity in many types of hunting and fishing;
that includes game birds. One effective technique was to build nets as high as 40 feet, stringing these nets above the reeds, grass or brush where game birds like duck were known to nest. At the dawn or dusk hour, hunters would startle the birds which would fly up into the rising or setting sun, and many would fly right into the net. Just like that natives would have several game birds to feed their community.

Modern day hunters who have used a similar technique say the birds can't see the netting -- it's something their brains cannot register as an obstacle and they'll fly right into it.

So where are you going to get netting this size?

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Nets are used in many commercial applications, including sports; you will have to do your homework and decide which net(s) will work best and then tailor to suit your specific need. The right net can be used for several applications, when it comes to survival, and have more than one use.

Need to build a net? High strength fishing line rated at 50 - 80 pounds (commonly used for ocean fishing and landing large fish) and even paracord (if you have a lot of it) can be used to build smaller nets from scratch. You need:

Instruction on tying the right type of knot specific for a net.

50-80 pound fishing line or lots of military spec paracord (TOUGH GRID military spec paracord, if you want to craft a survival net with a lifetime of use).

Bird hunting with a net

Set your net near the grass you know that game birds are known to shelter in and then leave the area immediately.

Approach quietly several hours later, or even the next morning, when you expect game birds to be back in the area you first spied them.

Scare them suddenly, by running toward the brush, or throwing several rocks into the brush, so that they fly in the opposite direction -- right into the net.

Run quickly to your catch and club any fallen birds over the head, so that they die quickly and painlessly; at the same time, clubbing a bird over the head (or breaking it's neck, another method, depending on the bird) helps ensure that you don't damage any internal meat.

Bird hunting calls for patience

As it is with hunting any animal in any terrain, often you will need patience.

Don't give up after 30 minutes of starting a hunt -- be prepared to patiently hunt for a day or two, until you can land that first bird or other critter.

Bird hunting calls for stealth

You have to hunt quietly, moving slowly, sometimes not moving at all for several minutes at a time as you make your approach. Birds, like other animals, have a survival instinct and can spook easily at any nearby sound.

Native American hunters were often experts at stealth, sometimes laying in the brush or other dense cover earlier in the day, and then waiting for an animal (even deer, as history records) to come lay down and sleep for the night close by. Rising slowly, a native could then kill a deer while it slept. That is a great example of stealth -- and even greater example of patience.

If you spot game birds across a lake or pond or ocean shoreline on one day (you may need binoculars to be sure you're looking at a species of game bird), early the next day before the sun rises consider going to where you expect these birds to appear that day and wait patiently in the brush -- using a spear, bow and arrow, shotgun (12 gauge or 16 gauge for example), or even a .22 caliber air rifle. Heck, if you're a good shot, you can even consider a high powered slingshot (though for humane reasons, be sure to perfect your aim first before going after wildlife; hunt responsibly and avoid poor shots that only injure wildlife rather vs a quick kill).

Primitive and modern weapons for bird hunting

Spear - Natives living in Greenland are shown to have fashioned a spear with multiple spear points, however not in a traditional trident fashion, where the points are at the end of the spear. Instead, they designed spears with added spear points midway up the shaft -- when thrown into a flock of birds, these additional spear points gave the spear more chances of striking prey.

Bow and arrow - The bow and arrow has a long history of successful hunting in primitive and modern cultures. Today's crossbows can be just as effective.

Shotgun - While the larger game birds like wild turkey and grouse may not fly far when spooked, other than running or flapping their way into dense brush and out of sight, smaller birds like doves can tend to dart into the air and fly off -- making it hard to get a good hit for the inexperienced bird hunter. Experts say to aim at a bird's eye when you have a shot, because you are more likely to get a body shot rather than a partial hit of legs and tail feathers. That's because the bird is in motion when you pull the trigger; keep that motion in mind and your shots have a lot better chance of striking where they should.

Air rifle - The air rifle isn't just a toy for a twelve year. High powered air rifles like this Gamo Whisper Silent Cat can be a reliable tool for small game hunting.

Vs a rifle or shotgun they have one advantage: The Gamo Whisper Silent Cat air rifle makes a lot less noise, even less than other air rifles, and is a lot less likely to spook wildlife in the region you are hunting. At the same time, you can carry a lot more ammunition in your backpack or bug out bag than you can for a rifle or shotgun. (Since air rifles can vary in make from being a useless kid's toy to an actual weapon used for hunting small game, look for a .177 or .22 caliber air rifle with a scope that receives high ratings for effectiveness). Cabelas publishes an air rifle buyer's guide and we link to it here for more information (be sure to read about the advantage of a "pre-pneumatic" vs a "pneumatic" air rifle).

Air rifles and self defense - When it comes to self defense, an air rifle isn't going to do much for you and that's one of its limitations. It's only good for small game hunting -- squirrels, 'possum, other small critters, and birds for the most part.

Air rifles and children - Have children? Arm your kids with an air rifle while you and other adults carry actual firearms. It's a great way to teach your children firearm safety and at the same time proper technique and how to use their scope and other sighting tools; how to keep their cool when spotting game, how to not shoot until they have a good target, etc.

Survival Hunting: The Top 10 Game Birds

#10 - Doves

A variety of dove called the Mourning Dove is the most popular type of dove found in the United States. It is the most widespread bird in the US, as well as being the leading game bird, with about 20 million shot every year in the US.

Mourning doves prefer open habitats, with many occupying urban areas, farms, prairies, grasslands and lightly wooded areas. Seeds make up 99% of their diets, with a preference for sunflower, corn and millet seeds.

Mourning doves can also be affected by a host of parasites and diseases -- including tapeworms, mites and lice. It is recommended to check before cooking and consuming doves.

Habitat: Grasslands, prairies, urban areas, farmlands

States: Many parts of all 50 states

#9 - Snipes

Snipes are a small shorebird with a long bill similar to the woodcock. Also like woodcocks (another game bird profiled in this article), it camouflages well into the surroundings, and prefers to forage in soft mud to eat up earthworms and small insects.

Snipes are hard for predators to catch, owing to their erratic flying patterns to confuse their enemies. This is the same reason snipe hunting is challenging, as their zig-zag flying and natural camouflage proves elusive for many a competent hunter. Therefore, the best time to go snipe hunting is well after sundown. Moonless nights are an added incentive.

Snipe hunting has also been used as a practical joke across the US, although there are quite a few dedicated snipe hunters who like to take on the challenge.

Habitat: Marshes, bogs, tundra and wet meadows

States: US Pacific Coast States, Alaska, Northern United States

#8 - Ducks

Ducks are one the most frequently hunted types of waterfowl. In a survival situation, if you are near water, hunting ducks can be extremely useful. Ducks provide a healthy source of protein and can be quite tasty as well. They are mostly aquatic birds, and can be found in fresh water lakes, marshy wetlands as well as sea water. Waterfowl tend to have excellent eyesight, so when you are hunting ducks, make sure you have enough cover to hide behind as you are scoping out your target. The best way to catch a few ducks when you are out surviving in the wild is to bait them. You can build a trap and have some grains or crackers in there to attract the attention of curious ducks. Once they are trapped, do the needful and you can have duck on your plate by the end of the day. (Read more: Duck Hunting: Strategies, Requirements and Advices from Experienced Hunters)

Habitat: Fresh water lakes, ponds, marshy wetlands.

States: Found all across the US.

#7 - Goose

Geese are another type of waterfowl that are one of the most popular game birds in North America. Especially Canada Geese, which are one of the most commonly hunted waterfowl in North America.

They are found in watery habitats including lakes, marshes and bogs. They also have excellent eyesight, so if you are intent on catching them, you need to make sure you have enough cover. Geese are primarily herbivores, their diet generally consisting of green vegetation and grains. They might also sometimes feed on small insects and fish.

Habitat: Lakes, rivers, marshes, bogs and sloughs

States: The Great Lakes states, the eastern seaboard states, the Pacific coast states, states between California and South Carolina in the winter.

#6 - Woodcocks

One of the most popular game birds is the woodcock, with over 500,000 killed every year in the US. The American Woodcock is the only species of woodcock inhabiting North America. They have more fat on them than other game birds, therefore being a good option for food during survival. They are basically black-and-brown colored birds that prefer forests where they can easily blend into the surroundings.

Woodcocks generally like to spend their time in thickets with moist soil in forested habitats. This provides sufficient cover for them while also being rich in their favorite food -- earthworms. Come sunset, woodcocks seek open fields like pastures and agricultural fields to feed or even for courtship.

Habitat: Forests, abandoned farmlands, wetlands

States: Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas

#5 - Wild Turkeys

Wild turkey populations have been ever-increasing across the United States. The advantage of hunting for game turkeys when you are out surviving is that you already know how delicious Thanksgiving dinner is. The taste of wild turkeys depends on what they eat, but they are generally considered quite savory.

One basic thing to remember when you are going after wild turkeys: their basic necessities are simple -- they seek food, water and cover from dangerous predators. As long as they have that, wild turkeys can be found in forested lands -- where they use trees for roosting -- or in open, non-forested lands where they have more space to run about.

Before you go hunting for turkeys, it is wise to scout and set up a trap beforehand. Turkeys might leave tracks in the mud or snow, or leave their droppings around. As it goes with droppings -- soft and moist means fresh. This means your game is nearby. (Read more on turkey hunting: Turkey Hunting Tips: Three Gobbler Experts Explain Their Best Tactics.)

Habitat: Hardwood forests and scattered openings such as pastures, fields and marshes.

States: Found in all states except Alaska.

#4 - Quail

There are several varieties of quail, and it is a commonly hunted game bird. They are also farmed, with quail meat and eggs available in butcher and food stores. Quails prefer to walk, although they are capable of short bursts of flight. They tend to generally live on the ground; even the ones which roost in trees tend to come down to feed.

Quail are generally found in a combination of open land and woody cover where they feed on seeds, berries and fruits while also having several options to find cover to escape predators. They like cover near their feeding spots, and can be found near small wood lots and woody draws. (Read more: Tips for hunting quail.)

The Northern Bobwhite and the California quail are two of the types of quail that are the most popular amongst game hunters. The small and plump quail has to be cooked quickly, and can be roasted to make a good meal.

Habitat: Wild grasses, scrub and open woodlands

States: Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, California

#3 - Pheasants

One of the oldest recorded game birds in history, pheasants are one of the world's most hunted birds. Male pheasants stand out because of their bright colors and bold plumage.

The preferred habitat of pheasants is in wetlands, scrub and forested areas; they generally feed on the ground but roost in sheltered trees at night. They also eat a wide variety of foods, including seeds, fruits and also many invertebrates.

Pheasants tend to move to areas with lots of water in hot weather. In extreme heat, look for pheasants near all water sources such as irrigation canals and faucets.

Habitat: Woodland, farmland, scrub and wetlands

States: The Great Plains States

#2 - Partridges

Partridge is a part of the pheasant family, and the most common type of partridge found in the United States is the Grey Partridge. They are also a common game bird, and can be hunted along the same lines as pheasants. A large male partridge can weigh up to three-quarters of a pound.

Their preferred habitat is farmlands, where they take shelter in high grasses, searching for seeds and insects. They can also be found near fence lines and small wood lots where linear cover is easy to come by.

Habitat: Farmlands

States: Many parts of Northern United States

#1 - Grouse

Grouse is the premier upland game bird, being large as well as delicious. They can weigh up to 14 pounds. They prefer a forest habitat with a lot of brushy cover that protects them from hunters and predators.

Grouse have a diet which mainly includes buds, twigs and leaves of trees, with fruits also a preferred option. When hunting grouse it can be useful to locate fruit sources or use fruit as bait to lure grouse into your trap. Some of the fruits particularly relished by grouse are blackberries and choke berries. (Read more: 6 tips for hunting ruffled grouse without the help of a dog.)

Their natural camouflage is almost undetectable, so it is important to keep an eye out for grouse on the ground as well as on the trees. Grouse varieties can be found in prairie regions as well as tundra regions. They tend to stay on the ground, but may fly off urgently if alarmed. If you are in grouse area, catching them is a difficult task, but if you are calm and careful enough, you can have tasty grouse for dinner.

Habitat: Prairies, Forests, Moorlands and Tundra

States: Several types of grouse are found in at least 38 states of the US.

A few ways to catch game birds

Your luck in catching birds will more often than not depend on the seasons and the weather conditions wherever you are in the wild. There are different ways to catch upland game birds and waterfowl. Birds are generally easier to catch than smaller mammals, and you'd be better off trapping some quail or turkey for a familiar taste.

Birds tend to have determined flight paths from their roosts to their feeding points or to a water source.

Careful observation can help you easily figure these paths out.

If you are in a survival emergency, and you probably have some netting or net-like object on you, one way to build an effective trap (as mentioned earlier) is to plant that netting right in between the flight paths of the birds you are looking to capture. Birds aren't quite capable of making out nets or similar objects, and they will simply fly into your trap, get tangled in the net and fall to the ground. You have your game bird ready to go. Although make sure that you constantly supervise your trap, as such trapped birds are highly vulnerable to being eaten first by other predators.

Eating your game bird

When you finally land a game bird the first thing you have to do is kill it, if it's not already dead.
Make sure the way you kill it is clean. The most common part of a bird that is eaten is the breast. So, once you have killed a bird, pluck all the feathers off of its body first. You can opt to cut off its head, feet and wings before or after the plucking process.

When you are done, cut through the bird's breast meat and cut off the part of its throat that processes food. Cut through the breast right down to the anus so that it is possible to remove its entrails completely, including the gizzard. The gizzard is also edible, so if you are hungry enough, you can cut it open and clean it too. But DON'T EAT THE INTESTINES.

Boiling your meat is the best option when you are out in the wild. It is the easiest way to get food into your stomach. Make sure while boiling that your final product is "well done" so as to avoid the risk of parasites; you now have a satisfying meal, potentially large enough to feed several people, depending on the bird.

Parasites and diseases

Wild birds sometimes carry parasites or diseases that make them dangerous to consume. There are over 40 types of parasites that either live on birds, in their nests or in their roosting places. Parasites are harbingers of diseases; they are carriers of several viral and bacterial agents, passing on diseases like pox, meningitis and encephalitis.

Birds like pigeons are often seen feeding on trash and other contaminated objects. Pigeons consequently carry a lot of harmful germs and parasites, making it a bad idea to hunt and eat pigeon.

An important point to remember before catching and eating a bird is to determine what the bird you caught may have eaten beforehand. Because whatever they eat, you eat. That's the same reason why eating pigeons is not recommended. Similarly, vultures feed on carcasses, making vulture another bird to avoid. (Read more: Is your game safe to eat?)

Some additional info

Surprisingly, eggs are not a regular fixture in survival guides. In a survival emergency, eggs can be an excellent food and nutrition source (even those that contain a baby bird); and they don't just include birds' eggs. Although, eggs can be hard to find if you don't know where to look, especially eggs which only show up during nesting season.

If you find a nest out in the wild that has eggs in it, take a few, but not all. The bird will see the less number of eggs and lay more, thus providing you your ultimate regular egg source. This is an easy way to procure some food out in the wilderness. (Birds aren't the only animals that lay edible eggs -- a number of reptiles like alligators and large lizards and a number of snakes have edible eggs, as do larger turtles -- though currently turtles are protected, so unless you're in a survival emergency, don't mess with turtle eggs.)

Survival summary

1. Game birds are birds that can be hunted and harvested for food. The top 10 game birds include Doves, Ducks, Geese, Woodcocks, Wild Turkeys, Snipes, Quail, Pheasants, Partridges and Grouse.

2. Catching birds is not an easy task, but with some clever thinking, you can be successful in a survival situation. While using traps with baits is one of the ways to catch birds, you can use any kind of netting, if you possess some, to lay it in the flight paths of the birds you are looking to catch and eat. Birds are incapable of making out netting in the air, and will be caught in your trap.

3. Once you have your bird in your trap, kill it to prepare it for eating. Pluck its feathers out, cut off its head, wings and feet, and then skin it. Cut through the breast of the bird down to the anus, and be careful to get rid of the intestines. Boiling is the best option when you are in the wild with limited resources, so boil the bird breast before you consume it.

4. Think about what an animal eats before you eat it. You want to avoid birds like pigeons and the parasites they commonly carry.

5. Eggs can be an excellent food source when surviving in the wilderness.

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