Massachusetts Bird Hunting
The pursuit of upland birds such as pheasants, grouse and quail is enjoyed by millions of hunters. All hunting is done in accordance with Massachusetts State laws and regulations.
Massachusetts has many huntable public lands including Wildlife Management Areas and Wildlife Conservation Easements. Private land access is possible, but hunters must research rules and regulations before recreating on private lands.
Pheasants are beautiful birds that make their home on open fields, pastures, and cropland. They have a high survival rate when they are young and in good habitat. Their survival rate drops dramatically if they must contend with harsh winter conditions and poor habitat.
Male ring-necked pheasants (also called cocks and roosters) have vibrant masks across their heads and shimmery green feathers while females are a plain buff shade of brown. These birds can be found alone or in small flocks and are easily identified by the large wattle in their neck. When startled, they may erupt from their hiding place and fly into the air in a quick “flush” flight.
Approximately 40,000 pheasants are stocked each year in Massachusetts for upland game hunting on public and private lands. In addition to pheasants, hunters can target turkeys, quail, and woodcock. The pheasant program is managed by a partnership between DEC, 4-H youth and sportsmen clubs and county federations, private landowners, and the state’s wildlife officers.
Grouse are a medium-sized game bird with intricately barred and spotted plumage. Males have a black ruff around their necks and spread out their tail feathers during a drumming display. Females do not drum and have a dark band near the tip of their tail.
They nest in woodland understory and forage on ground and tree branches. They love winter grapes, clover and apples, but can also eat small rodents and insects. They can be elusive, but hunters can find them by following trails and observing bird behavior to get clues.
Grouse populations vary widely from season to season and year to year. Harsh winters or unfavorable breeding seasons can deplete populations, but they rebound quickly after a good season. Cooperation between foresters and hunters is key to keeping grouse in good numbers.
Quail are small, plump birds that flit quickly through tussock grasses and brush. They eat a variety of seeds, grains, leaves, flowers, fruit and insects. They often live in groups called coveys. They communicate with high-pitched sounds, grunts and cackles. They can be diurnal, active during the day, or nocturnal, active at night.
There are six native species of quail in North America. Each one is different in size and habitat requirements. Bobwhite quail are the most common and well known in the United States. Males are distinguished by a white throat and brow stripe bordered by black and females by a brown coloration.
The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife stocks quail each year at Myles Standish State Forest in Plymouth and Francis Crane WMA in Falmouth. Hunting is available October 15 to November 26. The daily bag limit is 6 ducks (no more than 2 may be hooded mergansers). Quail hunters must carry a game bird license and all other applicable hunting, fishing or trapping regulations.
The turkey is one of the second-most popular game animals in Massachusetts. Its numbers have been increasing and its hunting season runs from Oct. 2 to Nov. 3. Hunters can use one male and one female turkey per season, with a daily bag limit of two birds.
The best place to start turkey hunting is in a wooded area with good ground cover and a good amount of roosting trees. You should also try to get uphill; it’s easier to hear a gobbler from uphill.
Before starting your turkey hunt, check with MassWildlife to make sure you have the correct permit and hunting license. You can purchase a wild turkey hunting permit online or in person at any open license vendor. Once you harvest a turkey, report it online with MassFishHunt or at a turkey check station. Remember to affix your harvest tag to the carcass. This will help MassWildlife track the state’s turkey population.