Upland Hunting in Hawaii

My wife has long maintained that my approach to vacation planning always revolves around an ulterior motive. I can’t imagine why she feels that way.

Well, there was that one visit with her relatives in San Antonio. She had to fend for herself while I stretched a short run to south Texas into four days of hunting. Now that I think about it, there was another trip, to see my side of the family in Kentucky, when we somehow arrived just in time for the opening of whitetail deer season. That was purely coincidental, of course, as was the timing of another memorable trip to the Florida Keys, which perfectly matched the peak fishing period for giant tarpon.

Given these and many other examples of what I maintain were merely cases of fortuitous timing, she naturally became suspicious when I suggested that we spend a planned vacation in Hawaii on the Big Island, rather than Maui, as we had previously discussed.

“Alright, what are you up to this time?” she demanded.

I patiently explained that I had heard some great reports about the upland game bird hunting opportunities on the Big Island’s sprawling Parker Ranch. A wildlife biologist who ran the hunting program on the ranch at that time told me the 175,000-acre ranch was enjoying a population explosion of game birds – and he had an opening that coincided with our vacation. It would be criminally negligent, I insisted, to ignore such an opportunity.

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Among the upland hunting on the Big Island of Hawaii, these black francolin and blue pheasant.

She eventually acquiesced – after extracting a promise to take her hiking all over Volcanoes National Park – so I saw no pressing reason to confess that I had, in fact, already booked the hunt.

Apart from the novelty of hunting upland game in Hawaii, the big attraction for me at Parker Ranch was the sheer variety of available game bird species. Visitors can expect to hunt behind well-trained pointing dogs, including German shorthairs, Brittany spaniels and English pointers, while pursuing more than a dozen species, including some that would otherwise require hunters to visit several continents.

They include Kalij, blue (melanistic) and ringneck pheasant; Erckel’s, black and gray francolin; chukar; California and Japanese quail; sandgrouse; a couple of exotic species of dove; and Rio Grande turkey. All have lived wild on the ranch for decades. In the last few years, the ranch began augmenting these established populations with periodic releases of chukar, ringnecks and blue pheasant, depending on habitat conditions. This allows the ranch to offer an expanded season for released species only. Otherwise, all state hunting regulations regarding species, seasons and bag limits apply.

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Shirtsleeve hunting on the slopes of a volcano, within view of the Pacific Ocean, is just one of the attractions of upland hunting on the Parker Ranch.

Since the ranch has no lodging for hunters, I met my designated guide a short drive from Waikoloa and chatted with a visiting pair of hunters from Nevada and Colorado. They set off to pursue California quail. I was looking forward to a mixed-bag hunt, but was especially interested in adding a blue pheasant and black francolin to my collection of mounted game birds.

We began working our way down the high slopes and had walked for only a few minutes before busting a 40-bird covey of California quail. I wasn’t quite ready, but managed to down one with a loaner Beretta 686 provided by the ranch. Searching for the downed quail, with the action open and gun unloaded, I was startled when a rooster Erckel’s francolin launched from practically beneath my feet and escaped.

When my brain and body finally got in sync, I spent several hours passing up shots on quail while collecting several Erckel’s. These pheasant-sized birds kill you with their inconsistency. One minute they hold tighter than cement; the next, they flush wild, singly or in groups. I managed to drop three with three shells, but was less fortunate with Japanese quail. These little rockets zigzag crazily about a foot above the ground cover. If you manage to hit one, consider it evidence of divine intervention.

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Parker Ranch provides hunters with guides and a variety of pointing dogs, including German shorthairs, English pointers and Brittany spaniels.

The dogs were spectacular, but covered a lot of ground in a hurry. This made things challenging, at times, as the terrain is interlaced with rocky ridges and deep, steep-sided ravines. The ground cover is so dense, in places, that you often can’t see where you’re placing your feet. Beneath all that lush, green cover, which looks deceptively gentle from a distance, there’s jagged, broken volcanic rock. There are spots, especially along the ridges, where a careless step can easily turn an ankle or drop you into an unseen hole with a jolt. Good boots are a must.

Working our way toward lower elevations, we hunted an area favored by black francolin. These birds were half the size of the Erckel’s, but much faster on the wing. I missed the first bird I swung on, a hen, before connecting on several just like her. We were about to leave the area when we happened to glimpse a bird that hopped and fluttered briefly above the cover. It looked suspiciously like a colorful black francolin male. We worked the area and were rewarded when the bird exploded from the cover with afterburners lit.

He banked to his left and broke hard to the right, colliding nicely with my shot string. I was impressed with my first rooster black francolin. He had the speed of a Hungarian partridge and the moves of a tailback.

We took a break for lunch and rejoined the other two visiting hunters. Though both were old hands with scatterguns, they had tallied exactly one California quail for their morning’s labors, despite flushing many big coveys. The guide then sent them to an area he called “Erckelville,” due to its dense population of francolin, where they finished the day with bulging vests and much-improved dispositions.

I went in search of blue pheasant, but was beginning to think I’d never see one. We saw turkeys. We saw mouflon sheep and Spanish billies. We found more Erckel’s, as well as ringneck hens and roosters that flushed wildly out of range or ran like thieves. The ringneck hens would sometimes flush along with the Erckel’s, which they somewhat resemble. You need a keen eye to correctly ID the birds, as hen pheasants are off limits.

That’s part of the excitement – and challenge – of hunting Parker Ranch. You simply don’t know, from moment to moment, what’s going to flush. At one point, the dogs locked up on solid points at the edge of a thick patch of brush. I approached, gun at the ready, only to flush a small group of Polynesian wild boar.

I first laid eyes on a rooster blue pheasant over twin blazing barrels, fired more in salute than in any hope of hitting anything, after a dozen birds flushed at once. By the time I picked out the sole blue rooster from amongst the assorted Erckel’s and hen pheasants, flying in every direction, he was out of range.

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The author displays several Erckel’s francolin.

Finally, near the end of a long day, the dogs began trailing a runner. His trail led straight uphill. After a lengthy pursuit, we saw a beautiful rooster blue pheasant flush well out of range, placing two steep ridges between us in the process. Figuring he had made good his escape, we dragged ourselves uphill anyway, and peered over the edge of the second ridge into a small, rugged canyon. After catching our breath and surveying the canyon for several minutes, we happened to spot a very dark, pheasant-shaped shadow far below. It appeared to be hiding in the shadow of a large boulder, but we weren’t quite sure it was a pheasant, for the object remained absolutely motionless.

If that was, indeed, the rooster, he was one cagey customer.

We sent the dogs in to find out, and out came the pheasant – an iridescent, greenish-blue blur streaking down the canyon. My second barrel of number sixes caught up with him a microsecond before he reached the safety of some large trees.

It was a perfect end to one of the most unique upland hunts I’ve ever experienced. There’s never a lack of entertaining things to do in Hawaii, but hunting in shirt sleeves for a wide variety of wild-flushing game birds on the lush slopes of a volcano, within sight of the Pacific Ocean, ranks at the top of my list.

The wild bird season runs from the first Saturday in November through Martin Luther King Day, or the third Sunday in January, whichever comes first. Hunting for wild birds during this season is allowed only on Saturdays, Sundays and state holidays. Released-species-only hunting generally runs from Oct. 1 to Feb. 15, depending on habitat conditions at the ranch.

When these seasons overlap, things can get a little confusing. The important point to remember is that non-tagged (wild) birds of the same species as the released birds are allowed to be harvested during the ranch-defined hunting days that occur outside of the state-defined wild bird season.

Another bit of good news is that the state has scrapped the old point system of defining bag limits. Daily bag limits now include:

  • Ringneck and blue pheasant – three birds, in any combination, cocks only.
  • Kalij pheasant – three birds, either sex.
  • California, Japanese and Gambel’s quail – 15 birds, either sex, in any combination.
  • Chukar, gray francolin and black francolin – 8 birds, either sex, in any combination.
  • Erckel’s francolin – three birds, either sex.
  • Sandgrouse, mourning dove and spotted dove –10 birds, either sex, in any combination.
  • Barred dove – 20 birds, either sex.
  • Wild turkey – one bird, either sex. (Two gobblers only are allowed during a special spring season).

The price of a hunt on Parker Ranch includes guides, dogs and the use of a variety of shotguns. Ammunition is included. If you are planning on using your own firearm, you will need to arrive on a weekday and register your gun with the County of Hawaii Police Department at least one day prior to hunting. They ask that you call in advance to make an appointment at 808-887-3080. Expect the registration process to take a couple of hours.

Unless you already have a valid Hawaii hunting license, you’ll need to purchase a Hawaii Preserve hunting license (three-day or seven-day). These can be purchased from the guide on the morning of the hunt.

Mike Dickerson is a long-time, West Coast-based outdoor writer. He has fished from Florida to the Indian Ocean and hunted extensively across the United States and parts of Canada. He specializes in big game and upland game birds. You can contact him at letters@shotgunlife.com

 

For more information on hunting Parker Ranch, visit www.parkerranch.com

and click on the hunting link, or call 877-885-7999.

Last modified on Sunday, 20 January 2013 19:32
Mike Dickerson

Mike Dickerson is a long-time, West Coast-based outdoor writer. He has fished from Florida to the Indian Ocean and hunted extensively across the United States and parts of Canada. He specializes in big game and upland game birds. You can contact him at letters@shotgunlife.com

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