Ptarmigan Pilgrimage

Tim B March 20, 2012 2
Ptarmigan Pilgrimage

This Friday we embarked on our annual spring pilgrimage for ptarmigan.  Each spring we religiously pack up our gear and head into the wild reaches of Alaska for an epic spring ptarmigan adventure.  We travel by boat, kayak, snowmobile and snowshoe to access our bounty.  We are in pure solitude.  There’s no one but us, the mountains, and the ptarmigan. It’s a tradition I look forward to every year.

This time of year the ptarmigan have migrated down from their lush high altitude alpine meadows to lower elevations.  Their journey is a forced migration caused by the massive amounts of snow covering their food sources at higher elevations.  Down near sea level they find willow tips still exposed above the 8 feet of snow.  They feed on these willow buds until they are able to move back to their normal habitat in the high country.  In the meantime, the ptarmigan are concentrated in these lower reaches and it makes for some great wing shooting.

Another benefit to these early spring hunts is snow travel.  Traveling on snow is much easier than battling devil’s club (sounds like a fun plant right?), thick tangled alders and willows, and hungry bears. We can glide right across the top of it all on snowshoes, skis or by machine. It is fantastic.

In general ptarmigan can be found in great abundance all throughout Alaska. The willow ptarmigan is actually our state bird, and there is even a town in Alaska that was supposed to be named Ptarmigan.  They instead called it Chicken because they couldn’t agree on how to spell ptarmigan, but that’s another story.

Ptarmigan don’t only make for great wing shooting, but they also make for great table fare. Our goal on this trip was to put a bunch of these natural mountain chickens into the freezer.  We easily succeeded with limits in our freezer.  We had a great time enjoying the warm springtime sun, and got some great gunning in. We hope to put up some cleaning tips and tasty recipes, so make sure you check back.