It was on just such a lazy October day that I hunted them recently with Dr. E. G. DeMots of Minot. In the three decades since Hungarian partridge have been legal game in North Dakota, the doctor has not missed an open season. His dental patients learned long ago to have their teeth put in order during the summer, because, after opening day, the doctor is out where the Huns are.
We hunted an area some 70 miles southwest of Minot, an area of open fields broken only by lines of windrows. Here the plantings are rarely more than a quarter of a mile long or 20 to 30 yards wide and two people can easily cover a dozen or more on a leisurely hunt. With few exceptions, every one holds not only partridge but an exciting variety of other game. For example, a raucous cock pheasant burst from the first planting, and down a few yards some 16 sharp-tailed grouse sprang into the air.
We walked abreast along the edges at either side of the windrow, a Labrador retriever at heel and a Brittany spaniel out ahead. The close-ranging Brittany is especially suited to this kind of hunting, since he can be taught to approach Hun cover cautiously and point the birds well before reaching them. This is important, because unlike bobwhite quail, Hungarians are skittish and rarely sit tight to a dog. Usually they will flush wild out of shooting range; and even within range, their swift and erratic flight makes them difficult targets for the best of shots.
When the Brittany pointed, therefore, he was signaling not a covey under his nose but Huns some 30 or 40 yards ahead. Though the Hungarians are inclined to go up early, it is impossible to predict what they will do. One covey burst into the air before we reached the dog; another held until we passed it and then, gabbling noisily, took off almost under our feet. In fact, no two coveys of the many dozen flushed were exactly alike, and this, perhaps, is an important reason why the Hungarian ranks so high as a sporting target.
But there are other reasons. Once flushed, the birds seldom fly much beyond a few hundred yards, and a sharp-eyed hunter can usually spot where they sit down—in a field or in another planting—and then walk them up again. We flushed the same large covey of Huns several times this way.
The endurance of the birds brought down was exceptional. Even cleanly hit, a Hun may fly more than 100 yards before falling. This is why a retriever is a necessity. A dead bird, down at a distance, is hard to find. And a crippled Hun tends to sit motionless. More than one has been stepped over by a hunter who failed to see the bird huddled at the bottom of a furrow.
Thanks to his ubiquitous nature, the Hungarian provides a bonus for seekers after pheasants, sharptail, ruffed grouse and even ducks. It is this bonus of hunting excitement that brings out-of-state hunters back into North Dakota each year. And it is the sort of bonus that other regions can provide by supplementing their native birds with adaptable immigrants. This already is being done in the Southwest, particularly in Nevada where the chukar partridge was imported from India to become the No. 1 game bird. Other states are experimenting with even more exotic birds—the kalij pheasant in Virginia, the bamboo partridge in Missouri and the red jungle fowl in, of all places, Oklahoma. Some of these birds may turn out to be as unhappy with their new environments as Bache's birds were as they sat in the rain in New Jersey. But as they settle into the proper habitat, it is not overoptimistic to think these imports ultimately may provide gunners all over the U.S. with as much sport as the Hungarian partridge now offers in North Dakota.