Ptarmigan hunting – The hunt it all started with
For me my interest in hunting started with my dad. I must have been around 5 years old. I remember when he came home from hunting and he had those beautiful ptarmigan with him. I wasn’t old then and I remember that I thought every ptarmigan was missing their heads because I could not find them. I asked dad why the heads where off and my dad just laughed because the head was under the wing. It was just a tradition my dad and other hunters had that when they put the bird in the net they folded the head under the wing of the bird. It was some way to show the bird respect and also to prevent the bird from getting messy with blood.
My dad was kind and let me join on all the phases of hunting. From the actual hunt to getting the bird ready for dinner and, of course, how to take care of the gun.
In Norway, we have rock ptarmigan and willow ptarmigan. Those who hunt with pointing dog normally hunt for willow ptarmigan and those who hunt without dog normally hunt for rock ptarmigan.
I was 7 years old the first time I joined dad on rock ptarmigan hunting. I wasn’t allowed to carry my own gun but that was fine by me because it was more than enough exciting to just watch. We had great weather, and we found many ptarmigan. Dad hunted with shotgun, and he manage to shoot some ptarmigan but I also remember that he missed quite a lot. From that day I was obsessed. Every weekend I nagged about going ptarmigan hunting and we had some great hunts in the home mountains. Eventually, I was old enough to go hunting by myself and that was all that was in my head. Ptarmigan hunting almost every weekend.
I started to hunt rock ptarmigan with shotgun the whole season, but after some years I switched to use rifle when the rock ptarmigan started to become white. This happens around 01. October and the birds can get really shy in that period. You can often experience that the birds are white before the snow arrives. They are then easy to find but it’s almost impossible to get within shotgun range. I love hunting rock ptarmigan with rifle because every time you go hunting you have the right gun. When I hunted with shotgun you can have days where the ptarmigan is kind and let you come within shotgun range and other days the birds fly when they see you 200 meters away. In those days you wish you had a rifle. But when you walk with rifle you are ready for kind and shy birds.
What I really like about hunting rock ptarmigan with rifle is that you don’t have to be ready all the time like when you hunt with shotgun. It’s all about using your binos and not walking so fast that you miss a spot. You want to spot the bird before it’s too close and you flush it.
The area the rock ptarmigan stay in is above the wood line and that’s where you have to search for it. Where I grew up, the main area that the bird was in was around 700-800 meters above sealine. It’s also something that I really enjoy about that type of hunt. You walk in alpine terrain and you get some beautiful views. It’s like walking on top of the world.
To find the rock ptarmigan you have to walk on small heights in the terrain and scout a lot! When you finally find one bird, try to get in position for the shot underneath it. The bird feels that it has more control if you are lower in the terrain then the bird.
When I try to get in position for the shot I often walk not straight to the bird but with an angle so it seems like I’m going to pass is. It often works, the bird thinks that I haven’t seen it yet and chooses to stay and trust his camo. When I’m in shooting range between 50-80 meters I lay down and don’t use much time before I shoot. The more time I spend laying there the more nervous the bird gets. A bad sign is when the ptarmigan is stretching his neck, then it doesn’t take long before the bird flies. So, as soon as you’re in range, lay down and don’t use long time before you shoot.
So far, my favorite caliber is 17.HMR but I have used 22 LR, 22. Hornet and 6.5x55. It’s easy to think that you blow up the small bird with the 6.5x55 but with the right bullet as Norma FMJ, Norma Diamond Line or the Norma Golden Target, it just pinches a small hole in the bird.
For optic, I have used 3-9x40 and it really works well but it is always nice with a little more zoom since it’s a small target. Most important for me is that the crosshair is thin.
To succeed in this hunt, it is all about walking. The more you walk and scout, the more you learn and eventually you will succeed as in all other hunts.
/NORMA Ambassador, Simon Åsheim, Norway