PENDLETON — The pudelpointer pup and I bashed into the tangle of brush. It was her first hunt for wild roosters. Liesl waded through the creek, slogged through the mud, and her tail began to flag, in that moment we call “getting birdy.” There was a bird moving ahead of us and, under the overhanging branches of a weeping willow, we ran into a virtual dam of branches 8-feet high.
The broken, rotten branches formed a wall and Liesl pointed it. I could hear a bird climbing up, up, up through the branches and, for a moment, it paused at the top of its climb. When it took to the air, I could see the white ring around its neck, its long tail feathers, the sheens of green and blue. I shouldered the gun, put the bead on the bird, squeezed the trigger. My friend Phillip was outside of the brush, and he shot at the exact same moment. Together we admired the prize.
Those tailfeathers are tucked in the memorabilia above my writing desk. Good memories from Umatilla County.
It is getting harder to find good wild pheasant hunting in Oregon, but quail numbers are up in many places in Eastern Oregon. There is a little-known opportunity to hunt roosters, valley quail and Hungarian partridge on and around the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation — the home of the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla.
A non-tribal member can buy a permit to hunt on Indian lands owned by the Confederated Tribes, and that land is right in the middle of some of the best pheasant and quail country in the state.
The reservation is made up of 271 square miles with woodlands along the Umatilla River and in the mountains north of Interstate 84. Umatilla lands are sovereign to the tribes and ownership is a mixture of fee, title and trust lands.
There are larger tracts of land that offer good hunting. A number of small parcels are open, but the tribal permits are not a trespass permit. Prior to hunting, permission must be obtained to cross private lands.
It can be challenging to figure out where to hunt, but a decent map is provided on the reservation’s website. Visit ctuir.org, then click on Tribal Services and Natural Resources. Click on Wildlife and look for the 2019-20 Non-member bird hunting regulations.
Regulations are clear. Season dates mirror ODFW regulations with a few minor variations. Non-tribal members may not hunt grouse, mourning dove or mountain quail. Note that pheasant hunting closes Dec. 31. The map is good, but a better map should be obtained. Or use an online app such as OnX.
An annual small game/upland game/waterfowl hunting license costs $25 and a juvenile license (12-17 years) costs $16 and may be purchased at Arrowhead Travel Plaza (www.arrowheadtravelplaza.com) and Mission Market (541-276-9082). In addition to the tribal permit, hunters should purchase an Oregon license and upland bird stamp.
The tribes also own large properties that are not on the reservation. One option is the 2,700-acre Wanaket Wildlife Area next to the Port of Umatilla.
The Wanaket Wildlife Area is managed by the tribes to provide wetlands and wildlife habitat protection, mitigation for the construction of McNary Dam. Hunting is allowed on Wednesdays and Saturdays with preference given to waterfowl hunters until 12 noon. Upland hunters may hunt till close of published shooting hours.
No tribal license is needed on the Wanaket Wildlife Area, but an Oregon license is required.
These days afield return the most dividends in memories and trips to plan. There are more tailfeathers to earn in the cattails and the ditches where the tough old birds go.