Ptarmigan hunting is fun. You never know what to expect from one trip to the next. On opening day you tramp through colorful thickets of willow and dwarf birch, your dog nosing coveys of brown birds out of the brush while you mop your brow and wish you hadn’t put on a sweater. Late in September, after facing a strong, cold wind for several fruitless hours, you top out on a rocky ridge and suddenly find yourself surrounded by several hundred stretch-necked, pinto-patterned ptarmigan. You hang up your shotgun for five months, only to be tolled into the hills again by the bright blue days of March. Warmly clad in parka and mukluks, you snowshoe across narrow alpine valleys following meandering trails of three-pronged ptarmigan tracks across the brilliant snow.
Ptarmigan hunting can be a serious business, especially if you live in Alaska’s vast hinterland and caribou have been scarce. Then is the time to go after ptarmigan in earnest, using all the tricks at your command. Snares are very effective when used by those who know the birds well. A favorite method is to build a thin fence of close-set willow branches, leaving small openings where the snares are set. Another technique takes advantage of the fact that ptarmigan drag their feet in soft snow. A series of snare loops are tied into a long line, and the loops are placed flat on the ground around a favorite thicket of willows. Birds step into the loops, drag their feet forward — and are caught.