The Hungarian partridge, or hun, is a non-native species imported to the U.S. and Canada primarily from Hungary and Czechoslovakia in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The birds are generally regarded as an incidental species occasionally taken by hunters chasing pheasants and sharptail grouse.
The lack of concentrated effort for Hungarian partridge might have something to do with the difficult nature of hunting these birds. Not only are they extremely wary, often jumping well ahead of hunters and their dogs, they can also be very difficult to locate even when they are abundant.
The birds are not nearly as predictable in their whereabouts as other upland game birds, and seem just as likely to be in the short stubble of a mowed field as in the more “classic” bird cover along stream edges and coulees.
But the rareness of harvesting a Hun is what makes the event so special, all the more if you actually went into the field with the intention of shooting one. And if you ever manage to bag a legal limit of Hungarian partridge, you will be a member of a small and privileged group of hunters.
Hun, Gray partridge, English partridge
Bar Room Banter
Hungarian partridge produce some of the largest clutches of any bird species, with up to 22 eggs.
Hungarian partridge are grayish brown birds with a dark orange face and throat. Their flanks are barred reddish brown and the tail feathers rusty. The male and female have a chestnut patch on their belly; the patch is much less pronounced or altogether absent on the female. The average Hun weighs just shy of a pound and is about 12” long.
Open farmlands and grassy fields. Unlike many other upland game birds, Huns can thrive in extensively cultivated country that offers very little cover.
A wide variety of agricultural grains as well as wild plant seeds. Will readily grasshoppers and other insects as well.
Breeding and Reproduction
Female lays a clutch of 12-18 olive-colored eggs, hatching mid June to late July. The chicks will leave the nest and begin feeding almost immediately after hatching.
Life and Death
The eggs and chicks of Huns often fall prey to nest raiders such as raccoons, mink, weasels, and skunks. Adult Huns are preyed upon foxes, coyotes, and several species of hawks and owls.
Almost none during snow-free months. Tracks will be found in snow along field edges and roadsides.
The flesh is a little darker than chicken or pheasant, but still mild. Very good quality.
Moderately available in a range split between Canada and the United States. They are still being introduced into some regions, but their North American numbers are dropping. Seasons typically run from September through January and are often aligned with chukar season. Daily bag limits are usually between four and eight.
Huns are typically found around intensively managed farmlands, where the majority of the landscape is devoted to grain production. The birds will feed in the morning and again in the afternoon, spending the day in loafing areas.
In this way they are similar to pheasants, but the loafing areas of Huns are far less predictable than pheasants. Rather than hunkering down in cattail marshes or creek bottoms, the birds feel comfortable hiding in the relatively sparse cover provided by stubble and short grass.
Thus, the birds seem as though they could be virtually anywhere on the landscape. However, Huns do seem to prefer edge-type habitats such as crop borders or windrows, so don’t worry so much about covering the centers of large crop fields when trying to find the birds during their early morning and late afternoon feeding periods.
Stick to the edges and you have a better chance of finding them. And despite the difficulty of patterning Huns, you should still make a permanent note of any coveys that you do find. If the habitat doesn’t change, it’s quite common to find coveys of Huns in the same basic areas from one year to the next.
Dogs are a good asset for Huns, but only if the dog is willing to work close. Huns are very skittish, and a wide-ranging dog is going to spook far more birds than he’ll be able to pin down long enough for you to cover distances of a hundred or so yards. Unlike pheasants, Huns will not hold long enough for you to cover a hundred yards of distance between you and your dog.
The real key to killing Huns, perhaps more so than with any other game bird, is the ability to stay with a covey of the birds after the initial flush. A covey of Huns might include a dozen or more birds, but they’ll break up into several smaller groups once you flush them. These small groups will not travel far, usually landing within a few hundred yards. Watch where each group goes, paying careful attention to the type of ground cover where they land.
Huns that set down in sparse cover are likely to run after landing, and they’re also likely to flush well outside of range when you approach. Concentrate instead on birds that land in thicker cover, as these birds are less likely to move and more likely to hold tight. If you’re persistent, you might flush each sub-group of Huns a couple of times after the initial flush.
These follow-up flushes are often far more successful than the initial flush, because you’re better prepared for the appearance of the birds and because the birds tend to hold tighter and tighter each time you flush them.
Because Huns occur in such large coveys, there’s a temptation to fire a lot of rounds in quick succession when you put them up. But flock shooting doesn’t work on Huns, nor does it work on anything else. Instead, try to take your time and make one or two shots that count rather than squeezing off a full magazine from your pump or autoloader.
High power shells with 6 or 7 ½ shot are appropriate. Modified and improved cylinder chokes are good, but a full choke might also come in handy on skittish coveys that flush at the edge of your effective range.