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Willow Ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus)

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 season across most of Alaska begins in early August and runs through the spring, (March through June), depending on the area. Bag limits are generous — check the regulations for specifics.