“Rock ptarmigan hunting is my favorite. To experience the emotions that it can give you, it only takes being between rock and ice, leaps and snow.
A dream landscape, with its own rules and rhythms… I’ve been hunting up there in the mountains since I was ten, and every time that I admire the landscape, open and rich of life in the summer or covered in a white blanket of winter snow, I’m always speechless. It’s a spectacular theater that frames the hunting practice that I’m most passionate about the rock ptarmigan hunting.
In the past weeks of obligatory inactivity, I often find myself looking at the faraway mountains outside my window and reminiscing on the best hunts and thinking about her, “the queen of the snow.” The rock ptarmigan is a very strange animal. Unpredictable and enigmatic, every day it behaves in a different way.
It’s a difficult wild animal to decipher… At times rock ptarmigan hunting is easy, other times impossible. Like an enthralling enchantress, her “flicker” hypnotizes me every time.
Known as Lagopus muta, in Greek “hare’s feet”, for the characteristic feathers that cover its feet up to the nail, the rock ptarmigan is the only alpine bird of medium size, between the hazel grouse and the black grouse, and with completely white wings.
A survivor of the ice age, it’s a wild animal gifted with a great adapting spirit that lives in the mountains of Northern Europe and is found on the Alps at an altitude of over 2000 meters. Thick plumage guarantees camouflage and warmth even in the frigid winter climate, in which partridges sometimes come to dig tunnels in the high snow to feed and reach the ground.
What makes this animal truly unique is its ability to “change its clothes” and camouflage itself in the surrounding environment according to the season.
The rock ptarmigans change their plumage, passing from a gray-brown color in the summer, to an almost completely white coat in the winter. During its elegant flight, it’s possible to see the black external tail quills, and even more fortunate is the hunter who has the possibility to see it up close and notice the subtle black band that rims the eyes of the male and the reduced red eyebrows above the female’s eye.
Many things have changed since those first times hunting ptarmigan with my father. For three years now, you’re not allowed to hunt rock ptarmigan in Piedmont in order to preserve a species considered at risk.
Part of our hunting history has gone with her, and it fills my heart with nostalgia. To a mountain hunter like me nothing rests but to go somewhere else, especially abroad, where it’s still possible to hunt this miraculous wild animal, particularly in Northern Europe, in Russia, Lapland, and Alaska.
Physical preparation, a dog specialist, and a light and manageable shotgun are necessary for rock ptarmigan hunting.
The first thing that you need to go hunting rock ptarmigan is excellent physical preparation, because when you’re hunting over 2000 meters, anything can happen. You have to know the mountain, be aware that you can’t go against its will. The hunter must become a bit of a mountaineer and always remember that the utmost prudence is needed to safely perform the hunt.
Our four-legged helpers are fundamental in this type of hunt. A rock ptarmigan hunting dog is made only by going there. The pointer dogs used in hunting rock ptarmigan must have a wide search and solid point in order to ensure that the hunter makes the shortest journey possible in the inhospitable environments inhabited by this bird.
The places where the queen of the snow is found are demanding… Rocky terrain surrounded by boundless and surreal spaces that only a few privileged ones reach. Certainly, strenuous for hunters, they can also be hard for dogs that often are protected by their owners with rubber insoles for their paw pads.
To hunt rock ptarmigan, I go with the 12-gauge hunting over and under shotgun Feeling Woodcock with 24” (62 cm) barrels, the ideal companion for the long, necessary crossings in this hunting activity and equipped with an excellent swinging instinct.
Even the Franchi double-barrel Esprit is another one of my favorite adventure companions, with a fairly short stock (368mm LOP), made to be comfortable and functional even heavily dressed.
In order to reach the areas inhabited by the rock ptarmigan, a long approach march is needed, which often starts in the middle of the night if you want to be in place at dawn.
And when you finally reach the summit, up there between the clouds and the sky, the game bag is a final detail, because even just revering the flight of this marvelous wild animal repays every mountain hunter with pure emotion.”