These birds have a spotted appearance, a short, lightly colored tail and white bellies that make them easy to identify. The males have striped tail feathers, while the females have barred ones.
Closely related to the prairie chicken, the males grow to a foot and a half in length and weigh over two pounds, while females are 2-3 inches smaller and a half a pound lighter. They are mainly found in the central US, but they also can be found throughout a large portion of Canada.
These birds have a very varied diet – they eat prairie grass in the summer, grains and berries in the fall and buds in the winter. Their typical day includes feeding early in the day, loafing in short grass in the afternoon and eating again later in the day.
The sharp-tail, a polygamous breed, has a mating ritual that includes the male cooing in a low voice, establishing dancing grounds, or leks, on high terrain and jumping and cackling to impress the female. (The male also fights off other potential suitors by puffing his body up, lowering his head and strutting animatedly.)
Sharp-tails prefer wide open spaces covered in short prairie grass to roost in, usually with very little wooded cover, but the nest will be surrounded by some vegetation to protect the young. They normally stay close to the nest during the course of the day, usually straying no further than a mile from it.
Flushed coveys of sharp-tails tend to stay together, but they don’t fly far early in the season, so it is possible to flush them again if you stay on their tail. (If it’s later in the hunting season, though, the sharp-tail will fly for several miles once flushed, so if you don’t get a shot initially you probably won’t get one.)
These birds are easily spooked, a condition that gets worse as the season drags on. (That’s why it’s a good idea to bring a dog that works at medium to close range so they don’t flush out of range.)
Long distance shots are the norm when hunting sharp-tails, so hunters tend to use 12-gauge shotguns with 6 or 7 1/2 shot early in the season and size 4 shot later on.