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Northwest Wild Game - Then and Now

A major source of historical information that describes the types and abundance of wild game in the Northwest was recorded during the Lewis and Clark expedition that took place between 1805 and 1806.  During the winter of 1805-1806 they camped at the mouth of the Columbia River where they constructed Ft. Clatsop.  Lewis and Clark assembled their notes and documented the various types of big game, upland game, waterfowl, fish and shellfish they encountered during the expedition.  Their day-to-day existence relied on finding and hunting wild game and much of their success resulted from maintaining good relations with the Native Americans who had significant knowledge on how to survive off the land.

There have not been major changes in the number of species in the Northwest with the exception of upland game birds and fish where several new species have been introduced.  The abundance of wild game and fish has gone down since the time of Lewis and Clark because of modern development and environmental changes.  However,  The Northwest is a great place to hunt and fish primarily due to good management of fish and game by the Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Alaska and Canada departments of fish and wildlife.

Capt. Lewis

Saturday February 15th 1806.


The quadrupeds of this country from the Rocky Mountains to the pacific Ocean are 1st the domestic animals, consisting of the horse and the dog only; 2cdly the native wild animals, consisting of the Brown white or grizly bear, (which I beleive to be the same family with a mearly accedental difference in point of colour) the black bear, the common red deer, the black tailed fallow deer, the Mule deer, Elk, the large brown wolf, the small woolf of the plains, the large wolf of the plains, the tiger cat, the common red fox, black fox or fisher, silver fox, large red fox of the plains, small fox of the plains or kit fox, Antelope, sheep, beaver, common otter, sea Otter, mink, spuck, seal, racoon, large grey squirrel, small brown squirrel, small grey squirrel, ground squirrel, sewelel, Braro, rat, mouse, mole, Panther, hare, rabbit, and polecat or skunk.

Northwest Big Game

The Northwest has a large variety of big game due to the unique habitats offered by a wide range of topographical feature beginning with the Rocky Mountain and moving westward through high deserts, the Columbia basin, the Cascade Range, to the wet coastal evergreen areas and ending at the Pacific Ocean.   The Columbia River and the Snake River drain all of these lands and the varied habitat it supports:

Mule Deer

White Tail Deer

Black Tail Deer

Elk (Rocky Mountain and Roosevelt)

Antelope (Pronghorn)



Bighorn Sheep

Mountain Goat

Black Bear

Grizzly Bear


Deer and Elk are the primary game animals that are harvested and the numerous recipes for these animals can be use for cooking antelope and moose.

Northwest Upland Game

Capt. Clark

Saturday March the 1st 1806


The Prarie Hen sometimes called the Grouse is peculiarly the inhabitent of the Great Plains of Columbia The Cock of the Plains is found in the plains of Columbia and are in Great abundance from the entrance of the S. E. fork of the Columbia to that of Clark's river. this bird is about 2/3rds the size of a turkey. The large Black & White Pheasant is peculiar to that portion of the Rocky Mountains watered by the Columbia River. at least we did not See them untill we reached the waters of that river, nor Since we have left those mountains. they are about the Size of a well grown hen. The Small Speckled Pheasant found in the Rocky Mountains, and differ from the large black and white pheasant only in point of Size, and Somewhat in colour. it is scercely half the Size of the other

Upland game is plentiful and includes :

Forest Grouse (Blue, Ruffed and Franklin)

Prairie Grouse (Sharptail and Sage Grouse)

Chukar Partridge

Hungarian (Gray) Partridge

Quail (California and Mountain)


Turkeys (Merriam's, Rio Grande, Eastern)


At the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition six species of Grouse were the primary upland game birds in the Northwest.  Over the years game managers introduced other game birds including the Chinese (Ring-necked) pheasant, Chukar Partridge, Gray Partridge, California quail and turkeys.

Northwest Waterfowl

Capt. Clark

Wednesday March 5th 1806.


The Aquatic Birds of this country or such as obtain their Subsistence from the water, are the large blue and brown heron, fishing Hawk, blue crested fisher, Gulls of Several Species of the Coast, the large grey Gull of the Columbia, Comorant, loons of two Species, white and the brown brant, Small and large Geese, small and large Swans, the Duckinmallard, canvis back Duck, red headed fishing Duck, black and white duck, little brown Duck, Black Duck, two Species of Divers, blue winged teal, 14 and Some other Species of Ducks, two Species of Plevers

There is an abundance of migratory waterfowl in the Northwest including seven species of the Canada goose with the smallest being the Cackler and the largest is the "honker" which weighs from 8 to 12 pounds; and thirteen species of ducks.  The main waterfowl harvested are:





Canada Geese


Northwest Fish & Shellfish

Capt. Lewis

Wednesday March 12th 1806


Beside the fish of this coast and river already mentioned we have met with the following speceis viz. the Whale, Porpus, Skaite, flounder, Salmon, red char, two speceis of Salmon trout, mountain or speckled trout, and a speceis similar to one of those noticed on the Missouri within the mountains, called in the Eastern states, bottle-nose. I have no doubt but there are many other speceis of fish, which also exist in this quarter at different seasons of the year, which we have not had an opportunity of seeing. the shell fish are the Clam, perrewinkle, common mussle, cockle, and a speceis with a circular flat shell.

The inland fisheries have changed significantly from the time of Lewis and Clark when the primary fish were cold water fish including:







 As the Northwest became populated with immigrants from the east there was a move to import warmwater fish into the streams and lakes of the Northwest.  These include:

Bass (Smallmouth and Largemouth)



Yellow perch




The Columbia River is a prime walleye fishery and  how or when they were introduced is unknown.  The walleye is considered one of the best flavored freshwater fish but it is also a predator that has some impact on migrating salmon smolt.  Another transplant to the Columbia is the shad which was originally introduced into the Sacramento River in 1871 and migrated north to the Columbia River in the late 1800's.  Currently the shad run in the Columbia River is over 3 million fish.

The ocean fishery in the Northwest has a variety of fish that are caught by both commercial and sport fishermen including:


Ling cod



Rock fish

Along the coast there are large numbers of shellfish including Razor clams, Horse clams, Softshell clams, Geoducks, Oysters, Mussels and Scallops.  There are two species of crab,  the Dungeness and Red Rock crabs which provide an excellent feast.  One of the best eating clams in the Northwest is the Razor clam which is found from California to Alaska.

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