Archive for the ‘Pheasants Forever’ Category

Hunting Nebraska’s Panhandle with the High Plains Chapter of Pheasants Forever

Friday, October 31st, 2014

High Plains Chapter President Brad Lines

Brad Lines proudly displays a ringneck earned working the uplands of the “High Plains.” Photo by Mark Herwig / Pheasants Forever

High Plains Chapter President Brad Lines and I could be ‘brothers.’ That’s what hunting does; it turns strangers into friends when they hit the hunting trail together for several days. The challenges and adventures of the field bring people together.

I had never met Lines before traveling to Sidney, Nebraska last November to learn about the chapter’s conservation efforts and do some pheasant hunting in this drought-stricken area. But hunters speak a common language; they share common instincts and passions. The love of the wild outdoors, the chase and our gun dogs often makes for a quick and strong connection. Lines and I still exchange emails about our outdoor pursuits, conservation and lives.

There are elements of danger in hunting, challenges that bring people together. Venturing far afoot in remote country in cold weather in pursuit of the shooting sports can mean trouble if you’re not careful – and even if you are. Of course, most hunters are aware that hunting can be dangerous, in fact, that’s one reason why many of us seek it out. There is a great sense of accomplishment having measured up to the mental and physical challenges of hunting.

Of Sidney’s 6,000 residents, roughly 2,000 work at Cabela’s. Its youthful workforce is reflected in the chapter’s leadership and members. This is no small fact considering one of the biggest challenges facing the future of conservation and hunting is the aging of its participants.  Colton Thomas, who volunteers for the chapter’s youth mentor hunt, and Dan Schumacher, banquet chair, are both in their 20s. Thanks guys for stepping up.

The chapter uses Cabela’s support, and that of many other partners, to combat the area’s main challenge to pheasants – exposure to the high plain’s legendary cold, dry, long, windy winters, said 15-year Habitat Chair Galen Wittrock at a get-acquainted dinner. His position with the chapter is a natural fit: he’s assistant manager of the area Natural Resources District (NRD), which often puts him in contact with landowners who may be interested in partnering with the chapter on habitat projects.

“We all live the outdoor life. Cabela’s encourages real world enthusiasts, including doing conservation work in the community,” said chapter Treasurer Will Helm. “And when it comes to taking a day or two to do the chapter’s banquet, it’s no big deal.” (The chapter’s 2013 and 2014 banquets drew over 600 folks. Two years running the chapter has had its largest netting habitat banquets, the largest in the Nebraska Panhandle – Awesome!)

Landowner and chapter member Carter Kokjer is a good example of a Cabela’s man keeping the legend of the hunt alive. He has done a lot of habitat work on his 1,400-acre wheat farm where, in fact, he was our ‘outfitter’ for a day. Kokjer has 250 acres in CRP at $35/acre. He could get $35/acre cash rent for that 250, but then where would the pheasants come from for him and his buddies to chase? As Wind in his Hair said in Dances With Wolves, “good trade.” These are important acres for all wildlife given 97 percent of the state’s land is private.

To help, Colby Kerber, PF’s regional wildlife biologist for western Nebraska, suggested Kokjer enroll in the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s Crop Stubble Management (CSM) Wildlife & Water Conservation Program, a partnership with PF and the local Natural Resource Districts which pays $10/acre; with an additional $3/acre available from NRD and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission if landowners allow walk-in public hunting access. In exchange, landowners agree to cut their wheat stubble no shorter than 14 inches and leave it undisturbed from harvest through April. Pheasants will nest in wheat stubble over 14 inches because they feel safe from avian predators. And if that stubble isn’t sprayed during fallow, weeds grow to provide chicks the insects they need. Some 25,000 acres were enrolled in CSM last year, but only about 16,000 were actually enrolled due to the severe drought.

Reap what you sow

There was some easy walking snow on the ground when Kokjer, Lines, Kerber, Burke Radcliffe and I headed out to hunt Kokjer’s place the next morning. It was a perfect morning for chasing roosters – mild temps (10-degrees), no wind and sunny. Right off, some birds flushed from Kokjer’s winter shelterbelts, which consist of six rows of nice weedy cedars next to the warm season grass CRP with clover and alfalfa in between the belt rows for brood cover.  That got our attention……..and the dogs’ too. So, we were off to the races, watching the horizon for more color on the wing.

Kokjer said the CRP was actually helped by the 2012-13 drought because it allowed more sunflowers and other forbs to encroach. The chapter helps keep CRP going on the national level by contributing $10,000/year the last two years to PF’s Legislative Action Fund.

“It’s so important to get behind the Farm Bill. We’re very passionate about it,” Lines said. Kerber noted that once CRP becomes more widespread in Nebraska, PF will be ready with a veritable convoy of 60 no-till grassland drills, which were purchased using Nebraska Environmental Trust funds, to do the planting.

We pushed that shelterbelt west and saw a dozen mostly roosters flush long. The snow was covered with tracks. Lines and I winged one bird, but didn’t find it. Not long after, Lines dropped a nice bird with one shot, his smooth-coat wirehair Ava making the retrieve. Next, a group shot brought another bird, Ava closing the deal again.

The dogs soon got hot again with Lines’ other smooth-coat Jade and Kokjer’s golden Molly getting into the action. We chased it a half mile before it broke, Radcliffe doing the honors with a single shot. These Cornhuskers can shoot.

Photo Gallery


Read the full story in the 2014 Pheasant Hunting Preview issue of the PF Journal.  Join or Renew your Pheasants Forever membership today and you’ll receive all five issues of the PF Journal annually.  

Story & photos by Mark Herwig, editor of Pheasants Forever’s Journal of Upland Conservation

Dog of the Day: “Oxxo”

Friday, October 31st, 2014


“Oxxo” is Darin Stueck’s 3-year-old German shorthaired pointer. “He’s the Dog of the Day every hunt we go on,” Stueck says, “We got these two birds a quail and a rooster on a piece of CRP enrolled in the Open Fields and Waters Program by Adams, Neb.”

Have your own bird dog photo you’d like to share? Email it to Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s online editor, at

Is Your Bird Dog Checking You Out?

Friday, October 31st, 2014


Some dogs will check in naturally, but if not, check-ins are something you and your dog can work on. Photo courtesy of Gander Mountain

One of the most important skills I teach my hunting dogs is to get them to keep an eye out for me and not the other way around.

I purchased my first gun dog in the mid-1980s and trained him myself, with the help of books and friends. I didn’t use e-collars (they first became available in the late 1960s). I wanted my dogs to obey the old fashioned way, without electronics. I’m now a regular e-collar user early season, but by mid-season my dog usually doesn’t need it and I take it off. Further, I’d rather not use it then. Going without just simplifies my life and my dog is more at ease. Those springers are sensitive.

But even with an e-collar, it’s better to get a dog to ‘fly bys’ on its own than for me to be constantly wondering if he’s running off and having to reel him in. Besides, I need to focus on other things, like looking for birds and being ready to shoot.

Fly Bys

The other day I was talking with some co-workers here at Pheasants Forever about the fly by. A fly by to me is when a dog while hunting regularly, without prompting from its owner, makes a visual run by his master. A fly by lets me know the dog is staying within shooting range and not running out too far, that he’s keeping pace with me and we are working together as a team. I suppose the dog, at least my dogs, want to keep track of me too. This is especially true when hunting in a group because it’s easy for a dog to lose track of its master. Many times my dog has run up to the wrong hunter, thinking it was me. We all pretty much look alike, after all…men with guns in blaze orange.

I’ve never taught the fly by. My dogs just do it on their own. I suppose this comes about because of earlier training to teach them to stick with me afield, be it a walk, training or hunting. Voluntary sticking in is crucial because a dog can outdistance us very easily and quickly. An out of control dog is a lost or potentially dead dog. There’s no way we can keep up with a running dog, so we must train them to stick with us.


For me, training a dog never ends. It starts with using a check cord during puppyhood. But once you turn a dog loose, it’s very tempting for them to run off. I’ll put a dog in its kennel before letting it run off and bust birds out of range. There’s no greater sin afield in my book.

A new dog is insecure about ranging too far for too long because of its early training with the lead, e-collar, whistle and his master’s voice. But once a dog is turned loose to hunt, it’s best if it realizes staying in range and checking in is routine. A relaxed dog and master hunt better when they have confidence in each other.

I’ve noticed with my springers, and I’m no professional trainer, that they do the automatic fly by after about three to four years of hunting. They understand that they can have their ‘head’ and yet stay in contact with their master and not get in trouble. Giving a dog ‘its head’ is an old horse riding term which means dropping the reins and giving a horse its head to run wide open.

I love it when a dog finally ‘gets’ the fly by because then both of us are free to focus more on the task at hand….hunting, shooting and retrieving birds. Every dog is different and therefore reacts to me, its training and hunting in a somewhat different way. I adjust to their individuality.

I also reinforce voice, whistle and check cord training with another tactic I learned from an old hunting buddy. If while working or training my dog off-leash the dog starts to get out of range or out of sight, I hide from them. I run the other way and hide. Nothing freaks out most dogs more than losing their pack mate, because that’s how dogs view us.

I’ll run the other direction and hide upwind so they have to work their nose and not their eyes or ears to find me. I climb trees to get out of scent and sight. This behavior has a very important effect on a dog: it forces him to keep an eye out for me….and not vice versa. Now, I’ve seen one of my dogs take this tactic a little too hard and stick too close to me afterwards, but after 10-15 minutes with encouragement, he’ll start ranging more appropriately. Repeat as necessary.

Pack Mates and Teammates

Of course, if a dog is doing something seriously wrong such as running into a road, chasing down young birds off-season or chasing deer, I’ll employ the e-collar tout de suite until he gets the message.

I had one hard-headed springer that didn’t take the hide-n-seek lesson too seriously, so I made greater efforts to hide from him and he eventually got the message. After all, the dog is not only facing losing his pack mate, but also its source of food and shelter. That’s a big motivation to stick in with the master.

Most of all, I just spend time with my dog and observe him closely, get to know him and how he ticks, and he does the same with me. I adjust my training according to what works best to make us ‘one’ afield. There’s nothing better than when dog and hunter work as one, seamlessly, with little talking, whistles or e-prompts. Often a look or gesture is all that’s needed with a seasoned team to get where we’re going. Such synchronicity strikes an ancient chord for me, as with the dog, a chord first played between man and dog so long ago we’ve forgotten the words, but not the tune. It’s sweet music indeed.

Mark Herwig is editor of the Pheasants Forever Journal and Quail Forever Journal. Email Mark at

Dog of the Day: “Kaiser”

Thursday, October 30th, 2014


“Kaiser” is Theodore Crispino’s 18-month-old Vizsla. Kaiser pointed and Crispino knocked down these roosters on an October 2014, New York pheasant hunt.

Have your own bird dog photo you’d like to share? Email it to Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s online editor, at

Rooster Report: Nebraska Opening Weekend Success

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014


Hunters in several areas of Nebraska enjoyed good success during the opening weekend of Nebraska’s pheasant and quail seasons, Oct. 25-26.

With the number of birds seen up throughout much of the state, prospects for success will improve as hunting conditions improve. Opening weekend temperatures were unseasonably warm and unharvested crop fields gave pheasants ample escape cover. A summary of region reports from the opening weekend:

A conservation officer checked 34 hunters with 22 pheasants and seven quail harvested on the opening day at Twin Oaks WMA. Another officer checked 35 hunters at Peru Bottoms WMA. Hunters contacted at Yankee Hill WMA reported seeing birds and getting several shots. Many birds were seen in the Rainwater Basins in Fillmore County. Staff on WMAs reported good quail numbers and said harvest was twice what it was a year ago.

Hunters averaged about .75 birds-per-hunter in the district. Other than Pressey WMA, where hunters commented on how good the habitat appeared, and Sherman Reservoir WMA, where hunters averaged 1.39 harvested pheasants per hunter, the southwest part of the district had the most birds. South Lincoln, southeast Perkins, north Hayes, Hitchcock, Chase and Dundy counties were the best. Most of the hunters in the southwest part of the district were nonresidents. Hunters on Sacramento-Wilcox WMA averaged .5 to. 75 harvested pheasants-per-hunter on opening day.

While hunting pressure was light throughout the district, an officer working Box Butte County on opening day reported seeing more pheasants than he had seen in 24 years of working the area. He said the 19 hunters he checked averaged nearly two harvested birds per hunter. Pheasant numbers also were excellent in Cheyenne County. Landowners reported seeing more pheasants than they had in many years.

A conservation officer working Dixon County checked 28 hunters with 39 pheasants, with most of that success at Audubon Bend WMA. In addition, numbers of quail seen and in the bag were higher in Nance County than a year ago. An officer working Stanton, Platte and Colfax counties checked 65 hunters with 44 pheasants. Most of that success was at Wilkinson WMA. Hunters in Knox County saw good numbers of birds as 18 hunters were checked with 22 pheasants.

The hunting season for pheasant, quail and partridge is open through Jan. 31.

-Reports and photo via Nebraska Game and Parks

Dogs of the Day: “Willa,” “Libby” & “Scout”

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014


Dana Bradfords Deutsch-Drahthaars, “Willa,” “Libby” and Scout had their pheasant hunting fun in Montana.

Have your own bird dog photo you’d like to share? Email it to Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s online editor, at

Dog of the Day: “Cinder”

Monday, October 27th, 2014


“Cinder” is Lance Smith’s 2-year-old field bred English cocker spaniel. “We flushed these wild birds in central Montana this year,” Smith, of Sequim Wash., says, “Cinder is the dog of all my days.”

Have your own bird dog photo you’d like to share? Email it to Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s online editor, at

Dog of the Day: “Kaiya”

Friday, October 24th, 2014


Kaiya, Kris Chisholm’s Labrador retriever, earned these two longtails in the uplands of North Dakota.

Have your own bird dog photo you’d like to share? Email it to Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s online editor, at

Dog of the Day: “Lexie”

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014


Hudson Mayhew’s 18-month-old English springer spaniel, “Lexie,” is a natural in the pheasant fields.

Have your own bird dog photo you’d like to share? Email it to Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s online editor, at

Dog of the Day: “Cash”

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014


Todd Herrig is a pheasant hunting guide in South Dakota and “Cash,” a Weimaraner, was one of his best. “Cash passed away about a year ago, but she was a good one,” Herrig says.

Have your own bird dog photo you’d like to share? Email it to Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s online editor, at