Archive for the ‘Pheasants’ Category
Wednesday, October 15th, 2014
For those who make the annual pilgrimage to the best pheasant hunting destination in the world, most can attest to the phenomenal wingshooting offered on the prairies and grasslands of South Dakota.
Listed in alphabetical order, every single option has the potential to provide a phenomenal hunting trip in South Dakota. And not just pheasants, but sharp-tailed grouse, prairie chickens and Hungarian partridge all provide viable opportunities as well. We invite our readers to share thoughts – what are some other cities, small towns or hole-in-the-wall locations that could make a great destination this fall? Because in South Dakota, there are definitely more than 25…there’s no place like it!
Aberdeen- Home to the Million Dollar Bird, Aberdeen is known worldwide for producing ringnecks. With more than 200,000 acres of public hunting ground accessible, including 24,000 acres of Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (the most CREP acres in the state) walk-in hunting lands, this area of northeast South Dakota is a traveling pheasant hunter’s delight.
Akaska- Looking for seclusion during your hunting trip? The scenery changes to the west of town in the river bluff country. Travel in any direction to find public hunting ground, or hunt the brushy edges offered in this remote part of the state for hunting success. Pheasants and sharp-tailed grouse dominate this landscape in hefty numbers with a 70 percent increase for ringneck numbers from 2013.
Britton- Although added upland habitat losses and bad weather have plagued the area around Britton in north-central South Dakota, pheasants and sharp-tailed grouse can still be found in relatively fair numbers. There is also the added option of traveling to North Dakota during the morning hours can provide more hunting opportunities.
Brookings- Now featuring the new regional headquarters for Pheasants Forever, Brookings can be included in the “Top 25” if you know where to look. The Brookings area has a large quantity of Waterfowl Production Areas acreage within a reasonable distance of town . Thinking about attending college in Brookings? If you have a passion for wildlife habitat conservation, join the South Dakota State University Chapter of Pheasants Forever and take an active role in shaping upland habitat in South Dakota.
Chamberlain- The toughest decision you will need to make in Chamberlain is whether or not to get up early and catch a limit of world-class walleyes before pheasant hunting begins at 10 a.m.! Boasting the South Dakota’s highest pheasant population index for the 2014 season, Chamberlain is an easy destination for a fall getaway.
Eureka- With pockets of pheasants and sharp-tailed grouse available to the savvy hunter, plenty of public land opportunity exists around the city of Eureka. In a city with a population less than 900 people, getting away from the crowds is easy and creates a stress-free environment for hunting.
Fort Thompson/Lower Brule Reservation- Located directly north of Chamberlain, Fort Thompson can be found within tribal lands on the Crow Creek/Lower Brule Reservations. Pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chickens can all be pursued on these areas among food plots, shelterbelts and well-managed CRP fields. The annual pheasant brood survey for Lower Brule Sioux Reservation indicates a huge comeback for ring-necked pheasants. Rebounding from last year’s (2013) unprecedented low population, pheasants have responded to favorable weather and habitat conditions. Total pheasants per mile (6.7) are 415 percent higher compared to 2013 and 32 percent higher compared to the last 10-year-average.
Gettysburg- Located in the heart of pheasant country, and with opportunities available for both pheasants and sharp-tailed grouse. The Missouri River corridor is a short distance away with plenty of public land available to the north and east of town.
Gregory- The city of Gregory is another prong of South Dakota’s famed “Golden Triangle” pheasant hunting region – the area from Gregory to Winner and to Chamberlain. Think about it, would a city have a building-sized statue of a pheasant if it wasn’t a seriously great pheasant hunting destination?
Hecla- Adjacent to the Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Hecla is northeast of Aberdeen and has a great reputation for wing-shooting. Just outside of town, hunters don’t have to venture far to find vast amounts of CREP and Walk-In Areas to chase wily roosters and sharp-tailed grouse during the fall season.
Hoven- Found to the west of Aberdeen, Hoven is a small town with a rich hunting heritage. Plenty of outfitters exist in the area to offer exciting upland hunting. Public access is decent with Walk-In Areas and Waterfowl Productions Areas.
Huron- Offering nearly 125,000 publicly accessible acres within a 60-mile radius of the city, Huron has acquired the name of “Ringneck Nation” for good reason. The local Heartland Region Chapter of Pheasants Forever is an annual stop for nonresident hunters at the Huron Event Center on the eve before the pheasant opener.
Lemmon- Within visual distance of North Dakota on the north side of County Road 19, this city is a staging area to one of the most unique upland bird hunting adventures to be had in South Dakota. Offering a unique mix of pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse and Hungarian partridge, there is plenty of room to roam on 155,000 acres of the Grand River National Grasslands.
Miller- Miller is a small town with a big reputation for hunting. Although less public land exists near town, working with local landowners in the area can produce the hunt of a lifetime for pheasant hunters willing to get to know local landowners.
Mitchell- Hosting the largest Pheasants Forever membership banquet in the U.S., Mitchell is home to the Pheasant County Chapter of Pheasants Forever which holds its annual banquet at the famed Corn Palace. Mitchell is considered a premier pheasant hunting destination and provides access to many other areas in the state for those who are traveling a considerable distance.
Mobridge- Historically ranking as one of the top pheasant producing areas in South Dakota, the city of Mobridge draws roughly half as many hunters as nearby counties to the east. Walworth County features over 50,000 acres of lands accessible for public hunting.
Parkston- Located in the southeastern portion of the state, Hutchinson County now contains a fair amount of publicly accessible land, most of it enrolled in CREP. The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks notes that most of the CREP acres within the county are new contracts of diverse CRP. With this in mind, Hutchinson County should be a pheasant producing area for hunters to target, as well as a relatively short drive for non-residents from Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa.
Pierre- Bordered on two sides by reservation lands and to the south by national grasslands, Pierre showed a 142 percent increase for its pheasant population from 2013. Long known for its outstanding pheasant hunting and picturesque landscapes, a cast-and-blast adventure for walleyes and pheasants during the October season is a tough trip to beat.
Presho- Located in the south-central portion of the state in Lyman County, which boasts some of the highest pheasant numbers found anywhere; Presho lies just off Interstate 90 and is about halfway between Sioux Falls and Rapid City. Prairie grouse are a likely option here, too.
Redfield- Home to the new Spink County Chapter of Pheasants Forever and known for being the “Pheasant Capital of the World,” Redfield is an outstanding location – an easy drive for Minnesota and Wisconsin residents on Highway 212 – and an easy area to circle in your hunting atlas.
Trail City/Standing Rock Reservation- Located within the Standing Rock Reservation, upland bird hunters will find plenty of action chasing pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chickens. Little known by residents and non-residents alike, reservations within the state can offer exceptional outdoor opportunities (note: reservations in South Dakota have their own specific seasons and regulations).
Vivian- Located at the intersection of I-90 and Highway 83 directly west of Chamberlain, pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse and greater prairie chickens await your arrival on the Fort Pierre National Grasslands. If you’re looking for a not-so-casual walk in the field, enjoy all of the 116,000 acres offered at Fort Pierre!
Watertown- Known for its inviting character and historical pheasant numbers, Watertown is working its way back to becoming a top destination in South Dakota for pheasant hunting. Located in a major prairie pothole region of the state, Watertown is surrounded by great winter and nesting cover which can produce a bountiful crop of pheasants given good weather conditions. Stop by the Terry Redlin Museum after your hunt to view some of the greatest wildlife paintings of all time from a man who regularly contributed to Pheasants Forever banquets across the country.
White Lake- Located halfway between Chamberlain and Mitchell, public parcels offer upland hunting opportunities. Waterfowl Production Areas can be found in quantity to the north and south of White Lake. Using your morning hours before the 10 a.m. start, take a trip to Chamberlain and focus on the bluff country bordering the Missouri River for a change of scenery.
Winner- Found in south central South Dakota, Tripp County is known for top-notch pheasant hunting- in past years, the Winner area has ranked #1 in South Dakota for pheasants harvested. Prairie grouse opportunities are also abundant here.
Wednesday, September 10th, 2014
Each year, Pheasants Forever produces a custom engraved, limited-edition Gun of the Year. These collectible works of art are specially produced to support the organization’s habitat conservation mission and can ONLY be found at participating Pheasants Forever chapter banquets.
The 2014 Pheasants Forever Gun of the Year is a Remington 11-87 and features a beautifully engraved receiver capturing Jim Hautman’s 2014 Pheasants Forever Print of the Year, “Busting Out.”
Although we all know a gun is only as good as the person operating it, the Remington Model 11-87 offers the unquestionable reliability and versatility that you would expect from anything carrying the Remington name. Added to this, Pheasants Forever’s special Gun of the Year comes stock with a 28” barrel, 2 ¾” or 3” shell capability, and the distinction of having only 150 produced.
“We are extremely proud to add Pheasants Forever’s exclusive Remington 11-87 to the selection of items chapters use at banquets to raise funds for local conservation efforts,” states John Edstrom, Pheasants Forever’s director of merchandise. “Considering the partnership we have with Remington and the strong reputation of their brand, we are confident this gun will break clays and drop roosters for our members with both speed and style.”
With more than 600 Pheasant Forever chapters hosting banquets nationwide and only 150 guns to go around, don’t miss your shot at owning one of these exclusive collectible shotguns! Ask your local chapter if the custom Pheasants Forever 2014-2015 Gun of the Year – the reliable Remington 11-87 – will be at your upcoming banquet.
Monday, September 8th, 2014
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced today their annual August roadside survey indicated a 6 percent increase in pheasants over last year. The increase comes in spite of the state’s severe winter and very wet spring. In fact, heavy rains hit Minnesota’s pheasant range in mid-June during what is normally the peak of the pheasant hatch.
Pheasants Forever joins the Minnesota DNR in its message that habitat continues to pose the biggest threat to the state’s long-term pheasant population. According to the DNR, the 2014 pheasant index is 58 percent below the 10-year average and 71 percent below the long-term average. Weather and habitat are the two main factors driving pheasant populations. Weather leads to annual fluctuations in roadside indices, while available grassland habitat for nesting and brood-rearing drives the longer-term trends.
Like most states in pheasant country, Minnesota has witnessed a large conversion of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands to row crop production in recent years. In fact, there have been 665,663 acres once enrolled in CRP in Minnesota that have expired from 2007 through 2013. Most of those acres are no longer in grassland habitat, which is largely responsible for the precipitous decline in the state’s bird numbers from a time just a few years ago when the state set pheasant harvest milestones not experienced in some 60 years.
“Minnesota pheasant hunters should be extremely thankful to have the base of permanently protected Wildlife Management and Waterfowl Production Areas we have in this state,” reported Eran Sandquist, Pheasants Forever’s state coordinator for Minnesota. “Add 15,380 acres of habitat improved through the Outdoor Heritage Fund and these permanently protected acres are the foundation upon which we can build up our pheasant numbers.”
Thursday, August 28th, 2014
This year the statewide index is 17.4 birds/route, a 151 percent increase from the 2013 estimate. This year’s statewide count is the highest seen in over 6 years dating back to 2008.
Based on this year’s statewide index, Iowa pheasant hunters are expected to harvest between 200,000 and 300,000 roosters.
Tuesday, August 26th, 2014
The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks has completed the annual pheasant brood survey and the results show a 76 percent increase in the statewide pheasants-per-mile index from 2013: 2014 Pheasant Outlook.
Despite the 76 percent bump this year, South Dakota statewide pheasant numbers are still a long ways from the recent modern highs of the mid-to late 2000s, checking in at 53 percent below the long-term average. The statewide pheasant-per-mile index is similar to 2002 when hunters harvested 1.26 million roosters.
Additional South Dakota pheasant resources:
Monday, August 25th, 2014
The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks just recently completed their annual pheasant count. While the results won’t be available for a couple weeks, from everyone’s observations it appears as though pheasant numbers could be up from last year’s dismal count. If that’s true, that will be good news not only for South Dakota pheasant hunters but also for the countless businesses that benefit from the millions of dollars in revenue the tradition generates annually. Pheasant hunting is a true bellwether of the high quality of life South Dakotans have come to cherish. Supporting the habitat necessary to this time honored tradition benefits all South Dakotans economically, in clean waters and quality of life.
But if there indeed is an increase in pheasant numbers, that good news needs to be tempered. The “pheasant crisis” South Dakota has experienced over the past few years has not been solved. The findings will simply mean that a winter, spring and summer conducive to survival rates for adults and their broods have ticked the pheasant count upward. Next year may bring a far different set of circumstances.
If South Dakota truly wants to increase and stabilize its pheasant population, the issue of declines in pheasant habitat must be addressed. While tough winters and wet springs play a role in population changes, it’s the loss of habitat that’s responsible for the long-term decline of pheasants in the state. This habitat loss is the result of CRP and native prairie conversion, as well as drained wetlands and cattail sloughs. Since 2006, more than 450,000 acres of grasslands and prairies in South Dakota have been converted from wildlife habitat to row crops.
That is why I and many others are so hopeful about the upcoming recommendations of the Governor’s Pheasant Habitat Work Group. The Work Group has a unique opportunity before it to make policy recommendations that will permanently increase and stabilize pheasant populations by addressing the primary problem – habitat. There are dozens of different programs and practices that can be implemented to create higher quality habitat including: CRP, buffers, pollinator plots and cattail sloughs, as well as preserving all the areas that are difficult to farm that often have a lower cost-benefit ratio. There are also opportunities to better manage tremendous existing habitat throughout South Dakota, such as Waterfowl Production Areas, Game Production Areas, school lands, tribal lands and roadside ditches, for wildlife that is already on the ground.
Without addressing the problem of declining habitat, South Dakota will face a future of lower pheasant numbers, punctuated by population crashes as dictated by harsh winters, wet springs and/or drought. The resulting “boom-bust” cycle will not only have a negative effect on South Dakota’s time-honored family tradition of pheasant hunting, it will be devastating to businesses and their employees ranging from motels to restaurants to guide services to sporting goods stores. When populations are healthy, pheasant hunting brings $223 million into South Dakota each year and creates 4,500 jobs.
South Dakota has a unique opportunity to not only significantly improve pheasant habitat for the long-term, it can show that through creative management practices that farming and wildlife can be compatible. It does not have to be an either/or situation. Both industries are vitally important to this state and I believe South Dakota’s inherent can-do attitude will make it possible to have a strong agricultural industry and productive wildlife habitat that will not only produce an abundance of pheasants and other game, but also help assure cleaner water and healthier grasslands.
I am looking forward to seeing the official results of the road count and what I hope will be good news. I am also looking forward to the recommendations of the governor’s task force and the subsequent actions of policy makers that will hopefully help to assure that South Dakota will forever be known as the “Pheasant Capital of the World.”
-Dave Nomsen leads Pheasants Forever’s new Regional Headquarters in Brookings, S.D.
Wednesday, August 13th, 2014
Jim Hautman, a Minnesota wildlife artist and four-time winner of the prestigious Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest, has had his work named as Pheasants Forever’s Print of the Year for the fifth time. “Busting Out,” Pheasants Forever’s 2014-2015 Print of the Year, will be available at Pheasants Forever chapter banquets to help raise funds for upland conservation efforts.
Hautman is thrilled to once again be contributing to Pheasants Forever’s mission. “I was trying to depict the excitement of birds flushing at the end of a field,” explained Hautman. “I wanted the location of the old farm building to suggest that the low area had been farmed in the past, probably during drought years, but has now returned to its natural habitat. This is the kind of area where I’ve had my best pheasant action.”
Since 1984 (two years after Pheasants Forever’s formation), Pheasants Forever has selected an annual Print of the Year – limited-edition prints that local Pheasants Forever chapters have used to raise funds for their area conservation efforts. Artists including Robert Hautman, the late James Meger (a record six Pheasants Forever Print of the Year selections), Rosemary Millette and more have contributed to Pheasants Forever’s wildlife habitat mission as Print of the Year artists.
Wednesday, July 30th, 2014
Nesting conditions were favorable across much of the Midwest this spring, and drought-stricken regions across the Great Plains and the western reaches of pheasant country finally received a respite. Summer brood surveys conducted in July and August will be the best indicator of what upland hunters can expect afield, but in areas with available habitat, overall conditions appear more promising than last season in many states. Pheasants Forever’s annual Pheasants Hunting Forecast will be released in September. To receive it, sign up here.
Quail Forever’s Quail Nesting Habitat Conditions report will be released in early August.
Colorado - While spring call counts were down 44 percent from last year, drought conditions have moderated across much of the state’s core pheasant range, according to Ed Gorman, small game manager with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. “Overall nesting conditions are good, but the spring breeding population is much lower in 2014 than in previous years,” Gorman says, “Conditions range from significantly better to slightly better depending on the specific area.
Idaho – Like many states in the west, a mild winter with subsequent spring rains left Idaho’s upland habitat in excellent shape for nesting upland birds, according to Jeff Knetter, gamebird biologist with the Idaho Fish and Game Department.
Illinois – Mild weather conditions persisted across much of the Illinois pheasant range, but despite the window Mother Nature provided, poor upland habitat conditions continue to plague the state’s pheasant population. “Nesting cover is limited and many areas have too much aesthetic mowing during critical nesting periods,” says Stan McTaggart, Illinois Department of Natural Resources program manager for agriculture and grasslands, “Many of the available grassy areas (i.e. waterways, buffer strips and older CRP plantings) are too thick to provide good nesting cover. Areas that are properly managed have had decent weather to support successful nesting.”
Indiana - Results from Indiana’s spring crow count had just been concluded at publish time and will be included in Pheasants Forever’s annual Pheasant Hunting Forecast in early Sept.
Iowa - Iowa’s unseasonably cold and snowy winter and wet spring is not likely to boost its pheasant population. Pheasants typically show population increases following mild winters with spring that are warmer and dryer than normal. Based on that weather model, the western third of Iowa has the best chance to see an uptick in pheasants due to below average snowfall and less than eight inches of spring rain. The weather model predicts the rest of the state to see either no population increase or fewer birds than last year.
Kansas – Kansas’ 2014 pheasant crowing survey indicated a 7 percent decrease statewide, or very similar numbers to last year, according to Jeff Prendergast, small game biologist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. And while drought led to poor upland habitat conditions early in the spring, precipitation in May began greatly improving nesting and brood-rearing conditions. “Summer rains delayed wheat harvest and created excellent conditions for re-nesting,” Prendergast notes.
Michigan - “I think pheasant numbers are good,” said Al Stewart, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources upland gamebird specialist. “I think they came through the winter better than most people anticipated.” Michigan’s summer brood count will ultimately provide a better indication of this year’s population trend.
Minnesota - For the second consecutive year, Minnesota experienced late-season snowstorms and a wet spring. This was followed by extremely heavy rainfall amounts during June, especially during the first three weeks of the month during which the peak pheasant hatch typically occurs, according Nicole Davros, upland game project leader with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
June 2014 was Minnesota’s wettest June (and wettest month) of modern record, with most areas of the state’s pheasant range receiving more than 8” of rainfall – and some receiving 10”-14”. “Extreme cold paired with heavy rains can significantly reduce chick survival, but it is worth noting that average monthly temperatures were close to normal during June. The near-normal temperatures may have helped reduce the number of young chicks lost due to weather exposure,” Davros said.
Reports of pheasant broods being sighted have trickled in slower than usual. “Young broods were observed even after heavy rainfall events in June which is good news indicating that some young chicks survived the rains. Although hens that successfully hatched chicks and later lost them will not re-nest, any hens that lost their eggs to the heavy rains will have time to re-nest. Overall reports so far indicate that the peak pheasant hatch may be slightly delayed this year. Sportsmen and women might expect to see some fairly young birds in the fields again this fall.”
Montana - Montana pheasants came through winter mostly unscathed thanks to mild weather, and nesting conditions were promising during the prime production period. In fact, last year’s favorable weather generated some of the best habitat conditions in Montana in a long time.
Nebraska - Will be updated soon.
North Dakota - North Dakota’s spring pheasant population index is up slightly from last year, according to the State Game and Fish Department’s 2014 spring crowing count survey. Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor, said the number of roosters heard crowing this spring was up about 6 percent statewide from 2013, with increases ranging from 2 percent in the northwest to 9 percent in the southeast.
Last year, the fall population was down from 2012 because of rather poor production, but Kohn said low winter pheasant mortality, particularly in the southern one-third of the state, helped boost this year’s spring count.
Another positive is that abundant moisture has provided for good habitat conditions heading into the prime nesting period. “Spring weather has been pretty good for nesting/early brood rearing,” Kohn said, “The only possible impact might be heavy rains (2”-6”) in the southwest part of state, the heart of the pheasant range. We’re not sure yet what impacts may have resulted from these heavy that came when chicks were hatching to 10 days old.” Overall, Kohn expected nesting success to be average to above average.
Ohio – the rainy, cool weather in Ohio this nesting season has not been ideal for upland nests or broods.
Oklahoma – Scott Cox, upland game biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, says a few more pheasants are being seen this year compared to this time last year, thanks to decent moisture that broke more than two years of drought. Coming off a season in which hunters harvested nearly 35,000 ringnecks, the improved conditions – forbs and grass height have rebounded – have Cox cautiously optimistic about nesting this year.
Oregon - Coming off a season in which hunters harvested their lowest number of pheasants in the past two decades (19,930 birds), Oregon looks poised for a slight rebound. Winter/spring precipitation during 2014 was still below average but improved over 2013,” says Dave Budeau, upland game bird coordinator with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, “Production is expected to improve over last year.”
South Dakota - Weather conditions were favorable for pheasant production over most of the primary pheasant range from late April through June, reports Travis Runia, South Dakota Game, Fish and Park’s lead pheasant biologist. “Below normal winter snowfall likely resulted in above average overwinter survival of pheasants,” Runia said, “With more hens available for nesting, the potential for an increase in population exists, given favorable nesting conditions.”
Runia says adequate spring moisture and normal temperatures have allowed grasses and forbs to flourish. “Reproductive success should be good in areas where large blocks of nesting habitat remain,” he adds. The major exception was record flooding in extreme southeastern South Dakota. “Areas around Sioux Falls shattered all time June rainfall records, which almost certainly resulted in destroyed nests and reduced survival of pheasant chicks,” Runia says.
Washington - Pheasant hunters here are optimistic about nesting success, as adequate April moisture had cover looking lush, according to Joey McCanna, upland game bird specialist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Wisconsin - The winter of 2013-14 provided some challenges for pheasants across Wisconsin, and conditions in localized areas may have been severe enough to impact survival or bird numbers. “This was a more severe winter than usual across much of Wisconsin’s pheasant range, with bitterly cold temperatures and persistent snow cover,” said Scott Walter, Wisconsin DNR upland wildlife ecologist. Snow persisted into April across much of Wisconsin’s pheasant range, and persistent rain into June may have dampened production. “Whether or not spring weather conditions impacted pheasant production levels will be determined when we see the results of our summer brood surveys, and will really depend upon the timing of heavy rains relative to the peak hatch period. We did have weeks of relatively dry weather in June, and hopefully these provided a window of good survival for pheasant chicks,” added Walter.
Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014
North Dakota’s spring pheasant population index is up slightly from last year, according to the State Game and Fish Department’s 2014 spring crowing count survey.
Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor, said the number of roosters heard crowing this spring was up about 6 percent statewide from 2013, with increases ranging from about 2 to 9 percent depending on the region.
While the spring number is a positive indicator, Kohn said it does not predict what North Dakota’s fall population will look like. Brood surveys, which begin in mid-July and are completed by September, provide a much better estimate of summer pheasant production and what hunters might expect for a fall pheasant population.
Last year, the fall population was down from 2012 because of rather poor production, but Kohn said low winter pheasant mortality, particularly in the southern one-third of the state, helped boost this year’s spring count.
Another positive is that abundant moisture has provided for good habitat conditions heading into the prime nesting period. However, Kohn noted that since 2008, North Dakota has lost more than 2 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program grasslands, much of it in the pheasant range. That means total nesting habitat in the state is significantly reduced from where it was when the spring crowing count index peaked in 2008.
The 2014 index is down about one-third from that peak. “Loss of CRP acres continue to reduce the amount of nesting and brood-rearing habitat on the landscape,” Kohn emphasized. “This and other grassland conversion is going to negatively affect our pheasant population in the future.”
Pheasant crowing counts are conducted each spring throughout North Dakota. Observers drive specified 20-mile routes, stopping at predetermined intervals, and counting the number of pheasant roosters heard crowing over a two-minute period during the stop.
The number of pheasant crows heard is compared to previous years’ data, providing a trend summary.
Tuesday, July 1st, 2014
Heavy rains have fallen in recent weeks in the Marshall, Minn. area. A pheasant destination for resident and nonresident hunters alike, many are wondering how excessive rain totals – more than 20 inches in some areas of southwest Minnesota, and more than 10 in the Marshall area in the month of June – could be affecting the pheasant hatch.
Nick Simonson, president of the Lyon County Pheasants Forever chapter, posed these questions to Nicole Davros, upland game project leader for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources:
Q: In what condition was the pheasant population coming out of the winter months?
A: Our pheasant population made it through winter better than expected, and we had very few reports of winter losses. Although winter 2013-14 brought severe cold and some deep snow, it helped that the cold and snow didn’t come at the same time in the core of our pheasant range (west, southwest, and south-central portions of the state).
The central and east-central portions of our state had it worse as they experienced extreme cold and deep snow for a good portion of the winter. I’ve been hearing roosters crowing off of every corner of every Wildlife Management Area that I’ve visited this spring and summer.
Many of our wildlife managers have reported the same. I’ve taken this as a good indication that our pheasant population made it through winter just fine.
Q: What impact do you anticipate this rainy spring to have had on nesting attempts up to this point for pheasant hens in southwestern Minnesota?
A: We typically start getting reports of broods in late May, but that hasn’t happened this year and we’re instead only now beginning to get a few reports of young broods. Our brood observations to date could be indicative of a delayed hatch, or they could be indicative of reduced chick survival due to the recent rains. If enough hens have been delayed or forced into re-nesting, such that hatching has been delayed, this could end up being a positive as it would mean the peak hatch was offset from the onslaught of rain we had last week. Too much rain in a short period of time, especially when paired with colder temperatures, can lead to reduced chick survival, especially during the first few weeks of growth.
Q: Do you expect mostly eggs to have been destroyed by recent rains, or was there a period where some broods hatched, but were then taken out by spring weather events?
A: It is really hard for us to know the answer to that question. Again – we didn’t have reports of broods in May like usual so this could indicate that the hatch was delayed compared to a “typical” year.
Further, roosters are still crowing like crazy! And we’re not seeing that many hens, which serves as an indication that they are still incubating their clutches or are in deeper cover with their young broods. So I’m willing to speculate the hatch has been delayed based on weather conditions in early spring and based on what we are currently seeing now. Overall, I worry more about the rain affecting young chicks than eggs. Hens are very faithful to their nests. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that they only take one 20-30 minute break throughout the day during incubation, and they most certainly will stay on their eggs to keep them warm and dry during a rainstorm.
The one caveat to my concerns about rain affecting chicks more than eggs is that much of our remaining habitat is on low ground, so the major rainstorms we’ve had may be wiping out those nests on lower ground. And if there is one positive to all this rain, it’s that it hasn’t been paired with too cold of temperatures such that eggs or chicks would’ve gotten too cold.
Q: Last season’s pheasant hunting was saved by a very late hatch. What is the timeframe of the drop-dead latest hatch we can expect in southwestern Minnesota in a given year?
A: I wouldn’t put a date on a “drop-dead latest hatch.” Nothing would surprise me. Hens are known to be persistent re-nesters in that a hen will keep laying a fresh (albeit slightly smaller) clutch if her previous eggs are lost. However, if she successfully hatches a clutch and loses her chicks, she won’t re-nest.
In fact, last fall we had a report of birds that were generously estimated to be 3 weeks old at the start of the early duck season. Backdating with that information, those eggs would have been laid at the very end of July and the chicks would have hatched at the end of August or early September! However, late-hatched birds may have lower survival rates through winter. For example, they may not have enough time to put on fat reserves before an early-season snowstorm hits. They may also have less time to learn their environment than birds hatched earlier in the year, which may also give them a survival disadvantage once the snow hits.
Q: Without a solid hatch, what is your prognosis for the 2014 pheasant hunting season in southwestern Minnesota, based on the variables we have experienced in the past year, up to this point?
A: I’m not yet ready to speculate on how our population will look going into the fall. We’ll just have to wait and see what August brings! I’m less concerned about the timing of the hatch than I am about our habitat conditions. The simple fact is that we’ve lost a lot of CRP. We need to figure out a way to make conservation economically viable for private landowners.
Q: At what point should people be concerned that most hatches failed?
A: A late hatch is better than no hatch!
Even though we saw fewer birds in August during our roadside surveys last year, we speculated that hens were still on nests or under heavier cover with their young broods. And that turned out to be the case as many people were pleasantly surprised at how many birds were available come the pheasant season. Despite a rough opening weekend due to weather conditions, I received many reports that pheasant hunters who kept at it for the entire season were able to get their limits. They worked hard for the birds they got, but the birds were out there!
Overall, I think we need to be more concerned about the loss of habitat that has occurred over the past several years. In 2007, our pheasant harvest peaked at 655,000 roosters – the highest total harvest since 1963! Although this has been partially offset by gains in other cropland retirement acres (CREP, RIM, and WRP) and state- and federally-owned acquisitions, our pheasant harvest has been steadily declining nonetheless. And the worst CRP losses are yet to come. That’s the scary part.
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources