Archive for the ‘Pheasants’ Category

North Dakota Spring Pheasant Count Tops Last Year

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

TimEisele(CR2007)

Photo credit: Tim Eisele 

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.

Field Notes are compiled by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

Field Report: Despite Heavy Rains, Hopes for Repeat Late Hatch in Southwest Minnesota

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

MnDNR

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

Field Notes are compiled by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

Bird Dogs, Scent and Finding Birds

Friday, April 25th, 2014

ScentCone3

With their incredible noses, bird dogs are easily able to distinguish between different environments and bird species, and different species within the same environment. Photo by Bob St.Pierre / Pheasants Forever 

I spent a number of days this spring running my German shorthaired pointer, Trammell, through woods I know hold timberdoodle on their migration north. It was interesting to watch Trammell navigate the scent determining when to point and when to press. It got me thinking about the incredible ability of a dog’s nose, so I reached out to Bob West of Purina Dog Foods and a professional trainer with 50 years of experience to teach me more about bird dogs and scent.

The Scent Cloud

“Although the bird dog world has referenced it as a ‘scent cone’ for years, scent doesn’t follow a geometric shape. Scent more closely resembles a cloud,” explained West.

West explained that scent does indeed get bigger as it disperses downwind from the source, but the air current, temperature, humidity, and individual animal’s body heat are just some of the factors influencing the path of scent particles.

Scent 1

Bird scent more closely follows in the form of a cloud as opposed to a cone. Photo courtesy Bob West / Purina.

Using smoke bombs to simulate scent, West has observed the unpredictability of these scent clouds. “I’ve watched scent travel in a path similar to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. There are indeed holes in scent that one dog can shoot through and another just a few feet away will encounter.

Temperature & Moisture

The temperature of the environment, the body heat emanating from the bird, and the moisture of your dog’s nose are all critical variables as well. Cool, moist days are better for dogs to locate bird scent. Scent seems to hold tighter to the ground longer under cooler and moister conditions.  Likewise, Bob West’s field trial research indicates before 10AM and after 4PM are the optimal times of day for dogs to locate birds, which generally coincides with the cooler portions of the day.

Moisture is also important in your dog’s nose. A dog’s ability to scent requires the sensory receptors in the pup’s nose being clean and moist. This is one of the reasons abundant water is necessary in the field.

West also believes dogs have the ability to sense, or perceive the body heat of a bird. “Birds are warm blooded animals and I believe our dogs have the ability to determine a bird’s location by using more than just the sense of smell. I believe bird dogs also factor in heat from other animals, as well as disturbed vegetation.”

Hot Spots

The combination of a concentration of scent, disturbed vegetation and the bird’s body heat create “hot spots.” Oftentimes, these hot spots are the cause of a flash point or a flusher’s increased tail motion. It’s perfectly okay for your dog to focus in on these hot spots. The key is for the dog to process the clues mentally and decipher the bird’s subsequent moves forward.

Dog’s Health

A pup needs to be in good physical condition to accurately process scent, heat and disturbed vegetation. “It’s my job to talk about nutrition because of my role at Purina, but it is in fact critically important to your dog’s success in the field. A dog that’s appropriately nourished, well hydrated, and in good physical condition for the rigors of hunting is certainly more able to find birds as well as mentally process scent and clues,” added West.

Bird Identity

I’ve long believed my shorthair had the ability to observe the difference in habitat between the grouse woods and the pheasant fields, then to know what bird she was scenting for during a particular hunt based upon the cover being hunted. What I wasn’t anticipating was that she’d be able to distinguish different species by scent in the same environment, but that’s exactly what happened on a recent hunt club visit when Trammell locked up on a rooster pheasant with a bobwhite quail in her mouth during a retrieve.

West confirmed the photo’s story, “There is no doubt dogs know the difference between species of birds. They also can differentiate between individuals of the same species. For instance, I’ve observed dogs point roosters with a rooster already in their mouth. Dogs definitely know the smells of different species and individual birds being hunted.”

West also went on to explain that dogs do not get desensitized to smell like humans. “If you walk into a room with fresh cut roses, you’ll notice them for the first few minutes but then the ability to distinguish that rose sent fades. That fade doesn’t happen with dogs. Their noses are exponentially better focused than our sense of smell.”

Hunting Dead Birds

West also reports that dogs can tell the difference between a dead bird, crippled bird and a living/healthy bird. So, when you drop a bird in the tall grass that isn’t immediately retrieved, just stop. The worst mistake a hunter can make is barging into that spot and start breaking down that vegetation. “Let your dog work the cover and scent. If that bird has been hit, imagine the scent from broken tissue or a ruptured digestive track. Your dog will find that scent if you don’t tamper with it. Don’t underestimate your dog’s ability to read disturbed vegetative cover too.  They can piece together the puzzle.”

Up Wind, Down Wind, Cross Wind

“Hunt em all,” proclaims West.  “You’ll never encounter a day where hunting up wind will always lead you back to your truck. Dogs are used to hunting through variable wind conditions and these different wind directions can make your dog a better bird finder in the long run.”

Just Add Luck

As we finished off our conversation, I asked West to break down into a percentage how much of a dog’s success was the result of its training/master and how much was the dog’s ability. Here’s how he broke it down for me.

Locating Birds (finding): 30% Human influenced / 70% Dog’s Natural Ability

Handling Birds (pointing, flushing, working a runner): 25% Human influenced / 50% Dog’s Natural Ability & 25% LUCK

“You simply can’t forget about luck,” Bob finished.  “Sometimes all the training and dog power can’t equal a dose of good luck.”

If you’d like to learn more about bird dogs and their scenting abilities, Bob West will be a guest this Saturday morning on FAN Outdoors radio on www.KFAN.com at 6:35 AM Central.

The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s Vice President of Marketing.  Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre and listen to Bob and Billy Hildebrand every Saturday morning on FAN Outdoors radio on KFAN FM100.3.

Five Widespread Myths about Pheasant & Quail Populations

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

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Not only are certain myths about pheasant and quail populations prevalent, belief in them takes the focus away from what really has an impact on sustainable bird numbers – the creation and management of upland habitat. Here’s a closer look at five widely-held beliefs about America’s most popular upland gamebirds.

pheasant-stockingMyth: Stocking pheasants and quail works to restore wild populations.

Busted: During the last half century, there has been a colossal amount of money spent on supplemental stocking programs by state and local governments, sportsman’s groups and private individuals. Countless studies have shown that stocked pheasants, no matter when they are released, have great difficulty maintaining self-sustaining populations. Predators take the main toll, accounting for 90 percent of the deaths; at the same time, predators are conditioned to the idea that pheasants are an easy target.

Pen-raised birds do provide shooting opportunities and are a good way to introduce new hunters to hunting in a controlled situation; they’re also handy for training dogs. But the bottom line is stocking pen-raised pheasants and quail will not effectively increase populations. Only by addressing the root problem that is suppressing populations – the availability and quality of upland habitat – can a long-term positive impact be made on upland bird numbers.

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fox&pheasantMyth: Predators are the main reason there are fewer pheasants and quail.

Busted: Yes, coyotes and fox will eat pheasants and quail, and raccoons and skunks are likely culprits when it comes to raided nests. But predators don’t eat habitat, which is far and away the biggest reason why pheasant populations decline. High annual losses to predators should not be misunderstood to mean that predation is responsible for long-term upland population declines. Landscapes with good habitat often have high numbers of pheasant numbers, as well as high numbers of many potential predators.

The impact of predators is magnified and often pinpointed as the primary problem after habitat conditions deteriorate. Confine pheasants and quail to smaller and smaller parcels of habitat, and a predator’s job gets a whole lot easier. Thankfully, well-designed habitat projects can reduce predation by up to 80 percent. Through the addition and management of habitat, not only does there tend to be a decrease in the impact predators make on existing nests, but more habitat is likely to increase the number of nests and the overall gamebird population. And habitat for pheasants and quail comes at a fraction of the cost of other intensive predator reduction methods that are cost-prohibitive across a large area.

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wild_turkey3Myth: Turkeys eat quail chicks.

Busted: A single Florida study from the 1930s noted an instance of turkeys destroying quail eggs. No biological study since has documented turkeys damaging quail nests or feeding on chicks. Turkey researchers have not found a single quail chick or egg fragment while examining thousands of turkey stomachs. In addition, scientists monitoring quail chicks fitted with radio transmitters and watching quail nests via remote cameras have yet to catch a turkey in the act. Given that literally hundreds of studies of wild turkey food habits and predation on quail have been conducted over the past 80 years, the lack of evidence is remarkable. The conclusion is that turkeys have no direct role in the decline of quail.

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Myth: Hunting is hurting pheasant numbers.

HPIM2293Busted: Extensive research has shown hunting has little-to-no effect on pheasant reproduction and populations. Hens and roosters are easily distinguished in wingshooting situations, and because hens are protected through game regulations, pheasants are actually managed much more conservatively than many other gamebirds. And because roosters are polygamous – that is, they will mate with multiple hens – hunting in effect is only removing a “surplus” of males not absolutely necessary for reproduction the following spring.

Most of a pheasant season’s harvest takes place during the opening weekend, sometimes as much as 50 percent. Additionally, the majority of pheasant hunters are most active during the first two weeks of the season. Considering these factors, liberal, lengthy, roosters-only seasons do not harm populations.

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Cover5Myth: Habitat isn’t the biggest key to healthy pheasant and quail populations.

Busted: Two factors affect upland bird populations above all others: habitat and weather. And while we can’t control the weather, we can influence the amount and quality of upland habitat. Habitat is what supports strong and healthy pheasant and quail populations – one need only look at how pheasant populations rose in the late 1980s, 1990s and 2000s coinciding with increases in Conservation Reserve Program upland acreage, and their subsequent decreases as those acres diminished.  Historically, a lot of money has been spent trying to stock pheasants and to battle predators. Had these dollars been invested in habitat restoration, pheasants, quail and other upland wildlife would’ve benefitted.

Field Notes are compiled by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

Flushing Bars: Simple Devices Save Pheasants in Hayfields

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

FlushingBar

If pheasants are fortunate enough to enter the breeding season in good physical condition, they are not out completely out of harm’s way. As hay lands begin to green up in the spring, they provide a very attractive area for hens seeking a quality nest site. However, these same areas also provide farmers and ranchers with livestock forage. As a result, many hens are incidentally lost due to normal spring haying operations.

But, there is a solution for incidental hen mortality, and the answer is the use of a flushing bar. A flushing bar is a device that typically is mounted on the front of a tractor that precedes the implement being used for haying. A flushing bar creates a disturbance in advance of the implement to allow extra time for the nesting bird to flush to avoid injury or death.

Flushing bars are easy to install, are effective at forcing wildlife out of the path of the mower, and don’t get in the way of production. Research on flushing bars indicates a reduction in mortality of 60 percent in fields of alfalfa or other grass cover that is harvested for livestock forage.

Although the nest is normally destroyed, pheasants are resilient nesters and the majority will re-nest in nearby undisturbed cover. By using a flushing bar, not only will more hens survive the breeding and nesting seasons but many will also go on to successfully hatch a clutch leading to a potential increase in annual bird populations which will possibly lead to subsequent population growth in later years.

Pheasants Forever is piloting the use of flushing bars in South Dakota this year, and landowners are being offered cost-share incentives for the materials to build a custom device. South Dakotans interested in learning more about flushing bars are urged to contact their local Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Biologist, or Mike Blaalid (605) 770-6859 or Mike Stephenson (605) 651-2716.

Find out more about these devices at the Flushing Bar Project.

Field Notes are compiled by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

Six Ingredients for Upland Habitat Project Success

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

This Pheasants Forever-designed habitat project was achieved with some basic planning and decisions based upon what the landowner’s habitat objectives were. Photo courtesy Pete Berthelsen / Pheasants Forever

This Pheasants Forever-designed habitat project was achieved with some basic planning and decisions based upon what the landowner’s habitat objectives were. Photo courtesy Pete Berthelsen / Pheasants Forever

With spring just around the corner, one of the most important times of the year for wildlife habitat is about to start. March and April are when the projects for new or improved wildlife habitat need to be planned, scheduled, ordered and planted.

Just like any agricultural crop, wildlife habitat needs to be approached with planning and attention to detail. By following some key steps, wildlife habitat that produces great results for many years is just around the corner. Whether your objectives are to have habitat for pheasants, quail, grassland songbirds, deer, butterflies, or pollinators, the recipe for success includes six key principles to successful planning:

Establish Your Goals. Different seeding mixtures produce different results. Plan ahead by thinking about what you want to achieve and then design your habitat to achieve those goals. The mixture you plant should be designed for your specific soil type, goals and budget.

More Diversity Equals Better Habitat. The more species you include in your planting mixture, the better wildlife habitat you’ll have. Great habitat projects should be designed and planted with 30 to 60 different species. Including more species in your habitat planting doesn’t have to increase the cost of your project when the mixture is crafted carefully.

Balance Grasses and Wildflowers. If you want to maintain the diversity of your planting, it’s important to design and use a seeding mixture where more than 50 percent of it is made up of wildflowers and legumes. A mixture that is comprised primarily of grasses will out-compete the wildflowers and legumes, becoming a grass-dominated stand in as little as two to four years. For maximum wildlife benefits, use a mixture that is designed to have 75 percent seeding wildflowers and 25 percent grasses.

Main Ingredient is Time. Be prepared for some of the species in your planting to take some time to become established. Some may actually require several years to show up in your planting. With time, you’ll have the diversity of species that will produce the wildlife habitat objectives you sought. Have patience and enjoy the process.

Future Management. To produce great results, you won’t be able to plant something, walk away from it for years and expect it to be great habitat. If you want to produce more wildlife and have benefits for many years, you need to plan on adding some type of management practice to your planting every three to five years. When planned ahead, management activities that produce great results can include prescribed burns, inter-seeding, grazing, chemical application or haying.

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Pete Berthelsen, Pheasants Forever’s Director of Habitat Partnerships

Ask for Help. If you’re looking for assistance in navigating your way, Pheasants Forever biologists are located across the country in partnerships with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and state agencies. These biologists are experts at designing habitat and meeting wildlife objectives, and can help you get started. In addition to helping plan and guide the project, Pheasants Forever may also be able to help obtain your habitat project seeding mixtures and get access to habitat equipment.

The recipe for a successful habitat project is not complicated – it just needs to follow a proven path to success. Now would be a great time to start planning, designing and ordering those key ingredients — the recipe for habitat success.

For information and to order Pheasants Forever’s habitat seed mixes, including our highly diverse pollinator habitat mix, call (563) 926-2357 or email Matt O’Connor at moconnor@pheasantsforever.org. For information and to order food and cover plot mixes, visit www.pheasantsforever.org/seed.  

-Pete Berthelsen is Pheasants Forever’s Director of Habitat Partnerships. He resides in St. Paul, Neb., with his wife, Laura, where they manage more than 160 acres for upland birds and other wildlife.

South Dakota Sets 2014 Pheasant Hunting Season Dates

Friday, March 21st, 2014

South Dakota annually draws upwards of 100,000 nonresident pheasant hunters. Photo by Sam Stukel

South Dakota annually draws upwards of 100,000 nonresident pheasant hunters. Photo by Sam Stukel

The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission finalized the state’s pheasant hunting seasons.

The Commission sets season dates in the early spring to give hunters a chance to plan their fall schedules.

Dates of note for 2014 include:

·         Pheasant: Oct. 18-Jan. 4

·         Youth Pheasant: Oct. 4-8

·         Resident Only Pheasant: Oct. 11-13

Field Notes are compiled by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

Winter Pheasant Habitat Conditions

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

Heavier snowfalls were seen in the Great Lakes region of pheasant country. Photo by Brian Ferguson

The heaviest snowfalls were seen in the Great Lakes region of pheasant country. Photo by Brian Ferguson

Two factors are of critical importance to maintaining healthy pheasant populations: weather and available habitat. While these elements affect pheasants year-round, they’re highlighted annually as the harshest season comes to an end and pheasants begin their next reproductive cycle. A tough winter can certainly result in adult bird mortality, but the real key is getting healthy and strong hens into spring nesting season. Healthy hens lead to larger clutches of eggs, which adds up to more chicks headed toward autumn.

Generally speaking, the winter of 2013-2014 was toughest on pheasants and pheasant habitat in the Great Lakes region where heavy snows and bitter cold made for a long winter that continues despite the calendar turning to spring.  Meanwhile, the Dakotas experienced a relatively mild winter, while the lack of snow accumulation across parts of the Great Plains has biologists concerned, the moisture being needed to restore habitat conditions following three years of drought. Here’s a state-by-state breakdown:

Editor’s Note: Additional states may be added as information becomes available.

Colorado

While other regions of pheasant country experienced too much snowfall, it’s been the exact opposite in Colorado, where the state’s pheasant population has been tremendously suppressed by two years of extreme drought. “This winter has been drier than preferred in terms of the potential to rebuild soil moisture levels necessary to encourage development of this year’s nesting cover, brood cover and survival habitats,” says Ed Gorman, small game manager with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, “Residual nesting cover is very limited after successive drought years, which will likely force hens to nest in annually available habitats.” While pheasant survival has not been reduced by the few winter weather events that have occurred, Gorman says much more moisture is needed to improve the degraded habitat conditions, and a few more winter events, even if severe, would have been welcomed. “Recovery begins with significant precipitation (either rain or snow) that will allow habitat to recover.”

Illinois

Northern Illinois counties (north of I-80) were hit with a lot of snow, some ice and very cold temperatures that kept the snow and ice on the ground for several months, according to Stan McTaggart, agriculture and grassland program manager with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. At first glance, those conditions indicate bad news for upland birds, but McTaggart isn’t rushing to judgment. “Preliminary observations from current research on two Pheasant Habitat Areas are showing surprisingly limited losses so far this winter. The generally good survival of birds in these areas may not be typical of all birds in Illinois as these study areas provide some of the best habitat in the state. Birds in marginal habitat may not have fared as well.” In what hopefully signals a trend going forward, McTaggart notes an uptick in enrollment in Illinois’ State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) program, which helps conserve upland habitat.

Indiana

It’s been a tough winter for birds in Indiana, where the state recorded its sixth coldest winter and a top-three measurement of snowfall across the pheasant range of Indiana, according to N. Budd Veverka, Farmland Game Research Biologist with the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Iowa

Snowfall has been significant in northeast, north-central, and the east-central regions of Iowa, continuing an unprecedented run of snowy winters topping more than 30” of accumulation. History says that doesn’t bode well for the pheasant population, but that’s presuming a wetter-than-normal spring ensues, which is typical after a snowy winter. Areas that didn’t receive as much snow this year included the southwest and west-central regions of Iowa, according to Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Bogenschutz is optimistic that pheasant and quail numbers can improve in the southern half of the state this year, and the best bit of news is once continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) signups begin, 50,000 acres will be available through the Iowa Pheasant Recovery program.

Kansas

Moisture is also the name of the game in Kansas, where precipitation this winter has been normal to below-normal depending on location. “Following three years of extreme drought across most of the state, spring precipitation will be necessary to replenish soil moisture and create adequate conditions for pheasant production,” says Jeff Prendergast, small game specialist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. While late summer 2013 rains improved habitat conditions slightly, winter wheat is important for providing nesting cover in Kansas, and as of last fall, 22 percent of winter wheat was rated poor to very poor, with just 34 percent rated good to excellent. On the habitat front, Prendergast says his department is working to concentrate additional resources into the two recently-established “Pheasant Focus Areas” in the state.

Michigan

Like the other Great Lakes states, Michigan’s pheasants have suffered through a long winter. Pheasants Forever was excited to announce the addition of Bill Vander Zouwen earlier this month as our new regional representative for the state. Vander Zouwen brings 20 years of top level experience as the former wildlife section chief for the Wisconsin DNR.  In his role with Pheasants Forever, Vander Zouwen will be focused on the Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative, which has a goal to reestablish pheasant habitat on key areas across the state.

Minnesota

Serious winter weather arrived early in Minnesota and hasn’t left yet. “This has been an extremely cold winter. Many areas have experienced more than 50 days with minimum air temperatures at or below 0°F,” says Nicole Davros, upland game project leader with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, “Snow drifts have filled all but the largest cattail marshes, so good winter cover has become more limited. Birds are taking advantage of food plots and are utilizing roadsides in areas where the snow has become too deep or crusted over.” Davros notes deep snow didn’t develop until late January, and the deepest snow depths occurred outside the state’s core pheasant range. And within that core range – west-central, southwest, and south-central areas of the state – strong winds helped keep fields open for feeding. While the winter has been tough at times, it pales in comparison to the 58,000 acres of undisturbed grassland habitat lost in the state’s pheasant range. To combat this acreage loss, Minnesota continues to permanently protect habitat through land acquisition via its voter-approved Legacy Amendment. Hunters will be happy to hear the state is also expanding its Walk-in Access (WIA) program from 28 to 35 counties in 2014.

Missouri

Like points further north, Missouri’s winter was characterized by record lows and numerous large snowfall events, says Beth Emmerich, resource scientist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, who adds that because cover and food resources were impacted by the severe weather, she expects birds will be going into breeding condition in relatively poor condition.

Montana

While winter arrived early and a stretch of December included prolonged snow and cold, a warm-up in mid-January melted most of the snow in most of eastern Montana, and there’s been little snowfall since. “The lack of snow cover throughout most of the winter, current habitat conditions and an abundance of food mean pheasants have fared well throughout most of their range,” says Ryan Williamson, Region 6 upland game bird biologist for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks. While no firm prediction about the breeding season can be made yet, Williamson says if the mild winter continues and spring conditions play out favorably, it should be a good breeding season. “We often get late winter and early spring snow events that can delay nesting (as witnessed in the spring of 2011 and a little in 2013) but as of now, the winter shouldn’t have had a huge impact on the birds’ bodies or habitat conditions,” he says. Last year’s favorable weather generated some of the best habitat conditions in Montana in a long time, but while the quality improved, it’s the overall quantity that has upland game managers and hunters concerned. “.  The largest impact right now on the landscape is the huge decrease in CRP acres across the state, particularly across northern Montana (Hi-Line),” Williamson says, “The CRP loss since 2010 is just over 1 million acres for the state, with more than 500,000 acres in the last year (2012-2013). Of those 500,000, almost 330,000 acres were across the Hi-Line.” Like other continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) practices across the country, landowners in Montana were very receptive to the state’s Pheasant and Prairie Pothole State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) programs, enrolling and using up the available allotment quickly and protecting habitat in the process.

Nebraska

The winter in Nebraska has been defined by cold. “There have been periodic snow events across the state, but nothing I would classify as devastating.  I don’t expect a huge impact on pheasants, but it was very cold for long periods of time,” reports Dr. Jeffrey J. Lusk, Upland Game Program Manager with the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission. Nebraska’s pheasant population is still reeling from a double whammy of habitat loss and drought, but Lusk reports the southwest portion of the state – where pheasant abundance has typically been highest – is poised to bounce back provided there’s adequate moisture this spring to promote lush nesting habitat. It’s also in southwest Nebraska where Lusk says the state is looking more closely at a promising wheat-stubble incentive program. “During the drought, most successful hunters in the area reported hunting wheat stubble fields,” Lusk said, adding the study will be extended a few more years.

North Dakota

Winter started out early and extreme in December, but since then, pheasants have been spared from brutal conditions. “A lack of snow has provided many feeding areas, birds are able to feed on uplands, and little stress has been noted in birds because they can get to food,” reports Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor with the North Dakota Game & Fish Department. Snow cover may even be too low in some areas. “The lack of snow cover to date may set the stage for dry conditions throughout many counties in southwest North Dakota that were showing borderline drought conditions late last summer,” Kohn said, noting that snowfall in the state’s pheasant range is about 50 percent below normal. And at the northern edge of pheasant country, North Dakota hasn’t fully escaped winter’s wrath until May. “A big unknown will be weather conditions in this part of the country in the next six weeks,” Kohn says, “Late spring snowstorms can be a real problem with pheasants in March and early April.” While grassland conversion is continuing at a rapid pace in North Dakota, Kohn notes his department is promoting new habitat options for expired/expiring Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands, as the North Dakota Game & Fish Department has received a $1.9 million grant through the state’s Outdoor Heritage Fund to direct toward this effort.

Ohio

Ohio pheasants took a hit this winter, which was a severe period featuring snowfall, long durations of snow cover and extreme cold. “Ohio pheasants undoubtedly struggled to find sufficient food and cover during this severe winter,” reports Mark Wiley, wildlife biologist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, “A typical Ohio winter has intermittent snow cover, which provides pheasants with ample opportunity to forage for waste grain and other seeds on the bare ground. This year, persistent snow cover likely forced pheasants to venture further from shelter in search of food, thereby increasing the risk of predation.” Wiley notes there is a habitat bright spot: More than 10,000 acres in the Ohio Pheasant State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) program will be available as a continuous signup practice as part of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), acres that will only be available within the primary pheasant range in the state.

South Dakota

South Dakota’s pheasant range has received only about 50 percent of its normal snowfall this winter, which is good news for the nation’s largest pheasant population. “Pheasant winter survival is higher when there is minimal snow cover such as this past winter,” says Travis Runia, lead pheasant biologist with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department, “The winter has not been stressful to pheasants this year and we expect that survival was higher than normal. Our population usually increases after winters with below normal snowfall, given nesting conditions are also favorable.” Runia notes a very severe blizzard did occur in the western quarter of South Dakota, which likely resulted in high mortality of pheasants outside their primary range, but in the rest of the state’s cattail sloughs and shelterbelts are providing excellent winter habitat due to the limited snow cover. With hopes turning to a productive breeding season, the state’s Pheasant Habitat Work Group, appointed by Governor Dennis Daugaard, continues its work. “The group is tasked with reviewing the many habitat-related comments received in conjunction with the Governor’s Pheasant Habitat Summit, which was held in December,” Runia says, “The group will deliver a report to the governor with a list of practical solutions to the many threats to pheasant habitat in the state by the summer of 2014.” With fingers crossed for a productive spring nesting season, South Dakota appears set for an autumn pheasant rebound.

Wisconsin

Like their Viking neighbors to the west, “The Dairy State” has suffered through a long and cold winter.  Pheasants Forever was excited by the embrace of the 21,000 people who attended National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic in Milwaukee this past February, demonstrating the state’s enthusiasm for the uplands.  In particular, Pheasants Forever was encouraged by the 136 landowners representing 30,000 acres who visited the Landowner Habitat Help Desk for conservation assistance during the event.

Field Notes are compiled by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

Pheasants Forever Introduces Two New Signature Series Food and Cover Mixes

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

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Food and cover plots fit into almost any wildlife habitat management plan and, let’s face it, they are also really fun to hunt. Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever have expanded the line of Signature Series Food and Cover Mixes to 15 options with the 2014 additions of Cane Madness and White Lightning.

“There is a strong relationship between the location of food, thermal cover and winter survival for upland birds – so food plots are a critical factor in effective wildlife management,” says Jim Wooley, Director of Field Operations for Quail Forever, “Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever Signature Series Food and Cover Mixes target a host of upland wildlife and big game species, and work all over pheasant and quail country.”

cane_MadnessCane Madness - Cane Madness is a phenomenal mix of high-yielding tall cane sorghums. It creates an abundant food source and cover for birds while also providing “screen habitat” for deer. This blend of the heaviest-seeded forage sorghums is designed to provide what matters most for game birds – cover that stands up to winter, and abundant high energy food. This mix enhances the character of existing winter cover when planted next to it, improves survival rates, and insures peak breeding conditions for birds. It can also provide stand-alone winter habitat and food if established in very large plots. A 25 lb. bag of Cane Madness plants 4-5 acres that can be established with standard planters, grain drills or broadcast seeders. Plant each spring at 5-6 lbs/acre when soil temperatures warm to 60 degrees. Matures in 95-110 days.

white_LightningWhite Lightning - This is a prescription blend of white and cream-seeded sorghum proven to attract both deer and upland birds. Simply put, this special mixture of mild-flavored, light-seeded sorghums will provide great food and safe foraging for game birds, and keep local deer happy as well. Plant this mix next to your existing winter cover to enhance its character and to improve survival by minimizing bird movement. A 25 lb. bag of White Lightning plants 4-5 acres. Establish with standard planters, grain drills or broadcast seeders. Plant each spring at 5-6 lbs/acre when soil temperatures warm to 60 degrees. Matures in 95-110 days.?

Field Notes are compiled by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

College PF Member’s Wildlife Art is Just for Kicks

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

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Custom upland art by Pheasants Forever member Nolan Benzing. Photos courtesy Nolan Benzing

No more space on your walls for wildlife prints? Maybe it’s time to start thinking about your feet.

Iowa State University Pheasants Forever chapter member Nolan Benzing is part of the next generation of upland hunters and conservationists, and his artwork is another pin to that balloon filled with the stuffy perception that all things upland are old, tired and tweed.

“I started drawing on shoes as a senior in high school,” Benzing says, “My school had entered a contest sponsored by Vans to create art on four shoes by four different students and the winning school would then win money for their fine arts program. Although we didn’t win that contest, it was really fun to work on something so foreign to me.” Following community college, Benzing, now 21 and a senior at Iowa State, was looking for ways to help finance his pursuit of a degree in Animal Ecology (wildlife emphasis). “One of my buddies convinced me that I should just make a Facebook page and start drawing on shoes and it took off from there.”

Like many professional and amateur artists before him, Benzing is using his artistic talents – which are wide-ranging – to support wildlife habitat conservation. “After sitting through the first couple chapter meetings of the year, I decided I should try to use my talent to create something for our banquet. I’d made some plywood cut-outs of geese this summer while I was working for the local county conservation board and decided I should do something similar with pheasants,” Benzing said, “The sign I created and donated ended up being a great addition to our banquet.  It was a great experience to build as I stayed up late at night working on it thinking about all the great hunts I had shared with my father. I am working on one right now for the Mahaska County Pheasants Forever chapter banquet and hope to continue using my gifts for conservation.”

Benzing created this custom sign and donated it to the Iowa State Pheasants Forever chapter to help the group raise funds at its annual banquet.

Benzing created this custom sign and donated it to the Iowa State Pheasants Forever chapter to help the group raise funds at its annual banquet.

Benzing, who hails from the small central Iowa town of Gilman, has been involved with the Iowa State University Pheasants Forever chapter almost the minute he stepped on campus. “My first day of classes at ISU, I sat near the front row of the vertebrate biology class and it just so happened Brooks VanDerBeek (president of the chapter) sat right next to me. We struck up conversations about hunting and shooting sports. Needless to say we became best buds and he started dragging me to meetings where I quickly began to learn about Pheasants Forever and gained a great deal of respect for the organization,” Benzing says. (VanDerBeek formerly served on Pheasants Forever’s National Youth Leadership Council and was a charter member of Iowa’s Oskaloosa Pioneering Ringnecks Pheasants Forever chapter, the first high school-based Pheasants Forever chapter in the country.)

Nolan Benzing, left, and Brooks VanDerBeek are vice president and president, respectively, of the Iowa State University Pheasants Forever chapter.

Nolan Benzing, left, and Brooks VanDerBeek are vice president and president, respectively, of the Iowa State University Pheasants Forever chapter.

Set to graduate this fall, Benzing is hoping to get a job managing and conserving upland habitat in the Midwest. “I was raised hunting pheasants in central Iowa and would love to play a role in bringing back the high populations I witnessed as a boy,” he says, “Wherever my life takes me, I hope to be an active member of the local Pheasants Forever chapter with the hope that someday my future children will have the same opportunities to appreciate the outdoors as I did.”

Despite his wildlife management focus, Benzing doesn’t plan to pack away the sharpie or the paintbrush just yet, keeping his hobby alive for the enjoyment of family, friends and maybe even the occasional wildlife habitat fundraising opportunity. “Drawing is a passion of mine and, like my desire to pheasant hunt, will stick with me.”

Anthony’s Antics Afield is written by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.