Posts Tagged ‘Iowa pheasant hunting’
Thursday, March 20th, 2014
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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’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.
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.
Wednesday, March 19th, 2014
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, 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.)
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.”
Thursday, November 14th, 2013
Baja vom Wamsbach, call name “Baja,” is Mary Standiford’s 16-month-old Kleine (Small) Munsterlander. A German import, Standiford says Baja is a hard-charging pup with tons of prey drive and a beautiful point. Baja worked these Iowa longtails up during a public land pheasant hunt in Iowa. One rooster sailed quite a distance and Baja and Standiford failed to mark it. “I began a grid search with the youngster. We did this for about 15 minutes and I wanted to give up,” Standiford said. But persistence prevailed. “I continued the search, and 25 minutes later our search was rewarded as Baja locked up on point again. Lying in front of her was the bird we were searching for. The feeling was like no other and I encourage everyone to put in the extra time no matter how impossible it may seem.”
Have your own bird dog photo you’d like to share? Email it to Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013
“Just another day at the office,” Luke Hultquist says of pheasant hunting in Iowa with his six-year-old Weimaraner, “Duncan.”
Have your own bird dog photo you’d like to share? Email it to Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor, at email@example.com.
Wednesday, September 18th, 2013
Adam Bolster’s eight-week-old German shorthaired pointer, “Franco,” is holding point on pheasant wing, readying for his first hunting season around Breda, Iowa. “I can’t wait until I get him in the field,” Bolster says.
Have your own bird dog photo you’d like to share? Email it to Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, July 9th, 2013
Lasting effects from the drought have carried into this pheasant nesting season as Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) nesting cover was reduced by last summer’s haying and grazing emergency. And winter wheat, the state’s most important cover for nesting pheasants, was slow to develop this spring due to the cool spring temperatures.
Though breeding populations remain higher than the long-term average in the state, the spring crowing count dropped 31 percent from 2012, according to Ed Gorman, Small Game Manager with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Gorman notes the nesting period appeared to be later than normal this spring, so only time will tell if pheasants will produce prolifically given slightly improved conditions as compared to 2012. Colorado’s proposed 2013-2014 pheasant hunting season is Saturday, November 9 through Friday, January 31, 2014.
Iowa pheasants are struggling to recover from a modern low population point, but on top of continued grassland habitat loss, the weather isn’t doing them any favors.
“This year, unfortunately, we are predicting a decline in bird numbers,” says Todd Bogenschutz, an Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Upland Wildlife Biologist. “Our pheasant population typically shows increases following mild winters and dry, warm springs. This past winter, while starting mild, ended with a vengeance.”
Many bird hunting enthusiasts were hoping a warm, dry spring would offset the snowy winter. Unfortunately this year’s nesting season (April/May) has been record-setting for cold temperatures and rainfall. Statewide, nesting season rainfall was 15.4 inches, and temperatures were 4.1 degrees cooler than normal. Iowa’s pheasant population has never seen a spring this wet since they were established in the state back in the 1920s.
Based on this weather data, Bogenschutz predicts Iowa’s statewide pheasant population will be lower than in 2012. However, Bogenschutz says the DNR’s August roadside survey is the best gauge of what populations are, and that report is available in mid-September.
Progress is being made on habitat for pheasants, says Bogenschutz. Iowa was awarded a new continuous Conservation Reserve Program practice targeted specifically for pheasants. The practice is called Iowa Pheasant Recovery (CP38) and 50,000 acres are available for enrollment statewide.
While other parts of pheasant country are recovering from the drought of 2012, Kansas isn’t one of them. In fact, as of mid-summer, all of western Kanas remained in an extreme-to-exceptional drought.
The drought is taking its toll on the pheasant population, as indicated by hunter harvest numbers. Last year, pheasant hunters bagged about 230,000 birds in the state, the lowest harvest in nearly six decades. And this year’s spring breeding population is extremely low. Spring crow counts were down 37 percent region-wide, according to Jim Pitman, Small Game Coordinator with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
“This is horrific compared to where we were just a few years ago,” says Pitman. “When you’re as low as we are this year, it means you’re pretty much going to have very low populations, even with good production. We just don’t have many birds out there.” Spring crow counts were down 40 percent in northwest Kansas, which still has the best bird numbers in the state. And losing nearly 185,000 CRP acres statewide in the last year was the last thing Kansas pheasants needed.
The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks’ annual brood count will be out in September and will provide a better idea of what the fall pheasant population will look like. The state’s 2013-2014 pheasant hunting season runs Saturday, November 9 through Friday, January 31, 2014.
Late-season snowstorms, a delayed green-up, and wet conditions during spring and summer definitely impacted the pheasant nesting season in Minnesota. “Many hens likely delayed nest initiation due to weather and habitat conditions or had to re-nest due to failed first attempts,” says Nicole Davros, Upland Game Project Leader with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, “The peak hatch normally occurs during June, but recent heavy rains may have decreased survival rates of chicks that did hatch during this timeframe.”
Quality pheasant habitat in Minnesota is at a premium right now, as the state has lost 164,000 CRP acres in the last year. “Conversion of native prairies and field tiling is occurring at a rapid pace across much of Minnesota’s farmland region, especially across the northern and western parts of Minnesota’s pheasant range,” Davros says. And many roadsides have already been mowed this nesting season for hay, further reducing nesting success.
On a bright note, Minnesota has expanded its Walk-in Access (WIA) program to 35 counties in 2013. “The WIA program targets parcels greater than 40 acres in size that are already enrolled in conservation programs such as CRP or Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM), although other high-quality habitats are also considered,” Davros said, adding that in 2013, a $3 WIA validation will be required when using WIAs. The validation will aid in determining WIA participation levels, which will help guide future funding and expansion efforts of the program. Results from Minnesota’s August Roadside Survey are typically available by Labor Day weekend. Minnesota’s 2013-2014 pheasant hunting season runs Saturday, October 12, 2013 through Wednesday, January 1, 2014.
In northeast Montana, spring crow counts were 15 percent above the 10-year average, these numbers certainly boosted by moderate winter conditions that resulted in low overwinter mortality. Spring nesting cover was dramatically improved by prolonged rains in late May and early June, so while early nesting was considered fair to good, conditions for re-nesting and late nests have been fantastic. In southeast Montana, spring crow counts are down 40 percent from last year’s all-time high counts. Carryover from last year’s drought resulted in hardly any residual cover for nesting birds, but early summer moisture events dramatically improved habitat conditions. Poor early nesting conditions combined with exceptional late nesting conditions create an average overall nesting outlook for southeast Montana. Montana’s 2013-2014 pheasant hunting season runs Saturday, October 12 through Wednesday, January 1, 2014.
Coming off an overall mild winter and a spring that helped to replenish some nesting cover following last year’s drought, Jeff Lusk, Jeff Lusk, Upland Game Program Manager, Nebraska Game & Parks Commission, remains optimistic that nesting production will be much improved this year.
That is, of course, where quality habitat remains, as more than 108,000 CRP acres in Nebraska were not re-enrolled in the program in the last year. And Lusk reports there were some regional severe winter weather events that could have adversely affected populations, particularly in areas hit hardest by the drought last summer.
Last year, 35,000 pheasant hunters in Nebraska harvested 120,785 roosters. Nebraska conducts a Rural Mail Carrier Survey in July to give hunters the best idea of what they can expect come open season. Results from that survey are available in August. Nebraska’s 2013-2014 pheasant hunting season runs Saturday, October 26 2013 through Friday, January, 31 2014.
Though North Dakota’s s spring crow count was down 11 percent statewide and 12 percent within its core pheasant range, Stan Kohn, Upland Game Management Supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, says late spring/early summer habitat conditions were excellent, leading him to predict a fair nesting outlook in the northern half of the state and a fair-to-good nesting outlook in the southern half.
Kohn says cool and wet weather in April and May likely caused some nest failures, but that June has been warm and dry so re-nesting efforts should have a chance. And though the early spring rains wreaked havoc on early nests, the moisture improved habitat conditions immensely.
Keeping upland habitat on the landscape in North Dakota remains the greatest challenge, evidenced by the nearly 630,000 CRP acres that weren’t re-enrolled in the program last year. Small but notable habitat success stories are the continuous CRP practices in North Dakota, the State Acres For wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) program and the Duck Nesting Habitat practice, as Kohn says interest in them from producers has been strong.
North Dakota’s walk-in hunting access program will drop by about 50,000 acres this autumn. Results from the state’s August Roadside Survey will be available in mid-September, and the pheasant hunting season opens on Saturday, October 12, 2013 (full season dates not yet determined).
The most telling statistic to come out of South Dakota this year isn’t weather related. “For the first time in two decades, less than 1 million acres of CRP grasslands will be available to nesting pheasants,” says Travis Runia, “The premier nesting cover has helped sustain high pheasant numbers since CRP was established in 1985.”
South Dakota has become ground-zero for accelerated upland habitat loss and Runia points out the conversion of non-CRP grassland (including native grassland) to cropland has exceeded even the CRP conversion rate, further reducing available nesting cover.
On top of this habitat double whammy, South Dakota experienced a very cold and wet spring – including April snowstorms – which is not favorable for pheasant production. “Birds that had initiated nests in late April probably abandoned their nest, and re-nested when spring-like weather finally arrived in May,” Runia said, “The delay in nesting chronology can limit the time pheasants have to re-nest if their first nests are unsuccessful.” Wet conditions and widespread severe thunderstorms extended into June, the period of peak pheasant hatch.
Runia says the rains, though untimely for nesting birds, were needed. “Nesting conditions would have been terrible in 2013 without some moisture to spur growth of cool-season grasses.” And though conditions have not been ideal, reports of pheasant broods at the end of June were coming in. “Pheasants are extremely resilient and are capable of modest reproductive success under poor conditions,” Runia says.
South Dakota’s popular Walk in Area program will again have 231,000 acres within the state’s primary pheasant belt, and the eastern James River CREP walk-in program will add at least 9,000 new acres to hunter accessibility this year. Results from the South Dakota’s annual brood survey are available around Labor Day, and the state’s 2013-2014 pheasant hunting season runs Saturday, October 19, 2013 through Sunday, January 5, 2014.
Friday, May 31st, 2013
Grassland habitat is disappearing at a meteoric pace in the Upper Midwest and Great Plains. In fact, a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences put the loss of grassland habitat in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska at a whopping 1.3 million acres between 2006 and 2011. This dramatically changing landscape is having profound negative effects on pheasants and other wildlife. Pheasants Forever’s list of the 12 most threatened areas in pheasant country brings sorely needed attention to what in modern times is unprecedented habitat loss, and also serves as a call to action for pheasant hunters, conservationists and policy makers to do more to preserve wild places and wildlife across America’s heartland.
“The list of the most threatened areas in pheasant country underscores the importance of the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the current CRP General Sign-Up,” says Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever’s Vice President of Governmental Affairs, “Voluntary conservation programs like CRP provide the bulk of upland habitat in pheasant country. Sustainable farming operations include plans addressing soil, water and wildlife conservation and these farms and ranches support strong rural communities and our nation’s hunting heritage. Pheasants Forever hosted hundreds of landowner meetings regarding CRP in the past two months, and landowners still have until June 14th to visit their local USDA Service Center to learn about options that create win-win situations for their operations and wildlife. And continuous CRP practices which specifically emphasize pheasant and quail habitat are available to landowners in many states on an ongoing basis.”
Dickey County, N.D. This southeast North Dakota county borders South Dakota and is a perennial top-10 county for pheasant harvest in North Dakota. But nowhere is grassland conversion happening as rapidly as it is in the Prairie Pothole Region, and areas around towns well known to pheasant hunters – Oakes and Ellendale – have suffered major CRP losses. “County-wide, we’ve lost 27 percent of our CRP habitat, and just in the last year the number of CRP acres has declined by nearly 14,000,” says Matt Olson, a Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist, “In the next two years another 16,000 acres are up for expiration. This is a great area where we want to make sure there’s always good upland habitat.”
Lyman County, S.D. - Pheasant hunters annually spend $10 million in Lyman County hunting ringnecks in the heart of pheasant country. But the county suffered a net loss of 13,173 CRP acres last year, and another 4,000 CRP acres are set to leave the program in the next two years. “While the county has lots of pastureland, the CRP acres are what provide the best pheasant nesting habitat in Lyman County,” says Matt Morlock, a Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist in South Dakota.
Washington, Marshall and Nemaha Counties, Kans. – This trio of neighboring counties in northeast Kansas has historically been a popular destination for Kansas City metro area upland hunters, but conservation and small grains have taken a backseat to corn and soybean production. Combined, CRP acreage in these counties has declined by nearly 29,000 acres since 2007, a decrease of 34 percent. The habitat horizon is blurry as well, with nearly 20,000 CRP acres set to expire in the next two years. “It’s almost a shame that you can get a hotel room in this area on the pheasant hunting opener, not too long ago it was booked up solid,” says Jordan Martincich, a lifelong Kansas resident and Pheasants Forever’s Development Officer, “We need to work with landowners in these counties to recoup as many CRP acres as possible and keep the upland tradition alive.”
Brown County, S.D. - Brown County has long been the gold standard for pheasant hunters in northeast South Dakota, but no county in the state is set to expire more CRP acres this year (9,136 acres) and next (12,338) than Brown, and this after a net loss of 10,000 CRP acres in the county in the last half decade. Existing upland habitat here is the economic driver for the $16.7 million that resident and nonresident pheasant hunters spend annually in Aberdeen and Brown County.
Carroll County, Iowa – Carroll County’s CRP acreage is down approximately 1,000 acres off its peak, but many of those lost habitat acres were high-quality field and waterway buffers, says Tom Fuller, Pheasants Forever’s Iowa State Coordinator, “This was considered a top-notch pheasant hunting county even a few years ago, but it has taken a big hit, and many winter covering areas that wildlife depended on have been removed from the landscape as well.” In the next two years, another 1,500 CRP acres are slated for program expiration.
Dixon County, Neb. – In 2003, there were nearly 35,000 CRP acres in this northeast Nebraska county, but by 2013 that number had dropped to just 11,876 acres, with nearly all of the exited acres returned to crop production. “Many of these acres were enrolled into the CRP-MAP public access program and provided a significant economic boost to the small towns in the rural county,” says Nebraskan Pete Berthelsen, Pheasants Forever’s Director of Habitat Partnerships. In the next three years, approximately 4,000 more CRP acres expire in Dixon County.
Norton County, Kans. – CRP expirations stabilize in Norton County the next few years, but this follows a period in which one-third of the CRP habitat in the county vanished. “This is a county with a lot of Walk-In Hunting Access, an area capable of providing excellent hunting if the habitat is there” Martincich says, “Pheasants Forever, along with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism, is focusing in on this area to reverse the recent habitat trend.”
Stearns County, Minn. - This central Minnesota location is a popular destination for Minnesota upland hunters, especially from the Twin Cities metro areas just east of it, but it hemorrhaged 50,000 acres of wildlife habitat – mostly grasslands – between 2008 and 2011. Additionally, 5,000-plus more Stearns County CRP acres expire from the program in the next two years.
Sheridan County, Mont. – This northeast Montana area is well-known for the quality pheasant habitat and great pheasant hunting and has been a destination for many hunters. Will it continue to hold that reputation in the future? Conservation Reserve Program acreage has dropped from 156,000-plus acres to just over 111,000 acres and another 17,000 acres leave the program this year. In addition to pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse and Hungarian partridge are upland game birds affected by the habitat loss.
Osceola County, Iowa. – A mix of habitat loss, snowy winters and wet springs has been lethal for Iowa pheasants, but if there’s been a bright spot, it’s been the northwest corner of the state. Even during the modern agricultural boom, CRP acreage in Osceola County has remained steady, actually increasing by a few hundred acres since 2007. However, more than 1,700 county-based CRP lands are set for expiration in the next two years, and the strength of future pheasant numbers could hinge on maintaining current CRP levels.
Codington County, S.D. – The Watertown, South Dakota region has been a popular one in recent times for nonresident hunters traveling from the east, but upland habitat loss has put a severe dent in pheasant numbers here. CRP acreage has nearly been halved, from 29,956 acres in 2007 to 16,318 today, and ringneck numbers have followed suit, with pheasant brood counts in recent years dropping off significantly from the previous 10-year averages. Another 5,700 CRP acres expire in 2013-2014 in Codington County.
Central Nebraska. – The Loess Hills of central Nebraska have always been a prime area for pheasants, quail and prairie chickens. The rolling topography here is a rich mixture of native grasslands interspersed with the draws and plum thickets and grassy draws close to row crops that upland game birds thrive in. Berthelsen says loss of CRP acres coupled with native grassland conversion to row crops is accelerating habitat loss in this region at a significant pace.
Monday, April 29th, 2013
Last year’s list of the 25 Best Pheasant Hunting Towns in America selected locales predominately based in the Midwest where the ringneck is king. Because Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever members hail from all reaches of the United States, from Alabama to Alaska, we’ve assembled this year’s list to include pheasants as well as multiple quail species, prairie grouse and even forest birds. The main criterion was to emphasize areas capable of providing multiple species, along with destinations most-welcoming to bird hunters. In other words, there were bonus points awarded for “mixed bag” opportunities and neon signs “welcoming bird hunters” in this year’s analysis. We also avoided re-listing last year’s 25 towns, so what you now have is a good bucket list of 50 destinations for the traveling wingshooter!
What towns did we miss? Let us know in the comments section.
1. Pierre, South Dakota. This Missouri River town puts you in the heart of pheasant country, but the upland fun doesn’t stop there. In 2011 (the last year numbers were available) approximately 30 roosters per square mile were harvested in Hughes County. Cross the river and head south of Pierre and you’re into the Fort Pierre National Grassland, where sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chickens become the main quarry. In fact, the U.S. Forest Service manages the Fort Pierre National Grassland specifically for these native birds. Just North of Pierre also boasts some of the state’s best gray (Hungarian) partridge numbers as well.
While you’re there: Myril Arch’s Cattleman’s Club Steakhouse goes through an average of 60,000 pounds of aged, choice beef a year, so they must know what they’re doing.
2. Lewistown, Montana. Located in the geographic center of the state, Lewistown is the perfect city to home base a public land upland bird hunt. Fergus County has ring-necked pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse, gray (Hungarian) partridge, as well as sage grouse. You’ll chase these upland birds with stunning buttes and mountain ranges as almost surreal backdrops, and find no shortage of publically accessible land, whether state or federally owned. Two keystone Pheasants Forever wildlife habitat projects are 45 minutes from Lewistown. Located six miles north of Denton, Montana, the 800-acre Coffee Creek BLOCK Management Area is located between a 320-acre parcel and an 880-acre parcel of land – all three areas are open to public hunting. Pheasants Forever also acquired a 1,000 acre parcel known as the Wolf Creek Property, a project which created 14,000 contiguous acres open to public walk-in hunting.
While you’re there: Once the birds have been cleaned and the dog has been fed, head over to the 87 Bar & Grill in Stanford for their house specialty smoked ribs and steaks.
3. Hettinger, North Dakota. Disregard state lines and you can’t tell the difference between southwest North Dakota and the best locales in South Dakota. Hettinger gets the nod in this region because of a few more Private Land Open to Sportsmen (P.L.O.T.S.) areas.
While you’re there: A visit north to the Pheasant Café in Mott seems like a must.
4. Huron, South Dakota. Home to the “World’s Largest Pheasant,” Huron is also home to some darn good pheasant hunting. From state Game Production Areas to federal Waterfowl Production Areas to a mix of walk-in lands, there’s enough public land in the region to never hunt the same area twice on a 5 or 10-day trip, unless of course you find a honey hole.
While you’re there: The Hwy. 14 Roadhouse in nearby Cavour has the type of good, greasy food that goes down guilt free after a long day of pheasant hunting.
5. Valentine, Nebraska. One of the most unique areas in the United States, the nearly 20,000 square mile Nebraska Sandhills region is an outdoor paradise, and Valentine, which rests at the northern edge of the Sandhills, was named one of the best ten wilderness towns and cities by National Geographic Adventure magazine in 2007. Because the Sandhills are 95 percent grassland, it remains one of the most vital areas for greater prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse in the country. Grouse can be found on the 115,000-acre Samuel McKelvie National Forest, and grouse and pheasants may be encountered on the 73,000-acre Valentine National Wildlife Refuge.
While you’re there: Head over to the Peppermill & E. K. Valentine Lounge and devour the Joseph Angus Burger, a finalist in the Nebraska Beef Council’s Best Burger Contest.
6. White Bird, Idaho. Hells Canyon is 8,000 feet of elevation, and at various levels includes pheasants, quail, gray partridge and forest grouse. Show up in shape and plan the right route up and down, and you may encounter many of these species in one day. It’s considered by many wingshooting enthusiasts to be a “hunt of a lifetime.” Nearly 40 percent of Idaho’s Hells Canyon is publically accessible, either through state-owned lands, U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands or U.S. Forest Service lands.
While you’re there: Floats and rafting adventures are popular on the Salmon River, in case your bird hunt also needs to double as a family vacation.
7. Heppner, Oregon. Nestled in the Columbia Basin, within a half-hour drive hunters have the opportunity to harvest pheasants, California quail, Huns, chukar, and in the nearby Blue Mountains, Dusky grouse, ruffed grouse and at least the chance of running into mountain quail. With the exception of the Umatilla National Forest for grouse, the hunting opportunity is mostly on private land in the area, but the state has a number of agreements in the area for private land access through its Open Fields, Upland Cooperative Access Program and Regulated Hunt Areas.
While you’re there: As you scout, make sure to drive from Highway 74, also called the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway, winding south from Interstate 84 through Ione, Lexington and Heppner.
8. Winnemucca, Nevada. Winnemucca claims legendary status as the “Chukar Captial of the Country.” Long seasons (first Saturday in October through January 31), liberal bag limits (daily limit of six; possession limit of 18) and the fact that these birds are found almost exclusively on public land make chukar Nevada’s most popular game bird. The covey birds do well here in the steep, rugged canyons that mirror the original chukar habitat of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the birds’ native countries. Just know the first time you hunt chukar is for fun, the rest of your life is for revenge.
While you’re there: Nearby Orovada, 44 miles to the north of Winnemucca, is known for excellent hunting areas as well as breathtaking views of the Sawtooth Mountains.
9. Albany, Georgia. Buoyed by tradition and cemented with a local culture built upon the local quail plantation economy, Albany has a reputation as the “quail hunting capital of the world” and a citizenry that embraces “Gentleman Bob.”
While you’re there: save an hour for the 60 mile trip South to Thomasville, Georgia where you can visit Kevin’s, a landmark sporting goods retailer devoted to the bird hunter.
10. Milaca, Minnesota. There are places in Minnesota where pheasants can be found in greater abundance, ditto for ruffed grouse. But there are few places where a hunter may encounter both in such close proximity. While pheasants are found primarily on private land here, state Wildlife Management Areas in the region offer a chance at a rare pheasant/grouse double, including the 40,000-acre Mille Laces WMA. The nearby Rum River State Forest provides 40,000 acres to search for forest birds.
While you’re there: For lunch, the Rough-Cut Grill & Bar in Milaca is the place. This isn’t the type of joint with a lighter portion menu, so fill up and plan on walking it all off in the afternoon…before you come back for supper.
11. Sonoita, Arizona. Central in Arizona’s quail triangle – the Patagonia/Sonoita/Elgin tri-city area – the crossroads of U.S. Highways 82 and 83 puts you in the epicenter of Mearns’ quail country, and 90 percent of the world’s Mearns’ hunting takes place in Arizona. Surrounded by scenic mountain ranges, the pups will find the hotels dog friendly, and moderate winter temps extend through the quail hunting season. Sonoita is also close to desert grasslands (scaled quail) and desert scrub (Gambel’s quail). After your Mearns’ hunt in the oak-lined canyons, you can work toward the Triple Crown.
12. Abilene, Kansas. A gateway to the Flint Hills to the north and central Kansas to the west, the two areas in recent years that have produced the best quail hunting in the Sunflower State.
13. Eureka, South Dakota. Legend has it the town’s name stems from the first settler’s reaction to all the pheasants observed in the area – “Eureka!”
14. Wing, North Dakota. Located just northeast of Bismarck, this town’s name is a clear indication of its premiere attraction. While primarily a waterfowler’s paradise, bird hunters looking to keep their boots dry can find pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse and Huns on ample public ground.
15. Redfield, South Dakota. By law, there can only be one officially trademarked “Pheasant Capital of the World” and Redfield is the owner of that distinction . . . and for good reason!
16. Tallahassee, Florida. Home to Tall Timbers, a partner non-profit focused on quail research, this north Florida town is steeped in the quail plantation culture and quail hunting tradition.
17. Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. This fisherman’s paradise also makes for an excellent October launching off point for the bird hunter. Head south toward Fergus Falls to bag your limit of roosters, then jog northeast to find ruffed grouse and timberdoodles amongst thousands of acres of public forest lands. Point straight west and you’ll find prairie chickens in nearby Clay County if you’re lucky enough to pull a Minnesota prairie chicken permit.
18. Park Falls, Wisconsin. For more than 25 years, Park Falls has staked its claim as the “Ruffed Grouse Capital of the World.” It’s more than just proclamation – more than 5,000 acres in the area are intensively managed as ruffed grouse and woodcock habitat.
19. Iron River, Michigan. Four-season recreation is Iron County’s claim to fame, and with the nearby Ottawa National Forest, it’s no coincidence the county bills itself as the woodcock capital of the world.
20. Lander, Wyoming. Wyoming is home to about 54 percent of the greater sage-grouse in the United States, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Wyoming manages millions of publically-accessible acres.
21. Miles City, Montana. Sharp-tailed grouse are well dispersed throughout southeast Montana, and the state boasts the highest daily bag limit – four birds – in the country. Thicker cover along riparian areas also provides chances at ringnecks. Did we mention there are roughly 2.5 million acres of publicly-accessible land in this region?
22. Spirit Lake, Iowa. The many Waterfowl Production Areas and their cattails make northwest Iowa a great late-season pheasant hunting option.
23. Holyoke, Colorado. Lots of Pheasants Forever and state programs – including walk-in areas – are at work in Phillips County which has made the rural, northeast Colorado town of Holyoke the state’s shining upland star.
24. Barstow, California. San Bernardino County is a top quail producer in the state, and the vast Mojave National Preserve is the most popular destination for hunters from throughout southern California, where wingshooters can also find chukar in addition to quail.
25. Anchorage, Alaska. From the regional hub of Anchorage, bird hunters can drive or fly to excellent hunting areas in all directions, which include ptarmigan, ruffed grouse and spruce grouse. To maximize your chances and stay safe here, consider hiring a guide.
Friday, April 12th, 2013
As a wildlife enthusiast who enjoys diverse landscapes, as well as a wingshooter who’s succumbed to the addiction of hunting wild ringnecks, it’s been nothing short of tragic to witness the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) – often referred to as the “holy grail” of conservation programs – withering away the past five years.
If you’re a pheasant hunter and a conservationist, you’ve likely seen these facts before, and even so, they bear repeating. Consider that:
- In prime pheasant habitat, a 4 percent increase in CRP grassland acres was associated with a 22 percent increase in pheasant counts (source: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture).
- In 2006, Pheasants Forever estimated of the then 36 million-plus CRP acres nationwide, 25.5 million constituted in the pheasant range were responsible for producing 13.5 million pheasants annually.
Unfortunately, the U.S. has lost 9.7 million acres of CRP land in just five years and there are now just 27 million CRP acres nationwide. This mass exodus of wildlife habitat has cut right through the heart of pheasant country.
|State||2007 CRP Acreage||2013 CRP Acreage||Percent Decline|
|South Dakota||1.56 million||978,257||37 percent|
|North Dakota||3.39 million||1.79 million||54 percent|
|Kansas||3.26 million||2.37 million||27 percent|
|Minnesota||1.83 million||1.4 million||23 percent|
|Nebraska||1.34 million||895,251||33 percent|
|Iowa||1.97 million||1.53 million||22 percent|
|Montana||3.48 million||2 million||42 percent|
In two states, South Dakota and Nebraska, total CRP acreage has fallen below 1 million acres, a baseline number many biologists and hunters feel is critical to maintaining quality pheasant numbers, as CRP is so essential for pheasant production.
While another 3.3 million acres expire from the program on September 30th, we have the opportunity to cancel out that loss with a four-week general signup for the Conservation Reserve Program that begins May 20. While landowners have trended away from CRP in today’s commodity crop-rich environment, CRP remains the single most effective and widest-ranging upland habitat tool in existence. And to help end the withering, Pheasants Forever strongly urges Congress to pass a new 5-year Farm Bill that includes a strong Conservation Reserve Program.
Tuesday, January 15th, 2013
This past December I visited the Winneshiek County Pheasants Forever chapter in northeast Iowa. We had a great pheasant hunt on public and private lands that the chapter has helped protect for the birds. We hunted one landowner/member’s land that included a bluff considered sacred by the Winnebago native tribe. In fact, he allows native leaders to visit the bluff to perform rituals. We scaled the bluff with two state natural resource officials and found it still covered on one side with native plants off all types – a cultural and wildlife gem, one the chapter is helping protect.
Before visiting the bluff, we hunted this land. My springer, “Hunter,” confirmed my belief in walking slow while pheasant hunting. Hunter isn’t pressured easily to go fast over cover, and again he proved this behavior sovereign. I had just walked, slowly, over some thick cover and, as I often do, noticed Hunter working the grass behind me rather intently. I slowed up, and sure enough, a rooster flushed not 10 feet behind me. I swung and dropped him with one shot. Go slow! Heck, I’ve shot a lot of roosters just when I stop to talk. It freaks them out if you’re close.
Good pheasant hunting is just the beginning of the great life style folks enjoy in this relatively unknown corner of the Hawkeye State.
Decorah, the chapter’s home city, is a bustling little town of over 8,000 with a vibrant downtown. My last night in town I shopped at the local food co-op and cooking store and found some great items. There was also a great holiday parade and a BBQ joint that had just opened a week before. The ribs, smoked onsite, were great.
And Decorah offers more than pheasant hunting. The chapter’s work, and that of many others, has also greatly improved the trout fishing in this area, which wasn’t glaciated like most the Midwest and still has hills, bubbling springs and cold, clear streams full of naturally reproducing trout. We went fly fishing with a local Trout Unlimited leader and caught browns, brook and rainbow trout, several of which I kept and grilled up fresh when I got home to Minnesota.
On your way in or out of Decorah, don’t miss the drive along the Mississippi River from the Minnesota border to Guttenberg. This drive should be on the bucket list of anybody who loves stunning natural beauty and wildlife … the river’s forests, wetlands and islands are loaded with incredible plant and animal diversity.
The last hunt on my stay in Decorah, Winneshiek County PF chapter habitat chair Terry Haindfield decided to go after a rooster that flushed when we pulled up to hunt an hour or so earlier. Hainfield disappeared over a hill in the direction of the rooster about a half mile away. Sure enough, in a few minutes I heard a single shot. As you can see, it was quite a bird!
If you want to read more about this fun hunt and the Winneshiek chapter’s efforts in this bejeweled corner of my birth state, Iowa, stay tuned to upcoming issues of Pheasants Forever Journal.