Posts Tagged ‘Nebraska pheasant hunting’
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 19,000-acre Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge and 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.
Monday, November 5th, 2012
Having had very successful swings in southwest Nebraska the previous couple years, starting off Rooster Road Trip 2012 in the McCook area gave reason for optimism. The two big takeaways? We underestimated the impact of the historic drought on pheasant populations, and thank goodness for bobwhite quail.
There are still pheasants around – we moved at least one bird at every field – but work for our lone rooster we did. The dry weather has left quality cover scarce (and many fields were hayed or grazed under emergency guidelines from the U.S. Department of Ag to help producers) and good scenting conditions for dogs are even scarcer. Throw in the fact that birds are scattered in this second week of the season, there hasn’t been a significant weather game changer, and you’ve got a recipe for a good, old fashioned hard hunt. But when you’re a predominant public lands pheasant hunter, you get used to battling something: the crowds, a foot of snow, insert next factor here. Considering the emphasis Pheasants Forever and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission place on improving habitat in this region, southwest Nebraska is poised for a ringneck rebound once the drought breaks.
While pheasant numbers aren’t what they’ve been the previous couple years, quail in this part of the state appear to have weathered the drought in highly reproductive fashion. The local hunters we talked to corroborated our eye witness reports (and seven public lands bobs in the bag); saying covey numbers seem to be up. Jerrod Burke, the District V Commissioner with Nebraska Game and Parks, and his 14-year-old son, Logan, joined the Rooster Road Trip to highlight Nebraska’s public land hunting opportunities, and the elder Burke says the opportunity for “mixed bags” – including bobwhites and prairie chickens – is one reason this area of Nebraska should remain on the traveling pheasant hunter’s list of places to cut the dogs loose. Burke’s polished Gordon setters, 5-year-old “Abbie” and 9-year-old “Willie,” helped prove his point, holding rock steady on multiple coveys found along brushy crick beds with nearby food sources. These were all public land coveys, and we left plenty of seed for next year.
If you don’t like competing for public hunting spots, southwest Nebraska may be for you – in three consecutive years of hunting in this region, we’ve ran into three other groups of upland hunters. That’s right, three. And this year, we crashed at the brand new, fully furnished cabins the Medicine Creek State Recreation Area, an outright steal at 80 bucks per night, and a great place to grab some quick shuteye before a long drive to Iowa and the second stop for Rooster Road Trip 2012.
Thursday, November 1st, 2012
Drought has been the name of the weather game for most of pheasant country this year, and Nebraska is no different. The state’s summer upland surveys indicated a pheasant population decrease of 15 percent, but noted the decrease, due to dry survey conditions, may not necessarily have been that steep. Read Pheasants Forever’s Nebraska Pheasant Hunting Forecast.
Pheasants Forever has a deep network of biologists in Nebraska stemming from strong partnerships with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. A pair of biologists share on-the-ground reports from what’s typically the top pheasant producing region in Cornhusker Country:
I hunted southwest Nebraska opening weekend. The area has been in stage-four drought since July. There is no doubt the lack of insects, heat and CRP haying operations have taken a toll on pheasant numbers. It seems the average bird-per-hunter was near 1.5 late in the day on Saturday. For local farmers, the fall pheasant population analysis is the number of pheasants flushed per 1/4 section irrigation pivot of corn during harvest. In past years, this number has been in/near the hundred(s). This year? A half dozen.
There is still a considerable amount of corn in the fields in some parts of the region. Many CRP fields have been hayed and/or grazed. Cover is generally shorter and thinner than previous years. However, where high quality habitat is found, there are plenty of birds, including a high proportion of hatch-year birds. Bonus bobwhite quail and prairie chickens are possible for pheasant hunters. Hunters should look for patchy native grass interspersed with wildflowers, weeds and shrub thickets. Tall wheat and milo stubble may also be productive. Hunters can save a lot of time and gas money by scouting Open Fields and Waters Program properties remotely with Google Earth. Those willing to hunt hard and put in the time scouting should be successful.
- Andy Moore, Loess Canyons Coordinating Wildlife Biologist, Quail Forever – North Platte
I would say hunting here in southwest Nebraska was great again in areas with superior habitat. Most groups I talked to had the opportunity to shoot a limit of birds. Although the area is faced with one of our worst droughts ever, hunters were very excited to see birds and thought quail numbers were much higher than expected. My group of four – consisting of family and friends – were pleased to harvest 6 roosters and 13 quail on the morning of pheasant opener this last weekend, hunting primarily good early succession habitat adjacent to cropland. With a little frost on the ground and cool weather, the dogs worked great! Limits weren’t filled, but not due to opportunity!
- Andy Houser, Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist, Pheasants Forever – McCook
Have you been pheasant hunting in Nebraska this year? If so, post your own report in the comments section below.
Friday, October 26th, 2012
New for 2012, Nebraska’s popular Conservation Reserve Program-Management Access Program, or CRP-MAP, has been restructured and transitioned into the state’s Open Fields and Waters Program. More than 275,000 acres are enrolled in the program for Nebraska sportsmen and women this year. Nebraska’s pheasant hunting and quail hunting seasons open Saturday, October 27th.
Despite the restructuring, Pheasants Forever continues to be a major program partner. “Nebraska Pheasants Forever chapters raise money and donate it to the program for making access payments to landowners, habitat incentive contracts for wildlife habitat upgrades, and help pay for the atlas and Coordinating Wildlife Biologist positions,” says Caroline Hinkelman, Coordinating Wildlife Biologist with Pheasants Forever who manages the Open Fields and Waters Program in partnership with the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission.
Hinkelman says because Nebraska expanded its Focus on Pheasants areas, more landowners were able to enroll in the access program because of additional payments for walk-in access and habitat improvement incentive payments. “We lost some areas in the eastern part of the state due to the loss of CRP signups, but we gained acres in the southwest – Focus on Pheasants sites and Small Grain Stubble Management Program – and then some larger access sites in the northwest part of the state,” Hinkelman says.
While new, similar looking Open Fields and Waters Program signs are being phased in, hunters may still encounter a lot of CRP-MAP signs out there, so they’re encouraged to know what both look like.
Open Fields and Waters Program areas can be found using the Nebraska Public Access Atlas, which is also available on the go as free smartphone ap. And Hunters looking for that extra edge can use Google Earth to scout out sites with aerial images.
Friday, August 31st, 2012
1. Buy a License and Use It. While pheasant numbers may not be where they were a half decade ago, there are still birds to be had. Many fair-weather pheasant hunters have chosen not to pursue ringnecks in these leaner years– combined hunter numbers in the top pheasant producing states – South Dakota, North Dakota, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa and Montana – have dropped by 20 percent since 2006. Make their loss your gain.
2. Scouting Is Critical This Year. The drought of 2012 has made its presence felt across most of pheasant country. To help agricultural producers feeling the effects, emergency haying and grazing was allowed on conservation lands and even some public land. Consequently, land you’ve hunted in the past could have undergone a transformation this year and may not hold birds. If there is a positive for bird hunters, this emergency action may condense bird numbers in some places, creating fast and furious action. Bottom line, make a few phone calls or put an extra day on the front end of a trip and get a lay of the land.
3. Hunt September. An appearance at the local trap range before pheasant hunting season should be a given, but why wait until October to chase wild birds? From doves to prairie grouse, most states have September seasons to prime your shoulder, shooting eye and pup for roosters.
4. Hunt the Late Season. The hunting pressure drops off so significantly by December in states like South Dakota that tourism officials are practically begging upland hunters to come out that time of year. A few states, including South Dakota and Kansas, even allow you to purchase licenses that time of year that will carry over into the next hunting season. It will be cold, birds will be cagy, and you and your dog will work harder than you can imagine, but it will be worth it.
5. Dog Checkup. Most vets will tell you the number one problem they see with dogs coming into their office this time of year is out-of-shape dogs. But they can’t tell you anything – good or bad – if you don’t schedule a visit and get a full checkup for your hunting buddy. Your dog(s) do most of the work, so give them some professional attention; they’ll pay it back this autumn.
6. Rotate Dogs. Chances are if you’re traveling to hunt pheasants, multiple people and multiple dogs will be involved. Rather than lining up every hunter and dog army style, consider breaking into smaller groups of two or three with one dog. After an hour or two, rotate that dog out and bring in a fresh replacement. You’ll enjoy focusing on dog work, and enjoy watching – and shooting over – fresh dogs throughout a trip.
7. Try a Silent Hunt. Every preseason pheasant hunting article mentions “going quiet “– not slamming car doors, loading guns quietly – but what about going completely silent? This tactic is best-suited for veteran pheasant hunters with veteran dogs that know the game (and are trained to hand signals), so if you fall into this category, challenge your hunting partners to walk an entire field as if you had duct tape over your mouth. You might be surprised by what you see…and hear.
8. Keep Knee Boots or Hip Waders in Your Vehicle. There’s a good chance you won’t need them, making this a list of only nine useful tips. Of course, on the one day only a crick or shallow slough stands between you and pheasant hunting glory, where do you want to be?
9. Use Pheasants Forever as a Resource. Pheasants Forever’s 2012 Pheasant Hunting Forecast will be released in early September (sign up here to receive it)…Attending a Pheasants Forever banquet helps support upland conservation and is a great way to connect with fellow pheasant hunters (find an autumn Pheasants Forever banquet here)…If you have a youngster interested in hunting, consider a Pheasants Forever Mentor Youth Hunt (Find a Pheasants Forever chapter here).
10. Become a Pheasants Forever Member. Grassland conversion has accelerated rapidly across large swaths of the pheasant range. “What’s hard to watch is to see native prairie being plowed up. It’s happening all across the Dakotas and what little we have left in western Minnesota. I’ve never seen the pressure on the landscape that’s happening right now,” says Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever’s Vice President of Government Affairs. Join Pheasants Forever’s wildlife habitat conservation mission, or if you’re already a member, upgrade your support, and ensure that upland habitat filled with pheasants is a sight that greets hunters for years to come: www.pheasantsforever.org/join
This article appears in “On the Wing,” Pheasants Forever’s monthly eNewsletter. Read more here.
Thursday, May 31st, 2012
While the date may vary slightly from the northern reaches of the pheasant range to its southern fringe, the average pheasant nest incubation start date is May 24th. The peak of the pheasant hatch follows 23 days later on approximately June 15th. The following describes recent pheasant nesting conditions, and was compiled through field reports from state natural resource agency wildlife biologists.
Colorado - Coming into spring, the overall pheasant population in Colorado was strong, and the state’s spring crow count survey should be comparable to last year’s phenomenal showing, says Ed Gorman, Small Game Manager with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. The downside is there was no winter moisture, so while there is good nesting cover, buoyed by green wheat, brood survival could be an issue due to a lack of forbs and broadleaves to generate brood cover and insect production as brood food. Gorman said the silver lining to the significant amount of CRP that’s expired from the program in Colorado is that most is being replaced as winter wheat, which serves as suitable pheasant nesting habitat for Colorado birds in the spring.
Illinois - The mild winter should have led to better pheasant survival, and though much of the pheasant range was abnormally dry in early spring, May rain events brought much of that range back to normal, reports Michael Wefer, Ag and Grassland Wildlife Program Manager with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Wefer added that a warm spring with low-to-normal rainfall bodes well for pheasant nest success where habitat remains. One habitat bright spot is the acreage enrolled in Illinois’ CRP State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement, which accounts for 6,300-plus acres in the pheasant range that are now two years old and close to being fully established as productive upland habitat.
Indiana - A good breeding summer last year and the extremely mild winter of 2011-2012 led to a big increase in Indiana’s spring pheasant crowing count, reports Budd Veverka, Farmland Game Research Biologist with the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife. “Road routes in our primary pheasant range of Benton County exhibited a 127 percent increase over 2011 numbers, and were 88 percent higher than the 10-year average, with more modest increases observed across the rest of the range,” Veverka said. With enough rain to keep things green, Veverka feels good about the prospects of this nesting season. Indiana is also putting more funding toward habitat management at its game bird habitat areas.
Iowa - Barring increased wet and or cold temps through mid-June, Iowa may finally see an increase in bird numbers after five lousy years, reports Todd Bogenschutz, Upland Wildlife Research Biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. In examining recent trends, Bogenshutz says this year is shaping up much like 2003, when Iowa saw a 42 percent increase in its overall pheasant count. The northwest and north-central regions of Iowa had the highest average counts last year and thus are the region’s most likely to have the best rebounding numbers this fall.
Kansas - The state is looking at a decline in its breeding population of pheasants due to the carryover effect of last summer’s extreme drought in western Kansas. “This decline was extreme in southwest and south-central Kansas, and our spring crow counts are showing declines in those areas,” reports Dave Dahlgren, Small Game Specialist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. Spring has brought precipitation to western Kanas, and conditions for nesting hens have been “near perfect” according to Dahlgren. Now attention turns to winter wheat conditions in western Kansas, as the crop serves as nesting habitat for pheasants. “The only concern now is the prospect of an early harvest, which could reduce nest survival at a large landscape scale. Currently the agricultural community is anticipating the wheat harvest to be at least 2 weeks earlier than normal,” Dahlgren said, adding the state could use a little more precipitation to continue the good nesting conditions and create good brooding conditions.
Michigan - The winter was abnormally mild this year and spring came early and has stayed relatively dry so far, reports Ben Wickerham, Pheasants Forever’s Michigan Regional Representative. Anecdotal reports of brood sightings in areas absent of them in recent years are a good sign.
Minnesota – The winter of 2011-12 was one of the mildest on record for Minnesota. “Pheasants were able to use grassland habitat and waste grain in harvested cropland throughout the entire winter, which is very uncommon for Minnesota. Hen survival should have been excellent during the past winter,” reports Kurt Haroldson, Assistant Regional Wildlife Manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Spring weather has been warm and dry, though a recent period of heavy rains and flooding is a concern in some locations. “If favorable weather persists, good progress should be made toward recovery from the previous devastating year (64 percent decline in pheasant counts).” Haroldson notes the significant area of concern is that nearly 300,000 acres of CRP lands will expire from the program this September.
Montana - It’s been a great spring, weather-wise, so far for Montana pheasants, reports Rick Northrup, Habitat Section Supervisor with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, though he notes more reports of former CRP lands in eastern Montana being converted for agricultural use.
Nebraska - According to the state’s April Rural Mail Carrier Survey, the statewide pheasant index was slightly higher in 2012, up 2 percent from 2011. Spring seems to be on an accelerated timetable this year in Nebraska, where there are already reports of pheasants hatching in the southern tier of the state, according to Jeff Lusk, Program Manager for Upland Game for the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission. Spring conditions have been warm and relatively dry leading into what will be the peak hatch period.
North Dakota – A very mild winter allowed North Dakota pheasants to enter spring in excellent shape, says Stan Kohn, Upland Game Management Supervisor with the North Dakota Game & Fish Department. The spring season has continued the trend, with mild rains and good nesting vegetation. Kohn notes that though the spring breeding population is lower than recent years, it is still above average. “If present spring weather conditions remain, pheasant populations will bounce back some, with the southwest probably having the best population this fall,” Kohn says. The major habitat concern is the 840,000 acres of CRP slated to leave the program in North Dakota later this year, with the biggest losses expected in the eastern part of the state.
South Dakota - Over winter survival of pheasants was excellent in South Dakota, reports Travis Runia, Senior Upland Game Biologist with the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks. The mild winter weather trend continued into spring as above normal temperatures and normal precipitation prevailed over much of the pheasant belt. “Adequate moisture existed to prompt good growth of cool season grasses used by nesting pheasants. So far, weather has been favorable for nesting pheasants,” Runia said. Of more concern than the weather is the continued loss of upland nesting cover in “The Pheasant Capital.” “CRP grassland acreage has declined by 400,000 acres since 2007 and 225,000 of the existing 1.1 million acres are scheduled to expire this fall,” Runia said. In addition to the loss of CRP acres, the conversion of grazing lands to cropland has reduced available nesting cover by approximately another 3 million acres since 1985.
Oregon - Conditions in Oregon are shaping up more favorably than the past two years, says Dave Budeau, Upland Game Bird Coordinator with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “This year we had good moisture in March and the first part of April with current May conditions dry and above average temps. If this pattern holds through the peak hatching period over the next few weeks we could be in good shape for upland game bird production,” Budeau says.
Utah – The adult breeding population of pheasants in Utah is holding steady, but the spring has been very hot which could translate into lower nesting success, this according to Jason Robinson, Upland Game Coordinator with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
Wisconsin - One of the state’s mildest winters on record certainly helped pheasant survival – a much needed reprieve from the previous severe winters. Anecdotal reports from state biologists indicate an increase in the number of crowing roosters this spring, including at the state Department of Natural Resources’ Glacial Habitat Restoration Area in east-central Wisconsin, and nesting season weather has been favorable, says Doug Fendry, Pheasants Forever Regional Wildlife Biologist in Wisconsin.
Monday, April 30th, 2012
I always enjoy reading Outdoor Life’s annual list of America’s top hunting & fishing towns. Following is my list of America’s top pheasant towns factoring in area bird counts, annual harvest, acres of accessible public hunting land, local Pheasants Forever chapter activities and available lodging for the traveling bird hunter. It’s by no means scientific, but a fun exercise in day dreaming about next fall. Hopefully you’re lucky enough to live in one of these pheasant country towns, and if not, have the chance to visit often.
These dots on the map are great starting points for autumn pheasant hunting adventures, but this is a conversation starter. If you live in or know of a pheasant hunting town that has yet to be represented, please share it with us in the comments section below!
1. Chamberlain, S.D. For jaw-dropping pheasant numbers, you won’t beat this Missouri River town in south central South Dakota. Part of the famed “Golden Triangle” region (the storied pheasant hunting area from Gregory, Winner to Chamberlain), the pheasant brood counts around Chamberlain have averaged 15.7 birds per mile during the last decade, more than double the statewide average.
2. Bismarck, N.D. Maybe calling Bismarck a “town” is a stretch, but it may be the only population center of 60,000 or more with world-class pheasant hunting just minutes outside of town.
3. McCook, Neb. This southwest Nebraska town boasts a fair amount of lodging. Drive out of town in any direction, and you’ll find plenty of CRP-MAP (Conservation Reserve Program – Managed Access Program) areas. Through the program, the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission, in partnership with PF, pays private landowners to improve their CRP acres for wildlife and open them up for public hunting. Don’t be surprised to bump a covey of quail either. Note: CRP-MAP lands are being restructured and transitioned into Nebraska’s Open Fields and Waters Program.
4. Oakley, Kans. Conveniently located on Interstate 70, which bisects the Sunflower State, getting to Oakley is only the beginning: more than 350,000 acres of publicly accessibly hunting lands, and pheasants, quail and prairie chickens in northwest Kansas awaits.
5. Lewistown, Mont. This agriculture community is located in the geographic center of Montana, where pheasants can be found with buttes and mountain ranges as beautiful backdrops. Travel northwest to hunt the Pheasants Forever Coffee Creek BLOCK Management Area, one of the largest habitat projects in Pheasants Forever’s history.
6. Aberdeen, S.D. Even in pheasant-filled South Dakota, the Aberdeen area in the northeast part of the state stands out as one of the most appealing destinations for public land and outfit-based pheasant hunters. The surrounding area has more than 200,000 acres of public hunting land available. Hunters in Aberdeen’s Brown County averaged 8.5 birds each during the course of the last hunting season.
7. Mott, N.D. Mott bills itself as a pheasant hunting destination, and with good reason. Contrary to rumor, there’s enough Private Land Open to Sportsmen (PLOTS) areas in the area to make a shoe-string budget hunt an option.
8. Sterling, Colo. Eastern Colorado has its own version of a “Golden Triangle” – the state’s best pheasant range from Sterling to Holyoke to Burlington. With proximity to the prime hunting grounds of southwest Nebraska and western Kansas, the traveling bird hunter that’s willing can plan a triple threat trip.
9. Okoboji, Iowa. This tourist destination is a great place to base a freelance pheasant hunt. The 4-county block of Clay, Dickinson, Emmet, and Palo Alto Counties offer more than 40,000 acres of pheasant habitat open to public hunting.
10. Marshall, Minn. Marshall is the ideal jumping off point to hunt four rectangular shaped counties in southwest Minnesota – Lyon, Lincoln, Murray and Pipestone Counties – which offer up some of the best rooster action Minny has to offer. Minnesota’s vast Wildlife Management Area system provides excellent public hunting opportunities in each county.
11. Kimball, Neb. The southern portion of Nebraska’s Panhandle region boasts an abundance of CRP-MAP lands, highlighted by more than 21,000 acres enrolled in Kimball County.
12. Hart, Tex. Believe it or not, the 37-county Texas Panhandle offers some of the best pheasant hunting around. In many of the area’s towns, private landowners offer up blocks of acreage for hunting at relatively nominal fees, some good just for opening weekend, some all season long.
13. Medicine Lake, Mont. Set in the rolling plains of northeastern Montana, between the Missouri River and the Canadian border, you’ll find the Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The 31,700-acre area consists of two separate tracts, and hunting is allowed on designated areas and all Waterfowl Production Areas.
14. Lemmon, S.D. If solitude is the name of your pheasant hunting game, you’ll find it in this modest northwest South Dakota locale, along with opportunities for sharptails and Hungarian partridge. A reasonable drive to the south and west puts you in the Grand River National Grassland, and if you’re up for a two-state trip, a mile to the north you’re in the other Dakota. To give you an idea of its remoteness, there were more resident hunters in Perkins County last year than nonresident hunters.
15. Montevideo, Minn. Getting here puts you a stone’s throw away from the 31,000-acre Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area, which is managed intensely for wildlife and contains more than 2,000 acres of food plots.
16. Russell, Kans. You’ll find pheasants and quail in the heart of the Smoky Hills around the town that Outdoor Life named one of the 35 Best Hunting and Fishing Towns in the U.S.
17. Mobridge, S.D. Another Missouri River town, the Mobridge area boasts historically strong pheasant numbers, while drawing roughly half as many nonresident hunters as its nearby counties to the east.
18. Hays, Kans. Lodging in northwest Kansas is at a premium. Hays is the largest town in the northwest region of the state and serves as a great overnight location with more than 1,000 motel rooms.
19. Mitchell, S.D. The annual Pheasant Country Pheasants Forever chapter banquet on the eve of South Dakota’s general pheasant hunting season opener is held at the famous Corn Palace.
20. Worthington, Minn. Nobles County has more than 30 Wildlife Management Areas, including the Pheasant Run 1 Wildlife Management Area, a 32-acre grassland the was Pheasants Forever’s first land purchase wildlife project.
21. Dodge City, Kans. This famous frontier town serves as the gateway to more than 180,000 acres of publicly accessible land in southwest Kansas.
22. Bend, Oregon. This sportsmen’s paradise rests in the unique landscape of the Columbia Basin, where wild roosters are the progeny of the first-introduced pheasants in the U.S.
23. Le Mars, Iowa. Plymouth County and the northwest corner of Iowa currently provide the best pheasant hunting opportunities in the Hawkeye State.
24. Winner, S.D. Located in the farm and ranch country of south central South Dakota, the Winner area has long been known for its incredible pheasant hunting.
25. Bird City, Kans. The origin of the town’s name actually has nothing to do with pheasant hunting, but it lies in northwest Kansas pheasant country, so it’s worth it.
Thursday, December 29th, 2011
As the pheasant season begins to wind down in the northern reaches of the rooster range, I begin to receive calls from Pheasants Forever members in places like Traverse City, Michigan; Baraboo, Wisconsin and St. Cloud, Minnesota. These callers all draw out their “O’s” and are known to drop an occasional “eh” to the end of their sentences. They also share a common question this time of year, “Where should I travel this January to extend my pheasant hunting season?”
My short answer to that question is to follow the Nebraska/Kansas border from Norton, Kansas and McCook, Nebraska all the way to the Colorado border. The further west you go along that line, the better the bird numbers with decreasing hunter pressure. In Colorado, draw a triangle from Sterling to Holyoke to Burlington. Any of the regions in that three state corridor should produce roosters if you’re riding with good dog power.
My longer answer to the question involves a story you’ve probably heard before centered on habitat loss and harsh weather. Like most states in the last year, this trio of January “hotspots” have suffered through significant habitat loss due to CRP conversion coupled with poor spring reproduction conditions. Additionally, the early winter weather has been brutal. Kansas, for instance, has been hammered with two winter storms already this month leaving more snow on the ground there than we have in Saint Paul, Minnesota outside the PF offices. That’s right; there is more snow on the ground in Kansas than in Minnesota to start 2012.
Season Ends: January 31, 2012
Season Ends: January 31, 2012
Season Ends: January 31, 2012
The other nugget I’d suggest is to get your hand-shaking smile warmed up. There is a lot of public hunting ground in all three of these states, but those acres have been pounded with Danner boots the last few months. During an early December trip to Kansas, a pair of my pheasant hunting partners purchased a county plat book and began knocking on doors to gain permission. Three front steps later, we had access to half a township’s worth of private ground filled with ring-necks.
One final note on gaining permission to hunt private land; all three of those landowners have received notes of our sincerest thanks and a pound of fresh pecans shipped direct to their doorstep at Christmas. Remember, it only takes one idiot to ruin a landowner’s impression of hunters, so do your part to thank them for the habitat they’ve left alongside their crops and show them your appreciation for the access they’ve granted after the hunt. It’s a lot easier to slam the door in your face the next time around after a bad experience.
And after all the seasons are closed, remember to mark your calendars and join the fun for Pheasants Forever’s National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic 2012 in Kansas City on February 17, 18 & 19.
Wednesday, January 19th, 2011
The ring-necked pheasant was introduced to Nebraska in 1911. A new book, Shafer’s Nebraska Pheasant Hunting Almanac, celebrates this “Pheasantennial” year, and will debut at National Pheasant Fest 2011.
Author Lonnie Shafer of Exeter, Nebraska. has hunted pheasants in the state since 1956. Shafer grew up in southeast Nebraska-quail country. In order to hunt pheasants, he, his father, his brother and other hunting friends would head for Nuckolls County on opening day, a three-hour drive from home. “It was those trips that have made me a lifelong pheasant hunter,” Shafer writes. “Dad loved quail hunting and dining on quail. I fell for the ring-necked pheasant…”
Shafer’s Nebraska Pheasant Hunting Almanac marks the Pheasantennial this year, the 100th anniversary of ring-necked pheasants in Nebraska, with a 294-page volume of collected information-historical data, facts, statistics, hunting tips, quotes, photos-compiled by Shafer over the years, including charts for each of Nebraska’s pheasant hunting season from 1927 through the latest season in 2010 and a section devoted to young hunters. It even includes a few recipes.
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and Pheasants Forever both helped to bring the almanac to publication through the advice and assistance of staff and permission to use photos and other material in the book.
Shafer will be on hand to sell and sign copies of the almanac at National Pheasant Fest 2011, Jan. 28-30, at the Qwest Center in Omaha.
The Pheasant Fest Blog is written by Brad Heidel, Pheasants Forever’s Director of Special Event Sales