Posts Tagged ‘Nebraska pheasant hunting’
Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013
There’s still plenty of pheasant action to be had in this country, and in this season too.
Last week, I was on the Nebraska-Colorado border with the High Plains Pheasants Forever chapter near Sidney, Nebraska. Chapter president Brad Lines, an enthusiastic hunter and conservationist, suggested I spend an extra morning with him instead of driving home right away to Minnesota. I’d spent the previous day with the chapter for an upcoming story for the Pheasants Forever Journal, PF’s official print magazine.
I thought, well, driving vs. hunting…okay, I’ll hunt. Besides, Brad said, the scenery is beautiful. Right he was. There’s a line of continuous and broken buttes running north and south that, combined with the endless, treeless prairie, cut a pretty picture to this son of the dark northern forest. Some of the buttes ended in steep, dramatic cliffs where one herd of some 20 mule deer scurried toward as we drove by. Brad scored a nice antelope buck near here earlier in the season.
We jumped a few sharptails long on some Nebraska Open Fields and Waters land (private walk-in sites), but missed on a few long shots. Brad, an associate category manager for rod and reels with Sidney-based Cabela’s, then took me to chapter member Brian Sprenger’s CRP project on the Nebraska-Colorado border. The field included a large sorghum/green feed food plot. I had a good feeling about this one.
Brad said this was mainly a sharpie site, with a chance of pheasants too. “Hunter,” my springer, pushed up a few sharpies, but I was bent over looking for tracks. Combined with my ear plugs, I never had a shot by the time I heard Brad calling me out. At drive’s end, we met up to chat.
I noticed Hunter still working the cover, but didn’t take a stance. All of a sudden, he started putting up pheasants left and right. Brad and I each missed roosters before I dropped a slow learner close in.
On the next drive, sharpies, one flock 20-strong, were flushing pretty regularly, albeit most way long. Brad dropped one of the roosters we missed earlier and a sharpie on the way back over his smooth coats “Ava” and “Jade.”
“Joining” us at hunt’s end was Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) Conservation Officer Sean McKeehan, who after checking our licenses, graciously agreed to take our photo, above. NGPC is an important habitat conservation partner with the local chapter and Pheasants Forever.
One last treat: Brad took me to a M.O.N. (middle of nowhere) smoke house, the Hot Spot, just over the border in Peetz, Colorado. While the place was out of half of everything (it was Sunday afternoon), what it did have left was great stuff (pulled pork, ribs and some killer chopped BBQ green beans)! I filled my belly and headed northeast for home, pleased that in a time of declining habitat and bird numbers, there is still some great shooting to be had and must-see places out in pheasant country.
Read about this hunt in its entirety in an upcoming edition of the Pheasants Forever Journal. Not a member? Join today.
Wednesday, October 30th, 2013
“What is your ideal mixed bag hunt?” For me, it’s an easy answer: pheasant and quail in the same field. Nebraska is known for being a mixed bag state, so I’ve been anxiously waiting to get to day three of the Rooster Road Trip, where Nebraska Coordinating Wildlife Biologist Jake Holt tipped us off there had been a good quail hatch.
Unlike many hunting “tips,” Jake was dead on, and the “Cornhusker State” didn’t let us down. In fact, after nearly five days on the road, it brought us up. How did we do?
This was the best day of hunting for the Rooster Road Trip – ever.
Seventeen birds ended up in the bag today. Wild, publicly-accessed pheasants AND wild, publicly-accessed quail.
Our first field was a 30-acre parcel with the perfect amount of diverse cover, which produced a diverse mix of birds. Two munsterlanders, my red setter, and Andrew’s Lab, “Beau,” all hit the ground running. Within the first 100 yards a ringneck busted out of range, but luckily, it wasn’t the only bird. Hens were darting left and right past us.
I let Annie range down the line of hunters and she cast over to Andrew. Even though Andrew owns a Lab, he must have some pointer-owner in him somewhere, because he confidently let Annie work and then called over “Point!” No sooner than he said that, two bobs zipped past our line and our shot. Thankfully, those were only the scouts. Immediately after, a healthy 15-bird covey made the grass shake, and we scratched two down.
“Where we have grass, we have birds,” Holt said.
Pushing the field out, pheasants started flushing like grasshoppers in August. A rooster crossed right-left (my favorite shot), and thanks to well-placed Federal Prairie Storm 4’s, it ended up in the pack. Within 80 yards, we put up another covey of birds, and I dropped a cock bird. So, thirty minutes into hunting Nebraska, I had my first Cornhusker ringneck and bobwhite, a sequence I’ll play over and over again in the off-season. Thanks, Nebraska!
Shooting a Browning Citori 725, I had the opportunity to pick and choose my shells/barrel. Knowing I was officially in mixed bag country, I dropped a 7 steel in the top tube and 4 steel in the bottom. Shortly before the end of the field, I managed to bag my second rooster of the day on another right-left crossing shot (Rooster Road Trip Roadies, do you agree with this shell combo? What would you have used in this situation?).
I wish I could tell you names and other shots taken, but truthfully, there was too much shooting and too many birds to keep it straight! What I can tell you is every field we hunted produced in a big way, and these are areas open to you too. The Open Fields and Waters Program is a joint project of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and Pheasants Forever.
The only thing that topped the hunting today was the company. We were joined today by Nebraska Game and Parks Commissioners Mick Jensen and Lynn Berggren. On the ride over, Commissioner Berggren and I discussed his youth growing up hunting pheasants in Nebraska and how he passed his outdoor tradition on to his children. He mentioned how important pheasant hunting has been and still is to the communities in Nebraska, both culturally and economically, and the positive things that are being done, especially with getting youth involved, to carry on the traditions.
From the dog work, to the pheasant/quail combo to the camaraderie, today will probably be one of the best days afield this season. It’s always a pleasure to share the field with people who share conservation and outdoor ethics, and today was no exception. With the last field pushed and photos wrapped up, the Nebraska commissioners and biologists heartily invited us back for a late season hunt, and after the day we had, there is no doubt we’ll be back.
Annie’s Tracks according to the Garmin Alpha: 9.61 miles
My Tracks: 6.30
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.
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.