Posts Tagged ‘pheasant hunting’
Thursday, November 20th, 2014
Almost overnight, pheasants have had to adjust to conditions which turned the season from a warm, Indian-summer-type autumn into what seems to be the dead of winter. Where you were seeing birds two weeks ago – in light grasses along just-harvested fields – is not where they are going to be now.
Thanks to inches of fresh snow (or more in other stretches of pheasant country and a very cold shift in the weather pattern, late season hunting conditions have arrived. So, even though it’s November, you’ll want to shift your tactics to adjust to where the birds are now located and hunt like it’s the end of the season. Using winter strategies now will fill the pouches in your game vest.
The Game Has Changed
It’s not uncommon as the end of the season approaches to have pheasants flush wildly, sometimes over 100 yards away. Having been on the receiving end of the autumn chase has made birds wise. The slightest sound – be it a truck door slamming, a command to a dog, or the crunch of snow underfoot – sends pheasants skyward. Many times, there is nothing a hunter can do about it; that’s just the nature of winter birds.
However, by being as stealthy as possible, you can up the odds in your favor. Start by being ready when you pull up to your hunting spot. Remove the keys from the ignition before opening the door, and be sure the radio is off. When closing vehicle doors, don’t slam them; gently close them and press them shut. Quietly let your hunting buddy out of his kennel, and if you can direct him with hand signals or slight whistles, that will help your chances too. As you begin your pursuit, try to step on soft snow, as opposed to wind-hardened or melted and refrozen snow, which is crunchier and louder underfoot. Even the slight sound of snow can set birds off at a distance. Limit in-field conversations as well – the human voice is a big red panic button for roosters this time of year.
Tromping through Thick Cover
Just as you may add blankets on your bed as winter sets in, pheasants look for cover that will help keep them warm as cold temperatures become the norm and snow accumulations push them from lighter grasses. Brush and willow thickets, along with evergreen trees like spruce, juniper and cedar provide excellent buffers against the wind. With a good amount of grass around the bases and lower limbs, these windrows form perfect pockets where birds can hunker down, and walking these areas can help you identify staging spots for wily winter roosters.
Thick cattails also provide thermal cover, and the snow gives hunters an advantage in locating where the birds are in winter sloughs. Cold weather has not only started to freeze the water in these areas of cover, opening up more space for birds to run through, but it also provides hunters the opportunity to access places that were too waterlogged to walk earlier in the season. It’s a great chance to see what portions of a slough are being used frequently by pheasants, just make sure the ice you’re walking on is solid and provides firm footing, for you and your bird dog!
Eyes on the Ground
By walking the edge of thick cattail cover and keeping an eye out for tracks and wing or tail marks along the perimeter, you’ll know exactly where the birds have been entering or exiting the slough and where to start your dog on the search. Tracking bird movements, thanks to recent snowfall, is a hunter’s greatest advantage at this time of the year. The sign proves birds are around, shows where they are moving and gives insight into the daily habits of the local pheasant population. You’ll want to key in on places where you find a number of tracks and areas where the birds are holing up or scratching for food. From season to season, these areas of cover with super-highways of four-toed tracks will be places to check out on each hunt, whether early in the year or later on.
Ain’t Over ‘Till It’s Over
Just because the weather is colder and the birds are spookier, doesn’t mean hunting is done. Until the last light of the season’s final day, even the wariest rooster can be had with a few modifications to your hunting style, and awareness to pheasants’ seasonal needs. Try these tips to find success as late season hunting takes flight!
Photo credits: David Strandberg (top), Pheasants Forever file photo (middle), Craig Armstrong (bottom)
-Nick Simonson is a freelance outdoor journalist from Marshall, Minn. He also volunteers as the president of the Lyon County Chapter of Pheasants Forever.
Wednesday, November 12th, 2014
One of the reasons I look forward to the Rooster Road Trip every year is because it serves as my own form of a pheasant country survey. I enjoy comparing bird numbers, topography, geographic hunting differences, habitat conditions and access programs. As I reflect on today’s memorable 2014 Rooster Road Trip finale, I can say without qualification that Nebraska’s Open Fields and Waters Program is the country’s best template for opening up private land to public hunting access.
Like all the best ideas, the genesis for Nebraska’s Open Fields concept occurred during a hunting trip in 1996 between Jim Douglas of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and Pete Berthelsen of Pheasants Forever. The next year, the Conservation Reserve Program-Managed Access Program (CRP-MAP) was created to open up private CRP acres for public access, but with a wrinkle unique from other states. CRP-MAP incentivized landowners to improve the habitat on those acres when qualifying for the access payment. The result was an economic carrot for landowners to create higher quality cover.
A few years ago, the Nebraska Game and Parks Department changed the name from CRP-Map to the Open Fields & Waters Program for the purpose of creating access for other forms of public recreation, like fishing. The program has also added a scoring system to incentivize additional habitat practices on private land with higher landowner payments. In other words, the higher quality of habitat and the greater potential for hunter satisfaction on array of species, the bigger the payment available for a landowner.
I’ve focused my pheasant hunting on these acres during every previous visit to Nebraska over the years and this morning was no different. Led by Andy Houser, a Pheasants Forever farm bill wildlife biologist, we released our pointers into the frosty morning breeze blowing into a beautiful stand of bluestem. Two roosters received early warning of our arrival and flushed just out of gun range within minutes of leaving the truck.
A third rooster was not so wise. He rose to the sky off my German shorthaired pointer Trammell’s nose and banked to the left before a load of Prairie Storm 4’s brought him back to the grass. Jerrod Burke, District V Commissioner with Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, handed the rooster to me after his Gordon setter made the retrieve and alerted me to jewelry, a red band, on the bird’s ankle.
Houser explained that biology students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit net the wild roosters during autumn nights prior to hunting season. After capture, a leg band is secured and the bird is released. Then as hunters bag those roosters, researchers are able to determine many things like distribution and life expectancy. After a phone call with the leg band’s number, Houser reported this morning’s banded rooster was indeed captured in this very CRP field earlier this autumn and was born this spring.
Shortly after all photos of the leg band were complete, Burke added a rooster to his own game vest with a smart left to right crossing shot. And later at the far corner of the field, Trammell was able to equal her previous Nebraska retrieving feats by tracking down a rooster I had winged on a far straightaway shot (my nemesis). While our collection of pups and hunters searched the spot the bird “should be,” I watched Trammell on my Garmin Alpha screen as she zipped to my left 60 yards. With trepidation, I watched her get further and further from me. But this was Nebraska and Tram has a history of “delivering the mail” for me here. After a few minutes, I’ll be darned if Pheasants Forever’s Colby Kerber didn’t yell to our collection of hunters “here comes a pup with a bird in her mouth.” As any bird dog loving guy or gal will tell you; that kind of retrieve makes cleaning up the puppy messes, the torn shoes, the begging at the table, and the veterinarian bills all worthwhile.
We worked a total of four Open Fields tracts between a cheeseburger and hot chocolate (with whipped cream, of course) before calling an end to the official 2014 Rooster Road Trip. While there were plenty of roosters still to chase, photos needed uploading and blog posts needed composing. Plus, I submitted Thursday and Friday as vacation days before I left Minnesota. My own personal Rooster Road Trip, without camera or computer, starts tomorrow. Where? A Nebraska Open Fields & Waters parcel of course. I’ll be there at 8AM. I don’t drink much coffee, but grab me a hot chocolate with whipped cream and we’ll turn a couple of dogs loose into the wind together. Safe travels and see you on the Rooster Road!
Follow along to the 2014 Rooster Road Trip at www.RoosterRoadTrip.org and be sure to mention #RRT14 in all your Twitter, Instagram and Facebook posts.
The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s Vice President of Marketing. Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre and listen to Bob and Billy Hildebrand every Saturday morning on FAN Outdoors radio on KFAN FM100.3.
Sunday, November 9th, 2014
- The Messenger Hunters. Anthony, Andrew, Elsa and I are avid bird hunters who have the good fortune of being employed by Pheasants Forever. We are not professional hunters, expert dog trainers or members of any company’s pro staff. Some shots we make, some shots we miss. We’re just like the average pheasant hunter. We are, however, expert communicators of Pheasants Forever’s mission who have set out to tell the story of how membership in Pheasants Forever leads to quality wildlife habitat and publicly accessible hunting lands. Thank you for checking out our videos, photos, blogs and tweets along the way.
- Public Lands Only. All hunting along the trip is done exclusively on lands open to public hunters. Sure we’ve been invited to private honey holes, but that’s not the point of the Rooster Road Trip. Our mission is to demonstrate that anyone with a desire to lace up their Irish Setter boots and follow a good bird dog can find roosters on public land made possible through Pheasants Forever and our partners. Our travels include Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs), Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs), Public Lands Open to Sportsmen (PLOTS), Walk In Hunter Access (WIHA), Open Fields & Waters program, and many other programs turning habitat into opportunity.
- Sponsors Riding Shotgun. Every good road trip requires a trusty navigator to help pay for gas and spin a good yarn when eyes grow windshield-weary. Thanks to Apple Autos, Browning, Garmin, Irish Setter, Zeiss, Leer and Federal Premium Ammunition, we have seven featured sponsors who have contributed generously to our conservation cause in the form of dollars, prize giveaways and gear to review. We also are pleased to have North Dakota Tourism, Explore Minnesota, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism, and Nebraska Game & Parks Commission along as day sponsors.
- Win a Browning Citori. Every person that joins or renews a Pheasants Forever membership through the exclusive Rooster Road Trip membership link will receive a chance on a brand new Browning Citori 725 field 20 gauge over/under shotgun. Additionally, all Rooster Road Trip memberships come with a year’s subscription to the Pheasants Forever Journal, Pheasants Forever vehicle decal and a special gift from Browning.
- Effectively Efficient. One of the facts I’m most proud about as a Pheasants Forever employee is our ability to convert our members’ dollars into our wildlife habitat mission. In fact since the organization’s formation in 1982, Pheasants Forever has been able to turn more than 91 cents of every dollar into more habitat. You’ll also be comforted to know that national charity watchdog, Charity Navigator, also gives us their highest rating.
Jump on in and ride along. There is plenty of room in the truck! Follow the 2014 Rooster Road Trip at www.RoosterRoadTrip.org and be sure to mention #RRT14 in all your Twitter, Instagram and Facebook posts.
The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s Vice President of Marketing. Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre and listen to Bob and Billy Hildebrand every Saturday morning on FAN Outdoors radio on KFAN FM100.3.
Friday, November 7th, 2014
Across much of Colorado’s core pheasant range, the effects of drought were clear and significant in terms of the total population of pheasants. Two successive years of drought have finally given way to above normal precipitation, and pheasant populations across the eastern plains of Colorado are slowly improving.
It is a safe assessment that as weather conditions became nearly optimal in many locations on the eastern plains, pheasant populations are doing better than in 2012 and 2013. Hunters should not expect to see a complete recovery over a single year, as the level of the breeding population impacts recovery in addition to weather and habitat.
Northeast Colorado (Yuma, Phillips, Sedgwick, Logan, Washington, Morgan and SE Weld Counties):
Populations across the region are better than in 2013. During the initial stages of the nesting season, conditions ranged from poor to excellent across the region, suggesting that hunters would be wise to expect that the highest populations will be highly variable and spot specific this year. Beneficial precipitation continued throughout the summer in many areas, providing ample opportunities for unsuccessful hens to re-nest. There are some areas within this area that did not receive ample precipitation in 2014, or were subject to severe and widespread hail storms during the summer period, both of which contribute to the “spotty” nature of the forecast for 2014.
Habitat is in much better shape due to optimum, in some cases record, levels of precipitation that large portions of the area received in 2014. However, it is also apparent that precipitation did not fall equally across this region, leaving some areas relatively dry through the summer period. Also, it is important to note that total CRP acres are declining across the core pheasant range, a trend which will likely continue as many CRP contracts will expire over the next 2 years.
While drought concerns have moderated, fire danger is always a concern. Please be considerate where vehicles are parked. Refrain from smoking while in the field. Similarly, road conditions can deteriorate quickly when precipitation falls making unimproved roads virtually impassable. Also note that WIA sprinkler corners are closed to WIA hunting when the landowner is harvesting the associated crop. This closure is in effect to allow harvesters to work efficiently and to minimize safety concerns for hunters and harvesters. Corners are posted with closure signs in addition to WIA boundary signs. As of November 3, 2014, corn harvest ranges from 30-60 percent complete depending on the area, so hunters should expect to find some standing corn present on the opener.
South Platte River (eastern Morgan, Washington, Logan, Sedgwick):
Bobwhite quail populations remain a question mark for 2014 due to the impacts of higher water during the spring runoff period. Cover will be greatly improved from what hunters observed in 2013, but that will also impact hunting success because in some areas, cover may be too tall and dense to effectively hunt. Landowner reports have been highly variable in 2014, while CPW staff has reported some bobwhite broods and coveys on State Wildlife Areas. Hunter reports from the upcoming opening weekend will provide another clue as to bobwhite numbers in the South Platte corridor in 2014.
East-Central Colorado (Southern Yuma, Kit Carson, Cheyenne, Kiowa Counties):
Pheasant populations should be higher than in 2012 and 2013. Expect similar conditions in the NE portion of Colorado with very site-specific conditions in terms of habitat and pheasant population recovery. While precipitation levels were much improved over the recent past, some areas experienced severe hail storms and populations will be lower in these areas, although the habitat may look very good.
Expect to find drier conditions in Cheyenne County, where conditions have improved but not to the degree that Kit Carson County has. Pheasant densities will increase within the areas that provide sprinkler irrigation fields.
Hunters should note that many areas in WIA in Kiowa County are enrolled primarily for their value for light goose hunting, including some fields that will offer little cover for pheasants and quail.
Extreme Southeast Colorado (Baca & Prowers Counties):
Populations of pheasants were severely impacted by drought from 2010 through the spring of 2013. Conditions have improved this summer to nearly normal precipitation in some areas, but recovery of the habitat and population will require additional years of good conditions. Even so, CPW observed a fair number of quail broods this fall. Expect that pheasant populations will be low across the area, although a bit higher in areas with sprinkler irrigation systems.
Some late hatches of quail have been observed, although both bobwhites and scaled quail breeding populations were reduced by the severe 2010-2013 drought. The general feeling is that quail populations are improving but not yet recovered from the recent drought, with some areas that will be better in terms of habitat and population.
-Info and photo provided by Colorado Parks & Wildlife
Tuesday, October 28th, 2014
Hunters in several areas of Nebraska enjoyed good success during the opening weekend of Nebraska’s pheasant and quail seasons, Oct. 25-26.
With the number of birds seen up throughout much of the state, prospects for success will improve as hunting conditions improve. Opening weekend temperatures were unseasonably warm and unharvested crop fields gave pheasants ample escape cover. A summary of region reports from the opening weekend:
A conservation officer checked 34 hunters with 22 pheasants and seven quail harvested on the opening day at Twin Oaks WMA. Another officer checked 35 hunters at Peru Bottoms WMA. Hunters contacted at Yankee Hill WMA reported seeing birds and getting several shots. Many birds were seen in the Rainwater Basins in Fillmore County. Staff on WMAs reported good quail numbers and said harvest was twice what it was a year ago.
Hunters averaged about .75 birds-per-hunter in the district. Other than Pressey WMA, where hunters commented on how good the habitat appeared, and Sherman Reservoir WMA, where hunters averaged 1.39 harvested pheasants per hunter, the southwest part of the district had the most birds. South Lincoln, southeast Perkins, north Hayes, Hitchcock, Chase and Dundy counties were the best. Most of the hunters in the southwest part of the district were nonresidents. Hunters on Sacramento-Wilcox WMA averaged .5 to. 75 harvested pheasants-per-hunter on opening day.
While hunting pressure was light throughout the district, an officer working Box Butte County on opening day reported seeing more pheasants than he had seen in 24 years of working the area. He said the 19 hunters he checked averaged nearly two harvested birds per hunter. Pheasant numbers also were excellent in Cheyenne County. Landowners reported seeing more pheasants than they had in many years.
A conservation officer working Dixon County checked 28 hunters with 39 pheasants, with most of that success at Audubon Bend WMA. In addition, numbers of quail seen and in the bag were higher in Nance County than a year ago. An officer working Stanton, Platte and Colfax counties checked 65 hunters with 44 pheasants. Most of that success was at Wilkinson WMA. Hunters in Knox County saw good numbers of birds as 18 hunters were checked with 22 pheasants.
The hunting season for pheasant, quail and partridge is open through Jan. 31.
-Reports and photo via Nebraska Game and Parks
Wednesday, October 15th, 2014
For those who make the annual pilgrimage to the best pheasant hunting destination in the world, most can attest to the phenomenal wingshooting offered on the prairies and grasslands of South Dakota.
Listed in alphabetical order, every single option has the potential to provide a phenomenal hunting trip in South Dakota. And not just pheasants, but sharp-tailed grouse, prairie chickens and Hungarian partridge all provide viable opportunities as well. We invite our readers to share thoughts – what are some other cities, small towns or hole-in-the-wall locations that could make a great destination this fall? Because in South Dakota, there are definitely more than 25…there’s no place like it!
Aberdeen- Home to the Million Dollar Bird, Aberdeen is known worldwide for producing ringnecks. With more than 200,000 acres of public hunting ground accessible, including 24,000 acres of Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (the most CREP acres in the state) walk-in hunting lands, this area of northeast South Dakota is a traveling pheasant hunter’s delight.
Akaska- Looking for seclusion during your hunting trip? The scenery changes to the west of town in the river bluff country. Travel in any direction to find public hunting ground, or hunt the brushy edges offered in this remote part of the state for hunting success. Pheasants and sharp-tailed grouse dominate this landscape in hefty numbers with a 70 percent increase for ringneck numbers from 2013.
Britton- Although added upland habitat losses and bad weather have plagued the area around Britton in north-central South Dakota, pheasants and sharp-tailed grouse can still be found in relatively fair numbers. There is also the added option of traveling to North Dakota during the morning hours to provide more hunting opportunities.
Brookings- Now featuring the new regional headquarters for Pheasants Forever, Brookings can be included in the “Top 25” if you know where to look. The Brookings area has a large quantity of Waterfowl Production Areas acreage within a reasonable distance of town . Thinking about attending college in Brookings? If you have a passion for wildlife habitat conservation, join the South Dakota State University Chapter of Pheasants Forever and take an active role in shaping upland habitat in South Dakota.
Chamberlain- The toughest decision you will need to make in Chamberlain is whether or not to get up early and catch a limit of world-class walleyes before pheasant hunting begins at 10 a.m.! Boasting the South Dakota’s highest pheasant population index for the 2014 season, Chamberlain is an easy destination for a fall getaway.
Eureka- With pockets of pheasants and sharp-tailed grouse available to the savvy hunter, plenty of public land opportunity exists around the city of Eureka. In a city with a population less than 900 people, getting away from the crowds is easy and creates a stress-free environment for hunting.
Fort Thompson/Lower Brule Reservation- Located directly north of Chamberlain, Fort Thompson can be found within tribal lands on the Crow Creek/Lower Brule Reservations. Pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chickens can all be pursued on these areas among food plots, shelterbelts and well-managed CRP fields. The annual pheasant brood survey for Lower Brule Sioux Reservation indicates a huge comeback for ring-necked pheasants. Rebounding from last year’s (2013) unprecedented low population, pheasants have responded to favorable weather and habitat conditions. Total pheasants per mile (6.7) are 415 percent higher compared to 2013 and 32 percent higher compared to the last 10-year-average.
Gettysburg- Located in the heart of pheasant country, and with opportunities available for both pheasants and sharp-tailed grouse. The Missouri River corridor is a short distance away with plenty of public land available to the north and east of town.
Gregory- The city of Gregory is another prong of South Dakota’s famed “Golden Triangle” pheasant hunting region – the area from Gregory to Winner and to Chamberlain. Think about it, would a city have a building-sized statue of a pheasant if it wasn’t a seriously great pheasant hunting destination?
Hecla- Adjacent to the Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Hecla is northeast of Aberdeen and has a great reputation for wing-shooting. Just outside of town, hunters don’t have to venture far to find vast amounts of CREP and Walk-In Areas to chase wily roosters and sharp-tailed grouse during the fall season.
Hoven- Found to the west of Aberdeen, Hoven is a small town with a rich hunting heritage. Plenty of outfitters exist in the area to offer exciting upland hunting. Public access is decent with Walk-In Areas and Waterfowl Productions Areas.
Huron- Offering nearly 125,000 publicly accessible acres within a 60-mile radius of the city, Huron has acquired the name of “Ringneck Nation” for good reason. The local Heartland Region Chapter of Pheasants Forever is an annual stop for nonresident hunters at the Huron Event Center on the eve before the pheasant opener.
Lemmon- Within visual distance of North Dakota on the north side of County Road 19, this city is a staging area to one of the most unique upland bird hunting adventures to be had in South Dakota. Offering a unique mix of pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse and Hungarian partridge, there is plenty of room to roam on 155,000 acres of the Grand River National Grasslands.
Miller- Miller is a small town with a big reputation for hunting. Although less public land exists near town, working with local landowners in the area can produce the hunt of a lifetime for pheasant hunters willing to get to know local landowners.
Mitchell- Hosting the largest Pheasants Forever membership banquet in the U.S., Mitchell is home to the Pheasant County Chapter of Pheasants Forever which holds its annual banquet at the famed Corn Palace. Mitchell is considered a premier pheasant hunting destination and provides access to many other areas in the state for those who are traveling a considerable distance.
Mobridge- Historically ranking as one of the top pheasant producing areas in South Dakota, the city of Mobridge draws roughly half as many hunters as nearby counties to the east. Walworth County features over 50,000 acres of lands accessible for public hunting.
Parkston- Located in the southeastern portion of the state, Hutchinson County now contains a fair amount of publicly accessible land, most of it enrolled in CREP. The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks notes that most of the CREP acres within the county are new contracts of diverse CRP. With this in mind, Hutchinson County should be a pheasant producing area for hunters to target, as well as a relatively short drive for non-residents from Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa.
Pierre- Bordered on two sides by reservation lands and to the south by national grasslands, Pierre showed a 142 percent increase for its pheasant population from 2013. Long known for its outstanding pheasant hunting and picturesque landscapes, a cast-and-blast adventure for walleyes and pheasants during the October season is a tough trip to beat.
Presho- Located in the south-central portion of the state in Lyman County, which boasts some of the highest pheasant numbers found anywhere; Presho lies just off Interstate 90 and is about halfway between Sioux Falls and Rapid City. Prairie grouse are a likely option here, too.
Redfield- Home to the new Spink County Chapter of Pheasants Forever and known for being the “Pheasant Capital of the World,” Redfield is an outstanding location – an easy drive for Minnesota and Wisconsin residents on Highway 212 – and an easy area to circle in your hunting atlas.
Trail City/Standing Rock Reservation- Located within the Standing Rock Reservation, upland bird hunters will find plenty of action chasing pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chickens. Little known by residents and non-residents alike, reservations within the state can offer exceptional outdoor opportunities (note: reservations in South Dakota have their own specific seasons and regulations).
Vivian- Located at the intersection of I-90 and Highway 83 directly west of Chamberlain, pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse and greater prairie chickens await your arrival on the Fort Pierre National Grasslands. If you’re looking for a not-so-casual walk in the field, enjoy all of the 116,000 acres offered at Fort Pierre!
Watertown- Known for its inviting character and historical pheasant numbers, Watertown is working its way back to becoming a top destination in South Dakota for pheasant hunting. Located in a major prairie pothole region of the state, Watertown is surrounded by great winter and nesting cover which can produce a bountiful crop of pheasants given good weather conditions. Stop by the Terry Redlin Museum after your hunt to view some of the greatest wildlife paintings of all time from a man who regularly contributed to Pheasants Forever banquets across the country.
White Lake- Located halfway between Chamberlain and Mitchell, public parcels offer upland hunting opportunities. Waterfowl Production Areas can be found in quantity to the north and south of White Lake. Using your morning hours before the 10 a.m. start, take a trip to Chamberlain and focus on the bluff country bordering the Missouri River for a change of scenery.
Winner- Found in south central South Dakota, Tripp County is known for top-notch pheasant hunting- in past years, the Winner area has ranked #1 in South Dakota for pheasants harvested. Prairie grouse opportunities are also abundant here.
Monday, September 29th, 2014
By Curtis Niedermier
Good wing shooting is instinctual, but true talent with a shotgun stems from effective practice. So if there’s any doubt about your skills with a shotgun, now’s the time to get to the range and work on some of the most common difficult shots that upland hunters face each season.
To help you get started, we asked a few experienced sportsmen to share advice on how they handle their most challenging shots, as well as practice strategies you can use to better prepare yourself.
Heed their advice and practice your shooting now, or be prepared to practice your excuses later.
1. The Crosser
The right-to-left crosser (for a right-handed shooter; opposite for a lefty) is a common shot in quail and pheasant hunting, and it occurs at various ranges depending on the situation and terrain.
The Expert: Ross Grothe, Pheasants Forever member from Northfield, Minn.
Credentials: A professional walleye angler and avid hunter, Grothe spends about 25 days each year hunting pheasants in the Dakotas and on his farm in Minnesota with a pair of Labs and a Brittany.
Why We Miss: Poor vision and chasing from behind are the primary culprits here. It happens because shooters tend to look straight down the barrel, while the proper method is to look across the barrel. Visualize it like this: As the bird travels right to left, the gun should be in front of the bird, while the eyes should be on the bird. Make sense? If you look down the barrel to see the bird, you’re probably already set up to miss behind.
The Fix: Remember, it’s difficult to miss in front, but it’s easy to miss behind. So to hit this crosser, get the gun out in front where the bird is going. Try to mount in front in the first place (shooting instructor Gil Ash calls this “inserting” into the lead.) and sync gun speed to bird speed. If you do mount behind, swing all the way through until you see daylight.
“If you are leading the bird and feel like you need to get in front a little farther, it’s probably more favorable to get ahead of the bird than behind,” Grothe adds. “If you’re only hitting it with a few shot pellets; it’s better that it be in the head than the butt.”
How to Practice: Skeet and sporting clays courses offer plenty of crossing shots. The key is to avoid the bad habit of looking at the gun and “checking” the lead. Instead, let your subconscious put the gun where it needs to be. Try shooting this one with a low gun.
Concentrate on swinging in sync with the bird as you mount and “inserting” the barrel out in front. If you mount behind and try to overtake the bird, there’s a much higher level of risk. When you learn to mount in front, your focus can be entirely on the bird.
2. The Incoming, Overhead Shot
Pheasant hunters encounter the incoming, straight-overhead shot when blocking a field in a group-hunting situation. Typically, the bird is traveling quickly, and it might be as much as 30 yards overhead.
The Expert: Dave Ciani, Owner of High Prairie Lodge and Outfitters
Credentials: Ciani has been guiding bird hunters in the U.S. and Canada for more than 40 years.
Why We Miss: For a going-away shot like this typical in trapshooting, or when presented with a flushing pheasant, we need to see the bird above the barrel in order to shoot it. But with the same sight picture of bird-above-gun on an incoming pheasant – a common mistake – you’ll miss behind almost every time.
The Fix: Making this shot depends somewhat on the angle. If the bird is coming directly overhead, which is rare, use the old method of “butt-belly-beak” to swing the gun up through the bird from behind? Pull the trigger when the barrel blots out the bird.
The more common scenario is that the bird is quartering slightly, in which case, there needs to be daylight between the bird and the barrel.
“The critical thing is to swing the gun and get ahead of the bird, and get ahead of the bird even farther than you think you need to be,” Ciani says. “If the bird is 12 feet over your head or 30 yards over your head, be in front. Keep the gun moving through the shot.”
A final note is to try and sense the distance of the shot. If the bird is low enough, shoot it out in front – this shot requires less perceived lead. However, if it’s high, as it often will be, Ciani suggests letting it get directly above you to shorten the distance.
How to Practice: Hit the skeet field. Station eight, which is in the center of the field, presents the shooter with an incoming, overhead shot. Visualize the target’s path, start with the gun in front, move when you see the target and never let it overtake the barrel. It should almost feel as if you’re trapping it. Soon you’ll be able to break this target with very little barrel movement.
3. The Straight-Away
The straight-away is a common shot in upland hunting, and one that many hunters take for granted.
The Expert: Steve Grossman, Owner of Double Gun Bird Hunts
Credentials: Grossman has guided grouse and woodcock hunters in Minnesota for three decades, but he also operates trips for pheasants in South Dakota and quail near the Kansas-Oklahoma border.
Why We Miss: This shot is missed for several reasons. Quail hunters miss because they flock shoot. Pheasant hunters often miss because they rush the shot. But the most common culprits, according to Grossman, are lack of concentration and overconfidence. Hunters think of it as a simple shot and never get the gun up to the face or bear down on the bird.
The Fix: The simplest suggestion is to “focus harder.” There’s very little swing involved in making this shot, so you have to mount the gun in just the right place right off the bat.
“The key for hunters is to get their gun mounted so their head is on the stock, concentrate and follow through,” Grossman says. “If it’s a straight-away bird, you have to bear down on it that much more. I’m not one that raises the gun and comes up from the bottom of the bird,” he continues. “It’s a shot that should be taken on instinct – a snap shot. Find the bird, and cover it with the bead.”
How to Practice: You can practice this shot anywhere that clay targets are thrown. But Grossman suggests a couple of other preparatory measures: Find a gun that fits you, make sure your shooting hand matches your dominant eye and pattern your gun. It’s easy to miss a straight-away if one of these critical pieces of the puzzle is missing.
4. The Flusher Back Overhead
This shot is most encountered by quail hunters hunting behind pointing dogs. When the covey flushes, a bird will sometimes turn and fly back over the hunters.
The Expert: Reid Bryant, Orvis Wingshooting Services Manager
Credentials: Bryant hunts grouse and woodcock near his Vermont home but also travels extensively in the fall hunting pheasants and quail on “business trips.”
Why We Miss: This shot requires executing a safe 180-degree turn. Many hunters rush the move, even though there’s plenty of time. The result is poor footwork and a poor gun mount on the backside.
The Fix: Step one is to practice safe gun handling. If you’re hunting with more than two hunters, let this bird go. In that situation, you should never swing outside your safe zone. If you’re hunting with one other partner, and perhaps with a dog handler, as is common on many Southern quail plantations, always turn away from your fellow hunter. Do not mount before turning. Instead, keep the gun pointed up in a safe direction, step back with the back leg then follow with the front.
When you make the turn, locate the bird and reset your feet. A second short step with the front leg in the direction the bird is heading can help get you in balance and provide a full range of motion.
“Remember that you have time to reestablish your balance and your foot position,” says Bryant. “The move is more of a couple of steps than a pivot, so don’t worry about taking the steps you need. Use an economy of motion to make your turn, but take the second step with the front foot to get repositioned. The time that it takes to make it happen isn’t too much. There’s still time to make the shot.”
How to Practice: Practice this move in the backyard with an unloaded gun. Concentrate on turning safely in each direction, focusing on an object – your imaginary target – in front of you after you make the move. Then incorporate the gun mount after the turn. Now you’re ready.
Tuesday, July 1st, 2014
Heavy rains have fallen in recent weeks in the Marshall, Minn. area. A pheasant destination for resident and nonresident hunters alike, many are wondering how excessive rain totals – more than 20 inches in some areas of southwest Minnesota, and more than 10 in the Marshall area in the month of June – could be affecting the pheasant hatch.
Nick Simonson, president of the Lyon County Pheasants Forever chapter, posed these questions to Nicole Davros, upland game project leader for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources:
Q: In what condition was the pheasant population coming out of the winter months?
A: Our pheasant population made it through winter better than expected, and we had very few reports of winter losses. Although winter 2013-14 brought severe cold and some deep snow, it helped that the cold and snow didn’t come at the same time in the core of our pheasant range (west, southwest, and south-central portions of the state).
The central and east-central portions of our state had it worse as they experienced extreme cold and deep snow for a good portion of the winter. I’ve been hearing roosters crowing off of every corner of every Wildlife Management Area that I’ve visited this spring and summer.
Many of our wildlife managers have reported the same. I’ve taken this as a good indication that our pheasant population made it through winter just fine.
Q: What impact do you anticipate this rainy spring to have had on nesting attempts up to this point for pheasant hens in southwestern Minnesota?
A: We typically start getting reports of broods in late May, but that hasn’t happened this year and we’re instead only now beginning to get a few reports of young broods. Our brood observations to date could be indicative of a delayed hatch, or they could be indicative of reduced chick survival due to the recent rains. If enough hens have been delayed or forced into re-nesting, such that hatching has been delayed, this could end up being a positive as it would mean the peak hatch was offset from the onslaught of rain we had last week. Too much rain in a short period of time, especially when paired with colder temperatures, can lead to reduced chick survival, especially during the first few weeks of growth.
Q: Do you expect mostly eggs to have been destroyed by recent rains, or was there a period where some broods hatched, but were then taken out by spring weather events?
A: It is really hard for us to know the answer to that question. Again – we didn’t have reports of broods in May like usual so this could indicate that the hatch was delayed compared to a “typical” year.
Further, roosters are still crowing like crazy! And we’re not seeing that many hens, which serves as an indication that they are still incubating their clutches or are in deeper cover with their young broods. So I’m willing to speculate the hatch has been delayed based on weather conditions in early spring and based on what we are currently seeing now. Overall, I worry more about the rain affecting young chicks than eggs. Hens are very faithful to their nests. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that they only take one 20-30 minute break throughout the day during incubation, and they most certainly will stay on their eggs to keep them warm and dry during a rainstorm.
The one caveat to my concerns about rain affecting chicks more than eggs is that much of our remaining habitat is on low ground, so the major rainstorms we’ve had may be wiping out those nests on lower ground. And if there is one positive to all this rain, it’s that it hasn’t been paired with too cold of temperatures such that eggs or chicks would’ve gotten too cold.
Q: Last season’s pheasant hunting was saved by a very late hatch. What is the timeframe of the drop-dead latest hatch we can expect in southwestern Minnesota in a given year?
A: I wouldn’t put a date on a “drop-dead latest hatch.” Nothing would surprise me. Hens are known to be persistent re-nesters in that a hen will keep laying a fresh (albeit slightly smaller) clutch if her previous eggs are lost. However, if she successfully hatches a clutch and loses her chicks, she won’t re-nest.
In fact, last fall we had a report of birds that were generously estimated to be 3 weeks old at the start of the early duck season. Backdating with that information, those eggs would have been laid at the very end of July and the chicks would have hatched at the end of August or early September! However, late-hatched birds may have lower survival rates through winter. For example, they may not have enough time to put on fat reserves before an early-season snowstorm hits. They may also have less time to learn their environment than birds hatched earlier in the year, which may also give them a survival disadvantage once the snow hits.
Q: Without a solid hatch, what is your prognosis for the 2014 pheasant hunting season in southwestern Minnesota, based on the variables we have experienced in the past year, up to this point?
A: I’m not yet ready to speculate on how our population will look going into the fall. We’ll just have to wait and see what August brings! I’m less concerned about the timing of the hatch than I am about our habitat conditions. The simple fact is that we’ve lost a lot of CRP. We need to figure out a way to make conservation economically viable for private landowners.
Q: At what point should people be concerned that most hatches failed?
A: A late hatch is better than no hatch!
Even though we saw fewer birds in August during our roadside surveys last year, we speculated that hens were still on nests or under heavier cover with their young broods. And that turned out to be the case as many people were pleasantly surprised at how many birds were available come the pheasant season. Despite a rough opening weekend due to weather conditions, I received many reports that pheasant hunters who kept at it for the entire season were able to get their limits. They worked hard for the birds they got, but the birds were out there!
Overall, I think we need to be more concerned about the loss of habitat that has occurred over the past several years. In 2007, our pheasant harvest peaked at 655,000 roosters – the highest total harvest since 1963! Although this has been partially offset by gains in other cropland retirement acres (CREP, RIM, and WRP) and state- and federally-owned acquisitions, our pheasant harvest has been steadily declining nonetheless. And the worst CRP losses are yet to come. That’s the scary part.
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Friday, April 25th, 2014
I spent a number of days this spring running my German shorthaired pointer, Trammell, through woods I know hold timberdoodle on their migration north. It was interesting to watch Trammell navigate the scent determining when to point and when to press. It got me thinking about the incredible ability of a dog’s nose, so I reached out to Bob West of Purina Dog Foods and a professional trainer with 50 years of experience to teach me more about bird dogs and scent.
The Scent Cloud
“Although the bird dog world has referenced it as a ‘scent cone’ for years, scent doesn’t follow a geometric shape. Scent more closely resembles a cloud,” explained West.
West explained that scent does indeed get bigger as it disperses downwind from the source, but the air current, temperature, humidity, and individual animal’s body heat are just some of the factors influencing the path of scent particles.
Using smoke bombs to simulate scent, West has observed the unpredictability of these scent clouds. “I’ve watched scent travel in a path similar to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. There are indeed holes in scent that one dog can shoot through and another just a few feet away will encounter.
Temperature & Moisture
The temperature of the environment, the body heat emanating from the bird, and the moisture of your dog’s nose are all critical variables as well. Cool, moist days are better for dogs to locate bird scent. Scent seems to hold tighter to the ground longer under cooler and moister conditions. Likewise, Bob West’s field trial research indicates before 10AM and after 4PM are the optimal times of day for dogs to locate birds, which generally coincides with the cooler portions of the day.
Moisture is also important in your dog’s nose. A dog’s ability to scent requires the sensory receptors in the pup’s nose being clean and moist. This is one of the reasons abundant water is necessary in the field.
West also believes dogs have the ability to sense, or perceive the body heat of a bird. “Birds are warm blooded animals and I believe our dogs have the ability to determine a bird’s location by using more than just the sense of smell. I believe bird dogs also factor in heat from other animals, as well as disturbed vegetation.”
The combination of a concentration of scent, disturbed vegetation and the bird’s body heat create “hot spots.” Oftentimes, these hot spots are the cause of a flash point or a flusher’s increased tail motion. It’s perfectly okay for your dog to focus in on these hot spots. The key is for the dog to process the clues mentally and decipher the bird’s subsequent moves forward.
A pup needs to be in good physical condition to accurately process scent, heat and disturbed vegetation. “It’s my job to talk about nutrition because of my role at Purina, but it is in fact critically important to your dog’s success in the field. A dog that’s appropriately nourished, well hydrated, and in good physical condition for the rigors of hunting is certainly more able to find birds as well as mentally process scent and clues,” added West.
I’ve long believed my shorthair had the ability to observe the difference in habitat between the grouse woods and the pheasant fields, then to know what bird she was scenting for during a particular hunt based upon the cover being hunted. What I wasn’t anticipating was that she’d be able to distinguish different species by scent in the same environment, but that’s exactly what happened on a recent hunt club visit when Trammell locked up on a rooster pheasant with a bobwhite quail in her mouth during a retrieve.
West confirmed the photo’s story, “There is no doubt dogs know the difference between species of birds. They also can differentiate between individuals of the same species. For instance, I’ve observed dogs point roosters with a rooster already in their mouth. Dogs definitely know the smells of different species and individual birds being hunted.”
West also went on to explain that dogs do not get desensitized to smell like humans. “If you walk into a room with fresh cut roses, you’ll notice them for the first few minutes but then the ability to distinguish that rose sent fades. That fade doesn’t happen with dogs. Their noses are exponentially better focused than our sense of smell.”
Hunting Dead Birds
West also reports that dogs can tell the difference between a dead bird, crippled bird and a living/healthy bird. So, when you drop a bird in the tall grass that isn’t immediately retrieved, just stop. The worst mistake a hunter can make is barging into that spot and start breaking down that vegetation. “Let your dog work the cover and scent. If that bird has been hit, imagine the scent from broken tissue or a ruptured digestive track. Your dog will find that scent if you don’t tamper with it. Don’t underestimate your dog’s ability to read disturbed vegetative cover too. They can piece together the puzzle.”
Up Wind, Down Wind, Cross Wind
“Hunt em all,” proclaims West. “You’ll never encounter a day where hunting up wind will always lead you back to your truck. Dogs are used to hunting through variable wind conditions and these different wind directions can make your dog a better bird finder in the long run.”
Just Add Luck
As we finished off our conversation, I asked West to break down into a percentage how much of a dog’s success was the result of its training/master and how much was the dog’s ability. Here’s how he broke it down for me.
Locating Birds (finding): 30% Human influenced / 70% Dog’s Natural Ability
Handling Birds (pointing, flushing, working a runner): 25% Human influenced / 50% Dog’s Natural Ability & 25% LUCK
“You simply can’t forget about luck,” Bob finished. “Sometimes all the training and dog power can’t equal a dose of good luck.”
If you’d like to learn more about bird dogs and their scenting abilities, Bob West will be a guest this Saturday morning on FAN Outdoors radio on www.KFAN.com at 6:35 AM Central.
The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s Vice President of Marketing. Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre and listen to Bob and Billy Hildebrand every Saturday morning on FAN Outdoors radio on KFAN FM100.3.
Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014
Not only are certain myths about pheasant and quail populations prevalent, belief in them takes the focus away from what really has an impact on sustainable bird numbers – the creation and management of upland habitat. Here’s a closer look at five widely-held beliefs about America’s most popular upland gamebirds.
Busted: During the last half century, there has been a colossal amount of money spent on supplemental stocking programs by state and local governments, sportsman’s groups and private individuals. Countless studies have shown that stocked pheasants, no matter when they are released, have great difficulty maintaining self-sustaining populations. Predators take the main toll, accounting for 90 percent of the deaths; at the same time, predators are conditioned to the idea that pheasants are an easy target.
Pen-raised birds do provide shooting opportunities and are a good way to introduce new hunters to hunting in a controlled situation; they’re also handy for training dogs. But the bottom line is stocking pen-raised pheasants and quail will not effectively increase populations. Only by addressing the root problem that is suppressing populations – the availability and quality of upland habitat – can a long-term positive impact be made on upland bird numbers.
Busted: Yes, coyotes and fox will eat pheasants and quail, and raccoons and skunks are likely culprits when it comes to raided nests. But predators don’t eat habitat, which is far and away the biggest reason why pheasant populations decline. High annual losses to predators should not be misunderstood to mean that predation is responsible for long-term upland population declines. Landscapes with good habitat often have high numbers of pheasant numbers, as well as high numbers of many potential predators.
The impact of predators is magnified and often pinpointed as the primary problem after habitat conditions deteriorate. Confine pheasants and quail to smaller and smaller parcels of habitat, and a predator’s job gets a whole lot easier. Thankfully, well-designed habitat projects can reduce predation by up to 80 percent. Through the addition and management of habitat, not only does there tend to be a decrease in the impact predators make on existing nests, but more habitat is likely to increase the number of nests and the overall gamebird population. And habitat for pheasants and quail comes at a fraction of the cost of other intensive predator reduction methods that are cost-prohibitive across a large area.
Busted: A single Florida study from the 1930s noted an instance of turkeys destroying quail eggs. No biological study since has documented turkeys damaging quail nests or feeding on chicks. Turkey researchers have not found a single quail chick or egg fragment while examining thousands of turkey stomachs. In addition, scientists monitoring quail chicks fitted with radio transmitters and watching quail nests via remote cameras have yet to catch a turkey in the act. Given that literally hundreds of studies of wild turkey food habits and predation on quail have been conducted over the past 80 years, the lack of evidence is remarkable. The conclusion is that turkeys have no direct role in the decline of quail.
Myth: Hunting is hurting pheasant numbers.
Busted: Extensive research has shown hunting has little-to-no effect on pheasant reproduction and populations. Hens and roosters are easily distinguished in wingshooting situations, and because hens are protected through game regulations, pheasants are actually managed much more conservatively than many other gamebirds. And because roosters are polygamous – that is, they will mate with multiple hens – hunting in effect is only removing a “surplus” of males not absolutely necessary for reproduction the following spring.
Most of a pheasant season’s harvest takes place during the opening weekend, sometimes as much as 50 percent. Additionally, the majority of pheasant hunters are most active during the first two weeks of the season. Considering these factors, liberal, lengthy, roosters-only seasons do not harm populations.
Busted: Two factors affect upland bird populations above all others: habitat and weather. And while we can’t control the weather, we can influence the amount and quality of upland habitat. Habitat is what supports strong and healthy pheasant and quail populations – one need only look at how pheasant populations rose in the late 1980s, 1990s and 2000s coinciding with increases in Conservation Reserve Program upland acreage, and their subsequent decreases as those acres diminished. Historically, a lot of money has been spent trying to stock pheasants and to battle predators. Had these dollars been invested in habitat restoration, pheasants, quail and other upland wildlife would’ve benefitted.