Posts Tagged ‘pheasant hunting’

Make the Tough Shots Look Easy

Monday, September 29th, 2014

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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.

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The crossing shot is one that can trouble even experienced wing shots.

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.

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

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

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Heavy rains have fallen in recent weeks in the Marshall, Minn. area. A pheasant destination for resident and nonresident hunters alike, many are wondering how excessive rain totals – more than 20 inches in some areas of southwest Minnesota, and more than 10 in the Marshall area in the month of June – could be affecting the pheasant hatch.

Nick Simonson, president of the Lyon County Pheasants Forever chapter, posed these questions to Nicole Davros, upland game project leader for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources:

Q: In what condition was the pheasant population coming out of the winter months?

A: Our pheasant population made it through winter better than expected, and we had very few reports of winter losses. Although winter 2013-14 brought severe cold and some deep snow, it helped that the cold and snow didn’t come at the same time in the core of our pheasant range (west, southwest, and south-central portions of the state).

The central and east-central portions of our state had it worse as they experienced extreme cold and deep snow for a good portion of the winter. I’ve been hearing roosters crowing off of every corner of every Wildlife Management Area that I’ve visited this spring and summer.

Many of our wildlife managers have reported the same. I’ve taken this as a good indication that our pheasant population made it through winter just fine.

 

Q: What impact do you anticipate this rainy spring to have had on nesting attempts up to this point for pheasant hens in southwestern Minnesota?

A: We typically start getting reports of broods in late May, but that hasn’t happened this year and we’re instead only now beginning to get a few reports of young broods. Our brood observations to date could be indicative of a delayed hatch, or they could be indicative of reduced chick survival due to the recent rains. If enough hens have been delayed or forced into re-nesting, such that hatching has been delayed, this could end up being a positive as it would mean the peak hatch was offset from the onslaught of rain we had last week. Too much rain in a short period of time, especially when paired with colder temperatures, can lead to reduced chick survival, especially during the first few weeks of growth.

 

Q: Do you expect mostly eggs to have been destroyed by recent rains, or was there a period where some broods hatched, but were then taken out by spring weather events?

A: It is really hard for us to know the answer to that question. Again – we didn’t have reports of broods in May like usual so this could indicate that the hatch was delayed compared to a “typical” year.

Further, roosters are still crowing like crazy! And we’re not seeing that many hens, which serves as an indication that they are still incubating their clutches or are in deeper cover with their young broods. So I’m willing to speculate the hatch has been delayed based on weather conditions in early spring and based on what we are currently seeing now. Overall, I worry more about the rain affecting young chicks than eggs. Hens are very faithful to their nests. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that they only take one 20-30 minute break throughout the day during incubation, and they most certainly will stay on their eggs to keep them warm and dry during a rainstorm.

The one caveat to my concerns about rain affecting chicks more than eggs is that much of our remaining habitat is on low ground, so the major rainstorms we’ve had may be wiping out those nests on lower ground. And if there is one positive to all this rain, it’s that it hasn’t been paired with too cold of temperatures such that eggs or chicks would’ve gotten too cold.

 

Q: Last season’s pheasant hunting was saved by a very late hatch. What is the timeframe of the drop-dead latest hatch we can expect in southwestern Minnesota in a given year?

A: I wouldn’t put a date on a “drop-dead latest hatch.” Nothing would surprise me. Hens are known to be persistent re-nesters in that a hen will keep laying a fresh (albeit slightly smaller) clutch if her previous eggs are lost. However, if she successfully hatches a clutch and loses her chicks, she won’t re-nest.

In fact, last fall we had a report of birds that were generously estimated to be 3 weeks old at the start of the early duck season. Backdating with that information, those eggs would have been laid at the very end of July and the chicks would have hatched at the end of August or early September! However, late-hatched birds may have lower survival rates through winter. For example, they may not have enough time to put on fat reserves before an early-season snowstorm hits. They may also have less time to learn their environment than birds hatched earlier in the year, which may also give them a survival disadvantage once the snow hits.

 

Q: Without a solid hatch, what is your prognosis for the 2014 pheasant hunting season in southwestern Minnesota, based on the variables we have experienced in the past year, up to this point?

A: I’m not yet ready to speculate on how our population will look going into the fall. We’ll just have to wait and see what August brings! I’m less concerned about the timing of the hatch than I am about our habitat conditions. The simple fact is that we’ve lost a lot of CRP. We need to figure out a way to make conservation economically viable for private landowners.

 

Q: At what point should people be concerned that most hatches failed?

A: A late hatch is better than no hatch!

Even though we saw fewer birds in August during our roadside surveys last year, we speculated that hens were still on nests or under heavier cover with their young broods. And that turned out to be the case as many people were pleasantly surprised at how many birds were available come the pheasant season. Despite a rough opening weekend due to weather conditions, I received many reports that pheasant hunters who kept at it for the entire season were able to get their limits. They worked hard for the birds they got, but the birds were out there!

Overall, I think we need to be more concerned about the loss of habitat that has occurred over the past several years. In 2007, our pheasant harvest peaked at 655,000 roosters – the highest total harvest since 1963! Although this has been partially offset by gains in other cropland retirement acres (CREP, RIM, and WRP) and state- and federally-owned acquisitions, our pheasant harvest has been steadily declining nonetheless. And the worst CRP losses are yet to come. That’s the scary part.

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

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

Bird Dogs, Scent and Finding Birds

Friday, April 25th, 2014

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

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

The Scent Cloud

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

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

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

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

Temperature & Moisture

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

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

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

Hot Spots

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

Dog’s Health

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

Bird Identity

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

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

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

Hunting Dead Birds

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

Up Wind, Down Wind, Cross Wind

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

Just Add Luck

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Widespread Myths about Pheasant & Quail Populations

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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wild_turkey3Myth: Turkeys eat quail chicks.

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

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Myth: Hunting is hurting pheasant numbers.

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

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

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

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

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

My Favorite Shotgun for Pheasants

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

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Guns have been an important part of my life, since I was old enough to shoot –guns to hunt with, guns to shoot, and also guns for collecting. Often I’m asked which gun is my favorite; but there’s no simple answer to that question. You see, being a shooter, a hunter and a collector, and having quite a few years of experience, I have many favorite guns; it just depends on what I’m hunting or shooting.

Pheasant hunting has lots of different facets — early season, late season, wild birds and released birds. While I’ve hunted all of these, most of my experience has been with released birds — sometimes on game farms here in Missouri, but other times on the vast prairies of the Dakotas. In my experience, released pheasants generally hold tighter for the dogs and fly a little slower than the wild ones. Wild birds typically require more lead, heavier loads and tighter chokes.

So my favorite shotgun, for most of the pheasant hunting that I get to do, is a 20 gauge over and under, choked improved cylinder and modified – that I’ve had for several years. Now remember I’m also a gun collector and always prefer a vintage gun to something more modern. This is a Belgian-made Browning Superposed. It’s very special to me because it was made the year I was born and is documented as having been in the first shipment of 20 gauges shipped to the United States – in 1949.

On a recent hunt up in the Dakotas, I took my favorite shotgun for pheasants and also a 12 gauge side by side – in case the shots were longer. I started with the 20 and never took the 12 gauge out of the case.

Every rooster that flushed near me was down cold with one shot from the lower barrel, except for one time when we flushed a report pair. The second bird came up over my head and rather than waiting for him to level out, I tried to show off and shoot him in the head as he went over the top. I missed! Anyway, for me at least, a favorite gun is dependent on the game I’m hunting, how well the gun hits what I’m shooting at and of course it’s going to be a vintage gun that could tell lots of stories, if only it could talk.

Larry Potterfield
Hecla, South Dakota
14 November 2013

Larry Potterfield is the owner and founder of MidwayUSA. Read more at Larry’s Short Stories.

South Dakota Sets 2014 Pheasant Hunting Season Dates

Friday, March 21st, 2014

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

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

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

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

Dates of note for 2014 include:

·         Pheasant: Oct. 18-Jan. 4

·         Youth Pheasant: Oct. 4-8

·         Resident Only Pheasant: Oct. 11-13

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

Winter Pheasant Habitat Conditions

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Colorado

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

Illinois

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

Indiana

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

Iowa

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

Kansas

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

Michigan

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

Minnesota

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

Missouri

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

Montana

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

Nebraska

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

North Dakota

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

Ohio

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

South Dakota

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

Wisconsin

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

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

Dog of the Day: “Cate”

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Cate

Cate2

When Corrie Thorne Hadley met her husband, she was dog-less. At his suggestion, she got a Brittany. “Cate and I have achieved her Junior Hunter title and now working on Senior and Master titles, respectively. We also compete in field trials,” the eastern Oregon resident says. “I’ve had Cate on wild birds since she was five-months-old. She is a big running Brittany who loves to hunt chukar and Huns, and of course, pheasants!” Hadley and “Cate” are also strong advocates of wildlife habitat conservation. “My family and I have been members and supporters of Pheasants Forever for several years. Thank you, PF, for all that the organization does in creating and enhancing existing habitat.”

Have your own bird dog photo you’d like to share? Email it to Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor, at ahauck@pheasantsforever.org.

PF Applauds Gov. Daugaard for Successful Pheasant Habitat Summit

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Governor Dennis Daugaard addressed the crowd at the opening of the South Dakota Pheasant Habitat Summit. Photo by Anthony Hauck / Pheasants Forever

Governor Dennis Daugaard addressed the crowd at the opening of the South Dakota Pheasant Habitat Summit. Photo by Anthony Hauck / Pheasants Forever

More than 500 pheasant hunters, landowners and conservationists turned out for South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard’s Pheasant Habitat Summit on Friday, Dec. 6 in Huron. The first-of-its-kind event, created and hosted by Governor Daugaard, focused on finding solutions to adding upland habitat for South Dakota’s most treasured game bird, the ring-necked pheasant.

Pheasants Forever is thankful to Governor Daugaard for taking this unprecedented step in hosting the summit, as this type of leadership is necessary for South Dakota to maintain its status as “The Pheasant Hunting Capital of the World.” The turnout from hunters, farmers, landowners, businesses and the many other stakeholders shows the significant influence, cultural importance, and economic impact pheasant hunting has in South Dakota. Pheasants Forever is proud to be working with Governor Daugaard and staff to ensure pheasant hunting and the surrounding activities continue to better the state’s residents and economy.

At the end of the summit, Governor Daugaard identified the creation of a task force, or “work group” which will be his next step in addressing upland habitat concerns in South Dakota. The work group will include hunters and landowners and potentially lawmakers. Videos from the Governor’s Pheasant Habitat Summit can be viewed here.

The D.C. Minute is written by Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s Vice President of Governmental Relations.

Dog of the Day: “Reese”

Monday, November 25th, 2013

FEATHER QUEST

Jeff Holl of Hamburg, New York and his Welsh springer spaniel, “Reese,” enjoyed a fabulous day of pheasant hunting near Watertown, South Dakota.

Have your own bird dog photo you’d like to share? Email it to Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor, at ahauck@pheasantsforever.org.