Posts Tagged ‘Pheasants’
Tuesday, April 30th, 2013
While the calendar turned over to spring in March, winter hung on much longer in the Upper Midwest, where parts of Minnesota reported the snowiest April on record, two feet of snow collected in Bismarck, North Dakota and South Dakota saw its share of April snowstorms. Also an important factor is a late winter’s slowing down of “greening” nesting grasses to make the quality cover that is available attractive to hen pheasants.
Cold April temperatures can be deadly for pheasant nests already on the ground, but with the way winter lingered, it’s not likely many hens got to that point this month. “I haven’t noticed any pheasants starting to prepare nests yet,” said Troy Dale, a Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist in west-central Minnesota’s Lac qui Parle County, “With the late snow melt this year the hens are going to fall a little behind on nest preparation.”
Across the border in South Dakota, Matt Morlock, a Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist II from Volga, says the conditions did put some stress on pheasants, but he’s thankful it was just snow as opposed to ice. “Ice is the real killer on birds, so that was a huge break. The other helpful thing is that it hasn’t been overly cold with these systems, and the fields have maintained some open spots for scratching and feeding. We haven’t been seeing any die-offs or other signs of severe stress. I do think that we are going to see the hens in a little poorer condition this spring as opposed to previous nesting seasons which could have an impact on the number of eggs and chicks produced.”
To the north, moderate temperatures and little precipitation was the story of North Dakota’s winter for the first half. “Then various blizzards hit every region of North Dakota from January to April,” says Matt Olsen, a Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist from Forman in the southeast part of the state, “The most recent snowstorms in mid-April hit the south-central and far southeast corner the hardest.” Olsen expects there to be reduced nesting cover, a combination of the extended winter and carryover effects from the drought. “Last fall, nearly all Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres in North Dakota were opened up for emergency haying and grazing. Consequently, this vegetation has not had the time to recover to be available for quality nesting habitat,” Olsen said, “And with the spring melt being this late, some areas that could have served as nesting habitat will be flooded and will not provide any nesting cover in the near future. “
While the weather hasn’t been ideal for pheasants, compounding the issue is continued upland habitat loss in these states. “North Dakota has also seen a reduction in the amount of land enrolled in CRP which will further reduce the amount of nesting cover on the landscape,” Olsen says.
Adds Morlock, “Drain tiling and grassland conversion will have a far bigger and more widespread impact on our pheasants than the snow ever could.”
Friday, April 26th, 2013
It’s taken a long time this year, but winter’s icy stranglehold across the upper Midwest has finally begun to relent . . . we hope! Meteorologists are forecasting a balmy April weekend ahead which should liquefy the last remaining piles of snow throughout most of the pheasant range. Finally, we’re at spring’s doorstep, which means it’s a perfect time to start thinking about habitat management.
One of the most important tools for improving habitat is prescribed fire. Controlled burning in early spring accomplishes three main objectives in habitat management. First, burning limits the growth of woody vegetation helping maintain the prairie as a distinct ecosystem. Second, the fire burns off the duff layer of built up plant matter that hasn’t fully decayed over the last few years. Third, prescribed burning releases the nutrients bound in the plant litter stimulating vigorous new growth, which is more attractive nesting covers for ground nesting birds.
Burns can be very dangerous if not done properly. Grasses produce extremely hot fires and can spread rapidly. Pheasants Forever’s habitat specialists and chapter volunteer burn crews are trained in completing safe and effective prescribed burns in many of the pheasant range states.
Prescribed fire can be an especially important tool in the mid-contract management of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands, as well as on state and federally managed wildlife lands.
What’s the biggest limitation to utilizing prescribed fire as a habitat management tool?
The answer: the general public does not understand the value of prescribed fire to the prairie ecosystem. Fire is widely viewed as bad.
Stop and think about it for a moment; what maintained prairies as unique ecosystems prior to urbanization? The answer: Massive grass fires started by lightning.
A well-planned and safely executed prescribed burn is an incredibly successful way to manage habitat for pheasants and quail.
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.
Tuesday, March 5th, 2013
Each year as snowfall totals across pheasant country increase, many hunters and conservationists find cause for concern regarding ring-necked pheasants’ ability to survive, and ask “Should we be feeding pheasants?”
Habitat is the Effective Long-Term Solution
The key to carrying pheasants through the winter is quality thermal habitat. While this may provide no consolation this winter, consider that resources spent on establishing high quality winter cover will yield far greater results and the best winter survival rates down the road. The lesson to be learned from a tough winter is the need to plant more high quality thermal cover this spring. Start your habitat planning now!
More than anything, feeding is reactionary to the winter, when the best thing we can do is be proactive about improving quality habitat. Unfortunately, many well-intentioned people who provide corn and other grains as food sources actually harm pheasants more than they help them.
Why NOT to Feed Pheasants
The biggest reason to shy away from feeding pheasants is that feeders attract predators and expose pheasants to death by predation. Feeders give predators a focus point similar to a bait pile. In fact, it is rare for a pheasant to starve, but death by freezing can be common. Poorly-placed feeders may draw the pheasants out and away from their protective winter cover and cause birds to congregate and expend energy competing for food. Instead of saving birds, this actually adds to freezing deaths.
Food and Cover Plots a Better Option
Rather than simply dumping out grain for pheasants, plan in advance of nasty winters with a food and cover plot(s). When designed and placed correctly, food and cover plots reduce bird mortality and help bring hens through the winter in peak condition for breeding – location is critical, as plots next to dense native grasses, in combination with trees and shrubs, are much better than those planted out in the open. See Pheasants Forever’s Signature Series Food and Cover Mixes for more information.
The Big Spur Blog is written by Jesse Beckers, Pheasants Forever’s Regional Wildlife Biologist for North Dakota. If you have a pheasant habitat or pheasant biology question for Jesse, email him atJBeckers@pheasantsforever.org.
Thursday, February 7th, 2013
The major cause of pheasant winter mortality is not starvation, it is freezing. The pheasant’s physiological processes can produce only so much heat, and as temperatures drop, more and more body heat is lost to the surrounding air. At some temperature, called the “lower critical temperature,” more heat is lost than can be produced, and the bird freezes.
Pheasants will spend their winter nights roosting in grass cover or wetlands. The dead grass of roosting cover makes a nice insulated bed which protects birds from the wind. While the temperature near their beds may be 0°F, the 20 mph wind three feet above their heads produces a -39°F wind chill. To survive the 0°F in the grass, the pheasants must use 22.42 kcal of energy each hour. Without the grass cover, the pheasant needs 28.01 kcal each hour to survive the -39°F wind chill – meaning inadequate cover causes them to burn 25 percent more per hour. It’s difficult enough trying to survive a 16-hour night, then having to expend 25 percent more energy to get through it.
The use of shelterbelts and woody draws as loafing cover provides even greater energy benefits than roosting cover. Not only does a well-designed tree belt negate the energy costs of wind chill, it produces a warmer temperature inside the belt than outside the belt. With the still air inside a belt and the solar collection ability of dark-colored conifers, the temperature within a belt can be 5°F warmer than the surrounding air. In such a belt, pheasants can survive with 3 percent less energy.
The Big Spur Blog is written by Jesse Beckers, Pheasants Forever’s Regional Wildlife Biologist for North Dakota. If you have a pheasant habitat or pheasant biology question for Jesse, email him at JBeckers@pheasantsforever.org.
Tuesday, January 15th, 2013
This past December I visited the Winneshiek County Pheasants Forever chapter in northeast Iowa. We had a great pheasant hunt on public and private lands that the chapter has helped protect for the birds. We hunted one landowner/member’s land that included a bluff considered sacred by the Winnebago native tribe. In fact, he allows native leaders to visit the bluff to perform rituals. We scaled the bluff with two state natural resource officials and found it still covered on one side with native plants off all types – a cultural and wildlife gem, one the chapter is helping protect.
Before visiting the bluff, we hunted this land. My springer, “Hunter,” confirmed my belief in walking slow while pheasant hunting. Hunter isn’t pressured easily to go fast over cover, and again he proved this behavior sovereign. I had just walked, slowly, over some thick cover and, as I often do, noticed Hunter working the grass behind me rather intently. I slowed up, and sure enough, a rooster flushed not 10 feet behind me. I swung and dropped him with one shot. Go slow! Heck, I’ve shot a lot of roosters just when I stop to talk. It freaks them out if you’re close.
Good pheasant hunting is just the beginning of the great life style folks enjoy in this relatively unknown corner of the Hawkeye State.
Decorah, the chapter’s home city, is a bustling little town of over 8,000 with a vibrant downtown. My last night in town I shopped at the local food co-op and cooking store and found some great items. There was also a great holiday parade and a BBQ joint that had just opened a week before. The ribs, smoked onsite, were great.
And Decorah offers more than pheasant hunting. The chapter’s work, and that of many others, has also greatly improved the trout fishing in this area, which wasn’t glaciated like most the Midwest and still has hills, bubbling springs and cold, clear streams full of naturally reproducing trout. We went fly fishing with a local Trout Unlimited leader and caught browns, brook and rainbow trout, several of which I kept and grilled up fresh when I got home to Minnesota.
On your way in or out of Decorah, don’t miss the drive along the Mississippi River from the Minnesota border to Guttenberg. This drive should be on the bucket list of anybody who loves stunning natural beauty and wildlife … the river’s forests, wetlands and islands are loaded with incredible plant and animal diversity.
The last hunt on my stay in Decorah, Winneshiek County PF chapter habitat chair Terry Haindfield decided to go after a rooster that flushed when we pulled up to hunt an hour or so earlier. Hainfield disappeared over a hill in the direction of the rooster about a half mile away. Sure enough, in a few minutes I heard a single shot. As you can see, it was quite a bird!
If you want to read more about this fun hunt and the Winneshiek chapter’s efforts in this bejeweled corner of my birth state, Iowa, stay tuned to upcoming issues of Pheasants Forever Journal.
Thursday, December 27th, 2012
In his fourth year of hunting, my German shorthaired pointer, “Rimfire,” learned how to pinch woodcock. Locked on point, his eyes would flicker back at me as I pushed my way through Vermont’s dense alders and buckthorn. Rim would wait until I got close, then back stealthily away, zoom a quarter circle to the left or right and point again, facing me. The woodcock would have no choice but to flush close rather than running or flying ahead through the thick trees. Rimfire has developed this into an art, and it usually works. (Note: It helps that well-behaved woodcock hold tight for pointing dogs.)
Hunting in South Dakota, Rimfire applies his skills to running pheasants. On point deep in the inner evergreens of a shelterbelt, he’ll wait for me, head turned slightly to hear my approach. Then he’ll dart out of the strip, race along its edge a ways and jump back in, through the outer shrubs, snapping on point facing me with the pheasant caught between us.
Our tag team strategy works in corn or sorghum plots, too. Unless, of course, it’s one of those days when Rimfire gets an overload of pheasant up his nose and becomes completely unglued. That happens at least once a year, and I’ve learned to be philosophical about the sight of eight or ten roosters rocketing skyward 75 yards in front of me. I watch the cornstalks twitching towards the horizon – the only way I know where my dog is – and remind myself that we’re all entitled to a little craziness now and then.
Rimfire’s bird pinching trick doesn’t work every time, but when it does, it continues to astound me. It’s something I couldn’t teach him, something he had to figure out on his own. And that makes me wonder what else he does that wasn’t part of his “formal” training. It’s clear that during the many hours he’s spent hunting, his nose, his movements, the birds, the wind, the grass and the trees all wrote chapters in his training manual.
I’ve seen him track a ruffed grouse in the wrong direction — towards where it landed – then stop, give me a look that says, “gee, am I dumb!” (the dog equivalent of smacking yourself on the forehead with your palm), then race back to where he started and track the bird in the direction it actually ran. I’ve also seen him search for a downed bird in a pattern I’d have no way of teaching him – loops in and out of a central point, circling that point like petals on a daisy.
What else have our dogs figured out on their own? Simply from the experience of hunting and understanding that our mission together is to produce game, I’ve no doubt my dogs work the cover in ways I don’t notice or can’t understand myself. That’s part of the magic that keeps us together.
Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.
Monday, December 17th, 2012
After an unusually hot autumn, my springer and I welcomed the chance to hunt late season roosters in the cold last week in west central Minnesota with Pheasants Forever’s Pelican River Chapter.
Because of the hot autumn this year, I had to reschedule several hunts, stop hunting in the morning before it got too hot on some days and simply didn’t go hunting other times because it was too darn hot – for the birds, myself and the dog.
Perhaps December is becoming the new October for hunters in this changed, hotter world?
A lot of folks don’t hunt late season. I like it because the birds are concentrated in remaining cover, the dog and I can hunt harder in the cool temps and I love getting the low down on birds that had the smarts to survive this long into the season.
This particular hunt was probably so successful because we hunted a property the chapter had just purchased, thus it had been hunted little. We had seven hunters to drive what really didn’t look that promising: a dry, one-acre wetland with a heavy cattail edge surrounded by soybean stubble.
Once the drive started, however, so did the flushes and shooting. The roosters were holding tight, probably since they knew they were in a bad position, that is, no escape habitat. It helped that we were all good shots too, with one shot/bird with few exceptions. And the dog work was tops as well, with six good gun dogs.
When the smoke cleared, we had eight roosters in the bag. Two escaped the gauntlet, but we followed up after them and put them in the bag too, for a total of 10 birds in less than an hour. Several other roosters got away on that follow up drive in adjacent habitat. Oddly, we saw few hens. (On an earlier drive in another location all we flushed were hens, about a dozen).
One great thing about late season hunting is I don’t have to bring a dang cooler with ice to keep the birds chilled. Years ago, I rigged a shallow plastic tray atop the dog’s kennel that keeps the birds in the cold air, but prevents blood from getting all over my truck and the dog from nipping at them from below.
When I got home, I hung the birds in the garage for two days before putting them on the smoker. I used grape vine wood for smoke. Man, those birds were tasty! We had the leftovers the next day with alfredo and egg noodles. Don’t get any better than that!
Wednesday, December 12th, 2012
Like much of the Upper Midwest, North Dakota is now coated in snow, the weather game changer pheasant hunters in this dry year have been waiting for. North Dakota’s pheasant season closes January 6, 2013.
Here with on-the-ground hunting and habitat reports are Pheasants Forever staff members in North Dakota:
Hunting has been fairly consistent for me out here in southwestern North Dakota, I have been able to keep the freezer stocked and there always seems to be plenty of birds to chase around. Many roosters have been educated by poorly placed shots throughout the hunting season, which has made them more aware of the danger of dogs and humans. With the high winds and low temperatures recently, I have found birds grouping up in brush and tree thickets, lowland areas or river bottoms adjacent to their favorite food source. Untilled crop fields and food plots are good target areas for midday, but heavy roosting cover is the first and last place to hunt in my book. There are still more than three weeks to get out and do some walking. I plan to dress warm and send my dog straight into the wind for a better chance at sneaking up on some mature, late season roosters.
-Matt Flintrop, Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist, Pheasants Forever – Dickinson
I’ve been trying to get in at least one hunt a week during the late season. Most of the area that I hunt has lost significant amounts of cover and pheasants have been few and far between. Winter habitat conditions are poor with cattail sloughs being burned off (more everyday) or mowed. CRP has been hayed, and those acres that expired are already being prepped for planting next spring. The area had some snow fall (nothing significant) this past weekend, so that may push more birds out of the grass and into thicker cover. When I do come across birds, they are flighty and often times bust out of fields or sloughs well out of gun range. I’m seeing some hens around, which is encouraging compared to what I saw last year. I am also seeing more young birds being harvested compared to last year. However, with current habitat conditions, my fingers are crossed for a mild North Dakota winter. I was fortunate to hunt a large block of land this past weekend with some friends. The area we hunted has been managed for wildlife and we saw plenty of birds around, especially compared to surrounding areas. Most of the birds still ran well ahead of the dogs and flushed too early, but we managed to harvest a few that were holding tight in cattail sloughs. It was a great example of “Have Habitat, Will Come.” The area was dominated by stands of big bluestem, switch grass, and block shrub plantings. Cattail sloughs dotted the area and food plots were present.
-Rachel Bush, Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist, Pheasants Forever - Jamestown
We just got our first big snow of the winter this weekend down here in the southeast corner of North Dakota, and it looks like it will be here to stay. This is bad news if you haven’t gotten your snow blower ready, but good news if you haven’t put your hunting gear away. For the last month, the birds have been flushing out of range, making it difficult to get one in the bag. Now that there is a coating of snow on the ground, roosters generally will hold a little tighter. A couple of tips I would give for hunting in this area this time of year is to focus on the cattails in larger tracts of CRP and try to hunt on days when there is a light, wet snow coming down.
-Matthew Olson, Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist, Pheasants Forever – Forman
Have you been pheasant hunting in North Dakota this year? If so, post your own report in the comments section below.
Tuesday, December 11th, 2012
Snow was already falling in western Minnesota. And with a blizzard just 24 hours away, the window to hunt pheasants in the year’s first snowfall would mean eight hours in a vehicle for a couple hours of hunting.
It’d been a couple years since I’d hunted in any white stuff (a mild winter last year), let alone a fresh cover. And I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d hunted immediately after the very first snowfall of the winter – SNOpening Day. Pheasant hunters can occasionally be lucky this way, receiving the equivalent of two openers in one season.
What makes hunting pheasants in the first snow of the year so magical? Consider:
Birds Group. Focus on the winter cover, cattails and shelterbelts, as that’s where pheasants will consolidate. When the fluff gives way to three-pronged tracks, you know you’re in business. Keep your eyes peeled for a “sweeper,” where a rooster’s tail fans and leaves a print.
Birds Hold. The average lifespan of a pheasant is less than one year, so this will be their first and last earliest snow. This bird that’s predisposed to run can’t do it as well, defaulting to the next-best-defense, which is to hunker down and hide. And that’s where the dogs come in…
Perfect for Dogs. If you have a pheasant dog, you almost owe it to them to hunt the first snow. Prime scenting conditions will send your pup into overdrive. Flusher or pointer, tight-holding hens will give them plenty of good work while you sift through for the legal ones. Bird in bag or not, you’ll have an all-access pass to uninhibited, four-legged hunting joy.
Stealth Mode. Provided you can make it out of the parking spot without a racket, then proceed into the wind, the fresh layer should help conceal your presence.
Limited Hunting Pressure. Many pheasant hunters have already hung it up for the year, dissuaded by the cold, the wind chill, holiday shopping, etc. Enjoy having a place all to yourself.
All these held true on my first-snow hunt. Add to this the climax of a trophy, plumed-out rooster launching himself mere inches from your dog’s nose, a flying box of crayons against a giant sheet of white paper, and you may find the season’s second opening day even better than the first.
Friday, December 7th, 2012
Minnesota’s midseason pheasant hunting could turn into late season pheasant hunting in a hurry, as the first winter storm of the season is predicted to move through the state’s pheasant range this weekend. Dry conditions have persisted all fall, so hunters and dogs alike will welcome the moisture, as well as the additional rooster that can be added to the game bag (from two to three daily) through the remainder of the season.
Here with on-the-ground hunting and habitat reports are Pheasants Forever staff members in Minnesota:
Pheasant hunting in Big Stone County has been average. There are a decent number of birds but due to the lack of snow cover and cold weather, birds are spread out and are jumpy. Hunters are putting their time in to shoot their roosters. Large blocks of grass with interspersed cattail wetlands offer the best opportunities. The concern is what will happen to bird numbers the following year if a harsh winter sets in and upland habitat loss continues.
- Eric Magedanz, Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist, Pheasants Forever – Ortonville
For Lyon County, the pheasant hunting has been pretty good. With just about all the fields harvested before pheasant season started, one would think that this would bring more nonresidents and out-of-area hunters to the Marshall area, thereby increasing the pressure on the Wildlife Management Areas in the area and leading to decreased hunting success. Whether hunting public or private land in the area, I’ve noticed little difference in quality of cover and bird numbers, and have actually probably harvested a couple more birds on public than on the private land. As other reports from South Dakota mentioned, there are a lot of hens being flushed, which is good to see. Personally, my best success has come from hunting smaller areas-buffer strips, small dried up wetlands – anything else you can find along the water. Keeping quiet and working fast has also increased success this year.
For Lac Qui Parle County, the report is very similar. A lot of birds are being seen, whether on private or public land. Hunters have been reporting success in the buffer strips and other small pieces as well. The local Pheasants Forever chapter recently closed on a new parcel of land that has excellent existing cover, and should be a prime hunting spot for chasing late season roosters! The habitat in Lac Qui Parle is some of the best in the state, with numerous wetlands and dense vegetation on both private and public land. Even with the drought, the late season hunting should be great just about anywhere you go. With a little luck and some much needed winter snows (cross your fingers!), there should be some great late season hunting stories to be told this year. Good luck and hunt smart!
With decent bird numbers and some recent hunting success, we cannot rely on Mother Nature to be so kind to us (and bird numbers) every year. The effects are clearly evident that too many grassland and CRP acres are falling victim to the plow. If we wish to pass on our hunting heritage to future generations, it’s the responsibility of all of us – as hunters and conservationists – to urge congress to pass a new Farm Bill. Make your voices heard!
- Troy Dale, Farm Bill Biologist, Pheasants Forever – Madison
Most of the success I’m hearing about is coming from hunters focusing their time on the inside edge of cattail sloughs that are dry and walkable. Most of my personal success is similar with the roosters I am finding to be located closely to cattails or willow thickets. The most pleasant surprise for me this year is the higher pheasant numbers in the counties located on the northern edge of Minnesota’s pheasant range from Fergus Falls through Wadena to Staples and Motley over to Milaca all the way to Mora. It’s a good year for a guy trying to combo on roosters and ruffed grouse.
- Bob St.Pierre, Vice President of Marketing, Pheasants Forever – Saint Paul
Have you been pheasant hunting in Minnesota this year? If so, post your own report in the comments section below.