Posts Tagged ‘prairie chickens’

Prairie Grouse Hunting Outlook

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013


Most states west of the Mississippi River have upland seasons for prairie grouse – prairie chickens, sage grouse and/or sharp-tailed grouse – opening in September. These early upland seasons are ideal for dog work and sharpening your wingshooting skills. Don’t expect a lot of competition for spots, as many prairie grouse hunting opportunities are notoriously underutilized by upland hunters. This outlook focuses on the states with the most widespread populations:


Kansas has an early prairie chicken season (Northwest and East units, Sept. 15 – Oct. 15, 2013) that gives bird hunters a unique opportunity to walk up greater prairie chickens and work bird dogs long before pheasant and quail seasons open. The early season was established to provide additional hunting opportunity for this tallgrass prairie icon and let hunters enjoy a true one-of-a-kind grassland hunt. The traditional prairie chicken season is Nov. 16-Jan. 31, 2014 in the East and Northwest units, and Nov. 16-Dec. 31 in the Southwest Unit, and during this season, most prairie chickens are taken by pass shooting. While prairie chickens rarely flush within shotgun range of walking hunters during the regular season, the early season, flocks of young birds are more likely to hold for walking hunters and dogs. All prairie chicken hunters must have a $2.50 prairie chicken permit in addition to a hunting license. Permits may be purchased wherever licenses are sold and online. Information provided by hunters at the time of purchase will help biologists estimate prairie chicken harvest and hunting pressure. A more substantial prairie grouse population update is expected to be released by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism later this month.


Even Montana, one of the last great places for mixed bag upland hunting, is seeing land changes affecting its upland bird populations. Large acreages of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands are being returned to crop production in many places, habitat loss which is expected to have a long-term impact to prairie grouse populations if habitat isn’t restored. The weather side hasn’t been much kinder, as a drought last year was followed up by substantial spring flooding events in early June. Consequently, sharp-tailed grouse numbers are expected to be average to below average across the eastern region of the state. Sage grouse were really hurt by last year’s extreme drought conditions, which led to low brood survival. Hunters can expect sage grouse numbers to be average to well below average across Montana’s entire sage grouse range, though excellent brood rearing conditions this summer may mitigate those declines to some extent. Both grouse seasons in Montana opened Sept. 1, with the sage grouse season closing Nov. 1, 2013 and the sharp-tailed grouse season closing Jan. 1, 2014.


Nebraska’s July Rural Mail Carrier Survey indicated regional and statewide declines in prairie grouse (sharp-tailed grouse & greater prairie chicken) abundance compared to 2012. Regional declines were greatest in the Northeast and Central regions. The Sandhills, west of Highway 81 in the western grouse zone, continues to be the core of the prairie grouses range in Nebraska, and will offer the best opportunities for harvest this year. East of Highway 81, in the eastern grouse zone (where one of 400 special, free permits is required) brood observations, like those of pheasants and bobwhites, have been few. Further, habitat loss continues to accelerate in the eastern zone. As for southwest Nebraska, Johnson and western Pawnee Counties should offer the best chances this year. Nebraska’s prairie grouse season runs Sept. 1, 2013 through Jan. 31, 2014.

North Dakota

Sharp-tailed grouse, as well as Hungarian partridge populations, are down significantly from last year in North Dakota. The July and August roadside counts suggested suggest sharp-tailed grouse numbers are down 51 percent statewide from last year, with the number of broods observed down 50 percent, while the statewide Hungarian partridge population is down 34 percent from last year, and the number of broods observed is down 31 percent. Aaron Robinson, upland game biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Dickinson, said even though spring survey numbers indicated a population comparable to last year, the telling factor is always late-summer counts. “Fall hunting season success is directly correlated to the current year’s reproductive success – if there is a good hatch then logically there will be more birds on the landscape come fall hunting season,” Robinson said.  The season for sharp-tailed grouse and Hungarian partridge in North Dakota runs Sept. 14, 2013 through Jan. 5, 2014.

South Dakota

Prairie grouse production – sharptails and greater prairie chickens – was the worst on record in 2012, likely in response to record drought conditions in central and western South Dakota. “The cold and wet spring was not ideal for prairie grouse production in 2013, but we are optimistic that production will be higher than 2012,” says Travis Runia, a senior upland game biologist with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department. Runia noted that continued grassland habitat loss has eroded the prairie grouse distribution along their eastern range, but when hunters do find grasslands, they should find them with more cover than last year, which should help hunting success. The Fort Pierre National Grasslands, with 100,000-plus acres of well-managed grasslands, still represents the premier destination for prairie grouse hunters in South Dakota. South Dakota’s prairie grouse season runs Sept. 21, 2013 through Jan. 5, 2014.

Anthony’s Antics Afield is written by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.organd follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

My Five Bird Hunts before The Rapture

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Moments before The Rapture

You may have heard California’s Rapture-predicting preacher has revised his math.  It turns out the world is going to end on October 21st instead of May 21st as originally warned.  What’s that mean to a bird hunting fanatic like me?  With some bird hunting seasons opening up in mid September, I estimate to have about five bird hunting weekends left before the planet explodes. 

Here are the five hunts I’d like to make happen before the coming autumn Rapture.

1) Yooper Grouse Opener: It’s a family tradition to return back home to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to open the ruffed grouse season with Dad & Mom.  If the world is coming to an end, this one is the most important for me to squeeze in one more time.

2) Hells Canyon: While I hope to be headed north, not south, following The Rapture, I have to chase birds in Hells Canyon one time before I die.  While I’ve never been there, I’ve read about and been told stories of magical days in which hunters have shot pheasants, quail, grouse, chukar and Huns all in a single day.

3) Fort Pierre Prairie Grouse: In the last two seasons, I have fallen in love with the Fort Pierre National Grasslands.  Although my pup has had close encounters with rattle snakes and porcupines, I have experienced some of my most memorable days afield in search of prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse. 

4) Pheasant Opener: It has become a treasured tradition to open the Minnesota pheasant season at the cabin of FAN Outdoors radio host’s Billy Hildebrand in central Minnesota. 

5) A Walk Alone: I enjoy time spent afield with others; however, given my druthers, my most treasured hunts are alone behind my shorthair.  It seems that if the world is going to end, I’d find peace walking a patch of prairie with my pup Trammell. 


Knowing the world is coming to an end early this fall’s hunting season, what will be your final five hunts? 

The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever’s Vice President of Marketing.  Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre.

Rooster Road Trip – Kansas Preview

Friday, November 5th, 2010

The trio of Rooster Road Trippers hope to add a few quail to the mix in Kansas.

As I look forward to next week’s Rooster Road Trip adventure, I’m stoked for our final destination.  Kansas is the only state on our tour that I’ve never hunted and it’s the second highest producing pheasant and quail state in the country.  In fact, I wrote in an earlier blog, I believe Kansas may hold the distinction as the nation’s top upland state when considering the combined yearly harvest of all upland species.  Residents of South Dakota and Texas have a pretty compelling argument as well, but without a doubt Kansas is in the conversation.

We’ll arrive in Kansas like dust in the wind on Friday evening just in time to attend the Longspur Chapter of Pheasants Forever’s Banquet in Norton.  We’ll join the festivities bearing gifts: Rooster Lager.

We also happen to be arriving on the eve of the state’s pheasant opener, which means we’ll be celebrating “Christmas Morning” for the second time this autumn.  “Christmas morning,” you ask?  That’s how excited I am about pheasant openers; like a kid on Christmas morning. 

Additionally, Saturday is the state’s quail opener.  While Anthony and I have bagged a few Bobs in our career, this will be Andrew’s opportunity to “Audobon” a quail on his first covey rise.  While the season will be closed during our visit, Kansas also has the last remaining open hunting season for lesser prairie chickens.  During our visit, we’ll be focused on hunting Walk-In Hunting Access tracts. 

Kansas Quips

  • A non-resident small game license costs $72.50.  The license is good all season.
  • The daily bag limit is 4 roosters and 8 bobwhites.
  • Hunting opens daily 30 minutes prior to sunrise and closes at sunset all season.
  • Kansas has more than 2.7 million acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).  Only Montana and Texas have more CRP lands.  More than 1.2 million of those acres’ contracts are set to expire in the next three years.


Road Trip Recommendation

Quail Forever Membership: If you haven’t joined yet, please consider helping the cause of quail conservation through Quail Forever.  Pheasants Forever started QF in 2005.  Today, Quail Forever has grown to over 100 chapters doing habitat work on behalf of America’s quail.  I am a life member of Pheasants Forever, a life member of Quail Forever, and my dog (Trammell) is also a dog life member of Pheasants Forever.  Please consider joining today . . . and through this special link, you’ll get a $10 Cabela’s gift card with your membership. 

The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever’s Vice President of Marketing.

What State Rules the Upland Roost?

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

In my estimation, the universal symbol for a dog on point is seen more often in Kansas than in any other state.

There is no doubt South Dakota rules the roost when it comes to pheasant harvest.  Year in and year out, hunters bag between 1.5 and 2 million roosters in SoDak.  In fact, SoDak’s rooster kill is twice as high as the second closest state in most years.

On the bobwhite quail side of the ledger, Texas typically knocks down the most bobs and adds desert quail and pheasants to the mix.  Ruffed grouse are led by Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin.  California quail . . . you can guess that one. 

So, if a bird hunter were to look at the big picture of all upland bird species across all the states, what state offers the most shooting? 

In my estimation, Kansas hunters shoot the most birds of all upland species combined.

In most years, Kansas registers as the #2 pheasant harvest state and the #2 bobwhite quail harvest state.  Add both species of prairie chickens to the mix and Kansas may not offer as wide a variety of species that some western states (Montana, Idaho, or Oregon) boast, but the total number of birds shot each year is likely tops in the “Jayhawk State.” 

With this bit of trivia in mind, I admit to having never hunted in Kansas.  That will change on the final day of Pheasants Forever’s Rooster Road Trip this November 13th.  I can’t wait!

Okay Texas and SoDak, let’s hear your counter-arguments.

The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever’s Vice President of Marketing.

A B.S. in Bird Hunting

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

PF's Rick Young poses with a pair of Ft. Pierre Grasslands greater prairie chickens

“How did I earn my bird hunting Bachelor of Science degree and what would I have to study to attain my Master’s?”

That’s the question I asked myself last weekend while trying to keep up with fellow co-worker Rick Young as he charged across South Dakota’s Fort Pierre Grasslands in search of greater prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse.  Clearly Rick, Pheasants Forever’s V.P. of Field Operations, a biologist by trade, and one of the organization’s longest tenured employees, had his Ph.D. in bird hunting. 

Here’s how I matriculated to Bird Hunting University:


Elementary School – Parents with Bird Brains

I grew up in a family of hunters.  Mom hunted, dad hunted, grandparents hunted; you get the picture.  After I got home from school, I was not only allowed to venture off into the woods, I was encouraged.  My folks taught me to respect firearms and the wildlife I’d killed using my shotgun, bow, and .22.  We celebrated our take and enjoyed the meals of wild game provided.  My folks didn’t teach me the most important tips or tactics of hunting.  Rather, they taught me lessons far more important that cemented the foundation upon which I stand as a hunter today; ethics, respect, and love of the chase.


High School – The Bird Hunting Doctor

I believe mentors can take many forms.  I’ve been lucky enough to have a bunch of bird hunting mentors; my dad, my uncle Bruce, and my Grandpa Maurer all taught me valuable lessons in bird hunting.  However, the person that taught me the most about bird hunting is Rick Young.  Believe it or not, until this past weekend, I’d only spent a one-week hunting trip with Rick.  During my first fall at Pheasants Forever (2003), Rick invited me on his annual North Dakota hunting trip.  We hunted ducks in the morning and walked hard for sharpies, Huns and roosters through the afternoon hours.  In those seven days, I learned more about the “hows” and “whys” of bird hunting than my entire 29 years of life prior.  I think Rick’s philosophy comes down to the basic principle that you get what you put into it.  Rick wakes up earlier, walks farther, hunts longer, thinks smarter, shoots with more confidence, and succeeds more often than any other bird hunter I’ve ever known. 


College – Follow the Dog

No matter how good or how many mentors you have, you’ll never be able to graduate from bird hunting university until you train and hunt behind your own dog.  I’ve learned more about bird hunting from my pup’s tail than any singular person could ever teach me.  Her body language is equivalent to a fish finder fully loaded with sonar and GPS.  I know that sounds like a hyperbolic statement.  I proclaim to you, “It is not!”  You simply cannot graduate from Bird Hunting University cheating off the test of another’s dog. 


Graduate School – Be the Bird

Bird hunters that are biologists typically have an unfair advantage when it comes to knowing the birds being hunted.  They have spent countless hours studying the texts of ecology, biology, and wildlife sciences.  Thankfully, the rest of us bird hunting students can also earn our Ph. D. by paying closer attention to the habits of our quarry.  The “golden hour” for pheasants going to roost in the evening, focusing on west facing slopes in the evening for sharpies, focusing on east facing slopes in the morning for chickens, locating grit sites for ruffed grouse in the morning; these are the habits I’ve learned after hours studying.  Traveling to hunt birds in different states, under different habitat conditions, and in pursuit of different species also has helped me progress toward my Master’s. 

While I won’t pretend to be a professor capable of teaching a course at Bird Hunting University, I am enjoying my time on campus and recommend taking the six year plan toward graduation.  There’s really no hurry and the college years are indeed the best years of your life.

Chicken Walking

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

A Fort Pierre Triple: (from left to right) a rooster pheasant, sharp-tailed grouse, and a greater prairie chicken.

A Fort Pierre Triple: (from left to right) a rooster pheasant, sharp-tailed grouse, and a greater prairie chicken.

I’m kind of a short guy.  At 5 foot 7 inches, my stumps called legs struggle against the cattails of Minnesota’s best late season pheasant habitat.  I pretty much always get a Charlie Horse in the field, during the car ride home, or while sleeping after any December pheasant hunt.  In recent years, I’ve found a morning banana to be a good preventative measure for the cramping, but it has done nothing to bolster any enthusiasm for pounding cattails. 


Instead, I favor the long walks of an endurance runner.  Show me a grassy prairie or a two-track logging trail, and I’ll show you my dusty heels.  I think that’s also part of my affinity to pointers.  They succeed in the same environs.


Perhaps that’s why I found the walk last Friday across Fort Pierre’s National Grasslands in search of greater prairie chickens such a treat.  At 2:30 in the afternoon, a group of four hunters and their dogs each selected a different cardinal point and set off in search of chickens with an agreement to return by 5.  None of us had ever hunted chickens before, let alone bagged one, so the adventure was embraced by us all.  I headed west with my big running shorthair.


It turns out I selected the best direction for sheer beauty.  I crested the first hill to find a sea of rolling grasses, canyons and valleys before me.  Aesthetically, it was one of the three best hunting backdrops I can ever remember.  I walked unencumbered through the ankle high grasses favored by prairie chickens as my mind wandered and my eyes devoured the pomegranate sun, the golden grasses, and the shadowy hillsides.


Even a porcupine encounter delivering 12 quills to my pup’s muzzle couldn’t remove the sense of contentment this prairie chicken walk had delivered me.  After sitting atop a peak to watch two groups of mule deer disappear into the valley below, I retreated back toward the direction of my truck. 


During my return, I emptied my Beretta over/under at a distant chicken only to have dozens of chickens and pheasants explode around me and disappear over the canyon before my barrels were reloaded.  In my euphoria, I had wandered to the edge of a harvested corn field adjacent to a pasture and bordered by a sweet clover field with a thick grassy ravine cutting the middle.  It was the perfect blend of cover for roosting chickens or pheasants, and I had wandered right into the middle just minutes after the porcupine threw my pup off her game.


In the end, I returned with an empty game vest, while my partners each bagged a single bird – Anthony a rooster, Matt a sharpie, and “Captain” Billy with the lone chicken for the day.  It was a 2 1/2 hour hunt I cannot wait to revisit.  In fact, I’m even contemplating a return this weekend if the weather and my wife allow.  Yes, it was that much fun. 


Greater Prairie Chicken Basics for the Beginning Chicken Walker

  • They are easier to hunt early in the season.  By late season, they are tough to get close to and virtually always flush wild.
  • Be careful to not mistake them for hen pheasants.  Chickens have a similar brown appearance, but have a square tail, are a little whiter, make a chuckling sound when flushed, and have a unique wing beat gliding in between.  They are also virtually indiscernible from a sharp-tailed grouse in flight.
  • Focus in on the calf high grasses that are a bit thinner than you’d expect to find a pheasant hiding within.  Chickens like to see you coming and also avoid all vertical structures – like trees.
  • Learn more about prairie chickens and Pheasants Forever’s efforts to help create more grassland habitat through the Prairie Grouse Partners.
  • Join the North American Grouse Partnership at the special Pheasants Forever discounted rate.