Posts Tagged ‘quail hunting’

Why a Vermonter on the PF Board?

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

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Nancy Anisfield serves on Pheasants Forever’s National Board of Directors and though she resides in Vermont annually makes pheasant hunting trips to the Midwest. Photo by Nancy Anisfield / Anisfield Hunting Dog Photography

Often, very often, when someone finds out I’m on the Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever National Board of Directors their response is a big “Huh?” Then they point out to me (with raised eyebrows) there is no significant wild pheasant population in Vermont and no PF or QF chapter in Vermont. True enough, so I’m always compelled to explain why me, why Pheasants Forever.

I don’t just hunt in Vermont. I hunt in many parts of the country, each year fitting in at least one pheasant trip to the Midwest and one quail trip down South.  As a “consumer” of bird hunting resources – game and habitat – I feel an obligation to give more than my license fee and lodging dollars where I travel. Given the decline in bird populations and loss of habitat in most states, I am compelled to do something to support and replenish the resources I use in the field.

“Priority One” for most hunters is, understandably, supporting the habitat in their home hunting grounds. But there’s an equal responsibility we share when we partake of habitat in someone else’s backyard.  Helping to preserve and restore habitat anywhere in the country is the conservation equivalent of Fair Chase.

Another argument for a non-pheasant-state resident to support PF/QF lies in the work the PF/QF legislative team does – consulting on conservation program legislation, helping members voice opinions to their legislators, etc. These actions influence conservation legislation that, in turn, affects all 50 states.

Although I can come up with other reasons for a Vermonter to support Pheasants Forever, the last reason I usually give is based on the effectiveness of PF/QF as an organization: How PF/QF impacts young hunters today in pheasant or quail country could directly affect habitat and hunting in my region a decade from now.

Let’s say a young girl from North Dakota is on her first hunt, walking the edge of a PF project shelterbelt of tight junipers. She sees her dad’s Lab get birdy up ahead by a thick cluster of bushes. She moves closer, nervously watching first the dog, then the brush. A magnificent rooster flushes straight up. She carefully mounts her gun and squeezes the trigger, her heart pounding the whole time. The bird tumbles down. The dog retrieves it to hand. In those few moments she becomes a hunter for life.

Years later, she’s living in New England. Now she hunts ruffed grouse instead of pheasants. Now her hunting grounds are successional forest instead of buffer strips and grasslands. Now she hunts with her own bird dog and her own children. Some things have changed, but because she had that first place to hunt – and fall in love with hunting – she cares about habitat conservation not just there but wherever she calls home.

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.

Nebraska Recap – The Best “Mixed” Success a Hunter Could Ask For

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Photo by Anthony Hauck / Pheasants Forever

Pheasants Forever’s Rehan Nana and his red setter, “Annie,” with a mixed bag found on Nebraska Open Fields and Waters properties. Photo by Anthony Hauck / Pheasants Forever

“What is your ideal mixed bag hunt?” For me, it’s an easy answer: pheasant and quail in the same field. Nebraska is known for being a mixed bag state, so I’ve been anxiously waiting to get to day three of the Rooster Road Trip, where Nebraska Coordinating Wildlife Biologist Jake Holt tipped us off there had been a good quail hatch.

Unlike many hunting “tips,” Jake was dead on, and the “Cornhusker State” didn’t let us down. In fact, after nearly five days on the road, it brought us up. How did we do?

This was the best day of hunting for the Rooster Road Trip – ever.

Seventeen birds ended up in the bag today. Wild, publicly-accessed pheasants AND wild, publicly-accessed quail.

Our first field was a 30-acre parcel with the perfect amount of diverse cover, which produced a diverse mix of birds. Two munsterlanders, my red setter, and Andrew’s Lab, “Beau,” all hit the ground running. Within the first 100 yards a ringneck busted out of range, but luckily, it wasn’t the only bird. Hens were darting left and right past us.

I let Annie range down the line of hunters and she cast over to Andrew. Even though Andrew owns a Lab, he must have some pointer-owner in him somewhere, because he confidently let Annie work and then called over “Point!” No sooner than he said that, two bobs zipped past our line and our shot. Thankfully, those were only the scouts. Immediately after, a healthy 15-bird covey made the grass shake, and we scratched two down.

“Where we have grass, we have birds,” Holt said.

Pushing the field out, pheasants started flushing like grasshoppers in August. A rooster crossed right-left (my favorite shot), and thanks to well-placed Federal Prairie Storm 4’s, it ended up in the pack. Within 80 yards, we put up another covey of birds, and I dropped a cock bird. So, thirty minutes into hunting Nebraska, I had my first Cornhusker ringneck and bobwhite, a sequence I’ll play over and over again in the off-season. Thanks, Nebraska!

Shooting a Browning Citori 725, I had the opportunity to pick and choose my shells/barrel. Knowing I was officially in mixed bag country, I dropped a 7 steel in the top tube and 4 steel in the bottom. Shortly before the end of the field, I managed to bag my second rooster of the day on another right-left crossing shot (Rooster Road Trip Roadies, do you agree with this shell combo? What would you have used in this situation?).

I wish I could tell you names and other shots taken, but truthfully, there was too much shooting and too many birds to keep it straight! What I can tell you is every field we hunted produced in a big way, and these are areas open to you too. The Open Fields and Waters Program is a joint project of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and Pheasants Forever.

The only thing that topped the hunting today was the company. We were joined today by Nebraska Game and Parks Commissioners Mick Jensen and Lynn Berggren. On the ride over, Commissioner Berggren and I discussed his youth growing up hunting pheasants in Nebraska and how he passed his outdoor tradition on to his children. He mentioned how important pheasant hunting has been and still is to the communities in Nebraska, both culturally and economically, and the positive things that are being done, especially with getting youth involved, to carry on the traditions.

From the dog work, to the pheasant/quail combo to the camaraderie, today will probably be one of the best days afield this season. It’s always a pleasure to share the field with people who share conservation and outdoor ethics, and today was no exception. With the last field pushed and photos wrapped up, the Nebraska commissioners and biologists heartily invited us back for a late season hunt, and after the day we had, there is no doubt we’ll be back.

Annie’s Tracks according to the Garmin Alpha: 9.61 miles

My Tracks: 6.30

The 25 Best Bird Hunting Towns in America

Monday, April 29th, 2013

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Last year’s list of the 25 Best Pheasant Hunting Towns in America selected locales predominately based in the Midwest where the ringneck is king. Because Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever members hail from all reaches of the United States, from Alabama to Alaska, we’ve assembled this year’s list to include pheasants as well as multiple quail species, prairie grouse and even forest birds. The main criterion was to emphasize areas capable of providing multiple species, along with destinations most-welcoming to bird hunters. In other words, there were bonus points awarded for “mixed bag” opportunities and neon signs “welcoming bird hunters” in this year’s analysis.  We also avoided re-listing last year’s 25 towns, so what you now have is a good bucket list of 50 destinations for the traveling wingshooter!

What towns did we miss? Let us know in the comments section.

1. Pierre, South Dakota. This Missouri River town puts you in the heart of pheasant country, but the upland fun doesn’t stop there. In 2011 (the last year numbers were available) approximately 30 roosters per square mile were harvested in Hughes County. Cross the river and head south of Pierre and you’re into the Fort Pierre National Grassland, where sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chickens become the main quarry. In fact, the U.S. Forest Service manages the Fort Pierre National Grassland specifically for these native birds.  Just North of Pierre also boasts some of the state’s best gray (Hungarian) partridge numbers as well.

While you’re there: Myril Arch’s Cattleman’s Club Steakhouse goes through an average of 60,000 pounds of aged, choice beef a year, so they must know what they’re doing.

2. Lewistown, Montana.  Located in the geographic center of the state, Lewistown is the perfect city to home base a public land upland bird hunt. Fergus County has ring-necked pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse, gray (Hungarian) partridge, as well as sage grouse. You’ll chase these upland birds with stunning buttes and mountain ranges as almost surreal backdrops, and find no shortage of publically accessible land, whether state or federally owned. Two keystone Pheasants Forever wildlife habitat projects are 45 minutes from Lewistown. Located six miles north of Denton, Montana, the 800-acre Coffee Creek BLOCK Management Area is located between a 320-acre parcel and an 880-acre parcel of land – all three areas are open to public hunting. Pheasants Forever also acquired a 1,000 acre parcel known as the Wolf Creek Property, a project which created 14,000 contiguous acres open to public walk-in hunting.

While you’re there: Once the birds have been cleaned and the dog has been fed, head over to the 87 Bar & Grill in Stanford for their house specialty smoked ribs and steaks.

3. Hettinger, North Dakota. Disregard state lines and you can’t tell the difference between southwest North Dakota and the best locales in South Dakota. Hettinger gets the nod in this region because of a few more Private Land Open to Sportsmen (P.L.O.T.S.) areas.

While you’re there: A visit north to the Pheasant Café in Mott seems like a must.

4. Huron, South Dakota. Home to the “World’s Largest Pheasant,” Huron is also home to some darn good pheasant hunting. From state Game Production Areas to federal Waterfowl Production Areas to a mix of walk-in lands, there’s enough public land in the region to never hunt the same area twice on a 5 or 10-day trip, unless of course you find a honey hole.

While you’re there: The Hwy. 14 Roadhouse in nearby Cavour has the type of good, greasy food that goes down guilt free after a long day of pheasant hunting.

5. Valentine, Nebraska. One of the most unique areas in the United States, the nearly 20,000 square mile Nebraska Sandhills region is an outdoor paradise, and Valentine, which rests at the northern edge of the Sandhills, was named one of the best ten wilderness towns and cities by National Geographic Adventure magazine in 2007. Because the Sandhills are 95 percent grassland, it remains one of the most vital areas for greater prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse in the country.  Grouse can be found on the 115,000-acre Samuel McKelvie National Forest, and grouse and pheasants may be encountered on the 73,000-acre Valentine National Wildlife Refuge.

While you’re there: Head over to the Peppermill & E. K. Valentine Lounge and devour the Joseph Angus Burger, a finalist in the Nebraska Beef Council’s Best Burger Contest.

6. White Bird, Idaho. Hells Canyon is 8,000 feet of elevation, and at various levels includes pheasants, quail, gray partridge and forest grouse. Show up in shape and plan the right route up and down, and you may encounter many of these species in one day. It’s considered by many wingshooting enthusiasts to be a “hunt of a lifetime.” Nearly 40 percent of Idaho’s Hells Canyon is publically accessible, either through state-owned lands, U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands or U.S. Forest Service lands.

While you’re there: Floats and rafting adventures are popular on the Salmon River, in case your bird hunt also needs to double as a family vacation.

7. Heppner, Oregon. Nestled in the Columbia Basin, within a half-hour drive hunters have the opportunity to harvest pheasants, California quail, Huns, chukar, and in the nearby Blue Mountains, Dusky grouse, ruffed grouse and at least the chance of running into mountain quail. With the exception of the Umatilla National Forest for grouse, the hunting opportunity is mostly on private land in the area, but the state has a number of agreements in the area for private land access through its Open Fields, Upland Cooperative Access Program and Regulated Hunt Areas.

While you’re there: As you scout, make sure to drive from Highway 74, also called the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway, winding south from Interstate 84 through Ione, Lexington and Heppner.

8. Winnemucca, Nevada. Winnemucca claims legendary status as the “Chukar Captial of the Country.” Long seasons (first Saturday in October through January 31), liberal bag limits (daily limit of six; possession limit of 18) and the fact that these birds are found almost exclusively on public land make chukar Nevada’s most popular game bird. The covey birds do well here in the steep, rugged canyons that mirror the original chukar habitat of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the birds’ native countries. Just know the first time you hunt chukar is for fun, the rest of your life is for revenge.

While you’re there: Nearby Orovada, 44 miles to the north of Winnemucca, is known for excellent hunting areas as well as breathtaking views of the Sawtooth Mountains.

9. Albany, Georgia. Buoyed by tradition and cemented with a local culture built upon the local quail plantation economy, Albany has a reputation as the “quail hunting capital of the world” and a citizenry that embraces “Gentleman Bob.”

While you’re there: save an hour for the 60 mile trip South to Thomasville, Georgia where you can visit Kevin’s, a landmark sporting goods retailer devoted to the bird hunter.

10. Milaca, Minnesota. There are places in Minnesota where pheasants can be found in greater abundance, ditto for ruffed grouse. But there are few places where a hunter may encounter both in such close proximity. While pheasants are found primarily on private land here, state Wildlife Management Areas in the region offer a chance at a rare pheasant/grouse double, including the 40,000-acre Mille Laces WMA. The nearby Rum River State Forest provides 40,000 acres to search for forest birds.

While you’re there: For lunch, the Rough-Cut Grill & Bar in Milaca is the place. This isn’t the type of joint with a lighter portion menu, so fill up and plan on walking it all off in the afternoon…before you come back for supper.

11. Sonoita, Arizona. Central in Arizona’s quail triangle – the Patagonia/Sonoita/Elgin tri-city area – the crossroads of U.S. Highways 82 and 83 puts you in the epicenter of Mearns’ quail country, and 90 percent of the world’s Mearns’ hunting takes place in Arizona. Surrounded by scenic mountain ranges, the pups will find the hotels dog friendly, and moderate winter temps extend through the quail hunting season. Sonoita is also close to desert grasslands (scaled quail) and desert scrub (Gambel’s quail). After your Mearns’ hunt in the oak-lined canyons, you can work toward the Triple Crown.

12. Abilene, Kansas. A gateway to the Flint Hills to the north and central Kansas to the west, the two areas in recent years that have produced the best quail hunting in the Sunflower State.

13. Eureka, South Dakota.  Legend has it the town’s name stems from the first settler’s reaction to all the pheasants observed in the area – “Eureka!”

14. Wing, North Dakota.  Located just northeast of Bismarck, this town’s name is a clear indication of its premiere attraction.  While primarily a waterfowler’s paradise, bird hunters looking to keep their boots dry can find pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse and Huns on ample public ground.

15. Redfield, South Dakota.  By law, there can only be one officially trademarked “Pheasant Capital of the World” and Redfield is the owner of that distinction . . . and for good reason!

16. Tallahassee, Florida.  Home to Tall Timbers, a partner non-profit focused on quail research, this north Florida town is steeped in the quail plantation culture and quail hunting tradition.

17. Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.  This fisherman’s paradise also makes for an excellent October launching off point for the bird hunter.  Head south toward Fergus Falls to bag your limit of roosters, then jog northeast to find ruffed  grouse and timberdoodles amongst thousands of acres of public forest lands.  Point straight west and you’ll find prairie chickens in nearby Clay County if you’re lucky enough to pull a Minnesota prairie chicken permit.

18. Park Falls, Wisconsin. For more than 25 years, Park Falls has staked its claim as the “Ruffed Grouse Capital of the World.” It’s more than just proclamation – more than 5,000 acres in the area are intensively managed as ruffed grouse and woodcock habitat.

19. Iron River, Michigan. Four-season recreation is Iron County’s claim to fame, and with the nearby Ottawa National Forest, it’s no coincidence the county bills itself as the woodcock capital of the world.

20. Lander, Wyoming. Wyoming is home to about 54 percent of the greater sage-grouse in the United States, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Wyoming manages millions of publically-accessible acres.

21. Miles City, Montana. Sharp-tailed grouse are well dispersed throughout southeast Montana, and the state boasts the highest daily bag limit – four birds – in the country. Thicker cover along riparian areas also provides chances at ringnecks. Did we mention there are roughly 2.5 million acres of publicly-accessible land in this region?

22. Spirit Lake, Iowa. The many Waterfowl Production Areas and their cattails make northwest Iowa a great late-season pheasant hunting option.

23. Holyoke, Colorado. Lots of Pheasants Forever and state programs – including walk-in areas – are at work in Phillips County which has made the rural, northeast Colorado town of Holyoke the state’s shining upland star.

24. Barstow, California. San Bernardino County  is a top quail producer in the state, and the vast Mojave National Preserve is the most popular destination for hunters from throughout southern California, where wingshooters can also find chukar in addition to quail.

25. Anchorage, Alaska. From the regional hub of Anchorage, bird hunters can drive or fly to excellent hunting areas in all directions, which include ptarmigan, ruffed grouse and spruce grouse. To maximize your chances and stay safe here, consider hiring a guide.

Return to the On the Wing eNewsletter

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.

Late Season Pheasant Hunting Report: Kansas

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

Areas of quality upland cover have been few and far between in Kansas this year. Photo by Rehan Nana / Pheasants Forever

Areas of quality upland cover have been few and far between in Kansas this year. Photo by Rehan Nana / Pheasants Forever

This upland hunting season has been trying in many traditional pheasant strongholds, not the least of which is Kansas. “Upland bird hunting has been disappointing in most areas of the state as a result of below average populations due to prolonged drought and extreme summer heat,” according to a statement issued by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT).

“Expectations were quite low in west central Kansas this season due to a second year of extensive drought and excessive heat; those low expectations were warranted, as pheasant, quail and lesser prairie-chicken numbers were down substantially,” reported Mark Witecha, a Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist who serves seven counties around Ness City, “Furthermore, much of the habitat was hayed, grazed or stunted by the unfavorable climatic conditions, and is in less than ideal condition. Many local hunters have long since given up for the year, and out-of-state hunters simply never came.”

In early January, some regions in Kansas received up to 8” of snow, a blessing for hunters that timed it right. “We finally had birds flushing at our feet rather than 200 yards out in front,” Witecha said.

While the snow cover has since melted, two weeks remain in the season for hunters willing to give it one final try. “There are some bright spots, and for the hunter willing to travel and work, birds are there,” the KDWPT report continued, “The late season can be especially good because fewer hunters are afield and birds will be more concentrated in heavier cover.”

Have you been pheasant and/or quail hunting in Kansas this year? If so, post your own report in the comments section below.

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

Bird hunting’s Instant Replay

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

Photo by Nancy Anisfield / Anisfield Hunting Dog Photography

Photo by Nancy Anisfield / Anisfield Hunting Dog Photography

Am I the only one who starts telling the story of my hunt in my head before I’m even done hunting? It’s not intentional, and I don’t usually talk to myself. So why do I do it in the field?

Muttering to myself while I walk through the switchgrass, thumb double-checking the safety, one eye on my dog who’d resumed hunting after we worked two birds, … “Scratch went on point about 80 yards in,” I hear me saying in my head. “When I got to him, he started tracking real slow, but his tail kept wagging fast, and I thought I heard a bird moving somewhere in front of him but I couldn’t tell where exactly. So I kept up with him, and just when we were almost to the drainage ditch – you know the one where they planted that strip of milo perpendicular to the road and the deer pounded it down – two birds came up, definitely sharptails, one straightaway and one veering off to the left, and I missed them both. I got so wound up trying to pick one, I missed them both!”

No doubt one of the fun parts of hunting is rehashing the day – how many birds and where, the good shots and the bad shots, and the other surprises long the way. Whether we report in immediately back at the truck or wait until a more mellow moment at home or camp, everyone gets a turn. Trading tales is part of the sporting tradition, but it usually occurs after the hunt.

Since I prefer to hunt alone, my internal storytelling is paradoxical. If I choose to be in the woods or fields by myself with my dogs, why does my mind want to talk to someone?  The answer must have to do with time.  Reliving moments of action by retelling them not only extends the excitement but fixes those moments in my brain.

There are always days hunting wild birds when you don’t find many. On those days, each bird encounter seems especially vivid. Those few minutes of bird contact, with or without shooting, are very short compared with the many longer minutes of walking and stalking, searching and hunting.

Police try to question witnesses to a crime as soon as possible after an incident, knowing that with the passage of time, details fade in memory. Say what you saw soon after you saw it and the information will be more accurate and lasting in your mind. Similarly, why do we repeat things aloud when we’re trying to memorize something? Saying it makes it stick. So too, with going over what happened when that spectacular rooster sprung out of the cattails and Scratch leapt upward, spinning in the air trying to catch the bird’s tail. Or when the covey of quail split in two with four birds flushing forward and three right over my head. Or when both dogs locked on point facing that deep crevasse in the ledge where I could just barely see the porcupine’s back as it huddled in the far corner.

I’ve decided to let my mind wander into these one-sided conversations while I hunt. The way I figure it, anything that replays the intensity, surprise and wonder deserves a place in my thoughts.

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.

Early Season Pheasant Hunting Report: Kansas

Monday, November 26th, 2012

The state of Kansas is annually among the top three pheasant producing states in the country, but the devastating drought of 2012 definitely hurt this year’s ringneck crop. Kansas’ pheasant and quail hunting seasons are a couple weeks old, so are the effects of the drought and habitat loss as significant as previously advertised? Here with on-the-ground reports is a trio of Pheasants Forever staff members in Kansas:

Bobwhite quail handle drought conditions better than pheasants, so more bobs are expected to find their way into Kansas upland hunters’ game bags than ringnecks this year. Photo by Anthony Hauck / Pheasants Forever

Conditions in west central Kansas are far from ideal. Due to the drought, we had very poor reproduction and brood survival in the pheasant population. Much of the CRP has been emergency hayed or grazed, failed milo and corn has been cut for forage, and the grass that was left untouched experienced limited growth. In talking with other hunters, very few were successful in their efforts and the number of hunters in the area is down significantly. On opening day, I only saw one other group hunting, which was shocking. On a positive note, the northwest and north central part of the state is expected to have decent quail hunting this year, as quail are much more tolerant of drought and heat (but less tolerant of the cold).

-          Mark Witecha, Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist – West Central Kansas

 

I went out with two other guys and at least two dogs in each field (opening weekend).  We walked three CRP fields adjacent to harvested row crops and kicked up one hen and two roosters. We knew birds were living in these CRP fields (I’d even seen eight birds moving from one of them into the neighboring cropland as I drove by to meet up with my friends at daylight). We also hunted two quail pastures and kicked up one covey of about ten birds. Those quail flew to the adjacent property where another group of hunters were, and I saw them harvest a few birds from the covey. The long and short of it is that there are some birds in the area (quail populations may be stronger than pheasants) but with the hot, dry and windy conditions, birds were not sitting tight, and the dogs couldn’t pick up scent.  We got some rain Saturday night which may improve things a bit.  Cooler temperatures and lower wind speeds would help too. Every person that I’ve spoken with in this area says they got about one bird for every one to two people hunting in a group.  I’m optimistic, though, that there will be better days later in the season.

-          Zac Eddy, Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist – Central Kansas 

 

Conditions near Marysville (in northeast Kansas) were hot, dry and windy for the Kansas opener. Our hunting party only saw a few pheasants and two coveys of quail during the day’s hunt. Overall, this area has seen a tremendous decline in quality upland habitat as CRP contracts expire and the acres go into agricultural production. The area has also seen a shift in the type of grain that is being produced, which is further limiting pheasant production. At one time, this part of northeast Kansas was known as “The milo capital of the world” and production of wheat and milo ruled the landscape.  Now, the bulk of the farming is producing corn and soybeans. It should also be noted that a large percentage of the remaining CRP acres need a great deal of management before they will again be productive for upland birds.  On a personal note, the CRP field where I harvested my first pheasant is now a soybean field so the only people who will see roosters rising from this field this year are those who have memories of this once great parcel of upland habitat…My how things change in 20 years.”

-          Jordan Martincich, Pheasants Forever Development Officer – Ottawa, Kans.

 

Have you been pheasant hunting in Kansas this year? If so, post your own report in the comments section below. 

 

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

Rooster Road Trip Nebraska Recap

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Having had very successful swings in southwest Nebraska the previous couple years, starting off Rooster Road Trip 2012 in the McCook area gave reason for optimism. The two big takeaways? We underestimated the impact of the historic drought on pheasant populations, and thank goodness for bobwhite quail.

Pheasants Forever supporters Jerrod Burke, the the District V Commissioner with Nebraska Game and Parks, Rob Wortmann and Jerrod’s son, 14-year-old Logan, joined PF’s Rooster Road Trip for a Nebraska public lands upland hunt. Photo by Anthony Hauck / Pheasants Forever

There are still pheasants around – we moved at least one bird at every field – but work for our lone rooster we did. The dry weather has left quality cover scarce (and many fields were hayed or grazed under emergency guidelines from the U.S. Department of Ag to help producers) and good scenting conditions for dogs are even scarcer. Throw in the fact that birds are scattered in this second week of the season, there hasn’t been a significant weather game changer, and you’ve got a recipe for a good, old fashioned hard hunt. But when you’re a predominant public lands pheasant hunter, you get used to battling something: the crowds, a foot of snow, insert next factor here. Considering the emphasis Pheasants Forever and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission place on improving habitat in this region, southwest Nebraska is poised for a ringneck rebound once the drought breaks.

While pheasant numbers aren’t what they’ve been the previous couple years, quail in this part of the state appear to have weathered the drought in highly reproductive fashion. The local hunters we talked to corroborated our eye witness reports (and seven public lands bobs in the bag); saying covey numbers seem to be up. Jerrod Burke, the District V Commissioner with Nebraska Game and Parks, and his 14-year-old son, Logan, joined the Rooster Road Trip to highlight Nebraska’s public land hunting opportunities, and the elder Burke says the opportunity for “mixed bags” – including bobwhites and prairie chickens – is one reason this area of Nebraska should remain on the traveling pheasant hunter’s list of places to cut the dogs loose. Burke’s polished Gordon setters, 5-year-old “Abbie” and 9-year-old “Willie,” helped prove his point, holding rock steady on multiple coveys found along brushy crick beds with nearby food sources. These were all public land coveys, and we left plenty of seed for next year.

If you don’t like competing for public hunting spots, southwest Nebraska may be for you – in three consecutive years of hunting in this region, we’ve ran into three other groups of upland hunters. That’s right, three. And this year, we crashed at the brand new, fully furnished cabins the Medicine Creek State Recreation Area, an outright steal at 80 bucks per night, and a great place to grab some quick shuteye before a long drive to Iowa and the second stop for Rooster Road Trip 2012.

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

Creating a Pigeon Palace

Monday, July 16th, 2012

Consider the pigeon, the lowly vermin of the sky. Who, at one time or another, ever thought trying to keep and raise a small flock of sky rats for your offseason dog training would be a great idea? That’s exactly where I found myself last weekend, sweating, cursing, sawing and hammering away at a dedicated pigeon pen for all those cursed little birdbrains that I’ve been trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to trap. It’s bad enough to repeatedly be outsmarted by a bird I’m not fully convinced has an actual brain, but it’s even worse to realize what that says about me.

Knowing full well the limited extent of my carpentry (and apparently, trapping) skills, I probably should have just abandoned the idea altogether, but with two young dogs needing some bird contacts, and with fall, cool weather, college football, and (most importantly), quail season all still a distant blip on the far horizon, I decided that, for better or worse, finishing that pen would be a priority.

As the old adage goes, birds make the bird dog. Photo by Chad Love / Quail Forever

 

So that’s what I did. I spent all weekend meticulously constructing what I confidently thought would be a high-quality, eight-feet-long pigeon and quail loft. When I finally got finished late Sunday evening, I caught my breath, stepped back to admire my skill, and realized that I had spent approximately $15,000 and 500 man-hours of labor cobbling together a simple, hopelessly out-of-square box covered in rusty wire sitting on a pair of sawhorses. Those figures are rough estimates, of course, but that’s what it felt like.

Worse, I didn’t even have any pigeons to populate this gleaming new ode to incompetence. So I did what every resourceful, self-reliant modern hunter-gatherer does: I went on Craigslist. When I saw a local ad for pigeons at the bargain price of two bucks apiece, I figured if I couldn’t outsmart them, I could at least derive some small measure of satisfaction by buying them at a good price.

And here’s tip number one for buying pigeons: Remember to bring something (Disposable, of course. Trust me, you aren’t going to want to keep it) to put down under the cage in which you take them home. If you don’t, you will be sorry. Very, very sorry…

But eventually, after multiple sessions with the power washer, the back of my wife’s car more or less came clean and I was able to transfer my eight new pigeons to their brand spanking new digs. (After, of course, I was forced to take off and sand down the loft door that had swollen shut because I made it too big for the opening…). Surprisingly, all eight pigeons were still there the next morning. So now I’m in the pigeon-keeping business, at least until they all figure out how to escape. Anyone else keep a small flock of pigeons for their dog training? Any suggestions, advice or warnings you’d care to share? Any pigeon-related training tips? And seriously, is there any bird out there that defecates as often and with as much enthusiasm as a pigeon?

Chad Love writes for Quail Forever (Pheasants Forever’s quail conservation division) from Woodward, Oklahoma. He is a lifelong quail hunter and “bird dog guy” who also writes for Field & Stream, including the magazine’s “Man’s Best Friend” gundog blog.

Okla. 89er QF Chapter Donates $20,000 for Quail Habitat Work

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

Pheasants Forever removed the eastern red cedars off this Nebraska property. Pheasants Forever File Photo

I was walking the dogs the other day out behind my house when I stumbled across it, an ugly, spindly little thing that hadn’t been there before. It looked harmless enough, just a sprig of raggedy evergreen poking out from the leaves covering the ground. It didn’t look evil. In fact, it looked like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. Cute almost in a homely sort of way. I bent over, gently grasped its slender little stem… then ruthlessly yanked it out of the ground and threw it over the fence. Tree homicide never felt so good.

Having struck a blow for quail (at least in my mind), I happily resumed my walk. What was so horrible about this tiny little plant I had just joyously murdered? Oh, just about everything. Given enough time, it would have grown into a giant, sprawling, water-sucking, habitat-stealing eastern red cedar, which I like to call the cockroach of the tree world. Eastern red cedars are a type of juniper that, while native to my area of the southern plains, has historically been confined to deep canyons and other areas relatively immune from fire. But the eastern red cedar’s range has exploded in recent years, forming dense stands of – quite literally – impenetrable, sterile forest where prairie used to be. I’ve watched eastern red cedars slowly choke out some of my favorite hunting spots over the past 15 years or so, and as someone who’s worn out a chainsaw or two trying to beat them back on my in-law’s property, I can attest to both the eastern red cedar’s perniciousness and its profligacy.

This devil tree does absolutely nothing for quail, or virtually any other wildlife for that matter, and it’s quite literally taking over the quail-hunting landscape in my home state of Oklahoma. Which is why it did my eastern red cedar-hating heart good recently to see the good folks of the Central Oklahoma 89er Quail Forever chapter donate $20,000 to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation for the purchase of a cedar-cutting machine that will be used on the state’s wildlife management areas. Not only is it a great example of how local QF chapters’ dollars stay local, it’s a great use of those dollars as well. I for one can’t wait to see all those newly-cut cedar trees slowly turning brown as the dogs and I walk past them this fall.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I will stop waging my low-level personal warfare against eastern red cedars. Like some weird, demented anti-Johnny Appleseed, I long ago made it a point to stop and pull every eastern red cedar seedling I came across while out walking or hunting. A largely symbolic gesture, I know, especially compared with the absolutely real difference that my QF chapter’s contribution will be making with this new cedar-cutting machine. But that’s OK, they both still make me feel good…

What little gestures do you make or symbolic blows do you strike for your local quail?

Chad Love writes for Quail Forever (Pheasants Forever’s quail conservation division) from Woodward, Oklahoma. He is a lifelong quail hunter and “bird dog guy” who also writes for Field & Stream, including the magazine’s “Man’s Best Friend” gundog blog.

Is It Time For A Federal Quail Stamp?

Monday, July 18th, 2011

Is it time for a "quail stamp?"

If you are – as I am – a waterfowler as well as a quail hunter, you know how important the federal duck stamp program has been to waterfowl production and habitat conservation since its inception in 1934.  Our system of national wildlife refuges funded by our duck stamp purchases is unique in the world as a shining example of theNorth American Model of Wildlife Conservation and is something we as hunters should justifiably be proud of.

But here’s a question I’ve been kicking around in my head for a while now: would it be possible to emulate the structure and the success of the duck stamp program, but with upland gamebirds as the target species? And if it were possible, would now be the time to do it?

I think the parallels between the basic problems facing ducks at the turn of the century and upland birds now are obvious: precipitous declines in populations brought on by a steep and ever-accelerating loss of habitat.

Of course, there are also some fundamental differences, too. Ducks and geese are migratory and therefore require a certain level of federal involvement, whereas most upland species are not. For lack of a better term (and for better or worse) upland birds like quail are “states’ rights” birds.

And to what uses or goals would those funds be applied and allocated? National wildlife refuges focused on upland habitat? Research? Education? And more importantly, what species?

Admittedly, there are a host of technical and ecological roadblocks to implementing a federal upland bird recovery program. Daunting, to be sure, but not insurmountable. And with the looming threat of federal involvement in the management of several threatened upland bird species, anyway, perhaps it’s time to look forward by taking a look back into history.

What do you think? Would you be in favor of a federal upland bird stamp structured like the duck stamp program? I’d buy a federal quail stamp, how about you?

Chad Love writes for Quail Forever (Pheasants Forever’s quail conservation division) from Woodward, Oklahoma. He is a lifelong quail hunter and “bird dog guy” who also writes for Field & Stream, including the magazine’s “Man’s Best Friend” gundog blog.