Posts Tagged ‘quail 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.

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.

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.

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.

Quail: The Season’s still on for America’s Original Upland Game Bird

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

Unlike for pheasants, quail season extends into March in some places. Above, the author with a scaled quail taken this December.

While those of us in the pheasant world are lamenting another season passing, at least in the next few days or so, quail season extends into February (Texas closes Feb. 27/Alabama Feb. 28) and even March (Florida closes March 6) in some states.

Before there were even pheasants in this country (1882 marked the first successful U.S. release; 1891 the first hunting season), Euro-Americans had been hunting quail, pinnated, sharp-tailed and ruffed grouse for nearly 400 hundred years, depending on the locale. Think of it, Americans have been hunting quail nearly four times as long as pheasants.

So, I’m very excited to be heading out next week to visit Quail Forever chapters in Alabama, where I’ve never visited before, Tennessee, Kentucky (my second-only visit to these two states) and Missouri (where I’ve hunted many times for snow geese, turkey, quail and pheasant).

Although, this week Alabama and other southern states received some snow from the monster storm that pummeled the east coast. As a sub-arctic (Minnesota) resident, I’m hoping to escape winter somewhat during my January southern swing.

In the years since Pheasants Forever organized Quail Forever (2005), I’ve been very impressed with the dedication, energy and knowledge of our Quail Forever leaders for helping America’s original upland game bird.

Quail Forever members have a tougher road to hoe for quail because of its severe population decline and the fact there are far fewer hunters to advocate for them. I guess, quail guys and gals, we just have to be louder in our vociferations!

I get pretty distracted by pheasant and other hunting during the early season (September through December), but come January, when I usually make by Quail Forever chapter visits, I really get fired up for quail. Read all about my January quail adventures in next year’s Quail Forever Journal. To receive it, all you have to do is join Quail Forever. Sign up on our website at www.quailforever.org. Thanks and Happy Hunting!