Prepare for Pheasant Season Now
The Future of Pheasant Hunting
Keeping the Pheasant Faith
The Last Round for Ringnecks
Prepare for Pheasant Season Now
By Dennis Foster
Thoughts of Pheasant Hunting may not be your highest priority until the leaves are falling. But, if you are serious about the sport and want to get the most out of your hunting experience…you should be doing something about it right now.
I know many of you feel all you need to do is grab your trusty old gun and vest, toss the dog in vehicle and you are all set. If you want to break from the mold a bit and shake up your routine, some preparation would be in order.
First of all, just how successful have your hunts been the last couple of years? If you’re not conjuring up memories of bountiful days, perhaps it’s time for a change of scenery-and luck. I hail from South Dakota and will freely admit to being prejudice, but for darn good reason. It is really just that good here. Even when we have a so called “down year”, we still have many times more birds than any other State could ever hope for. This year will be an “up year” because of no Winter kill and a very strong hatch this Spring. The Good Old Days are right now and South Dakota is definitely worth checking out and I would suggest if you plan on coming out to book as soon as possible to ensure your spot as when we have high bird numbers…the number of hunters rises in proportion.
Maybe you are seeing plenty of birds but that so called trusty old gun just isn’t getting the job done as well as you would like. Or, you are like the rest of us and just want something fresh every once in awhile. If that is the case, when you are snooping around for a new gun, I would recommend that you check out what Baserri Shotguns (www.baserrishotguns.com) has to offer in the way of fine field guns. My Guide Clients and I shot their MARI HR over and under last year and the unanimous consensus is that is easily the lightest and most instinctively swinging shotgun that any of us had have ever shouldered. This is a crucial quality for the wild, fast, and hard cutting Pheasants that we hunt. The HR is truly a joy to carry due to its weighing in at a mere 6 pounds 3 ounces. As I am aging and carrying a few extra pounds of my own in all the wrong places, this is greatly appreciated and helps make up for some of my overindulgences.
This leads us directly into what you should be doing right now as there is not time once the season arrives. That would be getting yourself and your dog(s) into at least somewhat passable shape. Unless you hunt on a Preserve where they release the ever wily Pen Raised Colorful Chickens directly beneath your feet…you will end up walking a bit. This does not mean you need to pass a Marine Corp physical or fit into your high school jeans. But you should be able to carry your carcass around well enough to perform the task at hand and not be miserable and sore for a week or more after a few days spent hunting. So it would be wise to start yourself and your dog on some sort of a program just as soon as you can.
The one thing that I and any other Outfitter will readily attest to is that we often witness our Clients showing up with their pride and joy pooches carrying large pouches. Meaning their dogs are downright fat and quickly tire and become useless to them. Nothing is more disheartening than seeing your pal just not making the grade. It also not overly kind to let your dogs get out of shape and then suddenly push them through the fields and expect their best performance. In fact, it is even out-and-out dangerous as far too many dogs are lost (die in the field) each year for just this completely avoidable and senseless reason.
The conditioning I am referring to means you and not just your dog. This is only half of the equation. I will share a tongue in cheek, but a very representative example of just what I am talking about. I have a friend who is by all accounts a good guy, avid outdoorsman, and runs some pretty impressive labs-but he is also overly sensitive and I dare say more than a bit hypocritical when it comes to good natured ribbing. You see he has a great sense of humor as it applies to reminding me-along with our entire community of every time I perform one my all too frequent screwups. I guess that is the price one has to pay for the sin of being imperfect. So to protect his near angelic innocence; let’s just say he is a foreign fella who goes by the handle of Omar Muhammad.
His routine goes something like this; load dogs into pickup-along with a cooler-stop at the local watering hole for exercise supplies. Ice, beverages, and beef jerky. Ice and beverages go into cooler (minus one) and jerky is fed to the dogs. Then head out of town and find a suitably deserted country road. Dogs are now let loose to do their thing with him quite comfortably remaining in the comfort of the pickup seat, with cell phone at the ready.
The purpose of the phone is to keep him well occupied and entertained by calling unfortunate fools like myself or anyone else gullible enough to answer his calls after 5:00 P.M., while his dogs are doing the actual exercising. Once he is firmly convinced he has given all the grief the recipients of his fine verbal assault can bear or runs out of beverages-whichever comes first-it will now be nearly dark and time to load the dogs in an attempt to head for home in a timely fashion.
Lest his Wife discovers he has once again become distracted and detained in said waterhole on the return trip. Note that she is more concerned with the Canines than him as she is fully aware that he is far from unfamiliar with and seems quite comfortable in these surroundings. Besides, he has most likely encountered some of his friends (fools) inside and has developed an irresistible and undeniable urge. That would be feeling it is more effective to disperse his brand of high compliments, share his vast knowledge on innumerable subjects, and spread some general B.S. firsthand…rather than rely on the phone. After all, he now has a somewhat captive audience in which to perform in front of.
In this scenario, dogs will be rescued by the Wife and the cell phone quickly comes back into play…albeit for very different reasons. At this point he is the one answering and squarely on the receiving end of some of her verbiage detailing his lack of ability to tell time, thoughtful nature, and continued inability to consistently find his way home. Not totally undeserved, I might add. In the event he becomes headstrong and disobedient, discipline is immediately administered and enforced with his drooping butt now firmly planted in the proverbial dog house.
The moral of the story is to try and not become an Omar Muhammed. All jocularity aside, get out and do yourself and your dogs some good by taking long walks and spending quality one on one time with them. You will find that they will not only be in better shape, but also promptly become more loyal and well behaved. A happy healthy dog will do most anything to please you. By doing so, the same could possibly be said about you, and your Wife might just grow to appreciate you more. The only drawback may be that your cell phone will continue to ring; only this time the owner of watering hole in question may be inquiring as to your whereabouts and opining about you and your wallets less frequent visits.
Dennis Foster is a Hunting/Fishing Guide and Outdoor Writer from Mellette, SD. If you would like to book a trip or have questions or comments, he can be reached through his websites www.dakotapheasantguide.com and www.eyetimepromotions.com.
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The Future of Pheasant Hunting
By Bob & Ginny Riege
On a brilliant autumn day Governor Mark Dayton, Ginny and I and some 84 hunters participated in the first Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener in Montevideo, MN.
The purpose of this event was to highlight the state’s hunting heritage and promote western Minnesota as a hunting destination. It was patterned after the Governor’s Fishing Opener and the Governor’s Deer Opener.
As we met our hunting parties at breakfast on Saturday and talked about our strategies of where we were to hunt and what we could expect, I reflected back to a time when I first started hunting pheasants.
I can remember growing up in the upper Midwest when "pheasant shooting" took place. My father and I would get in the old station wagon and pack a lunch for an afternoon of "pheasant shooting". I use this term because it no longer applies to the great sport of hunting pheasants. Today, the term is "pheasant hunting" because that is what it has become over the years. Gone are the days when we would see fifty birds rise in a single flock. Gone are the days when a young boy after school could walk down by the slough, by himself, with his single shot 16 gauge, and return home with three plump roosters for the dinner table. Why are these days gone? The answer can be summed up in one word, habitat.
The change of pheasant hunting has taken a dramatic shift in the last two decades. With the shift in habitat in the last twenty years the modern day pheasant hunter must shift also.
A pheasant needs a variety of cover in order to survive. The pheasant needs overhead cover in the daylight hours and needs roosting cover (off the ground) and dense cover for warmth, during the night. If this cover is adjacent to a food source, such as corn and water you will have a good population of birds. Weather in the spring of the year, during nesting time, is also a major factor, but if the habitat is there, the birds can sustain and even increase.
Saturday evening at the celebration supper, the Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources Tom Landwehr spoke about the change in habitat; “While weather is a major contributing factor to our pheasant decline, loss of habitat is a major concern for us at DNR. Within the pheasant range, about 9,000 acres of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) have been lost since last year; that’s 15 square miles. Statewide, about 128,000 acres of CRP contracts will expire on Sept. 30, while only 33,180 acres were enrolled during the recent spring sign-up period.
The future for pheasants looks grimmer when you consider more than 550,000 acres of CRP are scheduled to expire in the next three years. As you know, CRP remains our No. 1 habitat program for pheasants. With high land rental rates and soaring corn prices, conservation practices are taking a backseat to market demands, and interest in CRP enrollment is likely to suffer. To see what Minnesota’s pheasant future might hold, look no further than Iowa, which is predicted to have its lowest pheasant harvest in history this fall. The Iowa pheasant harvest may be half of the 250,000-bird harvest predicted for Minnesota.”
One of the ways that we can help the habitat is to join an organization that improves habitat. Pheasants Forever is an organization that can and does improve habitat not only for pheasants but for all types of wildlife.
“Pheasants Forever's members are truly passionate about conservation and creating, preserving and restoring habitat that benefits pheasants, quail and other wildlife. That's why Pheasants Forever provides the most efficient conservation model of any organization. PF's unique model empowers local chapters with the responsibility to determine how 100 percent of their locally-raised conservation funds will be spent. Whether it's through improving habitat, informing the public about land management or educating future generations of hunting enthusiasts, conservation is the underlying principle in all we do at the grassroots level of our chapters all the way to Washington, D.C. when we fight for strong conservation policy.” according to www.pheasantsforever.org.
The Montevideo area has always been known for excellent pheasant hunting. On the first Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener it didn’t disappoint even the experts. The hunting party shot 65 birds and reported seeing about 350 hens and roosters.
Even the Governor mentioned that he allowed a few birds to get away so pheasants would be there forever.
We will see you next year at the Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener in Marshall, MN.
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Keeping the Pheasant Faith
By Jerry Carlson
We have all seen the reports. Pheasant numbers are down all across the Midwest with some states hurting more than others. I suppose for some hunters this means throwing in the proverbial pheasant towel. For others, it will be business as usual.
It was shortly after the gloom and doom reports came out that I ended up comparing pheasant notes with long time hunting friend, Mark Young. It was interesting that we both had the same opinion of the roadside counts. Certainly it cannot be denied that the population is down. However, we both knew we would be able to find birds.
Part of this confidence comes from past experiences. We have learned that there are always pockets of birds to be had. The key is being able to locate these pockets. Finding birds is often a matter of knowing where to look and focusing on quality habitat.
In an effort to learn more about pheasants and their relationship to habitat, I talked to Chad Bloom who is the Southern Minnesota Regional Representative for Pheasants Forever. Bloom’s feelings about the pheasant numbers in Minnesota were similar to mine. He believed hunters would still be able to find birds.
Bloom felt it was important to understand the daily cycle of the pheasant and use this information to help pinpoint areas to hunt. According to Bloom, pheasants consistently search out food areas when coming off of their nighttime roost.
Once they have had a bite to eat, they will look for daytime loafing cover. This loading cover varies with the time of the year and may end up being a corn field early in the season and cattails later in the fall. The evening routine involves more feeding and then a return to roost cover.
Bloom believed that typical CRP type habitat with switch and brome grasses were pretty good bets for roosting cover. Because of this fact, hunting roost areas late in the day was more productive than midday.
Analyzing the potential of hunting locations was high on the list for Bloom. Native grass areas that were surrounded by corn or soybeans were going to be more highly utilized than cover areas located far from food sources. Once the native grasses were compromised due to snow, cattail sloughs and woody thickets should be targeted.
Bloom also added some tips for hunting public land. Since WMAs and WPAs see quite a bit of pressure, he believed the pheasants learned how to react to the hunting activity. Many hunters will pick a path of least resistance where the walking is easy. Instead of going through the thickets, they have a tendency to work the edges. Hunters may need to “dig out the birds” in pressured areas.
Bloom also suggested hunting in a manner that was different from the routine others may take. Doing the opposite of normal may trip up the hunter avoidance plan pheasants have developed and make them more vulnerable.
Pheasant season lasts a long time in Minnesota. Success during a down year is going to go to those that not only pay their dues in terms of effort but also hunt smart. Concentrating on quality habitat and changing strategies as the season progresses will be critical to putting birds in the game bag.
Visit Jerry's website at www.jerrycarlsonoutdoors.com
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The Last Round for Ringnecks
Good dogs and a good day add up to a good time hunting late season ringnecks.
By Vic Androvich
The pheasant season had been a good one so far - the bird hatch from the previous spring was good, and that makes up 80 percent of the birds harvested each fall.
Our opening day hunt separated the young birds from the older ones, so after opening weekend we began hunting seasoned survivors. We had to change our tactics – all of the fields, ditches, rows and patches of cover were blocked. Many of the roosters still left alive chose to run rather than fly like their less fortunate brothers.
This wasn’t the end of the season. The ratio of hens to roosters favored the hens so tracks in the snow were everywhere, but we had to inspect them closely to confirm whether they were rooster or hen tracks, then try to dig the birds out of the cover.
Snow cover can give a hunter without a dog some insight as to where the pheasants are in a given area. Pheasants, like chickens and rabbits, walk a lot so if they’re in the area then their tracks will be left in the snow. If we found a rooster track, we would get on it like a pointer knowing there was a rooster at the end of the trail.
We weren’t as successful in the early morning because it was extremely cold. The pheasants sat tight in their bedding cover until the sun warmed the air and softened the snow. The winds were fierce during the snow storm three days beforehand, but each snow drift had an area where the snow blows off and exposes the ground. Corn dropped by the combine a month earlier served as bait. Corn is essential for a pheasant to survive in cold weather. The size of the grain and the amount of starch in each kernel enables the birds to process the grain quickly enough to keep the pheasants from freezing or starving.
Many times when cattle are allowed to feed in picked corn fields they eat whole cobs of corn. When they digest the cob the digestive process leaches some of the starch out of the corn. When the corn exits the cow there’s still plenty of nutritional value in the kernel for pheasants to survive on. It is also an easily located food source. Because pheasants don’t have taste buds, the exterior flavor of the corn is not an issue.
Pheasants tend to gather up in flocks amidst the heaviest cover available after heavy snows have flattened many patches of cover that provided productive food sources during the early days of the season. During the late season, winter wheat begins to sprout and provides good forage for pheasants. They can survive taking in limited amounts of water because they can get the required moisture from the morning dew and the succulent young wheat plants.
After their morning feeding session, they look for a location where they can collect the thermal rays of the sun as they bask in the sun. Look for them sunning themselves at the edge of cover or in the middle of as corn field with cover nearby. Security cover is a high priority since the birds are highly vulnerable to predators on the wing or on foot.
Use this knowledge as you search for pheasants. Spend your time where feed meets cover. The closer the two are to each other means the more likely the pheasants will survive the winter.
If you are hunting with a dog you are in for a treat. You’ll locate birds easier and faster. Pheasants rarely fall out of the sky dead after being shot. They will probably hit the ground running in search of a hiding place. You’ll probably lose a couple of birds if you are hunting among high weeds unless you have a dog that knows how to retrieve injured birds.
A wild pheasant is the most difficult bird for a dog to hunt. He doesn’t follow the rules - he may sit until the dog gets close then put his head down and run!
The dog must follow to get back to the scent, but the hunters are still walking slowly through the field. If the dog runs to keep up with the pheasant, he gets reprimanded for getting too far ahead of the hunters. If he doesn’t keep up with the birds they will run ahead of the dog and flush out of range.
It’s a great time, a great sport and a great way to end the season. Just remember - if dogs could carry a shotgun then hunters would be out of a job!
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