Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Prairie Shotguns

By Steve Smith

A friend of mine once accused me of having a Texas-quail-low-humidity-over-setters-on-Friday-afternoons shotgun, his point being that I maybe had gone a little overboard over the years accumulating shotguns for special purposes. I don’t have a gun like that, of course. I sold it, selling or trading shotguns being the best way I know of to buy other shotguns. Besides, I had no way of knowing if I’d even be hunting on any Fridays.

But, you know, I wouldn’t play golf with one club (even though you can’t call what I do, strictly speaking, golf) because my driver can’t do what my pitching wedge does and vice versa, and I can’t expect my Michigan brush-country woodcock gun to be of much use on late season South Dakota pheasants. And vice versa.

As the title more than implies, I’m going to talk about prairie shotguns, those guns used in the Big Open for birds other than pheasants, mainly Huns, sharptails, and prairie chickens. These are birds and it’s a place that calls for some specialization. Let’s take the birds first.

Huns can be tough to kill at times, especially late in the season when, as Ben Williams says, the September Squeakers have turned into November Rockets. I don’t mean because of the distance of the shots they offer as the season progresses, though that’s a major factor. I mean the birds need to be hit solidly. Sharptails and chickens, on the other hand, don’t have to be hit with a hammer to bring them down – a few shot of moderate size will usually do it. But that is where range comes in.

Read More Of The Story Here

Thursday, September 22, 2011

2011 Pheasant Forecast - Traveling Wingshooter

Traveling Wingshooter's 2011 Pheasant forecast for the state of SD, KS, ND, NE, IA, and MN.

An extremely harsh winter across the heart of the pheasant range in the Midwest –  the last in a string of bad winters in some states – plus a wet spring in the Dakotas and Minnesota, and the continued loss of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres, all combine to mean tougher prospects for ringneck hunters in the traditional top states.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pheasant Forever's 2011 Pheasant Hunting Forecast

Overall Outlook:

After the better part of a decade of fantastic pheasant numbers in the Midwest – bird numbers aided by a strong Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) – pheasant hunters will be finding fewer ringnecks during the 2011-2012 pheasant hunting season.
Tough weather, from drought in Kansas to hard winters in the Dakotas, did its fair share to hurt pheasant populations, but it’s the 5 million fewer CRP acres than there was just four years ago that made sure pheasant numbers were bound to decrease, which they did in every major pheasant producing state. Pheasants Forever is advocating for a strengthened CRP and other federal conservation programs in preparation of the upcoming Farm Bill, but cannot do it without your support as a Pheasants Forever member.
Despite the decline, there are still millions of pheasants roaming the grasslands, fencerows and field edges in the heart of pheasant country. South Dakota will again be in a class by itself, while Kansas, Nebraska and North Dakota look to be next best. In other states, boot leather will have to wear thinner in the fields this year. But as veteran uplanders know, any day hunting roosters is a day well spent. Remember to always consult official state hunting regulations for rules and season dates, and please carry Pheasants Forever's code of conduct with you into the field this fall:
As a member of Pheasants Forever, I believe in conserving wildlife and protecting the environment. I promise to leave the outdoors a little better than I found it. I will hunt safely and treat hunting on public and private land as a privilege. I will always ask permission before hunting private land. I will obey all game laws and insist my companions do as well.

2011 Wyoming Forecast

Wyoming - Big Horn Basin for Birds

See The Original Pheasant's Forever Article

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Google Earth data files available for Minnesota MN Walk In Access WIA

The data files for the MN Walk In Access have been released by the DNR.

I used the data files to pull up the WIA's in Google Earth and it made it very easy to zoom into the different areas and see what the hunting units look like.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Minnesota’s MN 2011 pheasant count / index falls 64 percent from 2010

(Released September 6, 2011)
A severe winter followed by a wet spring contributed to a significant decline in Minnesota’s pheasant counts. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the pheasant population index / count declined 64 percent from 2010 and is 71 percent below the 10-year average.
Contributing factors include:
  • A second consecutive severe winter, resulting in hen counts 72 percent below the 10-year average.
  • Cold, wet weather during the April through June nesting period, resulting in brood counts 75 percent below the 10-year average.
  • Loss of nearly 120,000 acres of grass habitat enrolled in farm programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) since 2007.
Severe winters combined with cold, wet springs are doubly hard on pheasant populations. That’s because fewer hens survive the winter and those that do are less successful in producing broods.
Pheasant hunters are expected to harvest about 250,000 roosters this fall, the lowest harvest since 1997. This compares to harvests that have exceeded 500,000 roosters five of the past eight years. The 500,000 bird harvests correspond with a string of mild winters and high CRP enrollment.

“We expect hunters to harvest a similar number of birds in 2011 as they did in 2001, which was another year with a severe winter followed by a cold, wet spring” said Kurt Haroldson, a wildlife biologist for the DNR’s Farmland Wildlife Population and Research Group in Madelia. Haroldson noted survey results indicated an unusually low ratio of hens to roosters.

This suggests hen mortality was high or hens were nesting or caring for young broods during the survey. If the late nesting effort was greater than normal, the 2011 pheasant population and the fall harvest may be higher than forecast. Pheasant populations can rebound quickly given good habitat, mild winter weather and favorable spring nesting conditions.

Minnesota is not the only state to see pheasant index declines. Wildlife officials in South Dakota reported a 46 percent population index decline. North Dakota’s spring population survey showed a decline, too.

The pheasant population estimate is part of the DNR’s annual roadside wildlife survey. The survey summarizes roadside counts of pheasants, gray (Hungarian) partridge, cottontail rabbits, white-tailed jackrabbits and other wildlife observed in the early morning hours during the first half of August throughout the farmland region of Minnesota.

The highest pheasant counts were in the east central region, where observers reported 51 birds per 100 miles of survey driven. Hunters will find fair harvest opportunities in pockets of south central and southwest Minnesota, but harvest opportunities in most of Minnesota’s pheasant range are rated poor to very poor.

This year’s statewide pheasant index was 23 birds per 100 miles driven, the lowest index since 1986. The pheasant index in southwest Minnesota, typically the state’s best pheasant range, fell 82 percent from last year to 19 birds per 100 miles driven.

Haroldson said the most important habitat for pheasants is grassland that remains undisturbed during the nesting season. Protected grasslands account for about six percent of the state’s pheasant range. Farmland retirement programs such as CRP, Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, Reinvest in Minnesota and Wetlands Reserve Program make up the largest portion of protected grasslands in the state.

High land rental rates and competing uses for farmland diminish the economic attractiveness of farmland conservation programs. During the next three years, contracts for 550,000 acres of CRP lands are scheduled to expire. If not re-enrolled, this would reduce CRP acres in Minnesota by 36 percent.
To help offset continued habitat losses caused by reductions in conservation set-aside acreage, DNR has accelerated acquisition of Wildlife Management Areas in the farmland region of Minnesota. DNR also supports habitat conservation on private lands by working with a variety of partners in the Farm Bill Assistance Partnership and Working Lands Initiative. Also, nearly 10,000 acres of private property will be open to public hunting through the state’s new Walk-In Access program.

Full MN DNR article

The 2011 August Roadside Report and pheasant hunting prospects map is available online.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Minnesota MN Walk-In Hunting Area Full Map Set Available

The full map set of all the Walk-In areas for MN is now available online.
The maps show all of the properties available in the Walk-In program.

There are over 9400 acres enrolled for 2011.

Friday, September 2, 2011

South Dakota SD 2011 Pheasant Outlook - Counts Down 46% From 2010

Pheasant counts decline from historic highs, but still good

PIERRE, S.D. - Pheasant brood counts indicate that pheasant numbers in South Dakota have returned to levels below the remarkable high counts of the past few years.

However, the pheasant population in the main part of the state's pheasant range will still provide quality hunting opportunities.

From 2003 through 2010, the statewide pheasant-per-mile index was at levels not seen in the previous 40 years. The index this year is 46 percent lower than the 2010 index and 41 percent lower than the average of the past 10 years.

"We observed abnormally high mortality of hen pheasants during the brutal winter of 2010-11," explained Jeff Vonk, Secretary of the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department, "The loss of that reproductive potential inhibited the ability of our pheasant population to rebound to the record levels that we have enjoyed in recent years."

Declines in the counts were consistent across the state and most pronounced in eastern South Dakota, where winter's grip was tightest and grassland nesting habitat is diminished.
"We knew this day was coming when important pheasant habitats provided by the cover in Conservation Reserve Program fields were lost," Vonk said.

CRP enrollments in the state are currently at 1.17 million acres, down from 1.56 million acres in 2007. The reduction equates to over 600 square miles of grassland habitat.

"On the other hand, we were pleasantly surprised how well pheasants responded in central South Dakota, where abundant moisture from winter snow and spring rain allowed grasslands to flourish and provide the essential habitat for excellent pheasant production," Vonk said.

The counts in the main pheasant range are similar to or higher than the counts in 2002 when hunters bagged 1.2 million pheasants. Pheasant hunters harvested 1.8 million pheasants in 2010.

"All things considered, pheasant numbers in much of the traditional pheasant range of the state are still good despite the declines in the counts," Vonk said. "Much of South Dakota will continue to provide a premier opportunity to hunt pheasants."

2011 Pheasant Brood Survey Results by Area

Pheasants per mile (PPM)
Difference of 2011 PPM with
City Area
2011 Survey
2010 Survey
10-yr. ave.
2010 Survey
10-yr. ave.
Sioux Falls
Western SD
NOTE: Comparisons are valid only between years within each local area.

See Complete SD DNR Article