Monday, December 3, 2018

In its 100th year of pheasant hunting, South Dakota presents hopeful examples for future

, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

ABERDEEN, South Dakota - Cattail stalks slapped our ears and grabbed our boots, adding a physical challenge as we hiked and hunted in the prairie pothole region of South Dakota.
But the greatest test at the moment was visual. 
As our group pushed through the center of a dense slough, winged forms boiled skyward from the eastern edge.
"Look at that," said Anthony Hauck of Lino Lakes, Minnesota, as we stopped to admire the sight well out of shotgun range. "Got a few in here, don't you think?"
As we continued the crunchy march, more waves took flight.
Flap, flap, flap, flap, then glide, glide and flap some more into the distance.
The difficulty for my Wisconsin eyes was accepting that the birds were in fact the object of our quest: ring-necked pheasants.
A flight of several dozen, perhaps even 100, birds from a field elsewhere in the Midwest would have had to be a different species. Red-winged blackbirds, for one.
But we weren't just anywhere. We were in the pheasant capital of the world.
Last week I joined a group for two days of pheasant hunting near Aberdeen.
The group included: Hauck, director of public relations for Pheasants Forever; Tom Hanson of Orvis; John Kruse of Northwest Outdoors Radio; Andrew McKean of Outdoor Life and Powderhook; Matt Soberg, editor of Ruffed Grouse Society magazine and a freelancer for Project Upland and Covey Rise Magazine; and Jared Wiklund, public relations specialist for Pheasants Forever.
Our timing was notable, too. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

North Dakota's Youth Pheasant Weekend set for Sept. 29-30


North Dakota's two-day youth pheasant season is Saturday, Sept. 29 and Sunday, Sept. 30. Legally licensed residents and nonresidents age 15 and younger may hunt roosters statewide.
Resident youth hunters, regardless of age, must possess a fishing, hunting and furbearer certificate and general game and habitat license. Nonresident youth hunters from states that provide a reciprocal licensing agreement for North Dakota residents qualify for North Dakota resident licenses. Otherwise, nonresident youth hunters must purchase a nonresident small game license.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Mitchell South Dakota local habitat access program getting underway

Efforts to improve public hunting areas are underway for local Pheasants Forever leaders.
The Community Based Habitat Access Program (CBHAP) is up and running in Mitchell, with two sites on board and three more soon to be fully committed, as well. That will amount to 300 acres of public access areas near Mitchell by the end of June, bolstered by the efforts of the CBHAP. The initial goal is for the Mitchell area to have about 4,000 acres implemented in the local program, which aims to improve on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP. Grasslands enrolled in CRP are seen as some of the most important lands needed to help cultivate the pheasant population in the state, and the number of acres enrolled in the program have decreased in recent years, as have South Dakota's pheasant numbers.
Dan DeBoer, a Pheasants Forever farm bill biologist based in Mitchell, said they're looking for donations or partnerships with area businesses to fund additional land for the program.

"The idea behind it is that the more public access we have, the more hunters we have here in our area and the more money that is spent here with local businesses to help our economy," DeBoer said.

Mitchell's program got off to a big start because of the $150,000 commitment made in December by the Mitchell Pheasants Forever chapter, Pheasant Country, which DeBoer estimates will help fund that 4,000-acre goal.

The funding provided by the CBHAP is meant to "sweeten the pot," DeBoer said, along with the CRP and walk-in funding provided by South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks.
"The big advantage is that we provide another financial boost to that program to allow landowners the chance to have it make sense for them," DeBoer said.

The program is based off the Aberdeen Pheasant Coalition, which has committed $100,000 since 2016 for 1,464 acres of public walk-in hunting areas. DeBoer also cited figures from GF&P research, which indicates that for every $1 invested into a walk-in program, $15 returns to the community in local spending.

Friday, September 7, 2018

ND 2018 Pheasant and Partridge Numbers Similar to Last Year, Sharptails Down

North Dakota’s roadside surveys conducted in late July and August indicate total pheasant and Hungarian partridge numbers this fall are similar to last year, while sharp-tailed grouse numbers are down.

R.J. Gross, upland game management biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said the survey shows total pheasants observed per 100 miles are down 2 percent from last year. In addition, broods per 100 miles were unchanged, while the average brood size was up 27 percent. The final summary is based on 278 survey runs made along 101 brood routes across North Dakota.

“Even though survey data suggests pheasant production was certainly better than last year, hunters will still notice the lack of production from 2017 in the overall population,” Gross said.

Statistics from southwestern North Dakota indicate total pheasants were down 32 percent and broods observed down 29 percent from 2017. For every 100 survey miles, observers counted an average of six broods and 45 pheasants. The average brood size was 5.2 chicks. Despite the population decline, Gross said the southwest still holds the most pheasants in the state.

Results from the southeast show birds are up 63 percent from last year, and the number of broods up 77 percent. Observers counted five broods and 40 birds per 100 miles. The average brood size was 5.8. Gross said while some areas of the state show a large increase in percentages from last year, such as in the southeast, it is important to keep in mind this is based off a low population in those areas in 2017.

Statistics from the northwest indicate pheasants are up 9 percent from last year, with broods up 4 percent. Observers recorded three broods and 26 pheasants per 100 miles. Average brood size was 6.5.

The northeast district, generally containing secondary pheasant habitat with lower pheasant numbers compared to the rest of the state, showed two broods and 19 pheasants per 100 miles. Average brood size was 5.8.

Sharptails observed per 100 miles are down 49 percent statewide from 2017, while partridge are up 7 percent.

“Hunting will be slower than last season in most of the state, and all indications are that hunters will see significantly lower numbers of grouse statewide,” Gross said. “There will be localized areas of good hunting opportunities, but in general hunting will be fair at best.”

Despite increases in sharptail lek counts this spring for eastern North Dakota, brood survey results show statewide declines in number of grouse and broods observed per 100 miles, and a slight decline in average brood size. Observers recorded 0.8 sharptail broods and 6.8 sharptails per 100 miles. Average brood size was 4.55.

Although partridge numbers have shown a slight increase, Gross said the majority of the partridge harvest is incidental while hunters pursue grouse or pheasants. Partridge densities in general, he said, are too low to target. Observers recorded 0.4 partridge broods and 4.4 partridge per 100 miles. Average brood size was 7.03.

The 2018 regular pheasant season opens Oct. 6 and continues through Jan. 6, 2019. The two-day youth pheasant hunting weekend, when legally licensed residents and nonresidents ages 15 and younger can hunt statewide, is set for Sept. 29-30.

The 2018 grouse and partridge seasons open Sept. 8 and continue through Jan. 6, 2019. 

Original ND Game and Fish article

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

MN 2018 State pheasant index up 19 percent from last year














Wet spring and summer affected reproduction in some areas; habitat declines remain long-term concern

The 2018 roadside survey for pheasants showed a 19 percent increase in the overall pheasant index from 2017. While the index is similar to the 10-year average, it is still 52 percent below the long-term average.

“Given the April snowstorms and heavy rains across a good portion of the pheasant range this year, it was surprising to see increases in the pheasant indices across so many regions,” said Lindsey Messinger, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist who coordinated this year’s survey. “It appears hens may have delayed nesting and chicks were able to tolerate the rain in most areas.”

Weather and habitat are the two main factors that drive Minnesota’s pheasant population trends. Weather causes annual fluctuations in pheasant numbers. In the south-central region of the pheasant range, late-season snowstorms and heavy rain this past spring and summer has been tough for pheasants.

Habitat can help mitigate the impacts of weather and the availability of quality nesting habitat is more important for long-term pheasant population trends. Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres in particular play a large role in providing habitat for pheasants in Minnesota. The program, covered under the federal Farm Bill, pays farmers to remove environmentally-sensitive land from agricultural production and restore vegetation that will reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, and provide habitat for wildlife and pollinators.

Minnesota peaked in nesting habitat acres, particularly CRP acres, in 2007 but has declined since then. Minnesota added about 82,500 habitat acres in the past year, many of which were CRP acres; however, nearly 297,000 acres of CRP may be lost within the next two years due to contracts that are set to expire.

Roadside survey data
The DNR’s August roadside survey for pheasants showed a 19 percent increase in the overall pheasant index from 2017. This year’s statewide pheasant index was 45.5 birds per 100 miles of roads driven.

The pheasant index increased in all regions except the south-central region, which decreased by 36 percent from 2017. The highest pheasant counts were in the west-central, southwest and central regions where observers reported 48 to 65 birds per 100 miles driven. Hunters should find the best hunting opportunities in these regions.

Minnesota’s 2018 pheasant season is open Saturday, Oct. 13, through Monday, Jan. 1.

Annual weather impacts on pheasants
Winters that linger can impact the start of the breeding season and success of early nests. Heavy rain, particularly at or just after hatching, can impact chick survival.

One indication of delayed nesting activity were the ages of broods that observers recorded during the roadside surveys. From brood ages, approximate hatch dates are calculated. The range-wide hatch date in 2018 was nearly a week later than in 2017, and a few days later than the long-term average. Hatch dates in the southwest of June 26 and south-central of June 23 were 20 and eight days later, respectively, than in 2017, and they were one to two weeks later than the 10-year and long-term averages.

Another key indicator of annual reproduction is the number of broods observed during roadside surveys. The 2018 statewide brood index increased 28 percent from last year. Regional brood indices increased in every region except the east-central region, where it remained similar to last year, and the south-central region, where it declined by 28 percent compared to last year.

“Unfortunately, heavy rains came during the period of peak hatch in the south-central region,” Messinger said. “And as our survey results indicate, brood survival was affected in this region.”

Survey information
Monitoring pheasant population trends is part of the DNR’s annual August roadside wildlife survey, which began in 1955. DNR wildlife managers and conservation officers in the farmland region of Minnesota conduct the survey during the first half of August. This year’s survey consisted of 171 25-mile-long routes, with 151 routes located in the pheasant range.

Observers drive each route in early morning and record the number and species of wildlife they see. The data provide an index of relative abundance and are used to monitor annual changes and long-term population trends of pheasants, gray (Hungarian) partridge, eastern cottontail rabbits, white-tailed jackrabbits, mourning doves, and other wildlife.

The 2018 August Roadside Survey report and a map of pheasant hunting prospects are available at Also recorded in this year’s survey:
  • The gray partridge index remained similar to 2017 and was 50 percent below the 10-year average and 93 percent below the long-term average.
  • The mourning dove index decreased 7 percent from 2017 and remained below the 10-year average and long-term averages.
  • The cottontail rabbit index decreased 23 percent from 2017 but was 13 percent above the 10-year average and similar to the long-term average.
  • The white-tailed jackrabbit index was similar to last year and remains historically low.
  • The white-tailed deer index decreased 13 percent from 2017 but was still 19 percent above the 10-year average and 99 percent above the long-term average.
During the 2018 pheasant season, the daily bag limit is two roosters through November, and it increases to three roosters on Saturday, Dec. 1. The possession limit is six roosters (increasing to nine roosters on Dec. 1). Shooting hours are 9 a.m. to sunset. Additional details are available at

Thursday, August 30, 2018

North Dakota 2018 Spring Pheasant Count Down 30 Percent From 2017

North Dakota’s spring pheasant population index is down 30 percent from the same time last year, according to the state Game and Fish Department’s 2018 spring crowing count survey.

R.J. Gross, upland game management biologist, said the number of roosters heard crowing this spring was down statewide, with decreases ranging from 15 to 38 percent in the primary regions holding pheasants.

“We entered spring with a lower than average number of adult birds,” Gross said. “Last year’s production was far below average due to the statewide drought conditions.”

However, Gross said the past winter was good for bird survival, so hens should be in good physical shape for the nesting season.

“In addition, this spring’s weather has been good so far, as most of the state has received adequate rainfall,” he added. “If the trend continues, a good hatch should be expected, but it will take a few years of good reproduction to get the population back to where it was before the drought.” 

While the spring number is an indicator, Gross said it does not predict what the fall population will look like. Brood surveys, which begin in late July and are completed by September, provide a much better estimate of summer pheasant production and what hunters might expect for a fall pheasant population.

Pheasant crowing counts are conducted each spring throughout North Dakota. Observers drive specified 20-mile routes, stopping at predetermined intervals, and counting the number of pheasant roosters heard crowing over a two-minute period during the stop.

The number of pheasant crows heard is compared to previous years’ data, providing a trend summary. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

South Dakota 2018 Pheasant Survey Indicates 47% Increase for 100th Hunting Season

PIERRE, S.D. – According to the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (GFP), this year’s pheasant brood survey shows a 47 percent increase over last year. The 2018 statewide pheasants-per-mile (PPM) index is 2.47, up from the 2017 index of 1.68.

“A substantial increase in the pheasants-per-mile index is an exciting prospect for South Dakota’s 100th pheasant hunting season this fall,” stated Kelly Hepler, GFP Secretary. “Weather conditions continue to play a significant role when it comes to bird numbers and better weather helped this year with the average pheasant brood size increasing 22 percent over last year.”

From late July through mid-August, GFP surveyed 110, thirty-mile routes across the state’s pheasant range to estimate pheasant production and calculate the PPM index. The survey is not a population estimate, but rather compares the number of pheasants observed on the routes and establishes trend information. Statewide, 85 of the 110 survey routes had a higher PPM than 2017.

“We are pleased to see pheasant numbers improve across the state; particularly in the far eastern part of the state where hunters will have more opportunities to harvest birds than in recent years,” stated Hepler. “The full report provides an overview of upland habitat; which remains a concern for all wildlife across the state. Just as changes in landscape-level habitat conditions have produced peaks and valleys in the pheasant population for 100 years, habitat will again be the key to preserving pheasant hunting for another century."

The Walk-in Area (WIA) program added 39,000 new acres in addition to 8,000 new acres last year. With 1.1 million acres of public hunting land within the heart of South Dakota’s pheasant range, great opportunities remain for public access to pheasant hunting. Hepler said hunters should notice far fewer disturbed CRP fields compared to last year when emergency haying and grazing was authorized in response to severe drought conditions.

The annual hunting atlas and a web-based interactive map of public lands and private lands leased for public hunting can be found at In addition to printed and interactive maps, hunters can utilize GPS downloads and smartphone applications to locate public hunting lands throughout the state. Hunters are again asked to hunt safely and ethically, respect private landowners and those public hunting areas scattered across the state.

“Challenges exist to maintain habitat, desirable pheasant population levels, and to recruit a new generation of hunters to preserve this truly special sport of pheasant hunting. Take time this fall to celebrate the hunt, the sense of community and comradery while appreciating how deeply rooted the tradition of pheasant hunting has been for the last 100 years,” concluded Hepler.  

South Dakota’s traditional statewide pheasant hunting season opens on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, and runs through Jan. 6, 2019.

Original SD GFP article

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Iowa’s 2018 pheasant population second highest in a decade

BOONE - Iowa’s pheasant hunters can expect to find more birds this fall when they head to the fields, predict state wildlife experts. That forecast is based on the recently completed statewide population survey of pheasants, quail, partridge, cottontail rabbits and jackrabbits.

Iowa’s pheasant population increased in every nine county region except northwest where it was similar to last year. The survey counted a state average of 21 birds per 30 mile route which translates to a statewide harvest estimate of 250,000 to 300,000 roosters this fall.
The August roadside survey is tool used by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to physically record the number of upland game seen while driving the survey routes. It’s a product of 218 30-mile routes across that state that are conducted Aug. 1-15 beginning at sunrise. The survey has used the same routes since 1962.

“We weren’t sure what to expect from the survey this year because the spring weather was all over the board and it likely impacted some nesting success,” said Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist for the Iowa DNR. April started cold with 10-20 inches of snow across northern Iowa and then switched to warm and dry by the end of May.
“The take home message is, if you had good hunting last year, you can expect similar hunting or better hunting across most of the state this year,” he said.

The 2018 count was an increase over the 15 birds per route in 2017. However, Bogenschutz said dry conditions in 2017 likely did not accurately reflect the pheasant population and when adjusted for the lack of dew the population would be similar, but still slightly lower than 2018.

Another positive for hunters is the quail and cottontail rabbit populations, both at present day highs.

“Anyone who has ever had an interest in quail hunting or hasn’t hunted quail recently – this would be a good fall to go,” Bogenschutz said.

Iowa’s quail range is across the southern third of the state. Rabbits are abundant in all parts of Iowa with the highest populations in southern and east central regions.

Partridge population is similar to 2017 with the highest population in central and northern Iowa.

The lone exception is jackrabbits which have seen its numbers fall likely due to a landscape that shifted from producing small grains and fields of short grasses to larger fields of corn and soybeans.

The August roadside survey and game distribution maps are available online at

Saturday, August 11, 2018

South Dakota Pheasant Hunting Video – American Heroes Outdoors

AHO Season2: Episode 5 This Episode wraps up our six day pheasant hunting adventure that spanned across two states! We hunted hard for six days straight and made a lot of new friends!

Friday, August 10, 2018

How you — and your dog — should prep for pheasant season


The state Game, Fish and Parks Department will conclude its pheasant brood survey on Wednesday. While the final report is not intended to be a true population estimate, many hunters view it that way. In fact, the report, which is traditionally unveiled around Labor Day weekend, is heralded as the “unofficial official” kickoff to pheasant season.
But if you’ve waited until mid- to late August to kick off your pheasant season, you’re already a day late and a dollar short. If you wait around for a report to tell you how many roosters, hens and chicks wildlife officials record on predetermined routes before you make your hunting plans for this fall, you’re missing the point.
No matter the year, a limit of pheasants never magically appears on your doorstep or hits your windshield as soon as you head out hunting. Success in the pheasant fields — just like in the deer stand or the duck blind — takes work, and the work should have already started.

Do the leg work

Regardless of which direction numbers are trending, pheasant hunting starts with a mindset. Wild birds are growing smarter and wilder each year, and if there are fewer birds on the landscape than last year, you’d better make up your mind that you’ll be ready to go the extra mile for your birds.
To go the extra mile, your dog needs to be in tip-top hunting shape prior to the season’s opening bell. Temperatures will likely still be in the 70s and 80s at times in mid- to late October. An overweight, out-of-shape pet is exponentially more susceptible to heat stress than a properly conditioned gun dog.
Too many hunters expect their dogs to be rock stars right out of the gate, even if the dogs have seen nothing but the inside of a kennel for the last nine months. With pheasant season only two months away, there’s still time to knock some rust off your dog prior to the season.
If you plan on walking or running your dog in town this time of year to get it back in shape, remember that concrete sidewalks and asphalt roads can really heat up during a sunny day and can hurt or burn a dog’s pads. If you wouldn’t walk on it barefoot, then it’s too hot for your dog.
If you run your dog in a cover, keep in mind that most types of cover actually trap heat and humidity. So, on an 80-degree day it’s likely going to feel more like 90 or 95 degrees to your dog as it meanders through the cover.
In addition to walks and field work, even backyard sessions where simple obedience commands — sit, stay, heel, come, kennel — are reinforced and will start reprogramming your dog’s brain into performance mode.
These are also ideal situations to get the entire family involved, as kids enjoy getting outside and helping train their dogs. Plus, it gives them an opportunity to see their house pet transform into a gun dog, doing what it was bred to do.
Being in shape goes for pheasant hunters, too. Early season treks through even light cover can take their toll on an out-of-shape hunter’s lungs, joints and muscles, and it’s easy to forget how difficult it is to bust through heavy cover such as cattails and waist-deep CRP.
Not being able to finish a walk or having to quit a hunt early because you or your dog are out of shape is completely avoidable, so start preparing now for the physical aspects of pheasant season.

Do your homework

Read the rest of the AberdeenNews article


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