In the Outdoors: Keeping the Pheasant Faith
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.