A great tribute to a great trainer: Tom Davis on Sherry Ebert…

Sherry Ebert, one the nation's top gundog trainers. From sherryebert.com
Sherry Ebert, one the nation’s top gundog trainers. From sherryebert.com

Back when I first bought Lexi,  there was one trainer the breeder recommended to me over and over again: Sherry Ebert.

Sherry is one of the top trainers in the country, and she turns out great bird dogs. Unfortunately, she’s booked up solid. I’ll find wild grouse in Manhattan before I ever get a training slot with her.

You can read more about Sherry Ebert in this great tribute Tom Davis wrote about her in Sporting Classics. And be sure to check out the video below, too. In it, Sherry gives some good tips and advice on training bird dogs.

Sherry Ebert: On Top of the Bird-Dog World for Decades, by Tom Davine, Sporting Classics 

In 1963 a 17-year-old New Jersey girl named Sherry married a 21-year-old Pennsylvania man named Harold. Horses she knew, dogs she didn’t, but her husband, a wiry redhead with dreams of making it big in the bird-dog world, was fixing to change that. He took Sherry to Georgia, where since 1959 he’d worked for Fred Bevan, a professional trainer with a considerable reputation and a kennel operation to match.

Soon she was working for Bevan, too—and no employer, ever, got a better two-for-the-price-of-one deal than Fred Bevan did when he hired Harold and Sherry Ray. They worked long hours for short pay, their list of duties and responsibilities was endless, but they were the kind of people who couldn’t bear to leave a job unfinished and knew only one way to do it: the right way…

Read all of: Sherry Ebert: On Top of the Bird-Dog World for Decades, by Tom Davine, Sporting Classics

Will the birds be back? South Dakota’s 2014 pheasant opener…

Pheasant o2008 Pheasant opener in South Dakotapener in South Dakota
2008 Pheasant opener in South Dakota

Will the birds be back? That’s the big questions thousands of hunters will be asking as they head  today for the opening of South Dakota’s 2014 pheasant hunting season.

Last year’s opener was a bust for a lot of people. Back-to-back years of poor rain and thousands of acres of loss CRP took their toll on gamebirds throughout the state. This raised concern across the state and throughout the country: Was South Dakota dying? It sure looked like it.

I hear much of SD has had plenty of rain this year, and early reports from the state say bird numbers are better (even though numbers are still way down from the 10-year average).

South Dakota used to be the best place in the world to hunt wild ringneck pheasants. I hope it regains that title this season — and holds onto it in the years to come.

BTW: If you’re heading out for the opener, please let me know how you do. Stay safe — and I hope you see a ton of birds.

The Dakotas are dying…

This tree line used to hold flocks of pheasants. I wonder if it's still there.
This tree line used to hold flocks of pheasants. I wonder if it’s still there.

My first trip to South Dakota was in 2000. I was stunned by the number of pheasants, grouse, and partridge I saw. In four hours of hunting we moved hundreds of wild birds – hundreds. I wonder if anyone will have a similar experience this fall.

Pheasant numbers are falling across South Dakota. While complex forces are behind this, the result is easy to understand: less habitat = less game. Across the upper mid west, thousands of acres of habitat are being dug up, dried out, and plowed under. Every time it happens, the future for wild gamebirds grows bleaker.

I’m not sure when The American Prospect published this piece, but I encourage you to click through and read all of it.

Plowed Under

By Jocelyn C. Zuckerman

Across the northern plains, native grassland is being turned into farmland at a rate not seen since the 1920s. The environmental consequences could be disastrous.

The Dakota's are Dying, quote from Plowed Under, The American Prospect
The Dakota’s are Dying, quote from Plowed Under, The American Prospect

“On a rainy Monday in mid-October, six middle-aged men in denim and camouflage sat bent over coffee mugs at the Java River Café, in Montevideo, Minnesota. With its home-baked muffins and free Wi-Fi, the Main Street establishment serves as communal living room for the town of 5,000, but the mood on that gray morning wasn’t particularly convivial. The state’s pheasant season had opened two days earlier, and the hunters gathered at the café for what should have been a brag fest were mostly shaking their heads. “You didn’t see anybody out there who was over the limit, did you?” a guy in a baseball cap asked with obvious sarcasm, to sad chuckles all around. The region’s game birds are in serious trouble.

The region’s game birds are in serious trouble. Driving across South Dakota the following afternoon with the radio on, I learned that Governor Dennis Daugaard had just announced an emergency pheasant-habitat summit. Last summer, the state’s Department of Game, Fish and Parks recorded a 64 percent decline in the number of pheasant broods from the already record low levels of 2012. Though a rainy nesting season and an early fall blizzard hadn’t helped matters, the region’s problems involve more than inclement weather—and extend far beyond the birds…”

Please read the entire piece now.

Read more about what’s going on in SD and across the upper midwest at these links:

South Dakota is Dying

You’re Killing off SD’s Pheasants. See how.

Habitat in crisis: Conservationists worry about factors driving grassland conversion

Important: a call to action from Pheasants Forever…

If you love pheasant hunting, please watch this video. Upland game habitat is being destroyed at accelerating rate across the midwest. Since 2006, 1.3 million+ acres of once conserved land have gone under the plow. The result is far fewer bird. Pheasant numbers in states like Iowa are already collapsing. If the trend continues, the Dakotas will be next. But you don’t have to sit by and let this happen. Watch this video to learn more.

Heartbreaking – is the golden age of pheasant hunting is over?

Upland birds are in trouble in the midwest. In the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska, the grasslands that pheasants, sharptails, and huns depend upon are being ground under the plow. As these birds loose these vital areas, their populations will plummet. Guaranteed.

I’ve written about this problem before. The article below from NPR puts up some hard numbers up show just how much ground has been lost. The number is startling: 1.3 million+ acres from 2006-2011. And since 2011 this process has accelerated. This is a huge, sad blow to the birds, and to all the people who love to hunt them.

by February 19, 2013
Hot spots of grassland conversion: This map shows the percentage of existing grasslands that were converted into corn or soybean fields between 2006 and 2011.
Hot spots of grassland conversion: This map shows the percentage of existing grasslands that were converted into corn or soybean fields between 2006 and 2011.

For years, I’ve been hearing stories about the changing agricultural landscape of the northern plains. Grasslands are disappearing, farmers told me. They’re being replaced by fields of corn and soybeans.

This week, those stories got a big dose of scientific, peer-reviewed validation. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows actual pictures — derived from satellite data — of that changing landscape. The images show that farmers in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska converted 1.3 million acres of grassland into soybean and corn production between 2006 and 2011.

“This is kind of the worst-kept secret in the Northern Plains. We just put some numbers on it,” says Christopher Wright, from South Dakota State University, who got funding from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy to take a close look at this phenomenon. Earlier studies from the Environmental Working Group and the USDA’s Economic Research Service have also looked at it, each using slightly different methods.

Still, Wright’s images are striking, and these changes are having profound effects on the environment of this region. For instance, it’s bad news for wildlife, because corn fields are much less inviting habitat for a wide range of wild creatures, from ground-nesting birds to insects, including bees. Corn and soybean fields are increasingly encroaching into the Prairie Pothole region of the Dakotas and Minnesota, the most important breeding habitat for waterfowl in North America.

In southern Iowa, Wright says, much of the land conversion is taking place on hillsides. The soil of those fields, without permanent grass to hold it in place, is now much more likely to wash into streams and ponds. And on the western edge of this region, farmers are taking a chance on corn and soybeans in places that sometimes don’t get enough rainfall for these thirsty crops.

Why? There’s one very simple reason: Corn and soybean prices are high, so farmers can earn a lot of money growing those crops. Meanwhile, funding has been declining for one important alternative — the government’s Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers to protect wildlife and water quality by keeping land in grass.

Another reason, however, is getting increasing attention: crop insurance. The government subsidizes private insurance policies that cover the risks of poor harvests, or even that prices will fall. Because farmers don’t pay for the full cost of this insurance, critics of crop insurance say that it encourages risky behavior: planting crops in areas that don’t drain well, where rainfall is unreliable, or on hillsides where soil erosion is a problem.

Critics say that the government should drastically reduce its subsidies for such insurance. Not only is it fiscally irresponsible, they say. It’s encouraging farmers to destroy the grasslands of the northern plains, a priceless and increasingly scarce natural treasure.”

Bad floods = Bad news for Montana and North Dakota…

Water – it seems like some parts of the western US can’t get enough of it and other parts are flooded under it.

Flooding in North Dakota
Flooding in North Dakota

Unfortunately, a couple of the areas with too much water this spring are also big bird hunting regions. Northeast Montana and North Dakota have had a ton of cold, wet weather lately.

This isn’t good for the wild bird population. Spring is nesting season and weather like this makes it pretty much impossible to do. No nest, no eggs, no chicks, and far, far fewer birds come fall.

You can read more about the area impacted by going here.