From 2000 to around 2012, the highlight of my year was the week I hunted in South Dakota. That was back during peak pheasant (see chart below), and it was to see a few hundred of those birds a day along with dozens of sharptails and huns.
Most years I went out for the season opener in October. One year I held off until November, once the crops were out of the fields all the hunters had gone home.
The day after I arrived, temperatures dropped from the 50s to the 20s and a blizzard rolled in and buried us. I spent the rest of the week hunting in conditions like you see in this video. I had a 12g Fox Sterlingworth and a chocolate Lab named Jack. For four days, we had thousands of acres of land, and thousands and thousands of pheasants, to ourselves.
Wales awaits! If you’ve ever dreamt of shooting in the UK, you’re in luck: The Harding Shoot has a few spots left. It runs from November 15, 2015, to November 21, 2015. .Here are 7 reasons you have to go:
1) Superb Birds. High and fast, with great presentations for shooters.
2) Visit five different estates over five days. With shoots in England & Wales
3) Be challenged by a variety of driven birds. Pheasants, partridge, ducks, and woodcock – far more variety than most shoots offer.
4) Shoot more. This shoot present you with more birds and drives than shoots costing much more.
5) Wonderful accommodations. Including great Welsh food and hospitality.
6) Experience the camaraderie of the entire team: shooters, keepers, beaters, pickers-up, and dog handlers.
7) Best of all: it’s a superb value. $8500 for an all-inclusive week.
“The Harding Shoot is as good as it gets! I have gone for 14 years. I have great memories of outstanding drives. If one wants to experience true British Driven Shooting on beautiful Estates at a reasonable price, I highly recommend the Harding Shoot.” -Tod D.
“The experience was truly unique. Staying in a classic 16th Century hotel in the charming rural village of Crickhowell, shooting a mixed bag (pheasant, partridge, ducks, and woodcock) on a new estate daily were just some of the highlights. What I thought to be a one time experience turned into me returning for the next five years. The memories and, more importantly, the friendships developed during those years, will last a lifetime.” – David J.
I used to make it out to South Dakota for the pheasant opener each year. While we always shot a lot of birds, the experience was about a lot more than the birds we brought home. This video from Team Wild TV reminds me of what I loved so much about it. While my crowd carried autoloaders and dressed in Carhartts instead of tweeds, we shared many of the same sentiments.
To try and tackle this problem, South Dakota’s Governor Dennis Daugaard is holding a Governor’s Pheasant Habitat Summit on December 6, 2013 in Huron. Find out more about it below, and if you care about what’s happening in SD, please attend. Unless action is taken soon, South Dakota will loose many more acres of prime habitat. As it does, more and more pheasants — and the great times, cherished memories, and big dollars they bring — will disappear.
Governor’s Pheasant Habitat Summit
PIERRE, S.D. – Gov. Dennis Daugaard announced today that he will host a Pheasant Habitat Summit to discuss the future of pheasant habitat and hunting in South Dakota. The summit is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 6, at the Crossroads Convention Center in Huron.
“Pheasant hunting is extremely important to the culture and economic well-being of South Dakota,” Gov. Daugaard said. “South Dakota’s pheasant hunting experience is second to none and draws hunters from around the world. We want to do what we can now to ensure these opportunities for future generations.
The Governor’s Pheasant Habitat Summit will provide a forum for landowners, sportsmen, members of the tourism industry and other interested individuals to learn about the current state of pheasant habitat in South Dakota. The summit will include panel discussions and public input as a means to explore ways to maintain and enhance pheasant habitat.
The Governor’s Pheasant Summit is open to the public and pre-registration is required. Individuals may register online here. Information and registration is also available by calling the Game, Fish and Parks Department at 605.773.3387.
If you read this post from yesterday, you know that you’re paying for a federal program that’s having a devastating impact on pheasants and other animals across the midwest. The federal Crop Insurance Program encourages farmers to plant land they used to set aside for conservation, and as more acreage goes under the plow, there are less area where wildlife can thrive.
Part four of the Capital Journal’s excellent series on habit loss in South Dakota’s talks about this program, and lays out some pretty stunning info on what lies ahead for the state.
“When Lyle Perman was younger, in a different era in farm policy, he and his father converted some of their grassland into crops.
Perman, now a Walworth County rancher and crop insurance agent, recalls government agencies assisting them with designing drainage ditches and blowing holes in wetlands.
“You have to understand that this is the environment that a lot of us were raised in,” Perman said. “We were raised draining wetlands. Farming and erosion were just part of the business. You didn’t like it, but it was just part of what you did.”
That grassland conversion is part of what made South Dakota what it is today. But researchers, ranchers and conservation organizations have found that high commodity prices are driving today’s farmers to plow land that yesterday’s farmers deemed unsuitable for planting….”
I don’t remember anything unusual about South Dakota’s 2007 pheasant opener- blue skies, great dogs, memories made with family & friends, and hundred and hundreds of wild pheasants. But even though I didn’t know it, 2007 was a turning point for the state. In that year, the amount of land set aside by South Dakota farmers in the federal government’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) peaked at 1,600,000 acres.
Today, South Dakota has around 1,000,000 acres in the CRP, and the state is on track to have just 600,000 acres in it by 2020. This loss is on top of the thousands of acres of shelter belts, wet areas, and other important wildlife regions that have gone under the plow in the last few years.
The clutch was touchy in the bus and the suspension almost nonexistent as a group of dove hunters scraped across the prairie into the middle of Darrel Reinke’s land northeast of Pierre.
The destination was a tract of land where grassland and grainfields stood side by side – good habitat for hunting doves, or, come the third weekend in October, pheasants. But as the sun sank low over the Great Plains that September day, the conversation turned somber. Some of the hunters on the bus worried that the sport they love, and South Dakota’s reputation as the pre-eminent state for upland game hunting, may be in jeopardy because habitat such as this is becoming harder to find…
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.
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.
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.”
South Dakota’s 2012 pheasant hunting season starts tomorrow, noon. I’m sure folks are going bird crazy just thinking about it.
I’ve hunted SD’s opener a handful of times. For me, the day always meant lots of birds, lots of shooting and experiences I’ll always remember (and the night meant lots of drinking). Regardless of how thing went, getting together with my brother and his folks & family was always the best part of the trip.
To what the opener means to other folks, check out this list, pinched from Andrew Vavra’s blog The Over/Under on Pheasants Forever:
-While you were physically at work last week, you’ve been mentally absent the past three days
-That quiet, little gas station in the Middle of Nowhere suddenly has more traffic than the Vegas Strip
-You find yourself rubbing dirt on your shiny new chaps just so no one can possibly confuse you for a rookie
-There’s so much unnecessary gear packed in the back of your truck, you had legitimate concern over suffocating the dogs
-Various blaze orange militias have been staking out properties so early in the morning that even duck hunters would blush
South Dakota’s 2012 pheasant season opens on Saturday, Oct. 20 – less than 2 weeks away. That means scenes like the ones in this video are right around the corner. I hope you’re one of the lucky folks who gets to experience it. Good shooting.
Salem is Oregon’s state capital. Located about 50 miles south of Portland, this city of 155,000 people and miles of sprawl was a tiny town 100 years ago. As you would expect, the hunting around there was a lot different back then.
Salem sits like a bull’s eye on Oregon’s Willamette Valley–ground zero for the first successful Chinese pheasants releases in the United States. This happened around 1882. By 1911, wild pheasants thrived up and down the valley. So did monstrous ducks and ruffed grouse.
Paul Nicholson grew up around Salem and he hunted the area extensively his whole life. This article is based on his experiences and recollections. My heart ached a bit when I read this part:
“Five cock pheasants was the limit, and it was no trouble to get limits for four or five men. We always kept a couple of bird dogs. A few were top performers, and we lost no crippled birds. Hunters were few, and we knew most of the farmers where we hunted. “No Hunting” and “No Trespassing” signs were almost unknown.” You can read the rest here.
I don’t know if I would like European-style driven shooting. Standing in place while someone pushes birds towards me doesn’t sound like too much fun. Rough shooting sounds like it would be much more enjoyable.
Check out this quick video taken in Scotland to see what I mean. BTW: check out how they’re using ferrets to hunt rabbits.
Just when I’m heading back to South Dakota for the season opener….
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….
The US and the UK: we both pursue game birds. We just do it in very different ways. Over here we hunt, in the UK they shoot. But on both sides of the Atlantic, well trained dogs are essential to having a good time and doing things right.
Take a look at this video to see how dogs are used on a driven shoot in the British Isles. The video is a bit long, but it gives you a thorough look at how things happens. As a plus, there’s some great video of some cocker and springer spaniels. Enjoy.