Pheasant Heaven

By Doug Howlett One of my first real experiences with pheasant hunting actually happened in a deer stand. I was bowhunting public land near Lake McConaughy, in Nebraska, when an orange-capped man and his springer spaniel interrupted my solitude. The two were attempting to scare up some roosters in a nearby field that I could easily see from my perch. Initially miffed at the intrusion, I soon found myself enthralled by the way in which the two worked in tandem, like a machine engineered for no other purpose. Two years would pass before I'd get a chance to experience firsthand the thrill of working behind a well-trained dog. The hunt took place near Veblen, S.D., where I met up with some of the folks from Winchester, Browning and Polaris. They were putting their products through the paces at Prairie Sky Guest and Game Ranch. The ranch is located on the Lake Traverse Indian Reservation, along the Coteau Ridge in the prairie pothole region. The terrain is a unique combination of water, cover and, on the adjacent flatlands, agriculture for migrating waterfowl as well as local game birds. Our plan was to hit the ducks at daybreak, then work the pheasants in the afternoon. It turned out to be a very civil arrangement. After we had spent the morning shivering amid skim ice and frozen cattails, the rolling field of corn and sorghum spread out beneath the afternoon sun was very inviting. However, in contrast to the ducks, the pheasant part of the adventure was not a truly "wild" experience. As with any preserve, even in the best ringneck habitat, the pressure is such that outfitters must replenish the local population. Prairie Sky's owner, Bruce Prin, supplements his lands with 200 to 300 birds at a time, to give them a chance to acclimate to the terrain and become as wild as possible.Outdoor Life Online Editor
Fields of Plenty
Aside from the good company and the opportunity to pop off a few rounds, the real thrill was the chance to watch the dogs at work. One day on the ranch found us marching behind guide John Tiede's drahthaars, a breed not unlike the German shorthair. These versatile dogs are capable of pointing upland birds and retrieving ducks and geese. The guide let the dogs work ahead of the hunters, cutting the rows back and forth in search of scent. Minutes into the hunt, a flushing bird took flight at the left end of the line. "Bird!" several hunters shouted, as OL contributor Nick Sisley demonstrated his wingshooting prowess. The escaping bird crumpled at the sound of his shot. In the excitement, we hadn't noticed that the drahthaars were locked on point, one honoring the other, both as still as statues. Several of us edged forward as a pair of roosters exploded from the stalks. I never heard the guy to my left's shot, as we fired simultaneously. Both birds dropped from the sky in a spiral, with the dogs rushing forward to make retrieves. What a way to spend an afternoon, I thought, as my mind wandered back to that Nebraska hunter and his dog that I had watched two years before.
Outdoor Life Online Editor
The 10 Top Spots
"If I were going to pick the ten best pheasant spots, period, they would probably all be in South Dakota," says Anthony Hauck of Pheasants Forever. But South Dakota is just one of 10 rooster-rich states to try. Biologists at PF offer the following advice for those hunters seeking their own piece of pheasant heaven. Colorado The northeastern corner of the state offers superb ringneck hunting. Concentrate your efforts in the triangle region between Burlington, Sterling and Holyoke. Iowa Another famed ringneck destination that has excellent hunting throughout. Look to Dickinson County in the northwestern part of the state for some of your top opportunities. Kansas The Jayhawk State consistently ranks among the top three or four pheasant-producing states, even with last year's harvest down slightly due to drought. Barth Crouch, a PF regional biologist, says hunters should focus on the western two-thirds of the state, as the area received timely rains this spring. Michigan The state's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program provides exceptional habitat for ringnecks, particularly throughout the state's "thumb" region of Huron, Tuscola Sanilac and Lapeer counties. Minnesota Hauck says few people think of Minnesota when they think of premier pheasant-hunting destinations, but the ones who don't are making a mistake. Focus on the southwestern and west-central parts of the state. Montana Hidden upland gem areas abound in scenic Montana, with the Mission Valley area deserving particular attention. Nebraska Do-it-yourself hunters in need of public access will find it in abundance in Nebraska, where PF and the state's Game and Parks Commission have teamed up to create the CRP""Management Access Program. The program offers financial incentives to owners of CRP lands who permit walk-in access to hunters and trappers. North Dakota The other Dakota is anticipating some of the best pheasant hunting seen there in six decades. "Anywhere south of I-94 should produce better numbers than anyone's seen in a long time," says Hauck. Oregon Check out Linn County in the west-central portion of the state. Pheasants were first introduced in the U.S. here, and aside from the obvious nostalgic attraction, the state still offers superb hunting. South Dakota The state remains the nation's Pheasant Capital, with a population of some 1.9 million birds. One of the top areas to focus your attention on is the northeastern portion of the state, where outfitters as well as public hunting areas are plentiful. "If you have a good dog and aren't scared to walk a bit, you will get your birds," says hunting guide John Tiede.
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2007 Pheasant Forecast
While it was still too early at press time to obtain accurate hatch data for the upcoming year, Pheasants Forever's biologists are all optimistic about the season. Mild winters were experienced across much of the United States' pheasant range, which should translate into good carryover of adult pheasants. Provided rainfall doesn't hit an area within days of the hatch, overall numbers should be excellent. "We've seen great pheasant numbers three out of the last four years," says Anthony Hauck of Pheasants Forever. But these numbers come with some concerns, chiefly the 2007 Farm Bill, which is being debated in Congress. The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is a vital part of the bill and an even bigger reason why pheasant numbers are doing so well. Program lands account for the production of some 13.5 million pheasants each year, but the program faces major cuts depending on the final outcome of the Farm Bill. To learn how you can help, visit pheasantsforever.org.
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Ringneck numbers are up this season. Here's how to get in on the best action.