Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

“Pick pocket” pheasants for 2000

Miss Meg, our nearly 10-year-old Brittany lays on the couch
adjacent to my desk as I write these words. Meg is lucky she’s a
dog this year. She doesn’t read Outdoor News, so she doesn’t know
to expect some tough sledding for pheasant hunting this year. She
lays there, occasionally opening one brown eye to check on “the
boss,” but mostly just snoozes and dreams dog dreams, some of which
make her whimper and shake in her sleep. I can’t prove it, but I
bet many of those dreams involve pheasant hunting.

Meg loves to hunt pheasants. They are her favorite bird. Mine,
too.

What Meg does not know is that after 10 years of pretty darn
good hunting, things started to slide in the fall of 1997 when some
of the land enrolled in the 10-year Conservation Reserve Program
(CRP) in our area returned to production. Plowed under and planted
to corn or beans, the land that once raised multiple broods of
pheasants and provided much needed habitat for other species
disappeared at what politicians would call “an alarming rate.”

The 1998 season was even worse. The last large parcel of CRP
that I hunted literally turned black by a hideous green-colored,
smoke-belching, four-wheel drive Steiger right before my eyes on
opening day that year. Meg and I stood along the truck and
watched.

In terms of birds found per hour hunted and birds bagged, last
season was our worst since the early 1980s. And unless I’m wrong,
2000 will be even more dismal in southeast Minnesota.

Not only does a fraction of the nesting habitat exist for
pheasants compared to just a few short years ago which means fewer
hens to nest and far fewer places to successfully lay a clutch but
the cold, persistent rains in May and June killed many of the
chicks. A hen, no matter how hard she tries, can’t keep her brood
warm and dry when the rain falls for several days in a row.

Like many who love to hunt pheasants and are fortunate enough to
hunt them near home, I spend some time in early summer checking on
the broods. A sunny morning after a heavy dew or a night of rain is
the best time. Meg and I climb in the pickup after sunrise and
cruise the backroads looking for hens and broods alongside the
road, sitting huddled in field roads, along the edge of alfalfa
stubble, and sometimes on round bales.

This year, it was sad. I’ve never seen so many hens without
broods, or as many with only one, two, or three chicks, the
survivors of clutches of a dozen or more eggs.

Meg and I will still pheasant hunt this fall. It’s in our blood.
But we will “pick pockets” to find roosters. By pick pockets, I
mean that no matter how dismal it looks (and this year looks
dismal), there are always pockets of birds places where the cover
is better so more hens nested. Maybe it’s a place where the rains
were less persistent, or where the rains did not fall at the worst
times. There also are places where the roadside ditches didn’t
flood and wash out nests.

Meg and I will snoop around until we find such spots. She
doesn’t know it, and wouldn’t care if she did, but the days of
knocking down a quick limit, and then watching her hunt and point
birds for a couple of hours just for the sheer joy of it, are gone.
For now anyway.

No, this year I’ll just savor each point all the more. And the
little 20-gauge will fly to my shoulder less frequently than in the
past.

But what makes me the saddest is that somewhere, a young boy or
girl awaits the first year of their pheasant hunting. When you are
more mature (I like “mature” better than “old”) and have some good
seasons under your belt, you can weather the tough times. But when
you’re young, you crave action.

This year I’m afraid some of those young hunters will give up on
pheasant hunting and look elsewhere for that action. That’s a sad
loss for the young hunter, the parent, and for all of us who call
ourselves hunters.

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