1/10/2018 8:29:00 AM Brown dog whimpered as fall pheasant hunt closed
Ron Kuecker Outdoors Columnist
His full name is Bud Grant. No, I'm not talking about the iconic Minnesota football coach and well known hunter. It's the brown dog I hunt with and call to him daily as Buddy. I always wanted to hunt with the real Bud Grant. Knowing that it was highly unlikely I ever would I gave my dog that name. Now, if anyone asks who I hunt with I can say Bud Grant and watch their eyes light up (or roll). But it was with a whimper from both of us as we left the upland fields Jan. 1. It was the last day of a pretty sad fall pheasant hunt here in southwest Minnesota. Oh sure, some have run into a few nice coveys of birds but "all in all", not good! We hunted two areas in beautiful unblown snow. It was the kind of day we hope to encounter in the late season pursuit of a big rooster or two. On that day, the fingers got numb fast holding metal in your hands and you knew the face would still be burning that evening. The hunt was short that day. I did however see some tracks and some pheasants. No birds were seen or flushed in the first place we hunted. There were tracks in the fresh snow left behind by a half dozen or so but none were there around noon. The area had been chosen because it was a cover rich area of good cedar and spruce trees. Frequently those big old roosters like to rest in them and digest the food from an earlier morning feeding. The second place Bud and I chose to hunt was near a pretty poor food plot near an out of the wind ravine next to some nice plum brush. They were there, some 15 of them. And yes, they flushed out and flew low to the ground . . . a couple hundred yards away. That is typical for snow-bound pheasants in December. But it was easy to differentiate the big, now long-tailed roosters from the faster flying, brown, shorter tailed hens. There were about the same number of hens as roosters, just as the August roadside count had predicted. And, therein lies the problem we have, not enough hens. Some late season pheasants hunters console themselves and try to sooth others with the worn out phrase "we saw lotsa hens today so next year should be pretty good". It's the eternal optimism of a pheasant hunter. Well, in my opinion, they are overlooking the fact we are just now entering the period of increasing hen mortality. A winter of scrounging for food, fighting off the roosters for a limited food supply and avoiding predators has just begun. And, as if that is not enough, they soon enter the rigors of spring nesting and a summer of brooding chicks. Well, you get the point. Seeing a nice batch of hen pheasants in November/December doesn't translate into a hen crossing the road with eight fledglings behind her in August. It's all about the hens, boys! Thick ice After a slow freeze up and dangerous ice conditions on area lakes, the recent 'very cold' spell has been making ice. People, in general, know that first ice is usually the best fishing of the year so sometimes try and get a too early start. I spoke last Sunday with a couple of ice fishers who had just come off Timber Lake in Jackson County. One of them had bored maybe a dozen holes looking for fish and told me ice was two feet thick in all holes. Small trucks and heavy ice houses are now being seen on most area lakes. The guys that were out on Timber Lake said everywhere they went huge numbers of small perch were being seen in fairly clear water. Most were well below eating size. Sounds like they need a few more northern pike there to eat some of the small perch and allow others to grow to frying pan size. There is nothing much better to eat than a cold water perch or its cousin in the perch family, the walleye. Wildlife myths My membership in The Wildlife Society (TWS) started around 15 years ago. I was eligible for membership as a veterinarian interested in conservation and wildlife management. There are times I don't like their emphasis on what I consider worthless research but mostly they are a pretty good group. There was an article in the January/February 2018 issue of The Wildlife Professional that really caught my attention. It was titled Myths in Wildlife Management and Conservation. I applaud the four authors who wrote it. One of the myths they spoke of is the misuse and resultant misunderstanding of the term habitat. Their comment that "the term habitat is meaningless unless it is associated with a particular species or life history stage such as brooding" was right on target. I have long said habitat should always include the terms, resting, nesting, feeding, winter protection, etc. as describing habitat. A simple term, such as good pheasant habitat, falls well short if it doesn't include full year, full cycle needs of the species. More myths to follow.