Focus on Pheasants
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The Land - Harvest Time and Pheasants
Autumn in Nebraska is harvest time - crisp mornings; bright grain spilling into bins; yields debated by neighbors; pheasants cackling as they fly from their roosts.
At an early morning "Hunter's Breakfast" in a church
basement, family, friends, and newcomers share the annual return of pheasant
season. An integral part of this fall ritual is the excitement of the hunt
and the optimism a good pheasant population brings as old stories are told
and new experiences unfold.
Lee Rupp of Monroe checks out the rooster pheasant his German shorthair, Molly, retrieved from a Madison County field.
"I remember that year back in the early sixties when the corn made almost 60 bushels to the acre. Couldn't keep up unloading the wagons," said Cliff Stalling of Dixon County. "That
was the same fall Uncle Ernie, Dick, and I each took a limit of pheasants
on opening morning in that patch of sweet clover just southwest of the place.
Dad used to say there was a brood of pheasants in every bag of sweet clover
seed. Things were different then. There was lots of weedy cover for the birds
in those days. Lots of birds too!"
During the pheasant season we see only a part of what pheasants need to survive. Fall pheasant populations are products of the type and amount of habitat available during the spring and summer. The tall switchgrass where we see birds in late autumn is probably not where those birds were hatched or raised. Neither is the plum thicket or field windbreak, although they might provide loafing or winter cover. Landowners in pheasant country watch for pheasants and broods throughout the summer to gauge fall expectations, but many don't understand what pheasants need to raise young successfully.
"There are a few pheasants up there on my sidehill," said Wayne Mues of Arapahoe. "There's
plenty there if they'd just reproduce."
Winter cover is an important factor when the weather
turns bad, but the most important factor limiting pheasant production in
Nebraska is suitable nesting and brood-rearing habitat. "You know, pheasants are sorta like a corn crop. You just need the right kind of cover and the right weather conditions for them to hatch and grow to have a bumper crop," said
Ben Schole of Dodge County.
Large fields with a mixture of grasses and broad-leafed plants such as alfalfa, sweet clover, and annual weeds make the best nesting and brood-rearing habitat. Examples of these types of fields include CRP fields that are only a few years old and lightly grazed areas with mixtures of grasses, wildflowers and weeds. Farmers used to seeing clean crop fields and fields full of nothing but brome grass may feel uncomfortable with this diversity, but this nesting and brooding cover is essential to pheasant reproduction.
"Were there many pheasants in my CRP field the first few years after I planted it? Why, I could walk out there in the fall those first couple of years and have pheasants getting up all around me, just waves of them getting up. The field looked pretty wooly but those pheasants sure seemed to like it," said
Allen Trube of Dixon County.