JUST EAST OF THE BLACK HILLS, S.D. — I couldn't complain about the dog work.
Rub, my English setter, gave me 11 points the first afternoon we spent exploring the grasslands of America's top pheasant hunting state. The first 10 birds he pointed, however, were hens.
The 11th was a hen, too, but when the bird took wing, she subsequently flushed a rooster, maybe 15 yards ahead of her in the grass. It was a long — though makeable — shot that I totally failed to execute.
My partners that day — veteran Department of Natural Resources upland bird specialist Al Stewart and his son, Chris — had similar experiences. Ty, Stewart's setter, pointed 12 birds — 11 of which were hens. But Ty did manage to pin down a rooster, too, and Stewart was the only one of the three of us to put a bird in his bag that afternoon.
So we'd driven 16 hours and missed a night's sleep for this?
For the third year in a row, Stewart and I by-passed our usual stomping grounds on the east side of the state for the even more promised land of western South Dakota. But we'd been forewarned; the hatch this year was small, so the bulk of the birds were wise (the truth is, by the time we get out there in mid-December, even the young-of-the year roosters are pretty well educated) to the game. On top of which, the habitat was worse than I'd ever seen it; last summer's weather was so dry that farmers were allowed to graze or mow their Conservation Reserve Program fields because of a hay shortage. Many took advantage. And even where there wasn't grazing or haying, the grass was short and sparse by typical standards.
We could tell as much before we even started hunting; as we drove to our first place, a rooster ran across the road and into the grass. We watched it for 25 yards or so until it disappeared. In years past it would have disappeared within three steps.
Still, two hours into the hunt the following morning, I had three roosters in my game bag.
That's why we come, eh?
Despite less than robust recruitment this year — probably because the drought knocked down the insect production and the young-of-the-year didn't have a lot to feed on this summer — there were plenty of birds. Driving around the countryside from place to place — we hunted a combination of private land, state game areas and federal land — it was not unusual to see hundreds of pheasants in the short grass fields. The haying/grazing left them few places to hide in a lot of areas.
But seeing them and shooting them are two entirely different things. Using an app on Stewart's smart phone that identified the state-leased walk-in areas open to public hunting, we drove past hundreds of acres where we could have taken a stroll across the grounds, if we pleased, but there was no way we'd be able to get anywhere close to the birds before they were in the next county.
Our best hunting over the course of our stay came from cattail stands, along lake or stream edges or in the low-lying swales of what was otherwise agricultural ground. It was hard hunting — difficult to get through and hard on the dogs, as well — but the cattails were among the few places where the roosters would hold long enough for us to get close enough to shoot. In more open grass lands, the birds were almost invariably up and on wing well beyond the range of a 12 gauge. (Why is it that hens hold so much better? Do they realize their mottled brown color makes them that much less visible? Have they somehow learned that we won't shoot them? Are roosters just that much more wary? Who knows?) We spent one afternoon chasing around sharp-tailed grouse with another group of guys who included the director (or secretary in South Dakota parlance) of the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department. It was typical of late-season sharptails: getting within shooting range of those birds is nigh unto impossible. Still we managed a few — including a nifty double that Stewart shot that made the plainsmen take notice of Michigan bird hunters — but it was after the hunt, when we were kicking the dirt and solving the world's problems that Jeff Vonk (the aforementioned secretary) allowed that, because of high commodity prices and federal agriculture policy, South Dakota pheasant hunting had some significant challenges ahead.
If there are problems in paradise, what does that hold for the future of the game in our humble environs?
You do not need a ton of birds to have a good time. And just the spectacle of prairie wildlife — from the ducks and geese to the coyotes to the eye-popping bucks — is enough to make a hunting trip to the plains enjoyable.
Still, given the shape of the habitat, one wonders what will happen if a harsh winter sweeps across the Plains this year. Winter habitat is often the limiting factor for pheasant populations and there looks to be a lot less of it this year than in the recent past. And, after last summer's drought, will there be enough nesting habitat available this spring?
One worries about the future of pheasant hunting. Everywhere in America.
JUST EAST OF THE BLACK HILLS, S.D. — I couldn't complain about the dog work.
Chemics overpower Trojans
Traverse City Central’s girls basketball season tipped off Tuesday with a 69-32 loss to Midland.Continued ...
Reports: Tigers close to signing Texas reliever Joe Nathan
Finding a closer was a top concern for the Detroit Tigers this off-season.Continued ...
TC Central AD to leave for MHSAA
Cody Inglis called it "an opportunity of a lifetime."Continued ...
Girls Basketball Roundup: Frankfort tops Elk Rapids
Frankfort outscored Elk Rapids by 10 in the third quarter to overcome a 29-28 halftime deficit and go on to a 57-40 victory. (Plus more)Continued ...
Ski Report: 12/04/2013
Michigan ski report for Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013:Continued ...
Today in Sports: 12/04/2013
What's happening in sports across the region and the country:Continued ...
- Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Young Gladiators reach title game
Traverse City St. Francis tipped off the season with not only a tournament victory, but an unusually early league contest as well.Continued ...
Bullough repeats as all-league selection
The Michigan State defense led the Big Ten in virtually every category this season and that was reflected Monday on the all-league football teams selected by the coaches and media.Continued ...
Placek, Hicks and Yaakoby are honored
Traverse City West’s Katie Placek, Boyne City’s Kylie Hicks and Leland’s Noa Yaakoby were each named to their respective division’s all-state first team in selections announced by the state volleyball coaches association.Continued ...
Girls Basketball Roundup: Forest Area beats TC Christian
Forest Area led from start to finish, opening the girls basketball season with a 35-20 victory over Traverse City Christian. (Plus more)Continued ...
Midwest Junior Hockey League Standings: 12/03/2013
Midwest Junior Hockey League Standings as of Dec. 2, 2013:Continued ...
Bowling Scores: 12/03/2013
Top scores from Lucky Jack's bowling leagues this week:Continued ...
- Monday, December 2, 2013
Girls Basketball: St. Francis wins season opener (with video)
The St. Francis Gladiators started the 2013-14 season with a 47-23 win over Harbor Springs tonight in the Katie Heintz Keep Believing Tip-off Tournament.Continued ...
Monday's Sports Scoreboard
Due to technical problems, Sunday's scoreboard was publsihed in the 12/02/13 paper.Continued ...
Wolves to switch leagues
The Traverse City Wolves will have a completely new set of opponents this season.Continued ...
- Sunday, December 1, 2013
Prep Hockey Roundup: Lake Orion tops Central to win tourney
Lake Orion scored an overtime power-play goal to win the Traverse City West Thanksgiving Tournament 4-3 over Traverse City Central. (Plus more)Continued ...
AAU hoop tryouts set for Dec. 15
Northern Exposure will be holding AAU basketball tryouts on Dec. 15 for players in grades 4-7.Continued ...
- Saturday, November 30, 2013
Prep Hockey: Traverse City Central to vie for title
TRAVERSE CITY -- Not bad for a varsity debut. Sophomore Parker Hebden netted three second-period goals Friday night as Traverse City Central hung on for a 6-4 win over Warren De La Salle in the opener of the Traverse City West Thanksgiving Hockey TouContinued ...
- Friday, November 29, 2013
Swan Valley RB Grace is Player of Year
Individual records don’t mean much to Saginaw Swan Valley junior running back Alex Grace, but rushing for a Michigan High School Athletic Association single-season record 2,952 yards in 2013 was important to him.Continued ...
Fishing Report: 11/29/2013
LANSING -- Not much to report this week as winter has hit full force. The inland lakes are starting to ice up however there is no safe ice yet. Boardman River: Steelhead are still around for those seeking trout. Betsie River: Has good steelhead fishiContinued ...
Dotterrer wins Turkey Trot race in Traverse City
TRAVERSE CITY -- By the time Kyle Dotterrer crossed the finish line at Thursday's Turkey Trot he had a slight accumulation of snow across his entire body. But not even the snowy, slippery and cold conditions could slow down Dotterrer too much. Nor coContinued ...
Bob Gwizdz: Custom river boat boat perfect for steelhead fishing
ALLEGAN -- Miles Hanley is a bass fisherman and, as you night guess, spends a lot of time in a bass boat. But when autumn arrives -- and the steelhead begin heading upstream -- Hanley is glad to switch gears and target the rainbows. The bass boat isContinued ...
Turkey Trot 5K results Traverse City 2013
5K AGE GROUP RESULTS FEMALE AGE GROUP: 20 - 29 103. Anna Ward Traverse City 45:21 104. Courtney Russell Traverse City 45:25 105. Jackie Krigbaum WausauWI 45:30 106. Jackie Pishney Kingsley 46:05 107. Lindsey Rogers Traverse City 46:27 108. Brigette MContinued ...
Midwest Junior Hockey League standings: 11/29/2013
MWJHL Team GP W L OTL SOL PTS TC Hounds 19 14 3 0 2 30 Soo Firehawks 17 11 6 0 0 22 Detroit Fight. Irish 18 10 7 0 1 21 Alpena Street Cats 15 9 6 0 0 18 Blmington Jr Blaze 18 7 10 1 0 15 Michigan Ice Dogs 19 5 13 1Continued ...
- Thursday, November 28, 2013
2013 All-Big North Conference Boys Soccer Team
Prep soccer All-Big North Conference Team for the 2013 season:Continued ...
- Chemics overpower Trojans