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More Habitat = More Wildlife Gary Howey

  The latest pheasant outlook for South Dakota just came out and I do not want to say it is a Doom and Gloom report, but they are indicating that the states pheasant numbers are down significantly.

  To some, especially those who do not live in the upper Midwest, those that travel a long ways to hunt the state bird may think twice about making the trip.

  Well, let me tell you, if I were those individuals, I would not let the report alter your plans as even if the numbers are down, which they could be, there are still more pheasants in South Dakota than in any two or three other states in the U.S.

   In South Dakota and other upper Midwestern states, there has been a huge acreage allocation of Conservation Reserve Plantings (CRP)  land and because of this new habitat, wildlife will not only survive, but also should eventually increase in numbers.

  In my neck of the woods, we are seeing a few more birds and the reason for that is because of the low commodity crop prices and the new CRP bill, which allows good quality land to be pulled out of production and planted to native grasses.  These fields that once produced row crops are now in the CRP program where trees and bushes are planted as well as native plants and grasses. These native grasses; Switchgrass, Indian Grass, Sedgegrass, Little Bluestem or Side Oats Grama which grow best in the heat of the summer will take longer to establish. The first year CRP plantings may look as if there are few grasses and wild flowers with a lot of weeds, but once these grasses start to grow, they will eliminate many of the weeds found in the field the first year. These grasses provide excellent wildlife habitat, giving not only pheasants, but also all wildlife a place to live.

  Some plantings are not huge, maybe just the irrigation pivot corners, while others could be a hundred acres or so, no matter what the size, every little bit helps. [Read more…]

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Looking for Wildlife Hunt the Edges By Gary Howey

  Hunting was not a real big deal in my family, sure, we hunted as kids with our BB-guns and my Dad “Cal” and Grandparents, the Menkveld hunted pheasants but generally, it was on the opener or on the second weekend of the season.

  There were a few times my Dad might hunt waterfowl with a family friend, where they hunted out of a ditch northwest of Watertown hunting geese, but that was about it. 

  Each hunting trip my brother A.J. and I made with Dad was an adventure even if we were there just to help push and retrieve birds, because we cherished every trip with him and the memories they created!

  Our first hunting trips were when we were older, around ten, when we had the opportunity to be with Dad, on a pheasant hunt west of our hometown, Watertown, South Dakota.

  This was back during the soil bank days when the pheasant population in northeastern South Dakota was unbelievable as they were everywhere. 

  These trips for us were more of a long hike than a hunt, but it was really something we enjoyed, as we had gotten big enough to hang out with Dad and the guys, to be part of something we had always wanted.

 Before we could carry a gun and hunt, Dad wanted to make sure we knew how to handle a firearm safely and would need to go through the Hunters Safety Course. Back then, the course was taught through the school and once we graduated, we hoped to get a 22 rifle to hunt gophers. 

  As far as pheasant hunting was concerned, we would have to wait until we were older and had our own shotguns, as in our family there was only one shotgun, an old Winchester Model 97 twelve-gauge and for safety reasons Dad would not allow us to use it.

  Dad introduced us to hunting on these trips and we were always looking forward to these excursions. 

  It was not that we were only excited about the annual hunting trip, but before we would meet up with the other hunters; we would always stop at Tinker Town west on HWY. 212 for an early lunch.   

  This was something special to us, as it was where we got our first “store bought” hamburger and a pop and had an opportunity to see the huge pheasant and burro statues they had there.

  Sure, on these trips, we were not really hunting, just sharing the experience, as my brother and I were Dad’s bird dogs, flushing, running down and retrieving birds.

  Even though I never had the opportunity to shoot a bird, I could not wait until opening day to spend some quality time with Dad in the outdoors.

  After a few years on these trips, I realized that certain areas held more birds and because I wanted to be where the action was, I needed to be with the group of hunters walking those areas.

   At times, there was not much difference between one location and another; maybe just a subtle change that held the birds.

  As I grew older and started to hunt more, I would always look for these, hunting those subtle changes, as there was something, which drew both the birds and I to these spots.

  These areas were not always the best habitat in the field, where the most cover existed and sometimes they would even be some of the poorest cover in the field, but they held birds.

  I could not help but notice the same thing when I did some depredation trapping; some areas just had more sign with the critters using these areas more than others did, even the furbearers were relating to them just as the pheasants had.  [Read more…]

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Planting for Game Birds : A Little Goes a Long Way

Early June is a great time of year to think about getting some food planted for turkeys, quail, or other birds you plan to hunt. WhistleBack is a warm season blend of sorghum, three varieties of millets, Egyptian wheat, and sunflowers. This mix is designed to produce massive amounts of seed and at the same time offer cover for many species of upland birds. WhistleBack contains varieties that all grow and mature at different heights offering food to birds as small as quail and doves on up to pheasants or turkeys.

Our modern day food plot planting practices are not very conducive to feeding quail, turkeys, etc; we plant every available open piece of ground for our deer and figure the birds will be fine. It doesn’t take a large area to feed a lot of birds and designating a third or a quarter acre section out of some of your deer plots for a strip or perimeter of WhistleBack will go a long way in feeding your game birds.

The plant varieties in WhistleBack will mature around 90 days and once the seed heads mature and dry up, they will begin to naturally drop seeds providing feed for your birds through the fall and winter. This blend also makes a very good bedding area for deer when planted in larger plots, and it can be used for a buffer or a transitional zone between the woods or bedding areas and your other food plots.

The seeds in WhistleBack are all fairly small and ground preparation should be as follows. No-Till drills work great for this blend, and most drills have a setting for planting millet or sorghums. If using traditional planting methods, I would suggest spraying the area to be planted a week to ten days ahead of planting with a non-selective herbicide, such as glyphosate, to kill all existing vegetation. The ground to be planted can then be disked or tilled and then cultipacked to create a firm seed bed. WhistleBack can then be broadcast and lightly dragged or cultipack again to incorporate seed ¼ to ½ inch into the soil.

WhistleBack can use about 250 lbs of 13-13-13 per acre, or an equivalent. All the seed varieties in this blend are nitrogen lovers and it would benefit growth and seed production to implement a secondary nitrogen application 4-6 weeks after germination, much like you would corn. Do your part this year and designate some ground for feeding your game birds.