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Mid-Season Pheasants South Dakota Style By Gary Howey

   Lady, Gary Kubicek’s lab worked out in front of us as did some of Joel Vasek’s dogs and by the way, they were acting, we had better be ready as they were on a bird.

  The habitat we were hunting was perfect, with everything wildlife needed to survive throughout the year. Before us, stretched large tracts of native grasses, milo food plots, rows of Cedars, Maple, Plum and  other bushes, sloughs and shelterbelts, perfect upland game bird habitat.

  Gary Kubicek, Country Vet Dog Food had joined my cameraman and I on a late November pheasant hunt with good friend and Team Outdoorsmen Adventures member Joel Vasek, Missouri River Lodge and Missouri River Guide Service.

    The lodge, where we had headquartered out of years ago was beautiful, and since has gone through a major expansion. It’s an astonishing piece of property located in the small community of Geddes, South Dakota. A five star Lodge, which now sleeps forty-four people and with is second story that is in the process of being completed will only become more magnificent.

  Joel, “The Walleye Tamer” known as one of the finest fishing guides on Lake Francis Case and other bodies of water is not just an angler as his guide service also offers pheasant, grouse, prairie chicken, turkey and deer hunting.

  As we prepared to depart from the lodge, at 9:20 am, our group of five hunters, Matt and my cameraman climbed into one of the Lodges well equipped buses where Vasek gave a safety talk letting everyone know what type of habitat we would be hunting, how we would walk them and rules for a safe hunt.

  Then we headed from the Lodge for the short drive to where we would begin our hunt at the ten o’clock opener.

   In the bus were gun racks, comfortable seating, coolers with drinks and snacks as well as an on board DVD player. There was a carrier mounted on the front for the birds we would shoot and the dog’s water jugs and  mounted in the back are seven  large aluminum dog kennels,

  Because our group consisted of five hunters, Joel Vasek, Gary Kubicek, Maverick Hill, Dave Kotob and me, we were working several of the smaller fields with Switch Grass, Big Bluestem and Milo.

  Vasek has well trained dogs with his kennel housing both pointers and flushers including German Shorthairs, Hungarian Vizsla, German Wirehaired, Labs and Raptors. There are also additional kennels there for hunters who bring along their own dogs.

  Shortly after we arrived and started walking, one of Joel’s dogs went on point, the hunters off to our left, Maverick and David moved up behind the dog and as the bird flushed, they yelled “Hen”, as the first of numerous hens we would see on this hunt took flight.

  Maverick, David, Joel and Matt McGinty one of the people who helped Joel on the hunts were pushing the middle and the outside edge of the grass, with several dogs working out in front, when it became obvious that one of the labs as its tail shook in wide circles indicating it was working a bird.

  The other dogs closed in on the lab as the call of “Rooster” rang out across the field with Vasek’s gun coming up as he made a long shot, dropping the bird in an adjacent strip of grass.

  On this field, one dog, then another would get birdy or go on point as we flushed numerous hens, a good sign for the future of the wild birds in this area.  On this walk, all but the one rooster evaded us, with others going out the end of the grass into a wet slough we would not be able to walk.

  Gary would rotate his dogs, running his lab Lady in one field and then run Hannah, his German Shorthair in another, giving both dogs the opportunity to hunt.

  Lady, which was in front of us looking birdy and had a bird cornered as Gary and I moved up, the bird exploded from the cover, another hen with Gary calling “No Bird” as Lady worked her way back to search out another bird.

  In each field, the dogs worked well, pointing and flushing both hens and roosters, with very few roosters escaping, as all hunters in our group were excellent shots that spent many an hour in the field hunting pheasants.

  My cameraman would walk the fields with us, doing his best to capture the dogs working in front of us, the birds as they burst from the cover, the hunters taking aim and the birds being hit and coming down.   Filming wild birds is much different than filming other birds, as wild birds are runners, hard flyers that put as much distance between them and the hunter and dogs. When cornered and forced into the air, they erupt with authority, cackling, their wings grabbing air as they go high, heading in the opposite direction of the hunters.

  In the second field, Gary and I were on the right flank as Hannah locked onto the bird, Gary and I moved up on the bird as it came up, our shotguns firing in unison with the bird dropping, with one of the dogs quickly retrieving the bird.

  Shortly thereafter, another rooster made a fatal mistake coming up in front of David, Maverick and Joel and as it swung left, giving all three hunters the opportunity for a shot; it was hit hard, made one bounce in the grass with Vasek’s Lab catching it before it could bounce again.

  With each walk, we picked up a few birds, seeing good numbers of birds, as we worked our way closer to our fifteen-bird limit.

  After shooting my three birds, the plan was to walk a long field, where I decided to grab my other camera and try to get some footage of the birds that always seem to come out the end of the field. [Read more…]

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Making a Difference For Wildlife By Gary Howey

  On a recent trip, I stopped at a cafe and sat down with a group of locals having coffee. Not long after I sat down, the main topic of our conversation turned to hunting and how it changed over the years.

  Several of the individuals were expressing their pessimistic views about where hunting has gone and why they no longer participate in the sport.

  They felt that the sport had literally gone to H—, placing the blame on everyone but them.

  Well, being the quiet reserved shy type person that I am, I jumped right in with both-feet, feeling them out and trying to figure out why they felt this way.

  One was a well to do businessman and another landowner, both of which could do a lot to help promote or improve hunting. Unfortunately, it looked to me as neither of them did anything to promote or help to improve the hunting in the area.

  My first question that I directed to them, asking if they were involved in any of the conservation groups such as Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, The Wild Turkey Federation, Whitetails Unlimited or the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

  I guess I knew their answer, but I wanted to make sure I had one before I went on.

  Their reply was no, they did not belong to any of them because all they did was to take our money; my reply to him was, really?

  They like many others really were uninformed and did not have a clue as to all that these organizations do for wildlife and to the sport of hunting.

  Then I proceeded to explain at length the numerous things these organizations have or can do for wildlife and the hunting in the upper Midwest.

  All of the above-mentioned groups have either purchased land that is open to hunting as well as contributing funds to enhance and develop wetlands or other wildlife habitat.

  These groups also have mentor hunts, taking kids out into the field, highlighting safe hunting practices and conservation while giving many of these kids their first opportunity to go hunting.

  Again, their reply was, really, we did not know that!

  Then proceeded to explain how these groups work closely with the Game, Fish & Parks and DNR to help purchase land or develop wildlife habitat on the public land.

  Then, that dumb look came over their faces as they realized that instead of complaining all these years about how bad hunting was and that hunting was becoming a rich man’s sport that perhaps there was something they could have been doing to improve both the habitat and hunting.

  Next, I asked the landowner what he raised on his land and what type of conservation practices he used and his comment was that he had a corn/bean rotation depending on what was bringing the highest prices.

  Well as anyone knows, wildlife cannot live in corn and beans, sure, mature corn makes a great place for wildlife to hide, but there is no value there when it comes to nesting or roosting areas for birds or bedding areas for deer when first planted.

  He went on to explain that he irrigated much of his ground, doing his best to plant on the contour to keep erosion at a minimum.

  As our conversation continued, I asked him what he planted on the pivot corners, his answer was native grass, which he indicated wasn’t much good for anything so bailed it and used for bedding.

  That is when I asked him if he had ever thought about enrolling the pivot corners in CRP or a program that may be offered through the Game & Parks, NRCS or NRD’s where he received a payment for planting then to grasses and flowers, creating wildlife habitat on his land? [Read more…]

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Early Season Pheasant Hunting Tactics Gary Howey

  For those of us that have been waiting all year for pheasant season, well, it is about here!

  Reports indicate that the pheasant outlook is not as good as in previous years with those states that have a lot of habitat crowing about their pheasant numbers.

  Over the years, I have hunted with hundreds of hunter and was surprised how some of them hunted and amazed by others at how well they would look over the situation, hash things over, approaching each field differently.

  Here are a few tips that I have learned that have helped me to become a more consistent early season pheasant hunter.

* Once you arrive at the field that you plan on hunting, keep the noise down to a minimum as all wild game has a very acute sense of hearing.  This means, do not slam your car door; keep the noise to a minimum. [Read more…]

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Memorial Pheasant Hunt, Tribute Gary Howey

 

  Veterans and those serving veterans have always been dear to me as the military tradition runs deep in my family, with my father, brother, uncles and cousins all serving in the military.

  My father, brother, uncles, cousin and I all served, some during World War Two and others during Viet Nam. I served in the Army with over-sea tours in Germany and Viet Nam and then in the Iowa and Nebraska National Guard.

  This is why, when the colors pass in review or our National Anthem played, I like others who served, remove our caps and place them our hands over my heart.

  Because I served and my pride in my country, any opportunity I have to thank or highlight veterans, I will be there.

  When asked to take part in the “Doug Brown” Memorial North Central chapter Paralyzed Veterans of America Pheasant Hunt it took me but a split second to say “Yes.”

   Doug served as the Veteran’s Representative at the Sioux Falls, South Dakota Veterans Administration serving veteran’s for many years.

   This annual event, held in his memory allows disabled veterans and individuals the opportunity to take part in a real South Dakota pheasant hunt.

  Friends and family of Brown, the North Central Paralyzed Veterans of America staff, volunteers from throughout the area and the folks at Top Gun Hunting Ranch near Howard, South Dakota all contribute to the success of this great annual event.

  The event starts out with a great breakfast, safety briefing and with the assistance of a special built trailer, that allowed wheel chair bound veterans and others to  load  into the back of the pickups that transferred them to the field and served as their shooting platforms.

   On our first field, the pickups carrying these hunters made their way to the end of each field where they would block while the walkers and I pushed through the crop fields, CRP and grasses.

  The excitement of the hunt started quickly when one of the numerous dogs working in front of the walkers went on point with those walkers stationed on that side moving up on the dog. [Read more…]

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Pheasant Hunting 2017 Gary Howey

  It will not be long before the upland Game Bird season opens up. Several of the states are reporting that their pheasant numbers are down.

  I have talked with several wildlife biologists about this and they have given several reasons for the decrease in pheasant numbers.

  First is the fact that in some areas, they had dry year and moisture, the dew that the young chicks needed was hard to come by.  Secondly was the fact that last season’s numbers were also down.  Lastly, but probably the most important reason is the fact that much of our CRP had disappeared. When commodity prices were high and the dollars the government gave per acre for taking the fields out of production, into CRP were low and much of the CRP plowed under.

  Without the habitat, we just are not going to see the bird numbers others and I saw while growing up in Watertown, South Dakota during the “Good Old Days.”

  The reason that South Dakota has birds is simple; they realize the thousands of dollars their State bird, the Ringneck Pheasant brings into the state’s economy.

  South Dakota definitely have more habitat than Nebraska, the state I reside in and In Much of South Dakota; they farm for pheasants taking care of what habitat they do have.  They do a number of things to enhance the habitat, making it more attractive to wildlife.

  In South Dakota, you will see sloughs; some hold water while others are no more than muddy swamps.  When they plant trees, many of them are specifically suited for wildlife. Many farmers will leave a few rows of corn or sorghum in the field each year, helping wildlife to survive during the harsh South Dakota winters.  This habitat helps to assure that the birds have cover to protect them from predators flying overhead and the food and cover needed to make it through the long winter months.

  This, along with the fact that game preserves stock birds heavily helps to ensure good bird numbers during the season.

  Some folks have the misconception that pheasants can live in the row crops, the corn and bean fields.  Maybe, in years past, but not today as the row crops no longer have pigeon grass and weeds between the rows, they are clean.  Sure, pheasants will move into them to feed before harvest and on what little waste grain there is after harvest, but row crops do not cut it for wildlife habitat.

  In areas where there was dry weather, successful hunters this season may have to hunt areas adjacent to water.  It really does not have to be much, as a small slough, creek, or pond will work.

  Another tip that is worth listening to is to hunt the smallest tracts of land, patches of weeds etc. The larger CRP fields or state hunting grounds are hunted hard.  As soon as one group comes out one end, another group is heading in the opposite end of the field.

  Most hunters tend to pass up these small weed patches or small clumps of trees.  These places can really hold good numbers of birds, those pushed from the larger fields, find safety, and shelter in these small tracts of land.

  It does not take a Rhodes Scholar to figure it out, many of the larger tracts of land are hunted hard and the birds are looking for a place to rest and get away from all the noise and shooting. [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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PF Announces 2014 South Dakota Habitat Accomplishments & Awards

Dedicated chapters, opening of regional headquarters highlight 2014 endeavors

Brookings, S.D. – March 17, 2015 – Pheasants Forever improved habitat for pheasants and other upland wildlife on more than 43,000 acres in South Dakota in 2014. This includes 1,319 wildlife habitat projects completed by the state’s 34 chapters that improved 20,156 acres for wildlife, as well as 23,314 acres impacted by Pheasants Forever’s Farm Bill biologist program.

“The success and longevity of Pheasants Forever in South Dakota can be attributed to the incredible work of our South Dakota volunteer chapters and their mission to conserve wildlife habitat,” stated Mike Stephenson, Pheasants Forever’s regional representative for South Dakota. “With the opening of our new regional headquarters, the dedicated chapters throughout the state and the addition of Farm Bill biologists, Pheasants Forever in South Dakota is set to do great things in 2015.”

Complementing the efforts of South Dakota chapters and volunteers, 2014 marked a historic moment for “The Habitat Organization” with the opening of Pheasants Forever’s first regional headquarters in Brookings. Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever’s long-time Vice President of Government Affairs, permanently moved to South Dakota and was appointed as director for the new office. The move came amidst organizational efforts to address substantial habitat losses and land use changes in South Dakota, which have resulted in a dramatic decline in pheasant numbers.

Pheasants Forever in South Dakota 2014 Chapter Habitat Accomplishments

Type of Project
2014 Projects:
2014 Acres
Historical Project Totals
Total Acres Benefited
Food Plots
1,180
16,512
21,730
263,834

Land Acquisitions
2*
207*
62*
12,040*

Nesting Cover
73
2,784
2,113
77,172

[Read more…]