The Last Windrow: Improving pheasant hunting is music to the ears
Newly elected South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem hails from Castlewood. I write a column for the local newspaper there. I congratulate her for her victory last fall and wish her only the best on her journey to Pierre.
I'm sure that since she is from Castlewood she might even read this column on occasion. Since I have her undivided attention, if that be the case, I would like to share some of my thoughts on a recent column in which the new governor expressed some of her hopes for the coming session and her term.
One of the hopes she listed was in regard to improving pheasant hunting, one of my lifelong passions.
That was music to my ears. Since I have trekked the cattail swamps and cornfields of South Dakota in search of a wily ringneck pheasant, I'd like to offer a few ideas from the non-resident hunter's end of the shotgun.
The governor states that she is in favor of increasing pheasant habitat. That was easy during the Conservation Reserve Program years when thousands of acres of land were set aside from the plow in hopes of keeping grain supplies in check. As a result, pheasants and pheasant hunters prospered. Hunters came in droves from far and wide after hearing the glowing reports from the field.
The loss of much of that CRP land has had a negative effect on those glorious birds. Ever-shrinking weed patches plowed under shelter belts meant predators had easy picking and pheasant nests went empty. Famous Dakota blizzards also took their toll with decreased shelter areas. Old farmsteads were displaced with row crops. The pheasant population took a nosedive.
Hunters in the field last season proved that unless you were hunting on land used as hunting preserves, wild pheasants were hard to find. Although I didn't venture into Coyote Country last fall, friends of mine returned with few if any pheasants in the bag.
The 2018 late harvest season had something to do with tough hunting for sure, but anyone with a bird dog knew there were fewer birds in the air than in years past. Less nesting and roosting habitat equals less pheasants. Kind of a simple way to look at it, but I believe it to be true.
I grew up in northwest Iowa during the Soil Bank Program years of the late 1950s, early 1960s. Nary a pheasant was to be seen on our farm up until those years. Pheasants prospered with that cover to the point where it was not a problem to secure a three-bird limit about any time one entered a Soil Bank field.
South Dakota pheasants flourished as well and legends were made in pheasant country. Those stories are still talked about today. I'm hoping young kids who choose to or are able to hunt will someday be able to enjoy that kind of experience.
Also, access to hunting land was no big deal back then. Most farmers and ranchers didn't mind and allowed hunters asking to hunt their land. All a kid needed was a pocket full of shotgun shells, a beat up Model 12 Winchester and a good pair of legs to bag a bird.
Today's hunting scene can be much more expensive and is unreachable for some. Some of my friends have given up heading west due to lack of access to good hunting land, especially if they don't have a resident relative who allows them to hunt their private land.
By the time they arrive on the prairie, most of the state hunting land has been hunted many times before regular season opened. My experience has been that by that time most of the birds have been "burned out" of state land and have headed for adjacent private land.
If that trend continues, we're going to lose a lot of our young hunters. The economy will also suffer in those small towns that welcome a burst of dollars during pheasant season.
I wish Gov. Noem well in her efforts to bolster pheasant hunting in her state. If she can find a way to create more cover or sustain the cover that is present, provide more hunting access opportunities and keep the sport from becoming a sport that only the well-heeled can afford, she will be my hero.
And, I can't even vote for her. Good luck, Gov. Noem!
See you next time. Okay?