The 2019 edition of Upland Review is available online! This free online magazine details the prior year accomplishments of the Blue Mountain Pheasants Forever chapter in Walla Walla, Washington, and includes a few short stories of hunting the 2018 upland bird season and conservation. Check it out!
A hint of the long shadows of evening began to cast across the rolling wheat stubble and amber bunchgrass. A solid cloud of gray dust billowed from behind my old green Ford rolling down Weller Canyon, homebound from work. The bluebird afternoons of late October leave little to be desired on the southeastern Washington Palouse.
About a half mile from home, a large, brilliantly plumed, wild rooster pheasant with a tail stretching to Mexico levitated from the grass buffer above the gravel, and sailing effortlessly into the deep draw of the adjacent field. The pheasant season was freshly open, and my Llewellin setter pup, Finnigan, waited impatiently at home.
A wild little bitch, her energy and personality were equally spun up to ear-rattling irritation, like a pressure cooker about to blow its regulating weight. We had worked since spring on basic obedience and finding and pointing caged pigeons with little success, but my gut said “What the hell, give her a shot!”.
Applying hard brake, the truck slid to a stop in the driveway of my humble, mustard-colored, 1972 model double-wide with mouse-dropping insulation. I knew Finn’s energy would be unmanageable for a hunt straight out of the gate, so I hurriedly gathered my vest and a few shells, retrieved my old 16-gauge double from the safe, and released the pup for the half-mile trek back to the rooster sighting.
At the foot of the draw, we hunted up the roadside where pheasant roost and feed. Her interest piqued a time or two as she inhaled the deep odors from pheasant beds, but not a bird was found. In my mind, we were acting out the script precisely.
Circling back into the draw, Finn worked more intently. We cut the expanse of wheat stubble with alacrity, approaching downwind a small patch of dense grasses just large enough to harbor a bird or two. Brief moments passed as Finn halfheartedly trotted through the grasses; her thoroughness lacking from a short attention span and inexperience.
Calling her back, I directed her to the inside edge along the toe of a twenty-foot sheer slope. Breezing through with little interest, I was certain Finn had run past the bird. I somehow knew where it was sitting. Fixed on a small hummock of reed canary grass, I called Finn back once again to repeat her last twenty feet of cover. But this time, her head swiveled as she trotted by the hummock, stuttering to a slow halt with clear inquisition.
Closing the distance, I stomped through the hummock, and was nearly tripped backward as the largest rooster I had ever seen before or since on the Palouse blew his cover on a near straightaway retreat. From the corner of my left eye, Finn’s head swiveled after the rooster, while my right eye glanced flush down the rib, the bead finding the stark white ring of the rooster’s neck. With a squeeze of the trigger, our fate was sealed. An upland hunter and his first pointing dog were etched permanently into the folds of time, oblivious to the obsession, passion, learning, and journey that was to shape our future.
That rooster was my first taken over a pointing dog, and my own pup to ice the cake. I knew little about training a bird dog, just enough about pheasant habits and habitat to be dangerous but not good, and carried an heirloom shotgun, albeit a classic side-by-side. Six seasons hence, I know a hell of a lot more about upland birds and their habitat, I still carry my old heirloom double, and I run two damn fine Llewellins with a third up-and-comer in the wings. My greatest fall passion entails a shotgun in hand chasing the tail feathers of a brace of dainty setters across the prairie. I may pass for a legitimate bird hunter, yet I still regard myself as an everyday outdoorsman lucky enough to have reliable canine talent.
And herein lies the simple foundation that every newcomer to the luxury of upland hunting behind a bird dog should glean. Just follow the dog.
Can it possibly be that simple?
In the age of social media, we attempt to put our best foot forward, so to speak, with our highest quality photography, catchy captions, and stunning gear and guns on display, tapping the envy of every wannabe out there. In reality, however, none of that matters and should in no fashion intimidate someone from diving head-first into this classic and life-altering pastime.
My deliberation on the essence of a bird hunter came as I listened to Project Upland’s podcast #47 interviewing Ryan Busse of the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Association (Link at the bottom). Ryan is an avid upland bird hunter with an intriguing story that will leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling about folks in the political trenches, fighting to protect our nation’s public lands. But his message to recruiting upland hunters was simple and hit home. Just follow the dog.
A shotgun, bird dog (if you so desire), and habitat comprise the essentials of the upland hunting puzzle, and for many of us, the dog is the center of our upland universe. Few upland hunters are experts at any one of these facets when they enter the game, and most may never claim expertise. Even the most well studied and practiced bird hunter and dog will continue to learn far more over a lifetime afield than in the yard or preserve. The bird and dog can always surprise you, and no training exercise can supplant the experience of the hunt.
Ryan was lucky enough to have pheasant out the back door of his childhood home, spending countless hours with an old shotgun following a dog. His message speaks to the experience of many of us where time in the field lends itself to understanding habitat, bird and dog behavior, and wing-shooting.
And what exactly is Ryan’s message? In a nutshell, follow the dog until it finds a bird. When the bird gets up, if its legal to hunt, shoot at it. Over time, the dog will find more birds, you will shoot and connect (at least some of us…) more often, and one day you will suddenly realize you are an upland hunter. No fancy shotgun, no professionally finished dog, or other exorbitant paraphernalia required. Just pick up the gun, follow the dog, and enjoy and appreciate every single minute of it.
After a few quick seasons, you won’t recall how many birds hit your vest, or how many misses were volleyed behind the escapees. But the unforgettable facets include the way your favorite shotgun felt in your hand, how smooth and naturally it shouldered, and the pride you felt at the glorious sight of your companion flawlessly orchestrating a flush, point, or retrieve.
So, what are you waiting for? Just follow the dog!
Listen to Project Upland’s Podcast #47 interview with Ryan Busse
Obnoxiously loud, the alarm clock shattered a peaceful sleep. I awoke to another day off, but Ali had commitments at the office. Working through the morning routine, I slipped into a tee-shirt, stumbled into the kitchen, and ground some fresh beans for the pot. The cats squawked for breakfast as the pups stretched and shook in preparation for their morning duty. All seemed to be quite typical.
It had been seven days since Yuba developed a severe allergic reaction to who knows what. After four vet visits, the cause remains undiagnosed, but our suspicion lies with a leptospirosis vaccine administered on December 5th. Nevertheless, Yuba’s bout with a hypoglycemic seizure on the 10th, followed by severe hives, vomiting, and diarrhea for the past week has left the little Llew tuckered and vulnerable.
With the coffee brewing, I shuffled to the front door in the dim lighting of the Christmas tree. And much to my surprise, there were three perky setters waiting eagerly for the door to swing ajar.
Yuba had barely begun to eat on her own the day prior, partially due to the quantities and variety of medications I had forced upon her for the past week. But upon reentering the house, she trotted to her crate, sat upright, and gave me the beckoning glare of a pup in dire need of breakfast.
I obliged with a small helping of kibble mixed with a little tasty canned food and an antibiotic pill tossed in. She indiscriminately ate it, pill and all. We were both quite satisfied with this, as well as the fact that there were no messes to clean from overnight. Yuba quickly staked her claim of the love seat and drifted off into a crack-of-dawn, winter’s morn dog nap which only a hunting dog can do justice.
Upon bringing Ali her morning coffee in bed and feeding the rest of the herd, I took up residence on the couch to proof-read an article I was about to submit to Pheasants Forever Magazine. Ali headed off to work as the girls and I hung out on the couch. But a miracle happened just before 7:30am when a boastful, cackling rooster pheasant soared straight over the house.
Yuba erupted from slumber and dashed across the room, perching swiftly atop the far couch arm, where she kept watch over the wheat field and a pair of roosters feeding in the damp morning fog. Now this was looking more like recovery!
About an hour later, I headed out the door with the girls to fill bird feeders and visit the mail box. But before I could get my Muck Boots on, Yuba and Zeta were both on point in the driveway as our flock of California quail scampered through the blackberries and down the road on their morning commute to breakfast.
Thinking the chores could wait, I crated Zeta, then slipped out with my Ithaca Model 37 and a couple 6-shot. Yuba remained on point.
Lingering by the driveway until all the quail had passed, I swung the paddock gate open and released Yuba to peruse the overgrown swale that spans the length of our property. Thick with white alder, woods rose, blackberry, and a couple old Russian olives, the deep swale flows with surface spring water all year and provides food and shelter for the quail, pheasant, a few whitettails and mule deer.
I hadn’t made it 30 feet into the paddock when Yuba turned into the swale and locked up. Nervous little birds chirped and scurried in the tangle leaving me little shooting room, so I dialed the polychoke to a notch between Improved Cylinder and Modified. I was being picky as well, waiting for a single male. And, as luck would have it, a single male flushed and fell to the old 37, coming to rest at the bottom of the swale beneath a nasty mess of tree limbs and blackberry tendrils.
One hundred quail must have flushed upon the report the shotgun leaving Yuba and I to stare in silence at the final movements of the beautiful little bird gifted us this fine, wet morning. Encouraging Yuba to “Get that bird!” , she merely traversed the swale and pursued the larger flock. “Lord, send me a retriever!”, I pleaded as I slid down the muddy embankment into the fallen, slimy, algae-stained tree limbs, all the while snagged and shredded by the piercing clutches of blackberry.
Completing the retrieve, I called Yuba back to bask in her victory, and it occurred to me that God must love a pointing dog too. Coming out of a week of hell into the promise of Christmas, Yuba was gifted a short, successful, Christmas Eve hunt on the homestead when I thought she may only have one more shot in mid-January.
I grabbed an old whitetail shed I found on a hunt two days prior and staged a couple photos on my old fence row before heading back inside with my not yet fully recovered pup. Satisfied with her outing, Yuba climbed back up onto the love seat, curled into a setter ball, and drifted off into a post-hunt snooze, that again, only a hunting dog can do justice.
Merry Christmas, indeed!
Yuba sat trembling atop my lap, peering out the back of the cabin as the 225 horsepower Yamaha outboard thrust the North River Seahawk onto plane. The night brought freezing rain and wet snow, but the morning was dawning beautifully; the Snake River meandering its way between fog banks under a pink cotton candy sunrise. On board we had Dave, Brett, Rhett, two old, rotund Brittanys, and Yuba and I.
Our plan was to swing into a remote US Army Corps of Engineers habitat unit and split up. Cautioning the guys about Yuba’s big-running tendency, Dave, the only dog-less crew member, volunteered to hang with Yuba and I, while Rhett and Brett took the Brittanys to the other end of the property. Yuba is certainly the baby of the family, terrified of water, and is unsure of strange dogs, but she hit the ground running as the boat slid in under the Russian olives at the foot of a looming basalt bluff.
Dave and I barely made it around the toe of the bluff when we strolled right into a flock Rio Grande wild turkey. Yuba had seen a single or two, but the flock of 30 birds erupting from under the Russian olives sent her into a new dimension of crazy. Carrying a valid turkey tag, I wasted no time releasing a round of 4-shot steel from my old Ithaca model 37 pump, resulting in a notched tag and heavy vest.
From Yuba’s perspective, the Rio hen was simply a giant prairie grouse with strong scent. And clearly, they were fair game as ole dad bagged one instantly. Therefore, in classic pointing dog fashion, she bounded off to peg the next bird. The turkeys amusingly dispersed like a flock of quail among the grassland. Yuba pointed and we flushed about a dozen singles throughout the hunt. But the real show began when we got into the pheasant.
As if Yuba weren’t crazy enough, there were dozens of pheasant along the riverbank, hiding in the false indigo and flushing wild. As we pinched in toward Brett and Rhett, the pheasant started busting in all directions, bird dogs were pointing, scurrying, and looking for birds to retrieve from a volley of shots.
I noticed I was on the whistle a lot more than normal as Yuba careened in, around, and through every bit of cover she could find. But even in the chaos and sensory overload, I was impressed with her finding and pointing prowess, telegraphing with precision where a bird was, should be, or was headed. The entire show was simply unprecedented.
I never touched a rooster all morning, but was amped and proud as we made our way back to our pick-up point. Yuba was beat, of that I was sure, but I had little worry as she was actively and intelligently hunting the entire morning. Still, I kept a keen eye on her as I am accustomed to her hips getting stiff and sore as a result of dysplasia. So, it was no news when she suddenly started to show some signs of hip pain, or so I assumed, from a seemingly stiff gait.
Almost to the boat, I noticed Yuba’s hind legs quiver a bit, so I scooped her up and carried her the rest of the way. Her reward for an incredible hunt would be to warm up, grab a snack, and retire from the afternoon hunt. Handing her up to Brett, I swung myself aboard, regained my feet, and reached out to take my tired little setter. But confusion was replaced with dread as I noticed her eyes clenched in pain, followed by the unmistakable convulsions of a seizure.
“Holy shit, she’s seizing!” I yelled to Brett, who swiftly laid her out on the large, cushioned bench seat in the boat’s cabin.
I wrapped her in my insulated overalls while Brett cradled Yuba’s head. Seizures can present with a variety bodily functions, pains, and other involuntary motions and sounds. An eternal minute passed as every muscle in her tiny body went board-stiff, but the worst of it was her uncontrollable screaming.
With muscles finally relaxing and cognizance regaining, the pain must have been unbearable; the cause I am left to assume was perceived as some unknown predator. Large, dilated pupils searched to unveil the culprit as she pled for mercy. Terror, confusion, and panic were evident as Brett and I spoke softly, stroking her ears in an attempt to sooth her fear, if nothing else.
At the two-minute mark, she began to quiet. The convulsions had completely ceased and sore muscles relaxed. I scooped her up, still wrapped in my now defiled overalls, and sat with her curled on my lap like a newborn pup. Brett solemnly motored toward the marina.
She had come out of it. That was the first blessing, but I had no way of really checking her neurological signs as of yet. Suspicious that the cause was either an electrolyte or glucose deficiency, I went for a honey packet, which I had readily on hand for this very situation. She lapped at it eagerly.
Back at the truck, I tucked Yuba in softly among a fleece blanket and the overalls, and offered some water, which she happily drank. She was showing no sign of impaired motor skills, but was still clearly wiped from the exertion of the hunt and seizure. Dropping the Tundra into drive, I dialed the local vet, announcing I would see her in 45 minutes, if not sooner.
Keeping tabs on the groggy pup, I randomly whistled or called her name. She always responded. Carrying her across the threshold at the vet’s office, she wagged at the receptionist, and sat upright on my lap in the waiting room. The visit was short and sweet, and Yuba’s behavior improved immensely in that insignificant amount of time.
The diagnosis was as I suspected afield. Hypoglycemia. More appropriately, Hunting Dog Hypoglycemia (HDH).
What is HDH?
I believe most folks know what hypoglycemia is, but in case you don’t, its low blood sugar. A pup’s normal blood sugar should range somewhere between about 70-150 ml/dl. A dog experiencing HDH will have a value likely below 50 ml/dl. Dr. Shawn Wayment (DVM, @birddogdoc on Instagram) explains that HDH occurs when a canine athlete exerts itself in strenuous exercise thereby rapidly depleting their blood sugar (glucose) before their reserves can be remobilized or released from glycogen storages from the muscle and liver.
There are a number of reliable resources on HDH that share common symptoms that may include the following.
- General fatigue
- Ataxia (loss of control of bodily movements)
As with any medical condition, no two cases will necessarily present alike. Athletes fatigue when they work hard, whether two- or four-legged. Yuba was showing fatigue as she has on every hunt for the past four seasons, but no other symptoms until about five minutes prior to her seizure. At that time, her demeanor appeared similar to her pre-FHO days when her hips began to hurt and stiffen.
Dr. Wayment refers to current literature on HDH pointing to a lack of condition as a common cause; however, he believes that this is simply not the whole truth and has “…seen it happen in very well-conditioned canine athletes.” That now makes two of us as Yuba is at the height of her physical ability for the season.
So, what really caused Yuba’s bout of HDH? My hypothesis is the perfect storm of conditions creating utter chaos, sensory overload, and compensation for environmental conditions. The novelty of the hunt in general is my overarching suspicion, the specific points exacerbating Yuba’s metabolic rate being the following.
- General adrenaline and anxiety for an hour before the hunt: Yuba knew we were headed out hunting and was trembling with anticipation the entire truck ride and wait for our comrades.
- First time boat ride: Yuba doesn’t like water more than about a foot deep. She was nervous just walking down the dock to the boat, much less roaring down the river on water she knew was deeper than she is tall.
- Strange dogs: Yuba loves people, but the two strange, yet sweet and well-meaning Brittanys, further prodded her nerves and desire to curl up in my lap for security.
- Turkeys: Yuba had seen a turkey or two before, but the dozens of turkeys that flushed into the grasslands like a flock of quail inundated the area with bird scent. She was working and pointing turkeys left and right the entire hunt. Upon her first find, it was difficult pulling her off of the scent at all. This was uncharted territory for her.
- Pheasant: There were also dozens of pheasant. Everywhere. Between the turkeys and pheasant, she didn’t know which way to go or which scent to key in on and was totally jazzed about it.
- Shooting: The two groups of hunters began at opposite ends and worked toward each other with a barrage of shots throughout the hunt. When the gun fires, Yuba kicks into high gear looking for the dead bird, then tears off in search of the next live bird. Focus was a bit problematic as she wasn’t sure what she should do at times.
- Frigid Conditions: We had been hunting since September, but this was the first actually cold day afield. And it wasn’t just cold, but wet from icy precipitation. She was soaked and chilly causing additional caloric burn to maintain body temperature.
The old saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” could not be more true as you cradle your ailing pup in the field with little to nothing you can do to remedy the situation. I was prepared with the necessary items to keep her energy up, but I neglected to enforce break time to care for her. When Yuba is on fire and thoroughly enjoying the hunt, I have to leash her to make her stay put for breaks. I failed to do this on this particular hunt and will not make that mistake again.
Furthermore, a warmer vest that could keep a lean, 28-pound setter drier may have been enough to keep her energy burn rate to a more normal level.
Proper diet, rations, and conditioning are a must for our four-legged upland athletes. How often to feed your dog is another question that I refrain from debating, but some veterinarians suggests that feeding the appropriate daily ration once per day would condition a dog’s body to store a larger liver glycogen reserve to draw from during strenuous activity.
Dr. Wayment also suggests that feeding a dog 10% of its calculated daily ration every two hours during strenuous activity has shown success in preventing HDH symptoms.
What did I do right during this whole debacle? I provided warmth immediately, and water, honey, and rest once the seizing stopped. Yuba came out of it well, was responsive, excited about the honey, and didn’t show any obvious, alarming symptoms of neurological deficiencies. Nevertheless, I rushed Yuba to the vet for an exam, which was one hour to the minute from the onset of her seizure.
The same resources providing information on HDH symptoms also provide a variety of treatment options listed below. Whichever product you choose, at least 50% glucose is key. A couple ounces should suffice if needed in a pinch, but be prepared to feed your dog in short order and rest them the remainder of the day.
- 50% Dextrose solution (50% glucose)
- Karo syrup/corn syrup (100% glucose)
- High fructose corn syrup (50% glucose)
- Honey (50% glucose/50% fructose)
- Maple syrup
- Pure fruit juice
- Nutri-Cal supplement
Dr. Wayment suggests applying to the oral mucous membranes for rapid enzyme break down; however, you should exercise caution. It may be best to wait for the seizing to end before trying to orally administer any of the above. Seizing animals obviously have no voluntary control over their body, including the mouth. Fingers near the teeth could end badly and at no fault or intention of your pup.
I learned the hard way to recognize conditions that may be hazardous to my pup’s health, aside from the obvious. Be cognizant of how novel experiences may impose additional stress on your pup.
Do not dismiss symptoms. This is Yuba’s first season hunting post-FHO surgery on her right hip. She is a new dog with relentless enthusiasm and desire, but the former three seasons of monitoring her pain level through her body language left me to assume that any symptoms she expressed were caused by her other, still arthritic hip. This was clearly not so. I don’t recommend looking for the metaphorical zebra at all times, but I do suggest being suspicious enough of the horse to consider a zebra in disguise.
Preparation does not equal prevention without proper action. Keep an eye on your pup and the clock. This can be a tall order amidst insane action, particularly when you rely on your pup to show you when he or she needs a break. But in Yuba’s case, and possibly the case with other pups in peak condition, no obvious symptoms of extreme exertion or energy expense may be noticeable. Had I forced a break and a snack just once, it likely would have prevented the seizure.
While Yuba’s story has a happy ending, a proportion of these cases end fatally. Keep your pup’s energy up, and by all means, if you recognize any of the above symptoms of HDH, allow your pup to rest the remainder of the day. When caught early, pups can bounce back rather quickly. But finding a few additional birds is not worth the risk, lest you be the next to publish the unfortunate story of your pup’s demise in the Pointing Dog Journal subscriber forum.
Our last mile of ascent traversed what appeared to be a glacial spillway. What looked like a talus slope from afar turned out to be a massive boulder-strewn drainage between two granite walls. The fisherman’s trail was no longer discernable, so in classic Chas fashion, he picked the most difficult route; straight up.
The feeling of amazement as I gazed for the first time upon the rich auburn belly, buttery yellow flanks, olive-sized parr marks, and overall marvel of a true golden trout in the Sierra Nevada backcountry will not soon depart.
But a trip into the Sierra Nevada range has its challenges. Learn what every angler should know to be successful in the Sierra Nevada alpine at Angler Pros.
Published in the Union Bulletin, September 23rd, 2018.
I sat alone in the gray calm of dawn, gazing contently across my food plot. A few wary whitetails snagged a snack on their morning commute. Steam curled up from a hot cup of coffee, tickling the hairs on my face and nose as I sipped in peace. It was early December. Not quite frigid, but the bunchgrasses were frosted and brittle.
My Llewellin setters, Finn and Yuba, and I hunted pheasant hard the prior six weeks and I needed a break. But the girls lay anxiously at my feet, keeping a keen eye on their orange vests and the cased shotgun by the door. They knew it was a hunting day. Any other morning we would be working roost cover along thick reed canary grass in the low swales, or working a creek side brush line at first light. But not today. This day would be different.
As the clock reported 8:30am, I decided to act like a dedicated bird hunter. The girls had succumbed to pessimism, lying, groaning, sulking. But they cast a suspicious glance as I approached the door. A hand outstretched for my shotgun sparked utter bedlam.
Hunting reliable roost cover early in the day can be productive, but hunting pressure may call for adjustment to keep on the birds as the season progresses. Understanding pheasant behavior provides insight to changing tactics throughout the day, as well as across the season.
Lowland swales, wetlands, and riparian areas provide prime pheasant roost habitat. When left to their own devices, pheasant rise in the morning and move out to feed soon after sunrise. Early in the season, birds may loaf in or near roost cover, but reacting to hunting pressure, birds will push out incredibly early, at times in the dark on public land. While pheasant may adjust their schedules to hunting pressure and weather patterns across the season, when and where to find them at any given time can be predicted with moderate certainty in the Walla Walla Valley.
Seeds and berries are common pheasant diet components in fall and winter. By mid-morning, birds are foraging on upland slopes and moving toward or into crop fields. Tall wheatgrass (an introduced Eurasian bunchgrass common to southeast Washington), wheat, canola, or other seed-producing crops offer forage throughout the season. Woods rose and blue elderberry provide dual function of food and cover when growing in dense patches. Birds may spend more time in this type of cover in the early morning, particularly in freezing conditions.
Pheasant spend a large part of the day working edge habitats such as the crop field/grassland interface common among farmland enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program. Short wheat stubble lacks adequate cover from avian predators, so pheasant typically don’t roam far from secure refuge when browsing cut crop fields. By late afternoon, birds grab a final snack before flying into roost, within about forty-five minutes of twilight.
As 9:30am approached, the girls quivered with anticipation alongside my old Fox 16-gauge double, broken open across the tailgate. I released the girls and strode quickly through lowland, waist-high Canada thistle and reed canary grass in route to the uplands. A whistle-blast and hand signal turned the girls to the high ground. We worked into the wind up a long ridge spine toward a wheat field, paralleling a steep slope. Native needle-and-thread grass and bluebunch wheatgrass grew low and lush, hiding pheasant along the slope edge.
Having quickly lost sight of Yuba, I turned toward my last visual of her, but a familiar arrythmia pulsed in my chest as Finn locked up mid-stride. Going in for the flush, the hen held tight enough I nearly left her thinking the bird had escaped on foot. A stellar performance by Finn to kick off our late morning jaunt. Upon release, Finn sailed toward the slope, dropping out of sight. My pace quickened.
Approaching the edge, I spied Yuba standing staunch, tail high, with Finn cautiously backing. Hastily, I circled wide, approaching from the front to pin the bird between us. At ten feet out, Yuba’s penetrating gaze identified a thick round of bunchgrass three paces to my right. Turning to face the unseen bird triggered an eruption of parting bunchgrass with the onset of heavy wing beats. A splendid wild rooster gained altitude over a backdrop of rolling golden wheat and grassland.
My Fox came up smoothly, followed by the girls launching over the edge, their eyes fixed firmly on the prize. At approximately 10:00am, I softly slid our first rooster of a lazy morning into my vest, admiring his emerald green head, long, striped tail, and modest spurs.
As the season progresses, get creative. Try new territory. Don’t be afraid to get a late start. Play on pheasant feeding behaviors; consider upland food sources over lowland coverts. Relax. Relish every point. Enjoy the hunt!
Doing your homework prior to a salmon fishing destination trip to Alaska can help cut out the guess work and manage expectations. In this post, I present some key information from an epic experience that will put you on silver (coho) salmon on the fly. The best advice? Think pink!
Read the full post here at Anger Pros.
In the frothy toss of the dam tailrace, the little Smoker bobbed and dodged like a duck floating down a river rapid. Luckily, the dam was spilling only a minor volume, so conditions were still safe. The game plan was to drop a couple plugs behind the boat and troll across of the unique terrain that lay below the surface of the conflicting currents.
What to Look For
On the big river, walleye are generally structure-oriented in the sense that boulders, rock piles, troughs, and other terrain variations provide velocity breaks and concealment that fish can use to their advantage as forage passes by with the flow. Our target habitat was shelves and drop-offs in a depth range of 18-25 feet.
Read the full post here, at Angler Pros.
Lake fishing for trout species can be dynamite almost any time of the year, but water temperature and heat can dictate when and how to fish for trout more than other species. When dry fly, or even nymph action slows during the dog days of summer, one fail-safe method is deep water streamer fishing. In my prior post, Flying Deep for Desert Cutthroat, I discuss deep water streamer tactics specifically for Lahontan cutthroat, but there are essential gear items every fly fisherman needs to beat the odds of a mid-summer salmonid shutdown.
I went for my fly buried deep in the underside of his snout, then realized it was not mine. My streamer, lodged in its tongue. The barbless hook easily popped free. The former, losing fisherman apparently succumbed to the death rolls as a length of tippet and a small, olive, beaded streamer were wrapped tightly around its snout. I unwound the line, freed the fly, and quickly released the behemoth to dash the hopes of yet another angler who will no doubt break him off out of excitement or being too aggressive.
Lahontan Cutthroat are an Entirely Different Animal
Read the full post here, at Angler Pros.
What should have been an epic morning of dry fly action on high desert lake brook trout turned out to be a technical game of trying to match a midge hatch. In the long run, a dry fly/dropper nymph combo worked out for the tenkara rod in tactical fixed-line fly fishing style.
Farming and habitat practices to maintain healthy CRP and alfalfa stands provides significant nesting and brood rearing benefits to upland game birds, fawning areas for deer, and nesting and roosting habitat for wild turkey in the early spring and summer. Long, overhanging grasses provide nesting cover while broad-leaf plants like alfalfa and other native forbs provide insect forage for fledgling broods and hens. These stands draw and hold birds but have been called “ecological traps” in areas where haying regularly occurs.
The term ecological trap refers to a beneficial condition that attracts wildlife, but results in additive mortality, affecting the population overall. Quality CRP and alfalfa stands fit the scenario well where haying normally occurs during nesting season.
As haying equipment approaches, a hen pheasant may not vacate eggs or chicks, rather hunker down and use her camouflage for protection as a tractor passes by. This leaves birds vulnerable to the following mower which may be offset from the tractor. Likewise, small mammals and deer fawns use similar camouflage techniques and experience similar vulnerabilities to upland birds.
Best Management Practices
To minimize the potential hazardous effects of haying on wildlife, the Natural Resource Conservation Service has developed a few simple best management practices.
1) Defer haying. Apply and maintain at least two of the following management actions specifically for improving or protecting grassland functions for target wildlife species.
- Do not cut hay on at least 1/3 of the hay acres each year. Idle strips or blocks must be at least 30 feet wide.
- For at least 1/3 of the hay acreage, hay cutting must be either before and/or after the primary nesting or fawning seasons based on state established dates for the targeted species.
- Increase forage heights after mowing to state specified minimum heights for the targeted species on all hayed acres.
2) For all haying during the nesting/fawning season implement at least two of the following to flush wildlife from hay fields during the mowing operation:
- A flush bar attachment will be required on the mower (see figure below).
- All mowing will be done during daylight hours.
- Haying pattern:
- Begin on one end of the field and work back and forth across the field, OR;
- Begin in the center of the field and work outward.
Following these simple practices can greatly reduce unintentional wildlife mortality, further increasing the benefits of environmentally friendly farming.
Image from the Natural Resource Conservation Service.
A newbie to tenkara, but an old Appalachian fly-fisher, my introduction to the art during a February homecoming hooked me for life.
I developed a magazine with the idea of showcasing the annual activities and accomplishments of Blue Mountains Pheasants Forever, Chapter 258, through photo essay. I also included a couple additional hunting articles.
I retain the magazine as an independent publication with a plan of developing it into a free online magazine to showcase fledgling outdoor writers and photographers, and the beauty of upland bird hunting.
Give it a read at Upland Review.
Have you ever been faced with a task that was seemingly insurmountable? Maybe felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility for something entirely impossible to control? This is precisely how many public land managers feel every day as they struggle to maintain and restore quality fish and wildlife habitat among a world of progressively formidable invasive plant species.
Invasive plants that we (everyone) commonly refer to as “weeds” can be a mammoth problem because of their adaptability and competitive advantage over native plant species. While weeds are present and troublesome across the world, in the US, the western states struggle particularly due to dry climate. Weeds have adapted to dryland famously and express astronomical seed production, germination success, early germination before native plants, and furious growth rates in some instances.
Healthy grasslands are a prime example of an ecosystem highly susceptible to noxious weeds. Where healthy native grass stands occur, weeds may commonly be found interspersed, but in relatively manageable numbers. However, if a major disturbance occurs that destroys or inhibits those native grasses from quick regrowth, the seed bank from noxious weed species can be activated and flourish immediately, forming dense monocultures in one season.
To some, this may sound like the plot from a horror movie. The problems that noxious weeds impose on quality habitat are all too real. For readers that are members of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the July-August, 2017, edition of Bugle Magazine presents a two-article special on noxious weeds that puts the potential impacts and the struggle for control into clear perspective.
Control methods such as pulling and spot spraying can be effective in quality habitats, but where to begin tackling major weed infestations can be mentally crippling. Nothing is more humiliating and defeating to a public land manager than failing to keep ahead of the weeds. On more than one occasion I have felt as though I failed the wildlife, taxpayer, and fellow sportsmen and women upon finding a noxious weed hell of Canada thistle, Russian thistle, and kochia on public land under my supervision. Recovering from the initial shock, I try to keep cool, consider the options, and make a game plan. The best place to start? Somewhere! More specifically, here are a few tips and considerations to get you moving.
Herbicides are quick, and generally effective, but application methods can be costly depending on habitat type, the presence of sensitive desirable species, and the acreage needing treatment. Keeping noxious weeds from flowering is key, but I find that broadleaf herbicides like Amine 2-4-D are most effective when it’s hot and dry (July – August). Unfortunately, by this time of the year, a lot of weeds are already flowering. Even if flowers are immature and have not been pollinated, seeds may be viable. Hitting weeds in the early, rosette stage (March – May) can help get ahead of the game.
I recommend learning about the plants you are treating before diving into a treatment. Timing can be critical, and for plants like Canada thistle that reproduce through roots, not just via seed, a fall application before green thistle dies back for winter can give you an advantage in the coming spring.
Goats have proven a useful tool in mowing through vegetation. Anyone unfortunate enough to have goats trespass onto their property can attest to their voracious appetite. Goats can clear vegetation to the ground in little time allowing for effective herbicide treatments behind grazing. Furthermore, appropriately timed grazing may knock back noxious weeds long enough to allow desirable species time to germinate and stand a chance of competing, and possibly thriving.
Some commercial outfits rent goat herds specifically for weed control. I am unsure of what a common rate may be for this service, but it is certainly something to consider if you would rather avoid applying herbicides, but maintain a chance at success. Prepare for several seasons of grazing.
Keeping vegetation mowed back is a good option for weed control, but have you ever mowed a plant like yellow starthistle? If so, you know darn well that it takes to a pruning by flowering aggressively. The next thing you know, its three inches tall in full bloom. Mowing is best used in combination with herbicides. Herbicide applications are more efficient and effective when the vegetation is low and plants have less mass to treat. A couple seasons of mowing and herbicide application can be quite effective, but you have to be willing to give up usable wildlife habitat during treatment to be successful.
DISKING AND HARROWING
Disking and harrowing can be used to keep noxious weeds from establishing. Regular cultivation activates the seed bank, allows plants to grow, then uproots them before they flower. Like mowing, this method requires habitat to be essentially lost during treatment, but disking can significantly tax the seed bank, allowing for reseeding with native, desired grasses and forbs.
One disadvantage is the potential for erosion. If rain or snow melt could cause runoff problems and scour the habitat area, particularly if runoff could enter a stream, you may want to select another method.
That sums up some common, effective approaches to noxious weed control, which fit cooperatively with the grassland management techniques discussed in the previous post. The severity of an infestation can help determine the best course of action, but I like to approach it as though I were considering surgery to correct a medical crisis. When possible, go with the topical treatments before digging in to remove an organ.
If you want to get serious about habitat improvement, accept up front that the weed control battle requires commitment. There will be no instant gratification (except maybe from herbicide-shriveled weeds), so settle in for a long-term game. I recommend making fast friends with folks who either have the farm equipment you need, or those willing to volunteer their time pulling weeds. And, as always, feel free to consult your friends on the Pheasants Forever chapter habitat committee.
Pheasants Forever emphasizes native grasses being a limiting factor for upland game bird nesting and brooding. For this reason, Blue Mountain Pheasants Forever focuses and invests locally in southeast Washington habitat enhancement projects with a native grassland focus. However, identifying and understanding limiting habitat factors for focused improvement programs is deeper than quantifying acreages of cover and crop types.
A healthy native grassland includes grasses that provide adequate nesting cover and open ground space and forbs for brood rearing and foraging.
To better understand the status of upland bird habitat and limiting factors, I selected about a dozen pertinent scientific journal articles from around the world and found several common themes revolving around one main conclusion. A loss of native grasslands has led to a noticeable decline in game bird populations. For example, between 1980 and 1995, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) noted the number of pheasant harvested declined from 500,000 birds to 70,000 birds annually.
There were a few other common points, as well as grassland management practices that are summarized below.
Common Worldwide Themes:
- As agriculture practices have evolved and become more efficient and effective, more grasslands have been converted to cropland, thus reducing available quality nesting and brood rearing habitat.
- As grassland species composition changes from frequent mowing, grazing, or haying, available food sources for upland birds wane, particularly for juveniles.
- Maintaining robust stands of native grasses is key to upland bird reproduction success and winter survival.
While it’s clear that fallow, native grasses are crucial for reproduction and brood rearing, dense riparian and wetland areas provide critical winter cover as well. Shrubs and cattails provide wind breaks and refuge from extreme cold.
Habitat area is not critical, but research suggests that game birds prefer smaller grasslands (less than 8 acres). This supports Conservation Reserve Program agriculture buffer management and enhancement practices.
Finally, providing a variety of grasses and forbs is important for brood rearing. Adult pheasant feed primarily on grains, but laying hens and chicks require insects for growth and development. Broadleaf plants, such as native weeds and forbs, provide this important food source.
Several different habitat management actions can be implemented to maintain healthy stands of native grasses, whether in a pasture or crop field buffer. Below are the most effective actions.
- Prescribed Burning: Prescribed burning mimics natural grassland processes which clean out heavy thatch and return nutrients to the soil. Burning invigorates grasses and opens the stand at ground level providing forage cover for chicks. This technique may be one of the most effective management tools.
- Disking: Disking breaks up grasses and opens the stand at the ground level providing foraging cover for chicks, encourages decomposition and organic nutrient inputs, and stimulates seed bank germination. Disking may be recommended in lieu of burning, but is less effective.
- Herbicide Applications: Herbicides have proven effective and important in controlling noxious weeds and are commonly applied locally. Literature review did not pinpoint dramatic direct effects of herbicide applications on game birds, but indirect effects including reduced insect forage were noted. While herbicides are not recommended for use in early successional vegetation, appropriate herbicide use in combination with the above actions is recommended.
Scientific literature confirms that habitat loss has led to a major decline in game bird populations worldwide, and nesting and brood rearing habitat are limiting factors. The Pheasants Forever mission includes habitat creation and enhancement as a focal point, not only for pheasant, but for all native vegetation and wildlife. Whether you can provide 2 or 200 habitat acres, a little management can provide big benefits, and BMPF is available to assist.
In southeast Washington, and many other big agriculture areas, hunters are blessed with vast farmland enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) through the Farm Service Agency. Basically, through CRP, Farm Service pays farmers and land owners an acreage rental fee for reestablishing or enhancing habitat. The CRP acres are invaluable to wildlife and hunters.
While it’s great to have large farm tracts enrolled in CRP, one common misconception about habitat enhancement is that little benefit comes from small tracts (~10 acres or less). Whether you have 1 or 1,000 acres, there are simple, cost effective options that can draw and hold upland birds, as well as other wildlife. Here are some options and techniques you may be able to implement at home.
Food plots are always a solid option for providing important forage. Broadleaf plants such as brassicas (turnips), sunflowers, peas, and alfalfa provide crucial insect forage for young birds, while grains such as wheat, sorghum, and millet provide seed forage for adults. You may want to experiment with your own mix of crop species to maximize benefits for upland birds, deer, and pollinators while you are at it. I plant brassicas and spring wheat in my 0.2-acre plot and have been pleased with the number of pheasant, quail, and deer that make it a regular stop in their daily forage routine. Planting food plots can be quite simple requiring only a tiller or drill seeder, glyphosate (herbicide), and seed.
Brush piles are another great option providing forage and dense escape cover, protecting upland birds from predators, wind, and precipitation. Brush piles may be strategically placed, like in food plots or near other forage and watering areas for maximum benefit. Another bonus is that brush piles can be free (minus some sweat and gas) if you have any clean-up projects going on around your property. I deposit all of my tree and shrub debris in piles and large coveys of California quail use them consistently, even within an hour of having created them.
Another technique described as “edge feathering” can be useful if you have more than one habitat type on your property. For example, if you have a stand of trees that gives way to a grass pasture and can give up the pasture fringe, trees can be dropped along the pasture edge to allow grass to grow up around the downed trees providing quick escape cover and brood-rearing habitat.
Finally, invasive species removal and planting native trees, shrubs, grasses, and forbes are options to provide a variety of valuable cover types and forage alternatives. Evergreens like Rocky Mountain juniper can provide important snow and wind breaks and create edge effects that benefit all wildlife species, while native grasses provide critical nesting and brooding habitat for upland birds like pheasant.
More information on small-tract habitat enhancement is available by visiting the Pheasant Forever “Pheasant Blog” at the web address below and consulting Pheasant Forever’s Essential Habitat Guide. If you want to speak to person, feel free to contact me through my Contact page.