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Dallas County Outdoors: Where are the pheasants?? Better to ask, where is the cover??

Ken Herring & ‘Abby’
Ken Herring & ‘Abby’

Pheasant hunting has always been hard work. I mean, tromping through tall grass and weeds for a few hours has always meant a good workout. It’s still a good way to burn some energy and enjoy the company of my dogs and some good times friends and family. We all know there are a lot fewer pheasants these days. It’s not that finding the birds in heavy cover has gotten harder, it’s a lot more about finding a farm heavy cover. It has gotten a lot harder. Farms with good pheasant cover are becoming endangered. Over the years, my enjoyment of tromping good cover for the reward of seeing a bird as pretty as our ringneck pheasant explode into a blue sky has not wavered. I guess it was from younger days, before I had a bird dog, that my favorite time to hunt pheasants was cemented into my memory. The time of year I am especially fond of was following snow fall. It was following snowfall or even better yet as the snow was still falling that I became aware of the many tactics that pheasants use to elude man, dogs, and other predators. Following their tracks in the snow, especially the tracks of a single rooster was the ultimate in being close to nature. I cannot hunt pheasants in the snow without being reminded of years gone past where the tracks of pheasants were so numerous that the cornfield looked like a chicken yard. This year’s pheasant hunts have been enjoyable, but definitely lacking the number of birds compared to earlier times, when almost every farm had plenty of annual weeds along a brushy fence row and ample waste grain in the harvested fields. That said, where landowners have steadfastly kept some cover on their farms you will find pheasants. More pheasants, than I’ve found in the past several years in my experience. I have hunted pheasants 6 times this year, typically a two to three hours of actually searching cover, and I have good dogs. Each hunt has been rewarded with two roosters. I will admit that I probably could of put another bird or so in the bag but somehow I feel pretty good with two birds per trip. In addition, I have been most happy to see more hens on most of my hunts, and for the first time in years I flushed a nice covey of quail. It is important to note that the quail were spending time in a food plot planted to a mixture of grain and (taller) forage sorghum. Several of the harvested roosters had been feeding on this same food plot mix with their crops full of grain sorghum. This is noteworthy because in my experience pheasants prefer corn or soybeans to grain sorghum. The fact that neighboring corn fields have been chisel plowed and then covered with snow means the birds choose the food plot mix of sorghum nestled in heavy cover. The alternative was to spend their time and energy in fields without cover and the food had been plowed under. A no-brainer if you’re a pheasant hoping to survive Iowa’s winter. Wildlife biology tells us that where you find adequate pheasant cover, you will always find pheasants and in a landscape lacking winter and nesting cover you will not. So when the question come up about “Where are all the pheasants?”, the answer is “The same place that all the good pheasant cover has gone!”

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