Monday, July 29, 2013

The 5 Things You Need to Know for the Upcoming Upland Bird Hunting Season

For decades, the folks at Dogs Unlimited have been hunting upland birds and training their hunting dogs for the season ahead. Season after season, they've built up a routine so their dogs are in top condition and ready for a full season.

1. Conditioning Your Hunting Dog
As Alan O Davison, owner of Dogs Unlimited says, "Conditioning is number one on our list because we think it's the most important aspect of getting ready for the upcoming season. A hunting dog that hasn't been conditioned will find it hard to perform, and it may potentially be hazardous for them, but it's also frustrating for their owner."

Conditioning can take many forms. If time or location is limited it may be as easy as walking your dog through the neighborhood or at a park for longer and longer periods of time to build up stamina. This will greatly help your hunting dog and it will also help get you ready for the opening day as well.
If you have the resources, roading your hunting dog may be the best way to get them in condition. Typically, roading is done from an ATV or off of horseback and will greatly increase your dog's stamina and endurance. Check out this video by Dogs Unlimited for a brief discussion of "roading."

2. Training Your Hunting Dog
Depending upon your breed of choice and the age of your hunting dog, the amount of time you spend training them will vary. Also, your expectation of the level of training will be a determining factor as well. The closer to an absolutely finished bird dog - one that will stop to flush, honor/back another dog on point, hold point until released - will take considerably more time, effort and knowledge. Choose what level of dog training will work best for you and the type of hunting experience you would like to have.

Davison says, "The last time your gun dog was trained for the upcoming season shouldn't have been the last day of last season. Your hunting dog is an athlete and during the off season they should be kept tuned up. The pointing breeds require more commitment during the off season especially the younger dogs who are going through the breaking process. For the older dogs, we like to start tuning them up approximately 2 - 3 months prior to opening day."

3. Your Hunting Dog's Feet
Your dog's feet are often the most overlooked part of any hunting season preparation plans. Once their feet are compromised it may be up to a month before they heal up enough to get back into the field.

Davison explains, "While most dogs don't require any attention to their feet, if your hunting dog does blow their pads or are susceptible to foot sores and tenderness you'll want to address this approximately 1 month prior to the hunting season. There are foot conditioning products available like Tuf-Foot and Blue Foot, or a good set of quality dog boots may do the trick." 

Monday, July 15, 2013

MN 2013 Grouse counts decline, later spring nesting may help hatch

Ruffed grouse drumming counts were down across most of the bird’s range, according to the annual survey conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“This decrease was not unexpected because the ruffed grouse population is still in the declining phase of its 10-year cycle,” said Charlotte Roy, DNR grouse biologist. “Drum counts peaked most recently in 2009.”

Drumming counts dropped from 1.1 to 0.9 per stop in the northeast, which is the forest bird’s core range in Minnesota. Counts in the northwest declined from 0.9 in 2012 to 0.7 drums per stop in 2013. Drumming counts did not change significantly in the central hardwoods or southeast, with an average of 0.9 and 0.4 drums per stop, respectively.

Ruffed grouse populations, which tend to rise and fall on a 10-year  cycle, are surveyed by counting the number of male ruffed grouse heard drumming on established routes throughout the state’s forested regions. Drumming counts are an indicator of the ruffed grouse breeding population.

This year, observers recorded 0.9 drums per stop statewide. The averages during 2011 and 2012 were 1.7 and 1.0 drums per stop, respectively. Counts vary from about 0.8 drums per stop during years of low grouse abundance to about 1.9 during years of high abundance.

The number of birds present during the fall hunting season also depends upon nesting success and chick survival during the spring and summer. Drumming did occur later this year because of the late spring, suggesting that nesting likely occurred later than normal.

“Later nesting would have pushed the hatch out a bit, hopefully beyond the spring rains,” Roy said. “Time will tell if that occurred and the impact on production.”

Minnesota frequently is the nation’s top ruffed grouse producer. On average, 115,000 hunters harvest 545,000 ruffed grouse in the state each year, making it the state’s most popular game bird. During the peak years of 1971 and 1989, hunters harvested more than 1 million ruffed grouse. Michigan and Wisconsin – which frequently field more hunters than Minnesota – round out the top three states in ruffed grouse harvest.

One reason for the Minnesota’s status as a top grouse producer is an abundance of aspen and other ruffed grouse habitat, much of it located on county, state and national forests where public hunting is allowed. An estimated 11.5 million of the state’s 16.3 million acres of forest are grouse habitat.

For the past 64 years, DNR biologists have monitored ruffed grouse populations. This year,
DNR staff and cooperators from 14 organizations surveyed 117 routes across the state

Sharp-tailed grouse counts decrease slightly
Sharp-tailed grouse counts in the northwest, the bird’s primary range in Minnesota, were similar to 2012. Counts in the east-central region declined significantly.

Observers look for male sharptails displaying on traditional mating areas, called leks or dancing grounds.

Despite several years of declining numbers, this year’s statewide average of 9.2 grouse counted per dancing ground was similar to the long-term average since 1980. The 2009 average of 13.6 was as high as during any year since 1980. During the last 25 years, the sharp-tailed grouse index has been as low as seven birds counted per dancing ground.

Overall, sharptail populations appear to have declined over the long term as a result of habitat deterioration. In recent years, the DNR has increased prescribed burning and shearing that keep trees from overtaking the open brush lands that sharp-tailed grouse need to thrive.

The DNR’s 2013 grouse survey report, which contains information on ruffed grouse and sharp-tailed grouse, is available online.

Original MN DNR article

More Ruffed Grouse information

Friday, July 12, 2013

2013 Pheasant Nesting Habitat Conditions


Lasting effects from the drought have carried into this pheasant nesting season as Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) nesting cover was reduced by last summer’s haying and grazing emergency.  And winter wheat, the state’s most important cover for nesting pheasants, was slow to develop this spring due to the cool spring temperatures.

Iowa pheasants are struggling to recover from a modern low population point, but on top of continued grassland habitat loss, the weather isn’t doing them any favors.

“This year, unfortunately, we are predicting a decline in bird numbers,” says Todd Bogenschutz, an Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Upland Wildlife Biologist. “Our pheasant population typically shows increases following mild winters and dry, warm springs.  This past winter, while starting mild, ended with a vengeance.”

While other parts of pheasant country are recovering from the drought of 2012, Kansas isn’t one of them. In fact, as of mid-summer, all of western Kanas remained in an extreme-to-exceptional drought.

The drought is taking its toll on the pheasant population, as indicated by hunter harvest numbers. Last year, pheasant hunters bagged about 230,000 birds in the state, the lowest harvest in nearly six decades. And this year’s spring breeding population is extremely low. Spring crow counts were down 37 percent region-wide, according to Jim Pitman, Small Game Coordinator with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

Late-season snowstorms, a delayed green-up, and wet conditions during spring and summer definitely impacted the pheasant nesting season in Minnesota. “Many hens likely delayed nest initiation due to weather and habitat conditions or had to re-nest due to failed first attempts,” says Nicole Davros, Upland Game Project Leader with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, “The peak hatch normally occurs during June, but recent heavy rains may have decreased survival rates of chicks that did hatch during this timeframe.”

In northeast Montana, spring crow counts were 15 percent above the 10-year average, these numbers certainly boosted by moderate winter conditions that resulted in low overwinter mortality.

Coming off an overall mild winter and a spring that helped to replenish some nesting cover following last year’s drought, Jeff Lusk, Jeff Lusk, Upland Game Program Manager, Nebraska Game & Parks Commission, remains optimistic that nesting production will be much improved this year.

That is, of course, where quality habitat remains, as more than 108,000 CRP acres in Nebraska were not re-enrolled in the program in the last year. And Lusk reports there were some regional severe winter weather events that could have adversely affected populations, particularly in areas hit hardest by the drought last summer.

North Dakota
Though North Dakota’s s spring crow count was down 11 percent statewide and 12 percent within its core pheasant range, Stan Kohn, Upland Game Management Supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, says late spring/early summer habitat conditions were excellent, leading him to predict a fair nesting outlook in the northern half of the state and a fair-to-good nesting outlook in the southern half.

South Dakota
The most telling statistic to come out of South Dakota this year isn’t weather related. “For the first time in two decades, less than 1 million acres of CRP grasslands will be available to nesting pheasants,” says Travis Runia, “The premier nesting cover has helped sustain high pheasant numbers since CRP was established in 1985.”

South Dakota has become ground-zero for accelerated upland habitat loss and Runia points out the conversion of non-CRP grassland (including native grassland) to cropland has exceeded even the CRP conversion rate, further reducing available nesting cover.

On top of this habitat double whammy, South Dakota experienced a very cold and wet spring – including April snowstorms – which is not favorable for pheasant production. “Birds that had initiated nests in late April probably abandoned their nest, and re-nested when spring-like weather finally arrived in May,” Runia said, “The delay in nesting chronology can limit the time pheasants have to re-nest if their first nests are unsuccessful.” Wet conditions and widespread severe thunderstorms extended into June, the period of peak pheasant hatch.

Read the full reports and the complete Pheasant Blog article

Sunday, July 7, 2013

ND Pheasant Crowing Counts Down Statewide 2013

North Dakota’s 2013 pheasant crowing count survey indicates that rooster numbers were down about 11 percent statewide compared to last year, heading into the spring breeding season.

All four pheasant districts had lower counts than last year. 
The number of crows heard in the northeast declined by 18
percent, southeast and southwest by 11 percent, and the 
northwest by nearly 2 percent.

Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor for the 
State Game and Fish Department, said only the southwest 
was initially spared a harsh winter, but a spring snowstorm 
in April buried much of the area in more than 
12 inches of snow.

“Had it not been for the long winter in most of the 
state and the April storm, I would have expected a higher 
crow count statewide this spring,” Kohn said. “But I 
think we did lose some birds during late spring, 
which reduced our 2013 spring breeding population 
slightly from 2012.”

The late spring snowstorms and cooler than normal 
April delayed breeding and nesting for all upland 
game birds, Kohn said, with early nesting hens facing 
rainy conditions, and probably some flooded nests. 
“On the positive side, this occurred early enough in 
the nesting season that most hens should have renested,” 
he added. “In addition, the wet spring seemed to 
jump start grass and forb growth in pastures, helping 
later nesting pheasants with improved quality of 
nesting habitat. Unless we experience some early s
ummer weather problems, I still expect much better 
upland game production this summer from all our species.” 

However, Kohn noted, the loss of CRP is going to 
reduce nesting and brooding cover in the future, 
and will negatively affect the pheasant population.

Spring crowing count data is not a good indicator of the 
fall population. It does not measure population density, 
but provides an index of the spring rooster population 
based on a trend of number of crows heard. Brood 
surveys, which begin in mid-July and are completed 
by September, are a better indicator of the summer’s 
pheasant production and provide insight into what to 
expect for a fall pheasant population.

Pheasant crowing counts are conducted each spring 
throughout North Dakota. Observers drive specified 
20-mile routes, stopping at predetermined intervals, 
and counting the number of pheasant roosters heard 
crowing over a two-minute period during the stop. 
The number of pheasant crows heard is compared 
to previous years’ data, providing a trend summary.

Original ND Game and Fish post