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The Difference Between Shooting and Hunting

Wild Quail

 

Around the age of 12 I went on my first bird shoot in the state of Ohio. One snowy, winter morning my dad and a few family friends drove to a local shooting preserve. I had just gotten my first shotgun for Christmas, a single-barrel break-action 410. We rode to fields of manicured milo separated in neat strips.

As I recall the guide unleashed a chiseled liver and white pointer into the field. I’d been instructed to not try and pet the dog for it had only a temperament for hunting and no time for the affections of a boy. Within the first 15 yards of walking that demon dog had locked down on a pheasant. It could have been a rooster or hen, I had no concept of any difference at the time. With coaxing from a well-placed foot the bird flushed from the snow and I shot my first game bird.

The rest of the day went much like this, though I’m not sure I cut another feather being new to moving targets and a bit overwhelmed by the intricacies of this pursuit. I know our group shot over 25 birds that day. After a steak dinner at the lodge I recall the guide swapping our shot birds for pristine, plucked and packaged pheasant ready for the freezer.

It was all amazing to me. How did I not know that walking a field with a dog could roust birds to shoot and then eat? The tractor treads in the fresh snow between strips never tipped me that these pen-raised birds had been seeded for the day. That may sound crazy, but at that point in life I’d only hunted varmints.

It’s pretty comical to consider how far the pendulum has now swung the opposite direction. I drive thousands of miles annually to dig up wild birds in the wildest places with dogs that crawl into my sleeping bag on cold nights. Cut my 12-year-old self some slack, maybe I wasn’t the brightest bulb. But it didn’t take too many years of pursuit of wild birds in Kansas in order to recognize the difference between shooting and bird hunting.

When birds are raised and released in an area for the sole purpose of being harvested, that’s not hunting. When the outcome is guaranteed, it’s not hunting. It simply cannot be by definition of the word hunt.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with game preserves and shooting pen-raised birds over dogs. Many state wildlife agencies east of the Mississippi even release birds on state lands to increase opportunities for bird hunters in areas where wild birds no longer thrive. It’s great practice, great for training dogs, great for introducing people to the sport and entertaining. But it’s not hunting.

The danger comes when game preserve outcomes are confused with hunting which downplays the struggles of wild birds. When large numbers of pen-raised birds can be shot just feet from trucks it skews perspectives on the density and prevalence of game birds. When the number of birds shot is limited only by the amount of money paid it can appear wasteful and bloodthirsty. When preserve seasons are longer and don’t coincide with wild bird seasons it can subvert regulations managing pursuit of wild birds. When one must kick a bird in order to prompt flight it distorts the challenge presented by wild birds that often outrun and outsmart dogs and flush wild hundreds of yards away.

When hens and rooster pheasant can be shot alike the skill of bird identification and selective harvest is nullified. And when species such as Chukar can be shot in places that don’t at all resemble their natural habitats – the rockiest, steepest, inhospitable high desert – it skews the difficulty and challenge many game bird species present which takes both training and conditioning to levels few hunters are willing to invest.

If you are shooting and sharing from a game preserve, my only hope is that you recognize the differences and identify your pursuit as such. Call it shooting. Call it training. Call them pen-raised birds. Certainly have fun but don’t feed misconceptions of the ill-informed (or goofy, doe-eyed teenagers). The advent and prevalence of social media can do wonderful things to promote our passion for chasing birds. It can also be a detriment by giving false views of what it means to be an upland hunter. The beauty and honor of this upland pursuit and the struggles of many upland species shouldn’t be undercut by pictures of piles of pen-raised birds.

Bag Limits Creating Monsters

Monster Shooter

The first game bird bag limits in this country were established by the state of Iowa in 1878 as a way to protect remaining populations of Prairie Chicken, Ruffed Grouse and Woodcock. Iowa didn’t employ game wardens until nine years later, so it remains a mystery how such limits were enforced.*

Today, bag limits are utilized in every state across the country as a means to regulate harvests. Liberal bags as high as 50 Willow Ptarmigan a day can be found in some Alaskan units. In contrast extremely conservative limits of a single Sage Grouse per season by permit occur in parts of California. The regulations vary widely and encompass over 27 Galliformes. But one thing they all have in common, the bag limit has become a blight.

For all the gains made in conservation of game much likely a result of both bag limits and shortened seasons, I fear the intent of the bag limit has been derailed by misguided hunters.

Originally when game birds were prolific and subsistence hunting a larger part of the landscape, the bag limit was a maximum, do not exceed. But many modern hunters have allowed a competition mentality to eke into something sacred and pure: our days afield. Every inch of antler gets measured, every single animal to which we are entitled by law gets shot. And the bag limit has now become the meter of success for way too many uplanders.

State wildlife agencies have been all too accommodating to this limit rationale. States such as Minnesota and South Dakota actually write shared group limits into their regs (page 40, MN regs — page 43 of SD regs). They call it Party Hunting? It is a longstanding tradition in some parts of the country. That doesn’t make it any less asinine especially when the same rules are banned for both waterfowl and big game. Why are resident game birds the exception?

For those unaware of the proper protocol for bird hunters, way more satisfying than shooting another person’s birds; put your gun over your shoulder and heap a ration of well-deserved ribbing on your second-rate shooting friends unable to cut their own feathers. Follow that by offering your shells and/or your gun in a declaration that their own must be defective.

If you head to the field with the goal of shooting a limit, you allow a state regulated digit to determine the success of your hunt. Upland hunters should certainly be able to find the merits and joys of days afield beyond the death of a prescribed number of birds.

 Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 12.00.07 PMScreen Shot 2015-10-22 at 11.53.04 AM
*Bulletin 41 of the Biological Survey, USDA, 1911

Connecting with Bobwhite

The number of Ohio residents who recognize the distinctive call of Bobwhite is dwindling. The old-timers, a few farmers, the occasional birder can still whistle the tune that was once a fixture of the buckeye landscape prior to the blizzard of ’78. Just a handful of counties in the southwest corner of the state are now habitat to sustaining populations. Those birds are 150 miles as the quail flies from the area where I grew up hearing quail on my grandpa’s farm.

This is dairy farm and Amish country. The fence rows still stand, private land is still logged, successional habitat still exists. But wild quail are nowhere to be found. Under the best conditions not factoring habitat loss, fragmentation and human encroachment, quail populations naturally expanding their range (1/2 mile per year) could hypothetically return Bobwhite to my old stomping ground by the year 2315. There’s a good chance I won’t be around for that, and an even better chance that the Bobwhite quail will no longer be a part of local lore.

This part of the country has never been a quail hunting hotspot. In fact we never hunted them growing up. We simply heard them and appreciated their part in the rural reveille.

Last off-season, we embarked on our own Bobwhite conservation project (See the Backyard Bobwhite series of articles). We reviewed previous data and studies for pen-raised birds. We listened to the skepticism of professionals and conservationists. Guided only by what we’ve learned from years afield, we planted a small food plot and raised 33 birds in pseudo-wild conditions.

We had a hard winter. It really was a nightmare scenario for our small group of birds released in October. It dipped as cold as -22°F and snow totals for the season were close to 30”.

A neighbor to the west had last eyes on our quail in late November. There was no evidence they returned to our food plot over the winter. We believed survival was a long shot given all the existing data on released birds and mortality rates.

But the spring offered a glimmer of hope. A retired biologist friend reported seeing birds in his yard a half-mile south of our release site. And the same neighbor who reported birds in November claimed to be hearing Bobwhite on mornings prior to departing for school. But the ability of locals to correctly identify quail which have not been seen in over 35 years left room for doubt.

As we began assessing this year’s quail plan, turning some ground in our plot to test new seed, sketching the improved flight pen, all doubt was removed. From the cover bordering the small creek that runs through our property, I heard the unmistakeable calls.

To hear them firsthand reminds me why all this is important. It has nothing to do with bird hunting. This is about a way of life. These birds restore a connection to a family farm, to the land, to my grandpa. It’s about finding wonder and worth in small wild elements still able to survive in vastly changing landscapes. Neighbors who have unwittingly missed Bobwhite for a generation are becoming vested in their survival and restoration for their own similar reasons. And now the work to construct the new flight pen doesn’t seem like much work at all.

Backyard Bobwhite: Part 4

Release the Birds

It’s a bitter sweet day. The quail project we conceived in the spring (Part 1) is winding down as the leaves begin descending and first frosts are painting the pasture. We’ve gotten attached to these birds, invested in their condition, entertained by their antics. We’re just a few zip ties away from that being gone.

Our Bobwhite are 17 weeks old, fully grown for the most part and well fed. A good comparison point; quail released on shooting preserves or used for field trials are often 12-15 weeks old. Our birds look big, bigger than most wild Bobs I’ve shot. Their caretaker (my dad) has seen to it that they have not been lacking.

Only two of the original 35 chicks were lost to a farm cat that found a weakness in our pen very early on which we quickly rectified. The hope is that they’ve imprinted on the area by now, recognize the cover and benefits of the food plot and have been exposed to enough attempted yet unsuccessful predation that they still know danger.

The birds still act cagey as we prepare to loose them, diving to the remaining cover in the pen which has been well trampled after three months of captivity. The female birds appear more wild than the males who number 10-11. It’s tough to get a truly accurate breakdown because they scatter so quickly.

Our ideas of micro-conservation are still evolving. Trial by fire. Our plan has received best wishes and scoffing alike. Biologist friends have doomed our ambitions as folly. They are the experts, we’re the underdogs. So be it. The experts have made little to no progress in Bobwhite restoration efforts in over four decades. Could it possibly be time to start thinking differently?

Regardless the outcome, whether our birds run the gauntlet of winter and predation to spring, let’s go over the facts of what has  already been accomplished:

• We returned an area of yard, useless fescue, to wildlife habitat and lessened the amount of mowing and upkeep required.

• We tried out a seed mix to see how it would perform with minimal equipment, hand seeding and no supplemental fertilizer. The cover and food resulting from this effort have been fairly impressive, but the hand seeding was a bit thick and caused most of the sunflower to get choked out. We may look at additional mixes and are interested to see what happens to the plot in winter and spring.

• We tested an inexpensive pen of our own design to see if it could allow birds to feed from the ground, keep birds safe and predators at bay with mixed results. We’ll likely make adjustments to our design, but it was a good starting point.

• We used multiple food sources, learning what the birds liked most and weaning them without mishap from game bird meal to seeds and worms which they will need to find in order to survive on their own. Dried meal worms seem to be the biggest winner, followed by a seed mix that contained thistle. We also learned these little birds eat a lot, way more than we expected.

• We’ve gotten friends and young people (grandchildren, nieces, nephews) who have never seen a quail before interested in the species and invested in their survival. They would likely otherwise never see a Bobwhite in Ohio in their lifetime.

• Most importantly, we started a debate about upland conservation. And more of these conversations are needed.

We refuse to be told our efforts are in vain because we have facts that tell us otherwise. Our small group of birds may not survive, but our resolve certainly will. We will continue to explore micro-conservation because it seems the only true, long-term path forward.

Good luck little Bobwhite. Hope to see you soon.

 

 

Backyard Bobwhite: Part 2

Can a pen-raised quail make it in the wild?

If you’ve had the privilege to hunt Bobwhite over a few seasons in areas where they still reside, you likely know that year over year you will find birds in the exact same locations. Read old stories from some of the great quail hunting authors and you’ll notice the coveys have become so consistent that they’ve been given names. There’s obviously a reason for this.

Bobwhite Quail imprint on a home territory. Their range is small which also contributes to relatively lengthy periods to expand into new areas. But when you take this knowledge acquired from hunting and apply it to conservation it can make a number of things really start to add up.

I believe this is the key to why most quail reintroduction and relocation projects lack success. Transporting a Bobwhite away from its home turf is like dropping it on the face of the moon. The learning curve to acclimate is so great that before it can identify cover, food, water and threats it becomes hawk bait.

The traditional wisdom is that you can’t take a pen-raised bird, release it in the wild and have it survive long term – it’s been too stupefied by domestication to have a clue. But can survival instincts be revived in captive birds? We don’t have the resources or permissions to trap wild birds and relocate them. But we can take newly hatched birds and try to educate them.

As with most offspring, the young are at highest risk. Bobwhite fledge in around a week’s time and become flight capable in as little a two weeks. But most quail take six weeks or more to become true flyers. By most accounts Bobwhite annual mortality rates can approach 80%. The bulk of this is due to exposure to the elements or predation before young birds can manage strong flight. Needless to say, the learning curve for hatchlings is fairly steep. Juvenile quail make a tasty snack for just about anything with teeth or talon.

Ultimate Upland Quail Pen

The way I see it, we’ve got to train our birds three things that the average pen-raised bird is lacking.

First, we want our birds to imprint on a specific area. As you may have read in Backyard Bobwhite: Part 1, we’re providing everything the birds need in a condensed space (food, cover, water). We know that the birds will explore outside of this location. The hope is they also learn to return to the relative safety it offers, much like free-ranging chickens returning to a coop nightly to roost. If our quail return to the brush piles and food plot which should grow thick by this fall, it offers them the best chance of overnight survival. We’re placing our quail enclosure in the heart of the area we want our birds to consider home base, adjacent to one of our massive brush piles.

Most pens lack cover. In order for our birds to survive they cannot feel comfortable standing in the clear for extended time in an open enclosure. Silent death from above awaits any gallinaceous bird willing to frolic in the open for too long. Our pen will be on the ground and will have the same cover and feed plants growing through it that we want the birds to become accustomed to. We also plan to incorporate some brush resting on and within the pen. We want these chicks to feel as if they are growing up in the shelter of a thicket. We know first hand from raising chickens that hawks will attempt to take birds even when they are within pens. Netting will provide protection from above and allow the quail to learn of the pending raptor threats without initially suffering the losses that accompany that same lesson in the wild.

Lastly, we don’t want our birds looking to feeders as a food source once we release them. These birds need to know how to forage. We’ll be broadcasting their food on the ground within the pen and incorporating the same seed and grains that they will need to find in the wild. Over the first few weeks of their life a Bobwhite’s primary diet in the wild is insects. Our ground based enclosure will allow foraging for insects but we’ll also look for a source of insects to supplement our young quails’ high protein requirements.

Click here to see the video of our simple, inexpensive quail pen come together. Total expenses were less than $150. If successful we hope to be able to reassemble and reuse it in other locations in the future.

We’re bird hunters armed with knowledge from afield trying to translate it to raising birds that can survive a rough Ohio winter. It’s an experiment. Parts of this plan contradict studies by much smarter individuals. Most experts believe to manage for quail you need a minimum of 20-40 acres with multiple plantings and dedicated areas for every stage of their life cycle. Our hope is to utilize a much smaller area and allow the birds to provide for themselves while we provide the missing element that caused their initial decline, a winter food source close to protective cover.

It remains to be seen if we’re correct. But we’re excited to try something different, utilizing a fresh perspective. It’s time to start thinking differently for quail and many other species’ conservation.

 

Backyard Bobwhite: Part 1

Is the key to restoring quail right out your back door?

I grew up in small farming community in rural Northeast Ohio. It’s not considered an upland bird hot spot. But I still remember seeing wild quail when I was a kid. And I’ve verified this with others from the area. Bobwhite used to inhabit the hedge rows and fence lines.

Then came the blizzard in January of 1978. In Ohio it produced wind speeds of 70+ mph and wind chills dropped below -60° F. Depending where you lived the snowfall reached over 30″ with drifts that were epic. I remember digging a snow tunnel directly out the backdoor that I could stand up in (I was still just a little guy). This storm killed over 50 people in the state of Ohio. It also killed nearly every quail. And their comeback has been slow to nonexistent.

There’s still a Bobwhite hunting season in 16 Ohio counties primarily in the southwest where populations have hung on. The Ohio DNR has taken shots at expanding these quail territories by trapping live birds in areas of Ohio with decent population and seeding them to counties further north with cooperation from private landowners. The state also has attempted restoring Bobwhite on public lands by transplanting wild birds trapped in Kansas. Those seem like good plans but public funding for this type of program is getting sparse. Quail aren’t the high-profile, high-draw return on investment that big game and turkey are these days.

Bobwhite Quail range tends to expand at a snail’s pace, by most accounts about 1/4 mile per year. With annual mortality rates above 80% it could take centuries under the best case scenarios for quail of southern Ohio to populate the rest of the state. That’s not going to happen on public land alone.

Every year we receive messages and posts from fans asking what they can do to help conserve upland birds. And the stock answer always seems to be pay dues to the large conservation organizations, and attend their banquets. But dues and banquets leave many unsatisfied. Cutting a check doesn’t make some feel invested in conservation.

Chapters of Pheasants/ Quail Forever are active and do good work attracting people to upland sports. But the focus in this area seems to be improving hunting habitat on public lands where wild birds don’t exist. When birds are released into these tracts the hunting might be wonderful, the bird survival is another story.

That’s bothered me.

And that’s when the wheels started turning. How does someone who doesn’t own massive tracts of land or have millions of dollars positively and actively impact upland bird conservation?

Bobwhite are the perfect candidate species for micro-conservation. They are small birds, with relatively small resource requirements that prefer a home territory.

Most of my childhood was spent on our family farm. My parents still live there. My dad taught my sisters and I how to mow around the age of 11. He’d gas up the mowers and turn us loose to shear the 8 acres that run around the house, outbuildings and orchard. It was a biweekly chore during the summers. Now that we’re all grown the mowing has fallen back to dad and now he’s recruiting the grandkids.

But those new recruits have sports and swim meets and much more important pulls on their time that require a granddad to attend that make a manicured lawn seem less important. And dad is no longer a spring chicken.

This winter we began hatching a plan to lighten the mowing load and reintroduce the Bobwhite back to our homestead without breaking the bank. The goal is to map out steps for an individual (or two) to run their own habitat and reintroduction process with minimal land requirements. We’ll document all costs, obstacles and success or lack of. And if all else fails at least dad will have less to yard to upkeep.

We identified an area at the back of the farm totaling around a half-acre that dad is willing to give up mowing.  This plot sits between a small old orchard and two sets of evergreen trees. It offers great cover from the elements, a nearby creak for water and is close enough to the house to limit exposure to predators as well.

The first step is to return it to good quail habitat . In Ohio the largest obstacle for quail success is access to food over the winter. There’s still plenty of grain agriculture around, but cover along fence lines that have been traditional habitat is becoming non-existent. Commodity prices are too high for farmers to allow land to sit untilled. But lawns, good lord there are plenty of manicured yards. If farming is going to take up the quail’s habitat then let’s give it back one square foot of lawn at a time.

I am a bird hunter, not a biologist. But I know a thing or two about these birds that I’ve pursued for decades. I know the types of areas and habitat where the dogs and I have found quail. With a little tilling and cultivation we can transform yard into that type of area. It won’t fulfill all the requirements of a Bobwhite’s life cycle. But by my account most of those requirements they can still fulfill on their own. The winter food source close to good cover is the crux in this state.

The week prior to Memorial Day we tilled our plot and hand seeded a game bird mix containing sunflower, millets, and sorghum seed. We also took down an old apple tree that’s been crowding some pears in the orchard. We utilized those limbs to stack three massive brush piles for the birds to eventually use as dense protective cover. The hope is this will become the home base for our quail, putting everything they need within a very small area so that they have every motivation to stay and thrive.

It was a full day of hard work. And now there is more to come.

But that’s for the next installment: Making a cost effective quail pen and our plans to train pen-raised quail for survival in the wild.

Preparing Birds for the Cooler

Most folks who watch hunting shows on TV or who are new to the sport may never see what happens to birds after they are brought to hand.

Because we camp and travel most of the season, often in places where access to fresh water is limited, we like to clean birds in a way that requires very little water and lets us take them straight to the frying pan with minimal work.

There are other methods of butchering birds which may be faster. But we believe our technique allows us to get the most meat from the bird while leaving the carcass in the field where the bird was taken.

On occasion we’ll actually pluck birds and do a whole bird preparation (that makes the professional chefs happy). Or with smaller birds at times we’ll butterfly them. We’ll plan to demonstrate both these later in the season.

If you get in the habit of prepping birds right when you return to the vehicle, it just becomes a natural extension of the hunt and less of a perceived chore.

I actually enjoy butchering birds. It gives a feeling of accomplishment. And call me crazy but I make a point to say a quiet thanks to the birds when I return their hulls to the field.

Check out the video.

Skewering Meathunters: The True Cost of a Pound of Game Bird

I often see bird hunters profess that they hunt for food.  But when I think about my days afield, meat is often the last thing that comes to mind. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Sharptail Fajitas and my Pheasant Chowder but eating game birds has always been one of the bonuses of being a passionate bird hunter.

With the current costs of licenses, gear, shot shells and dogs I had a strong suspicion that meat hunting just didn’t add up. But I wanted to put pencil to paper to find out exactly what a pound of upland bird actually costs the average bird hunter.

Since I have a number of birds in the fridge and have just returned from the field, I have some real world data of exact weights for birds (using multiple birds to get an average weight).

  • Woodcock,  breast meat = 1.67 oz
  • Quail, whole bird = 4.375 oz
  • Ruffed Grouse, breast meat = 7 oz
  • Pheasant, breast and thigh meat = 12 oz
  • Sharptail Grouse, whole bird = 1 lb 4 oz
  • Pheasant, whole bird = 1 lb 6 oz

There are tons of choices for shotgun shells. If you take a broad look at shell prices you can shoot lead alternatives for over $25 per box or you can shoot target loads for around $7 per box – good luck knocking down tough birds with these. But the average cost of a box of hunting shells is right around $15 per box, or .60¢ per shell.

I know a lot of good shooters, but the average bird hunter would be lucky to match Ted Williams lifetime baseball batting average of .344 on wild birds. So let’s assume that hunters harvest one bird for every three shells fired making the ammo cost per bird $1.80.

Now to the issue of licenses. I’ve averaged the cost of annual small-game licenses across 50 states. The resident license average is $21.32 and the non-resident license is $99.68. And for our analysis let’s assume that the average bird hunter will take one trip out of state to hunt birds and will also hunt in their home state. So the annual license expenditure average for a bird hunter is $121.

Factoring the cost of a shotgun is a bit interesting, especially when gun prices have such a broad range. But a modest average would be $600. Sure you can get a cheaper shooting stick, but there are many more priced much higher. And of course you intend to use that same shotgun for multiple years – let’s factor you’ll only own that one bird gun for 15 years making the annual cost just $40.

A quick assessment of basic gear that nearly all upland hunters own: game vest ($50), brush pants ($50), hunting boots ($100). And when we first purchase these items we hope it will last forever. But let’s be realistic and give them a 7-year lifespan which makes the annual expense $28.57.

And now to the big line item, the bird dog. Consumer Reports estimates that the 2011 monthly cost of dog food averages $36 per canine ($432 annually). Add to this annual veterinary costs — flea and tick meds, vaccines and boosters, worming, occasional injuries with resulting antibiotics and painkillers. Based on my own bills from multiple dogs a modest yearly vet bill per dog is $520. So the total annual veterinary and food cost per bird dog is $952.

The annual expense for the average bird hunter is $1,141.57. If you own more than one bird dog, one gun, or hunt in more than two states the costs go up very quickly.

Below is the chart of how these costs then translate to the price per pound of specific upland bird. These prices assume the total number of birds harvested at 3 levels with the fixed cost of shells being $1.80 per bird. (Not many bird hunters actually harvest 20 birds per year, let alone 80.)

If you have hung around through all the math, you can now see what I’ve long suspected; hunting birds for food is just not a winning equation. To all the meathunters who aim to fill a freezer, do yourself a favor; go to the grocery store, buy some grass fed organic tenderloin and live Maine lobster and save yourself a ton of money. Leave the game birds to the true Ultimate Uplanders who value the pursuit beyond the heft of the game bag.

Pluck it

It certainly is more convenient to breast out game birds. After a long day of hunting the bulk of uplanders look for the quickest way to clean birds and get them in the cooler. And if you have hunted for any length of time you probably have the breasting down to a science.

There are a number of recipes that call for whole bird preparation though. Most chefs would cringe at the idea of discarding the game bird skin which can become crispy goodness in the pan. So this season before standing on the wings and pulling on the legs to separate the upper and lower half of the bird, I encourage you to take a few extra moments and pluck a couple.

With pheasant, part of the challenge of plucking is that the skin tends to be very thin. From my experience, the best way to pluck a rooster and keep the most skin intact is to immediately begin defeathering as soon as it comes to hand. This isn’t practical in many hunting situations. But keep it in mind when you happen to harvest a bird on your walk back to the truck.

I like to reserve plucking for birds that are close to pristine; the ones I’ve somehow managed to put all the shot in the head and neck. These are the birds that can truly impress your non-hunting friends at the table.

Many states also have wanton waste regulations which make breasting birds a no no. Upland birds’ legs tend to have more tendon than meat, which is likely why there is hesitation to clean the whole bird. But the thighs of these birds are prime cuts (most grouse and pheasant included). So if plucking isn’t an option, take a few extra minutes and cuts to separate the thigh meat from the bone. It is well worth the time and will dramatically increase the amount of meat you get from a harvested bird with very little effort.

And just as a little extra incentive, here’s a recipe we just found. And now I need to find a chestnut tree.

 

Pheasant With Chestnuts

For pheasant:
2 garlic heads, peeled
1 pheasant, about 2-3 pounds
2 stems of thyme
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
For chestnuts:
2 tablespoons butter
12 chestnuts fresh or frozen
2 cups chicken stock
Salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Split the garlic heads in half and place in the pheasant cavity with the thyme, salt and pepper. Use butcher string to tie pheasant legs together. Place in roasting pan and cook at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.
Add butter to a large saute pan and melt on medium heat. Add chestnuts and chicken stock. Simmer until soft, but not broken. Remove and season with salt.Meanwhile, prepare chestnuts.

To serve, place pheasant on a platter with hot chestnuts.
Makes 2 servings.
Approximate values per serving: 948 calories, 52 g fat, 322 mg cholesterol, 98 g protein, 22 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 4,230 mg sodium, 49 percent calories from fat.

Note: Recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of salt to rub on pheasant before roasting. If you change that to 1 teaspoon, the total sodium amount would be 1,905 mg sodium.

Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/style/hfe/20121023pheasant-chestnuts.html#ixzz2AKHBP0AH

Pheasant Defying Drought….. For Now

There has been a lot of news about the terribly dry conditions across the bulk of the country this year. This news sparked many early negative predictions for the upland populations.

If you read much about the lifecycle of upland birds though, most don’t require much water when they are young. So unlike harsh winters which will have devastating kill-off effects on game or extremely wet nesting months which will ruin hatches, drought may be a preferable weather catastrophe if there is such a thing.

A mild winter followed by a warm spring contributed to a significant increase in Minnesota’s pheasant count, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The pheasant population index increased 68 percent from 2011. Pheasant hunters are expected to harvest about 290,000 roosters this fall. That’s up from last year’s estimated harvest of 204,000 but roughly half the number taken during the 2005-2008 seasons when hunting was exceptionally good.

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The pheasants-per-mile index for 2012 is 4.21, up 18 percent from the 3.57 index of 2011.

“The mild winter of 2011-12 was the boost we needed for pheasant survival and reproductive potential,” said Jeff Vonk, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, in a news release. “It goes to show that, with the combination of good habitat and the right weather conditions, pheasants can be quite prolific.”

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The Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) 2012 August Upland Wildlife Roadside Survey shows the statewide pheasant population has increased 16 percent when compared to last year.

“We expected to see an increase after the first mild winter in five years and we have, but it will take another two to three years of good weather for the population to fully recover from five straight years of heavy snow and cool wet springs,” said Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist for the DNR.

The average birds counted per 30 mile route statewide increased from 6.8 birds to 8 birds in 2012. The highest pheasant counts per route are in the northwest region, with 16, central region, with 13, and north central region with 10. The survey also showed an increase in the number of partridge and quail, while cottontail numbers were unchanged.

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Though the dry conditions may not have impacted the nesting and hatch survival I believe the danger lies ahead. The poor grain production and sparse harvest caused by the drought may be the downfall of this fall’s upswing in gamebird numbers. With less grain to fatten up on in the autumn, it could be a very tough winter for the birds. So though I’m happy to hear about a rebound in numbers I still have a sneaky suspicion that we haven’t seen this drought fully play out just yet.