|Hunting the edges and corners has always been very productive for upland bird hunting. The edge is the zone between different types of cover. It is the blending together of two habitats. This border region creates protective cover and provides an area of new forage and forbs, which, naturally attracts many species of game animals. Old home-sites offer much in the way of these types of coverts. Plants such as grains, grasses, clovers and berries along with fruit, nut and mast producing trees are found in these environments or ecotones. The great diversity in cover and food sources in these environments also plays a role in how much game is present. Many factors account for the quality and quantity of game in a particular area, but the one constant remains; if you don’t have the food sources and the cover, you won’t have the game. | Quality habitats are very important for managing upland game birds. With the decline of agricultural producing farms throughout the U.S. and the expansion of suburban areas into former farmlands, we are again seeing a regression in many game bird species. Both grouse and woodcock populations have been declining as habitat is lost to development and the clear-cuts of the last century returns to older mature stands of forest. Quail, pheasant and duck numbers are continuously being monitored. Many habitat restoration and improvement programs are being embarked upon by private hunter/conservation groups such as The Ruffed Grouse Society, Ducks Unlimited, Quail Unlimited, and Pheasants Forever, to name but a few. Some of these programs are extensive in that they reach high levels of state and federal government, while others are based on a grass root approaches of getting the landowner and hunter involved. Projects such as clearing lanes in old growth forests in the northeast to boost woodcock and grouse numbers, the annual burning and planting of grains and legumes in the south to help the decreasing native quail populations and planting of food plots are all relatively easy and inexpensive ways to aid local wild game bird populations, thus improving habitats.
Working the edges and corners of crop fields can really produce birds. The edge is the blending together of two different habitats. The Authors springers "Bess & Flo", with a rooster pheasant taken along the edge of an overgrown hedgerow.
Photo by: Author
Wetland’s restoration and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) are helping to boost quail, pheasant and waterfowl populations, especially in the Midwest. Under the CRP program, farmers are paid to set aside a percentage of their land for wildlife habitat. Long-term cover crops like grasses and trees are planted, some crops are left unharvested, or the land is left in its natural state. These wildlife conservation programs have been extremely successful the last few years, but are heavily dependent on congressional funding, private landowner and farmer cooperation. Other cost-sharing assistant programs are available through The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), The Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) that is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) and the Farm Services Agency (FSA). Other agencies including state Wildlife Conservation/Management Agencies can provide technical consultations, free seed programs and other cost sharing opportunities.
The edge element is a key factor in upland hunting. Hedgerows, like old home-sites offer a variety of cover and food sources. Hedgerows vary greatly in size and width, but they all create a large amount of edge. Hedgerows are usually unkept fence lines between adjoining fields. The fencerows, over time, have grown into thickly covered tree lines, which act like magnets for game birds such as pheasant and quail. These wooded corridors offer game birds easy access to fields for feeding, dusting and mating, while still providing refuge from predators. The old adage about "cause and affect," is fitting. Part of the decline in wild game bird populations throughout North America can be attributed directly to the increasing predator population. Coyote, fox, bobcat, skunk, opossum, raccoon and feral cats all feed on wild game birds, their poults and eggs. Nest perdition is now considered the greatest threat to game bird populations. The increase in predator numbers is due in part to the anti-fur/ anti-hunting movement so popular in Hollywood, the media and the "politically correct" crowd. Their trendy campaigns have resulted in a low market value for furs due to a lack of demand for fur products. Their political endeavors, spurred on by the animal rights activists, have resulted in the elimination of trapping certain species in some states and extremely restrictive trapping regulations throughout most of the continental United States. Less trapping has lead to predator numbers being kept unchecked, and a marked decrease in the wild game bird populations nationally.
About half way down a long thick hedgerow that divided two of the overgrown fields, "Bess" suddenly became very "birdie." I watched as her short tail began wagging faster, her nose was to the ground and working overtime. I was thinking it might be the second grouse when suddenly the grass erupted with fur and feathers. The big rooster cackled as he scrambled to gain altitude and escape "Bess." I shouldered the Daly and the pheasant folded in mid-flight. "Bess" struggled through the thick cover with the large rooster, delivering him to my waiting hand. As "Bess" and I made our way back to the truck, I paused for a moment to again take in the scenery, and submit the day’s events to memory. My hard-earned cargo’s weight was beginning to feel uncomfortable against my back. "Bess" too, was beginning to act less than her normally energetic self. Unloading the birds into the cooler I stopped, as I always do, and marveled at the beauty of each. The gaudy iridescent colors of the rooster pheasant and the subtle flaxen and earth tones of the grouse, each a work of art from nature’s canvas. Then reaching into the bag, I retrieved the old Pepsi bottle. Articles of the past converged with the present. Samples of nature’s beauty and a man made art deco antique, lay in contrast to each other on the tailgate. Man can play a positive role in nature’s scheme; I thought . . . It was a good day!
Old home-sites and abandoned farm buildings can be magnets for upland game birds. Many of the Author’s days afield are spent concentrating around these areas. The cover near this old house held several grouse.
Photo by: Author