column By: Compiled by Tom Keer | August, 17
The poultry farm at Kansas State University is also home to a new research facility. There, a refurbished barn provides animal science researchers with a place to conduct cutting-edge research on game birds. The goal: to create healthy birds, as close to wild as possible, for use in stocking programs.
Kansas is known for its cattle, wheat and grain sorghum, but upland game bird hunting, particularly pheasant and quail, provides an economic boost to communities large and small across the state. Private landowners and hunting lodge owners alike often turn to game bird breeders to replenish bird numbers on their property.
“We’re looking to help game bird breeders grow healthy birds in the most cost-effective way,” Associate Professor Scott Beyer said of the new program. “To our knowledge, this is unique. No one else is doing this.”
Most bird research occurring at universities, he said, is focused on more conventional turkey, chicken and egg production. Little research has been done on the nutritional needs of game birds, including the best feed ingredients and bird health.
Initially, the just-launched K-State program is focusing on the nutritional needs of pheasants.
“Everybody who comes to hunt in Kansas wants pheasant,” said Beyer, poultry specialist with K-State Research and Extension. The bobwhite quail and chukar partridge are also popular.
He added, “Our research, particularly on the nutritional side, will help game bird breeders grow healthy birds in the most cost-effective way.”
Graduate student C.J. Delfelder completed new indoor/outdoor research pens designed to keep human contact to a minimum and make pheasant and quail as wild as possible.
In three surveys conducted since 2008, Responsive Management (RM) has asked hunters to choose their single, most important reason for hunting, offering choices that included trying for a trophy, being close to nature, being with family and friends, for the sport or recreation or for the meat. This year, 39 percent of hunters ranked “meat” as their most popular reason for hitting the woods.
In the 2013 survey, hunters first named meat as their primary motivation for going afield. And while the percentages of hunters naming one of their other three reasons have declined or remained flat over the past decade, the proportion of hunters who say they hunt mostly for the meat has almost doubled.
While RM says the “shift cannot be attributed to a single reason,” it’s clear that one reason for the uptick in hunters who went out mostly for the meat is the locavore movement, a growing national trend reflecting interest in eating locally and taking a more active role in the acquisition of food, especially organic, free-range, chemical- and hormone-free meat. Through the locavore movement, individuals from nontraditional hunting backgrounds have flocked to lessons and seminars offering instruction on how to hunt and process game meat. Locavore hunters are often educated Millennials who hail from urban and suburban areas; lacking traditional hunting mentors, they nonetheless have been moved to take up hunting as adults for reasons of self-sufficiency, health, sustainability or a desire to reconnect with nature.
The growing popularity of the locavore movement is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook and an icon of the Millennial generation, has taken up hunting as a means of procuring his own meat.
The locavore movement has grown to the point that fish and wildlife agencies are beginning to take seriously the recruitment and retention potential of this new category of hunter.
RM is a public opinion and attitude survey research firm specializing in natural resource and outdoor recreation issues.
Special to UA from Pheasants Forever
In 1987, the federal government began phasing in its ban on toxic lead shot for waterfowl hunting. The ban spread nationwide in 1991. Waterfowlers scrambled to find alternatives to lead. Even pheasant hunters had to find nontoxic options if they hunted federal waterfowl production areas and national wildlife refuges.
The alternatives – mostly steel shot – weren’t good. Caught unprepared by the ban, ammo makers basically just switched steel shot for lead. The lighter-weight steel pellets had less velocity and energy at target distances. Steel patterned more tightly, shrinking the “kill zone.” Hunters crippled more birds. Steel shot immediately got a bad reputation.
But in the quarter century since the ban, manufacturers have greatly improved steel. In fact, steel has gotten so good that many pheasant hunters shoot it all the time. Regardless of brand of choice, manufacturers agree on a few adjustments to using steel:
• Pick shot one or two sizes larger than lead. If you shoot no. 6 lead for pheasants, shoot no. 4 in steel.
• Open your choke. Steel shot doesn’t respond to chokes very well. Try an improved cylinder or modified choke for best patterns.
• For close range, shoot smaller pellets. Guns pattern less tightly with smaller shot.
• Adjust your lead. If you’re used to standard lead loads and pick up a box of 1,600-fps steel, you may need to shorten your lead a bit.
• Save steel for shotguns made for it. In a vintage gun, especially a double or a gun with a fixed full choke, try bismuth or tungsten matrix shot, both of which are soft, like lead.