column By: Staff | August, 19
Walker Conyngham, BHA Communications Coordinator
Bird hunting is generational. From the guns we shoot to the dogs we chase, each aspect of upland hunting carries with it a sense of past and future. To many, this tradition seems perpetual and unchanging. Yet upland hunters recognize that there are clear and present threats to our pastime.
One often-overlooked aspect of upland hunting is public access. A changing agricultural sector, population growth and ongoing attacks on public lands are just a few threats to our ability to hunt quality habitat and find birds. Reduced opportunity is the primary variable in the decline in hunter participation nationwide and will impact future generations far more than my own.
I’m proud to work for an organization whose principal objective is conserving and maintaining access to our public lands and waters. Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) was formed in 2004 and has rapidly grown to include chapters in 44 states, Washington, D.C. and three Canadian provinces. BHA members, chapter leaders and staff work to uphold and improve access to public lands all across North America.
One recent example of BHA’s work and its relevance to the upland community is the passage of S.47, the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. BHA, other conservation groups and numerous champions in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate spent years fighting for the provisions in the bill to become law. Ultimately, this legislation passed with a resounding 92-8 vote in the Senate and advanced through the House in a vote of 363-62. In addition to permanently authorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the most successful public access program in the U.S., S.47 achieves the following: It reauthorizes the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, which incentivizes landowners to conserve quality habitat for migratory birds like woodcock; it requires federal agencies to prioritize providing access to lands where recreational activities like hunting are allowed but not readily accessible; it mandates that Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands stay open for hunting, fishing and shooting unless closed for a specific reason.
BHA was far from alone in the campaign to pass S.47, but we worked hard to engage and mobilize grassroots leaders across the country. BHA relies on volunteers more than anything else: Chapter leaders across the country drive policy decisions and outreach campaigns in addition to boots-on-the-ground conservation projects. Whether they chase grouse and woodcock in the Northeast and Midwest, quail in the South or Himalayan snowcock in the Ruby Mountains, our bird hunting members are invested in BHA because we’re dedicated to conserving and maintaining access to the public lands on which we rely.
Let’s not labor under the misconception that our experiences chasing dogs and flushing birds will stay the same year after year, generation after generation. Some things improve, like knowledge that is passed down and built upon with each successive year. However, I have heard enough stories from my grandfather about 40-flush days on New England grouse to know that hunters need to adapt to changing conditions and work hard to protect the resource. The lands we hunt, public or those private holdings with access easements, must not be taken for granted.
Thomas V. Dailey, Ph.D., NBCI Science Coordinator
A striking bobwhite phenomenon is their predawn covey call in fall. This provides an enjoyable way for both quail hunters and landowners to identify the presence and abundance of bobwhites – as well as an opportunity to train bird dogs. (Coveys often move away from roosts soon after calling, so try to flush them soon after sunrise.) Biologists have researched fall bobwhite calling behavior, and the National Quail Symposium Proceedings from the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) has key reports – search on “covey calling” at http://trace.tennessee.edu/nqsp/. Also check out NBCI’s “Bobwhites’ Koi-Lee – Calling all Quail Hunters” on YouTube.
Local bobwhite abundance ebbs and flows in response to weather, producing record counts in some areas with habitat, and in areas of new habitat and a scarcity of quail, the opportunity to measure, via sound, if they have reappeared. In times of abundance and mild weather, some bobwhites move from habitat strongholds to new habitat, so you might be pleasantly surprised.
Bobwhites roost during the mild weather of fall in herbaceous and thin shrubby vegetation in open landscapes (grass, weeds, old fields, crop fields, etc.), rather than in thick woody cover. Considering that bobwhites spend more of their life in nocturnal roost habitat than in any other single activity, this is important habitat.
Among wildlife vocalizations, bobwhites are unique because their calling in fall is predictably 15 to 40 minutes before sunrise. This koi lee sounding call likely facilitates the formation of coveys from broods. Calling is best heard on mornings when barometric pressure is high, wind speed is low, and there are few clouds.
How many quail? You can hear calling quail about 547 yards away or an area around you of 194 acres. Under NBCI’s Coordinated Implementation Program (CIP), with 19 states participating, biologists at the best CIP listening points have heard eight or more calling coveys 43 times during fall covey counts in the past few years. If you hear just one covey calling, research indicates there could be another covey present, and you could double your observation to an estimated two coveys on 194 acres. A rule-of-thumb average covey size is 12 quail, which translates to an estimated one quail per eight acres. In the better quail habitat areas, biologists expect as least one quail per two to four acres.
Autumn is closing in on us, the time to venture afield and pursue native grouse with our faithful hunting companions (human, falcon or canine). Grouse seasons in many states come in early and stay late, giving us grousers lots of time to hone our shooting skills and ensure we can enjoy a grouse entrée as part of our dinners.
While you are out this fall, take time to stop and look around at the places grouse live and bask in the splendor that these native birds can thrive with the right habitat, right weather and help from us.
Habitat is the key to good grouse populations, and there are many programs at the federal and state levels to help landowners and public lands ensure grouse have that good habitat. So while you are hunting, please take time to think about how the places grouse live and the future of grouse are influenced by policy and politics. Then make sure your elected officials and agency personnel are doing what’s best for the future of grouse, their habitats and our chances to enjoy them.
Last spring, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) decided to reassess its role in the management of lesser prairie chicken (LPC) and the mitigation programs it runs. The North American Grouse Partnership (NAGP) has been at the forefront, working with WAFWA and other partners to ensure that LPC programs are effective and efficient and that the right actions are being taken at the right places at the right times and at the right costs.
In 2017, NAGP and our conservation partners held our inaugural Dream Hunt for greater prairie chickens and sharptailed grouse in South Dakota. We are exploring hosting our second dream hunt in Kansas in late December or early January, which will give you the opportunity to hunt greater prairie chickens, quail and pheasants. If you are interested in participating, please contact us at NAGP@grousepartners.org with Dream Hunt as the subject line. Participation will be extremely limited and filled on a first come, first served basis.
In April, Woodcock Limited was a sponsor for the Woodcock Wingbee. The event has been held annually since 1964, with this year’s event hosted by Michigan’s DNR at the Ralph A. MacMullan Center in Roscommon, Michigan. About 30 woodcock biologists from Denver to the Moosehorn Refuge in northern Maine, from Michigan to Louisiana, and from Minnesota to Tennessee examined about 11,000 wings this year. They represented five state agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the U.S. Geological Survey. Interestingly, woodcock can be both sexed as well as aged by examining their wings. Information gleaned from the Wingbee is used by the USFWS to help determine seasons and harvest limits for woodcock.
By sending in wings from their harvested woodcock, hunters can “participate” in the Wingbee and identify with being part of an ongoing 55-year study beneficial to our understanding of the bird.
Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic, the nation’s largest upland-themed event, will be held Feb. 14-16, 2020, at the Minneapolis Convention Center in the Twin Cities. The three-day celebration of upland habitat, hunting and conservation annually draws more than 20,000 supporters and will be presented by Federal Premium Ammunition.
The National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic combines a national consumer show, wildlife habitat seminar series and family events complete with puppies, tractors, shotguns and art. It’s grown to be the country’s largest event for upland hunters, sporting dog owners and wildlife habitat conservationists. In addition to providing significant economic impact for the host community and attending outdoor industry vendors, PF/QF uses its National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic to discuss habitat with landowners and recruit members to its wildlife conservation mission.
More details for the National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic 2020 in Minneapolis, including ticket information, will be posted to www.pheasantfest.org as they become available. For information about becoming an event sponsor or vendor, contact Gerry Cliff at 651-209-4954 or GCliff@PheasantsForever.org.