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Flushes & Noteworthy Points

New, Free Resource Helps the Traveling Hunter

Bird Country Resorts offers traveling bird hunters a new resource to help them locate outfitters throughout the United States.

The new website highlights about 460 travel destinations that provide services for wing shooters and allows bird hunters to apply filters to easily research, find, compare and contact outfitters based on their preferences. This is not a booking site, requires no registration and is free for browsers and the listed outfitters.

Search options include state, species, whether or not on-site lodging is provided, service level of accommodations, whether the hunter prefers wild or liberated quarry, if guides and dogs are available and even if a lodge or guide is endorsed by an entity such as Orvis. Browsers can easily select options to narrow or broaden parameters based on personal preferences.

“It’s never been easier for upland bird hunters to quickly check out 460 potential destination options for their next outdoor adventures,” said Terry DeDoes, the website's publisher. “It's my hope this website will both encourage more bird hunters to take vacations pursing their passion while sharing quality experiences with family and friends and make it easy and fun to introduce more and more newcomers to the thrills to be found in the uplands."

For more info: birdcountryresorts.com.

Bird Country Resorts — (Photo/Screenshot)

Program Helps Ease Access Issues

Through its Access and Stewardship Initiatives, onX, which produces interactive maps for outdoor recreationists, offers grants “to help secure or improve public access” in the fight to “unlock” public lands that, because they are surrounded by private holdings, have traditionally been off limits to the public. A recent project of interest took place at McDonald’s Ferry Ranch on the John Day River, the longest undammed river west of the Rockies and one designated as “Wild and Scenic.”

Here are some of the details onX offered:

From its headwaters in the Strawberry Mountains near Prairie City, Oregon, the river runs, unencumbered, nearly 284 miles through archaeological sites, historical areas and canyons. The varied sections of habitat provide life both above and below the water line. It hosts runs of Chinook salmon, steelhead and other game fish and offers great bass fishing in the heat of summer. The riparian areas are filled with bighorn sheep, deer, game birds, rattlesnakes, coyotes and countless other species.

The river is an exceptional float and attracts rafters from all around the Pacific Northwest to its tranquil waters — until, that is, the notorious Tumwater Falls, a Class 5 waterfall that is surrounded by private land.

So where are rafters, boaters and floaters supposed to take out before reaching those falls? That would be at the McDonald’s Ferry Ranch, a 4,054-acre parcel near Wasco, Oregon, where recreationists have taken out from their multi-day floats, hiked along the Oregon Trail and chased chukar through the rugged John Day Valley.

The Western Rivers Conservancy (WRC), a conservation group dedicated to protecting rivers in the West, first purchased land along the John Day in September of 2008. Their strategy is to acquire and then convey these properties to federal, tribal, local or state land management agencies.

While under the management of the WRC, the McDonald’s Ferry Ranch has provided recreational access to hikers, boaters and hunters. WRC’s dedication to hunting access propelled them to seek out Brandon Dyches of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, who manages the state’s Hunt By Reservation program. WRC enrolled the ranch into the program which granted Dyches administrative oversight of the property’s hunting access. This ensures rich hunting experiences and empowers landowners to allow access and manage their property the way they want to, says Dyches. In the first year, they had 85 reservations and 155 hunters. Harvest was mostly chukar.

onX original — (Photo/courtesy of onX)

“Access is the biggest problem,” said Dyches. “There’s Bureau of Land Management peppered through there that got locked up by little ranchettes or old homesteads. We were able to handle that access and keep hunt quality really high.”

Opening up these parcels, including McDonald’s Ferry Ranch and Cottonwood Canyon, allows people to break up their explorations into smaller chunks, “The spirit is now that the average recreationist doesn’t have to commit six days to the John Day.” Day trippers from Portland, Hood River and nearby areas can experience this valley.

The WRC has conveyed the property to the Bureau of Land Management. While the management plans are yet to be finalized, users can expect that the property will fall under the BLM’s plan for the John Day as a whole. As Dyches referenced, the property, at 4,054 acres, is neighbored by parcels both private and public. One particular piece of land is a 598-acre BLMowned area that was previously landlocked.

For more information about this program from onX, click on the “Access Initiatives” button on the home page, onxmaps.com.

Additional Places Open to Public Hunting

As a follow-up to his coverage of the various statesponsored hunter access programs in the Summer 2023 issue of The Upland Almanac, writer Glenn Zinkus dove a bit deeper to locate additional sources of access.

Non-Government Organizations (NGO) offer a variety of programs that get hunters onto private land through events or conservation programs. Also, some NGOs themselves own properties, some of which are open to hunting.

Some conservation and hunter advocacy groups organize hunts on private land, sometimes at little or no cost to hunters. As an example, Pheasants Forever (PF) organizes hunts that take place on a single day or over a weekend on both public and private lands. These are open variously to youth, veterans, minorities and women. Colby Kerber, PF’s Hunting Heritage program manager reports “there are numerous hunts on private properties in the more than two hundred events that take place throughout the U.S.” (pheasantsforever.org)

Although the primary mission of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA) centers on public lands access, BHA chapters work on making more public land available through education and programs that open what are otherwise landlocked public lands. Aaron Hebeisen, a BHA Chapter Coordinator for Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Missouri, explains that BHA also educates hunters on less wellknown but legal means of access to public lands. For example, Hebeisen cites “access to within the confines of a streambed is legal on private land in Minnesota” to reach public lands. Another example, though this is not generally known, hunters are legally allowedto hunt tax-forfeited land in Minnesota. This is land that doesn’t show up in public lands and public access guidebooks and apps (backcountryhunters.org).

An incredible program connecting hunters and private landowners is Sharing The Land (STL), envisioned and implemented by Doug Duren on his family’s farm located near Wisconsin’s Driftless Area, the land of conservationist Aldo Leopold.

Duren says, “Fifteen years ago, I learned about Leopold’s Riley Game Cooperative, which among other things, formalized the idea of hunters contributing to the conservation of a property in exchange for access to that property.

“We kicked off Sharing The Land at the 2022 Pheasant Fest in Omaha, and then they had us back this year.” In one year, we have properties signed up in eight states, totaling about 20,000 acres.”

There are upland bird properties in North Dakota and Missouri, and Duren is working to sign up several others right now ranging from the west to southern quail country. STL matches landowners with access seekers willing to trade work on a property for access. Access seekers enroll in STL by building their conservation resume on the website where landowners are matched with prospective hunters. Landowners enroll by completing the Landowner Profile Builder on the website (sharingtheland.com).

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) owns and or manages nearly seven million acres of land in the U.S. Sporting use, including hunting, is allowed on some Nature Conservancy lands when it is compatible with Conservancy goals. Upland bird hunters should research specific TNC properties in their states of interest or contact the TNC field office for the states they wish to hunt. A dive into the TNC website for a specific state identifies properties and advises whether hunting is allowed on that land tract (nature.org).

Top Tips for DIY Private Land Access

It’s fair to say most hunters probably don’t hunt on private lands owned by others because they’ve been deterred either by personal rebuffs or by all the anecdotes of people issued a firm “No!” to their wellintentioned requests for permission.

Nobody can make any guarantees, but writer Glenn Zinkus offers up a few tactics you can try that just might increase your chances of hearing a welcoming “Yes!”

Identify Large Property Owner Permit Programs

Logging and paper companies own large tracts of forest land that are often open to the public if you know how to find them. Logging and reforestation create ideal wildlife habitat for grouse and quail and numerous other species that thrive on new forest growth.

Other opportunities to hunt land owned by logging companies exist in many northern states such as Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Idaho. While some of the lands are available via a permit issued by the landowners, other landowners may welcome hunters without any restrictions and permits. Look for signage, or better yet, contact the landowner. Always be aware of the rules on these privately held tracts of land and take care near active logging operations to watch for log trucks.

Research

There is far more privately owned acreage that is neither enrolled in any state or organization’s program nor easily identifiably as possibly offering access. Begin with scouting, using both technology and drivearounds. When possible, spend time in the region where you hunt. Scout the land, take in the landscape, and look for the right habitat. When you spy a promising parcel of land, make efforts to contact the landowner to ask if it is possible to hunt the property.

While sometimes this can be as simple as knocking on the door to introduce yourself, more often than not, successful attempts at private land access begin with research to learn about the property details and acreages of the land tract, as well as to identify the landowner and their contact details. This can be done with a visit to the local assessor’s office or through the use of mapping apps such as onX or Google Earth.

Landowner Relations and Follow-up

Key to continued access is follow-up with the landowners, such as a post-hunt report. In addition to detailing your experiences and noting the game you harvested, be sure to let them know of any issues you encountered or land problems that might need attention or repair. Some kind of a gift is always welcome and should be considered a “must.” While some special treat of food or drink is the easiest thing to bring, there is usually something better you can provide.

“I receive plenty of bottles of liquor and hams at Christmas. A day’s worth of work goes a lot further for me,” says one farmer who opens his land to hunters. So, the greatest gift might be your offer of doing any work that needs to be done or task you can take off his hands. In fact, if you think about it, this would be a great offer to include when you are first meeting someone on whose land you are hoping to hunt.

Also, always remember to be friendly when meeting folks in hunting country. Landowners are like the rest of us. They frequent local markets, diners and coffee shops. They pump gas and walk their dogs. You never know when or where you will meet an owner of prime hunting land who wants to chat.

What have you got to lose? Even if it seems you’ve wasted five minutes listening to a sourpuss complain about the government, he quite possibly could add that he’s got squadrons of pheasants playing havoc with his sorghum fields.

“I can help with that,” you should, by now, be conditioned to reply.

Tom Carney

Editor
About author
UA Editor Tom Carney has won over 100 awards for his journalism, books and photography in a career that has spanned more than 40 years. He lives near Grand Rapids, Michigan, with his wife Maureen and their English setter Jack.