Hunting & Heritage  |  08/26/2009

Do Upland Bird Hunters "Scout?"

Last Saturday morning on FAN Outdoors (6AM to 8AM on Saturday mornings on the radio dial at AM1130), "Captain" Billy Hildebrand, the show's host, questioned a comment I made, which went something along the lines of: "Bird hunters don't need to do preseason scouting like deer hunters."
I fumbled around trying to explain this belief of mine on air that I'd personally never questioned and never been asked to defend.  It was something I simply believed, but couldn't articulate worth a darn.
The gist of my explanation went along the lines of: "if you can identify the grasses and mix of covers that comprise good habitat for pheasants, or young aspen for grouse, then you can identify that good cover from the road on the morning of any hunt.  There's really no need to scout days before the season opens for bird hunting."
The holes in this response are obvious.  In fact, I often do plenty of preseason "scouting" for grouse and pheasants, although I've never called it "scouting" before when referring to upland birds.  I typically call it "taking a walk" or "exercising the dog."  Each of those walks teaches me something new about the habitat I hunt and the birds that live there . . . which I suppose is the essence of scouting (insert light bulb overhead now).
What I've come to realize is the word "scouting" holds for me a direct link to big game and the exercise of identifying movement patterns, finding hot trails, buck rubs, or scrapes.  In other words, scouting equals finding "big Charlie" of the deer herd.
In contrast, preseason pheasant scouting has the much simpler goal of just locating the existence of birds, verifying the ground I want to focus on is still diverse enough to satisfy the needs of a rooster (food, cover, loafing, and roosting).  I also take an inventory of standing crops and harvested crops around the land I'm interested in hunting.
Likewise, my goal in preseason ruffed grouse scouting is simply to make sure my aspen stands haven't become too old or been clear cut.  Aspen, alder, poplar, and birch - the focal cover of ruffed grouse habitat - can grow very quickly and with age they lose their attractiveness to ruffed grouse.  Each preseason August walk in the grouse woods tips me off to where the birds are, and where they aren't.
A preseason walk will also provide a better understanding of the lay of the land, how to approach "honey holes" for the best advantage, and how wet some areas are (and what kind of boots to wear).
Call it a walk or call it scouting, but any time spent afield in the preseason WILL help lead to success during the hunt regardless of species targeted.
- Thanks for the tip "Captain!"

Bob St.Pierre is the Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever Vice President of Marketing.  Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre and listen to Bob and Billy Hildebrand every Saturday morning on FAN Outdoors radio on KFAN FM100.3.