Rooster Road Trip 2016 - Upland Nation, an annual digital showcase of upland hunting on public land habitat & access projects, takes to the field October 24th – 28th and November 14th – 18th. This is the second report from this year’s tour.
Michigan. Minnesota. Ohio. Pennsylvania. We were playing the license plate game while scouting out a state Game Production Area near Pierre, South Dakota. We couldn’t fault our competition – they saw the same great upland habitat we did. And if you’re going to drive a few thousand miles to hunt publicly accessible land, this is the type of place you have in mind.
With warm and cool season grasses, hedgerows, food plots and cattails, all surrounded by small grains – sunflowers, wheat and milo – this is the ideal “habitat mosaic” that yields pheasants in good weather years and bad.
This year is probably somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. One wonders what the bird numbers would have looked like had there been a little more rain in this area. “It seems like every storm misses us,” says Liam O’Connor, our tour guide and a habitat specialist with Pheasants Forever who helps with habitat improvement projects at these Game Production Areas. Nonetheless, O’Connor reports decent production despite the drought conditions. We corroborate this with bird sightings up and down the gravel roads. With much of this year’s crop still standing, and with extremely windy and dry conditions, spotting hens and roosters from the vehicle gives is a welcome and enticing sign.
We’d no more than stepped out of the truck at the first parking area when a group of pheasants lifted from across the road and sailed into the grass no more than 100 yards from us. While roosters very rarely stay where they land, this is about as close to falling in your lap as public land pheasant hunting gets. The chase was on, and while the hens escaped first, the rooster held a few seconds too long and was folded on a nice slight crossing shot by Pheasants Forever’s Andrew Vavra and retrieve by his veteran Labrador retriever, “Beau.” Pheasants Forever’s Logan Hinners and his Labrador retriever, “Aspen,” also chased down a previously crippled rooster to add to the game bag.
After a run of hens at the next spot, we moved to a different, smaller Game Production Area in hopes of escaping the pressure. Our plan failed, but we elected to clean the field even after two hunters and four dogs had covered much of it. On one hand, it’s disconcerting to drive an hour and find the spot you’d hoped for freshly hunted. On the other, there’s a certain pride in finding the wily roosters they may have missed.
We walked through a snarly windrow that, with shrubs and fallen logs, seemed like the perfect overlooked rooster resort. The resident rooster would have let an army walk by, but our lab duo had drawn up a different plan. He evaded the dogs and climbed over the trees, but in the open, he couldn’t escape. It was the lone rooster at this little public gem, but somehow, it seemed like more.
The easy birds have been had, and the majority of other roosters are now refugees in the thousands of acres of corn and sunflowers. Harvest and snow will eventually even things out, and these spots will be worth returning to. The map gets a few new circles.
-Anthony Hauck, Rooster Road Trip 2016
Up Next: Aberdeen Pheasant Coalition
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Photo credit: Logan Hinners, Pheasants Forever