Rooster Road Trip Recap: Nebraska sets Public Access Standard for Bird Hunters

  • 11/12/2014
One of the reasons I look forward to the Rooster Road Trip every year is because it serves as my own form of a pheasant country survey. I enjoy comparing bird numbers, topography, geographic hunting differences, habitat conditions and access programs. As I reflect on today’s memorable 2014 Rooster Road Trip finale, I can say without qualification that Nebraska’s Open Fields and Waters Program is the country’s best template for opening up private land to public hunting access.
Like all the best ideas, the genesis for Nebraska’s Open Fields concept occurred during a hunting trip in 1996 between Jim Douglas of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and Pete Berthelsen of Pheasants Forever. The next year, the Conservation Reserve Program-Managed Access Program (CRP-MAP) was created to open up private CRP acres for public access, but with a wrinkle unique from other states. CRP-MAP incentivized landowners to improve the habitat on those acres when qualifying for the access payment. The result was an economic carrot for landowners to create higher quality cover.
A few years ago, the Nebraska Game and Parks Department changed the name from CRP-Map to the Open Fields & Waters Program for the purpose of creating access for other forms of public recreation, like fishing. The program has also added a scoring system to incentivize additional habitat practices on private land with higher landowner payments. In other words, the higher quality of habitat and the greater potential for hunter satisfaction on array of species, the bigger the payment available for a landowner.
I’ve focused my pheasant hunting on these acres during every previous visit to Nebraska over the years and this morning was no different. Led by Andy Houser, a Pheasants Forever farm bill wildlife biologist, we released our pointers into the frosty morning breeze blowing into a beautiful stand of bluestem. Two roosters received early warning of our arrival and flushed just out of gun range within minutes of leaving the truck.
A third rooster was not so wise. He rose to the sky off my German shorthaired pointer Trammell’s nose and banked to the left before a load of Prairie Storm 4’s brought him back to the grass. Jerrod Burke, District V Commissioner with Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, handed the rooster to me after his Gordon setter made the retrieve and alerted me to jewelry, a red band, on the bird’s ankle.
Houser explained that biology students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit net the wild roosters during autumn nights prior to hunting season. After capture, a leg band is secured and the bird is released. Then as hunters bag those roosters, researchers are able to determine many things like distribution and life expectancy.  After a phone call with the leg band’s number, Houser reported this morning’s banded rooster was indeed captured in this very CRP field earlier this autumn and was born this spring.
  • Watch: southwest Nebraska pheasant leg band study
Shortly after all photos of the leg band were complete, Burke added a rooster to his own game vest with a smart left to right crossing shot. And later at the far corner of the field, Trammell was able to equal her previous Nebraska retrieving feats by tracking down a rooster I had winged on a far straightaway shot (my nemesis). While our collection of pups and hunters searched the spot the bird “should be,” I watched Trammell on my Garmin Alpha screen as she zipped to my left 60 yards. With trepidation, I watched her get further and further from me. But this was Nebraska and Tram has a history of “delivering the mail” for me here.  After a few minutes, I’ll be darned if Pheasants Forever’s Colby Kerber didn’t yell to our collection of hunters “here comes a pup with a bird in her mouth.” As any bird dog loving guy or gal will tell you; that kind of retrieve makes cleaning up the puppy messes, the torn shoes, the begging at the table, and the veterinarian bills all worthwhile.
We worked a total of four Open Fields tracts between a cheeseburger and hot chocolate (with whipped cream, of course) before calling an end to the official 2014 Rooster Road Trip. While there were plenty of roosters still to chase, photos needed uploading and blog posts needed composing. Plus, I submitted Thursday and Friday as vacation days before I left Minnesota. My own personal Rooster Road Trip, without camera or computer, starts tomorrow. Where? A Nebraska Open Fields & Waters parcel of course. I’ll be there at 8AM. I don’t drink much coffee, but grab me a hot chocolate with whipped cream and we’ll turn a couple of dogs loose into the wind together. Safe travels and see you on the Rooster Road!
Follow along to the 2014 Rooster Road Trip at and be sure to mention #RRT14 in all your Twitter, Instagram and Facebook posts.
The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s 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.