The Column, No. 41:
National Pheasant Fest 2009: Madison, Wisconsin
Pheasants Forever’s annual conclave is now an annual event, this year coming to Madison, Wisconsin for its fifth gathering and the first time in Wisconsin. I attended, as did another 20,000 or so pheasant fans from around the country. It was one of the most enjoyable, friendly, laid-back yet extremely well-run hunting related events I’ve attended in many years.
With some six hundred booths, there was something for everyone. This isn’t a “gun-only” show by any means, although major shotgun manufacturers were on hand including Browning, Ithaca, Remington, Beretta and others. It is the environment that all outdoor shows should have, welcoming not just grumpy old men, but the whole family. It is a great event for Mom, Dad and the kids to enjoy together, as is the outdoors, a theme too often lost in the peripheral noise of other events that seem to thrive more on political crankiness than the more positive attributes of shooting sports. Cabela’s is the major sponsor of Pheasant Fest and they deserve recognition for their efforts.
Browning and Ithaca had seemingly the busiest shotgun-related booths, with Ithaca having one of the larger booths of the entire event. Browning and Winchester did well, in my view, with Winchester-sponsored exhibition shooter Patrick Flanigan on hand to liven things up a bit. I had a nice time visiting with Patrick. As you might imagine, there was a high interest level in Browning’s new Maxus, Ithaca’s new 28 gauge and Remington’s 887 Nitro Mag.
Everyone that loves pheasant hunting seems to love dogs. There’s a German Short-Hair here by the name of Buddy that seems to think that dogs are the best thing about pheasant hunting; I’m inclined to agree with him. Pheasant Fest is well-populated with dog seminars, breeders, trainers and just about everything imaginable having to do with bird dogs including the dogs themselves. All of this is fun and helped make Pheasant Fest a well-rounded show.
When it comes to healthy pheasant populations, it all boils down to habitat. More suitable habitat, more birds. It doesn’t get more basic than that, but that’s the crux of the biscuit. Several of the seminars offered at Pheasant Fest were extremely good, particularly the research done by Dr. William R. Clark of Iowa State University and presented by Professor Clark at Pheasant Fest. You can obtain a goodly portion of the data from: www.eeob.iastate.edu/faculty/ClarkW/html/pheasant.html
Next year, Pheasant Fest returns to Des Moines, Iowa, anticipating 30,000 or so attendees at the Iowa Events Center on February 26, 27 & 28, 2010. You might want to set aside that weekend right now. To give you an idea of what the non-for-profit Pheasants Forever chapters have been doing in Iowa alone, Iowa's 103 Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever chapters have raised and spent $33,439,806 on the organization's wildlife habitat mission. Chapters have planted 500,495 acres of nesting cover, 219,845 acres of food plots, 10,380,955 shrubs and trees for winter cover, and improved 56,062 CRP acres. Additionally, Iowa PF has restored 17,494 acres of wetlands and contributed to 602 land acquisitions that permanently protect 73,694 acres of public wildlife habitat. Again, that’s just their contributions in Iowa.
The challenge in Iowa is similar to the change in many states. Annual harvests of pheasants and quail are only at about 25% of what they were in the 1970’s. Less cover due to more efficient farming and the recent loss of 280,000 acres from the Federal CRP program created quite a challenge to restore vibrant pheasant populations in Iowa and other states.
As Dr. Clark’s work shows, the issue is rarely one of food. Nor is the pheasant population rise or fall directly linked to a rise in predators, though some directed predator control (prior the first hatch, especially) can be helpful. The problem is lack of nesting cover combined with less cover for pheasant chicks allowing mobility and access to the insects, etc. that they need. Winter cover, including thick rows of trees and low wood cover is also important, but without strong hatches there are few pheasants left to use winter cover, so it all interrelates.
If a hen pheasant loses a nest, they attempt to re-nest. Unfortunately the second or third nest attempt (even if successful) is problematic due to lost productivity. Whereas hen pheasant may have a dozen or more eggs in her first nest, subsequent nesting attempts may drop to just three or four eggs. Cover becomes more and more important, as with proper cover--even when harsh winters and poor springs may severely impact pheasant populations--pheasant populations can rebound far more quickly than without.
Pheasants Forever is a fine organization and they both deserve and need the support of every conservation-mined sportsmen. If you aren’t already a member, head to www.pheasantsforever.org and join today. You can make a positive difference now and for future generations.
Copyright 2009 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.