WILTZ: Will our pheasants rebound? It all depends
The news media, including newspapers, is beginning to release outlooks for the coming pheasant opener on Oct. 20. I don't know how much truth is included in any of them, but the birds have certainly had to cope with drought and excessive heat in parts of our reading area, and I think the availability of moisture during critical periods will be the determining factor.
I've heard varying reports from farmers including those that say, "I've mowed hay and cut corn for silage, and haven't seen a bird." For this reason alone, I believe there are areas with very few birds.
On the positive side, I had an enlightening experience earlier this summer. Dr. Jim Monfore, owner and operator of South Dakota Pheasant Acres, called and offered to give me a close look at his operation west of Armour. I eagerly accepted.
We had never met before. Other than being very personable, I found Jim to be totally absorbed and dedicated to creating the finest possible pheasant habitat. Because our ringneck pheasant is not a South Dakota native, I never associated the implementation of native grasses to be so important in developing pheasant habitat. Jim's farm is primarily about native grasses. It is also about food plots, trees, and well-engineered ponds. It remains a work in progress.
While we bumped around Jim's property in his pickup, I asked about the effects of this summer's excessive heat and drought on pheasant production. I expected doom and gloom. Instead I heard that heat and dry are a lot better than last year's cold and wet, especially when the wet is preceded by a brutal winter. So, in talking to an expert, I learned that there are reasons for optimism.
Though I looked over a business that included a beautiful lodge and amenities, Jim was about pheasants -- pheasants so abundant that most of the birds bagged during the season are hatched in habitat that was tended with continual thought and dedicated care.
I have a good friend who farms for his pheasants. He puts water out for them on a daily basis, and his birds are doing well. Again we are talking about moisture. When I tramp around this coming fall with shotgun in hand, I will concentrate on areas that were irrigated. I will hunt areas where the water didn't dry up. I suspect it will pay dividends.
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On Thursday, Aug. 16, Betsy had surgery on the hip that was replaced two years ago. Her mobility is much restricted when compared to that of the replacement surgery, and we are being extremely careful with regard to movement. Her surgery has placed me in the full-time nurse-cook-housekeeper mode. So what does this have to do with anything? Read on.
Until the surgery, Jerry, my partner, and I continued to fish the Randall Dam tailrace on an almost daily basis with the exception of weekends. A month ago I reported that the tailrace fish appeared to be starving. Now the fish are looking healthier, and baitfish are again appearing in those waters. We have also become aware of other changes.
Until recently, our primary catch has been walleyes with a few white bass added to the mix. We saw other fastwater anglers catch catfish, but we never caught a cat until Friday, Aug. 10. I was beginning to think that the cats weren't attracted by Gulp, but on the 10th we took some big cats including a blue on a jig and Gulp.
Motivated by the cats, I bought some raw, tail-on, peeled, de-veined shrimp as I've had great luck in the past using shrimp for bait. The shrimp were large (26-30 per pound), and I cut the shrimp into thirds when I used them for bait in the fastwater the following Monday morning.
How did the shrimp work? I caught five straight walleyes on the shrimp before I caught a cat! The only shrimp bait I could keep on my hook was the hard tail section as the walleyes tore the meaty pieces apart. I decided right there to use only the shrimp tails for bait. I'd use the remainder of the shrimp for my own eating purposes.
On Saturday night, Aug. 18, our second night home from the hospital, I fixed Betsy a supper of shrimp alfredo fettuccini in cheese sauce. It was absolutely marvelous. Not only did we have a fine meal, I have a bag of shrimp tails to use for bait. I'm not inferring that I'm respectable cook although during the early '60s I prepared hamburger steaks and fries for the guys who dined at Dale & Vi's State Grill just south of SDSU's Campanile. But that's another story.
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The deadline for East River deer applications is Friday. The printed application doubles as a muzzleloader deer application. In attempting to submit my West River application a few weeks back, my computer would not allow me to complete my application. Pick up a printed application just in case the problem persists.
*See you next week.