Photo by Mike Gnatkowski.
Michigan’s upland wing-shooting opportunities are as diverse as the Michigan landscape. The rolling farmlands of southern and eastern Michigan are home to decent, huntable numbers of pheasants and quail, and the abundant public land of northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula offers thousands of acres of public hunting for grouse and woodcock. Combine this with the indication that grouse numbers appear to be on the upswing, the grouse cycle is peaking and pheasant numbers seem to be rebounding with improved habitat, and you have all the makings of a fall wing-shooter’s paradise.Finding Pheasants
Where you find suitable winter habitat, you’ll find pheasants in Michigan. “There are still birds around,” said Michigan Natural Resources upland game bird specialist Al Stewart, adding that he’s heard a lot of roosters crowing while out turkey hunting this spring. “Where the good wintering habitat is, you still find birds. Last winter was a very difficult winter, but we did experience some breakups at critical times.”
Alternative thawing and breaks in the winter weather allow pheasants to find grit and reach grain sources at critical times. Pheasants are resilient birds, and, they can make it through a tough winter if they have the cover to get out of the weather.
Stewart said that Michigan hunters have been harvesting around 100,000 birds in each of the last few years. For that number to increase, pheasants would have to have a good nesting season, something lacking in recent years. “Production was not as good as we’d hoped last year,” Stewart said. “That’s three years in a row where we have not had good reproduction.”
Stewart said that Michigan has experienced a surreal amount of rain this spring. The moisture is good for insect production critical for young chicks, but the heavy rains have also flooded some lowland habitats that might serve as nesting cover. “There are places that have water that don’t normally have water,” said Stewart. “Right now, we’re about two weeks behind with the weather. The first couple weeks of June are critical. That’s when the chicks hatch, and it’s important that we have some warm, dry weather then.”
According to Stewart, some things that have hurt pheasant numbers the last couple of decades are the fragmentation and maturation of the Michigan landscape. “Everyone wants their own little piece of nirvana,” said Stewart. “Where you once had a large tract of grasslands, you now have a subdivision or five-acre lots, and it has hurt pheasant numbers. I’ve always said that you can’t grow pheasants on asphalt and dirt.”
Another problem that Stewart pointed out is that the remaining habitat is maturing through natural succession and is transforming into more woody vegetation, which isn’t good for pheasants either. Trees, bushes and shrubs provide less prime habitat for pheasants and more places for predators to hide.
Michigan’s traditional pheasant hunting season takes place from Oct. 20 to Nov. 14 in zones 2 and 3 and Oct. 10-31 in Zone 1. The hunting area in Zone 1 was expanded last season to include all of Menominee County and portions of Delta, Dickinson, Iron and Marquette counties. Michigan’s late pheasant season runs from Dec. 1 to Jan. 1 in the area of southern Michigan bordered by U.S. Highway 131 on the west and south of M-20. Limits are two male pheasants per day and four in possession.
For the exact boundaries and specifics of the pheasant-hunting season in Michigan, visit www.michigan. gov/dnr, or consult the 2009-2010 Michigan Hunting and Trapping Guide.
Bobwhite quail are kind of an anomaly in Michigan. Far removed from their traditional southern U.S. range, they are still fairly common in several southern Michigan counties and provide some recreational sport. But their numbers are even more weather-dependent than pheasants, and after a severe winter, the season has often been closed. “Quail are even more sensitive to winter and storms, especially ice storms,” said Stewart. Quail populations are often boom or bust, he said, but in spite of the often brutal conditions during the winter of 2008-09, Stewart was emphatic that Michigan hunters will be able to hunt quail in 2009.
The quail season in 2008 ran from Oct. 20 to November and is likely to remain the same for 2009. The bag limit for quail was five per day and 10 in possession. Consult your hunting guide or the MDNR Web site (www.michigan.gov/dnr) for information on counties in Zone 3 open to quail hunting.
Although harvest data was not available for the entire 2008 pheasant season, the early-season report from pheasant cooperators indicated that pheasant numbers were about the same as the previous few years. Forty-one cooperators turned in 241 surveys for the Oct. 20-23 period, down from 57 surveys in 2007. Hunters flushed an average of 0.7 roosters per hour statewide (zones 2 and 3). This number was almost identical to 2007 (0.6 birds per hour). Counties having at least 10 hours of hunting effort with the highest rooster flush rates were Tuscola, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Huron. The majority of the cooperators (49 percent) thought that pheasant populations were down from the previous year in the areas that they hunted. About 20 percent of the cooperators thought that pheasant numbers were up or up slightly from 2007.
South-central Michigan has been one of the last vestiges of pheasant nirvana. The rolling hills there, set-aside lands and agriculture offers pheasants plenty of suitable habitat, and they seem to be responding. “It appears that pheasants have come through the winter very well,” reported South-Central Management Unit wildlife supervisor Dave Dominic. “People are reporting hearing and seeing more birds. The only bad thing now is all the water. We’re not really sure what kind of impact that will have on nesting.” Dominic said that while they don’t monitor quail numbers per se, he would expect a similar improvement.
Dominic said that he has seen an encouraging trend in recent years in his district that should help both pheasant and quail numbers. “Wild land is becoming more common again,” said Dominic. “Farmers are not farming and tilling like they used to. We’re starting to see people leave habitat, instead of farming from fencerow to fencerow. There’s more wintering and nesting cover and less intense farming than there was 15 years ago, and wildlife has responded.”
Dominic said set-aside lands as a result of tax credits, CRP an
d CREP have helped pheasants and quail tremendously. Look for improved hunting this fall in Branch, Hillsdale, Ionia, Clinton, Jackson and Eaton counties, where you find tracts of good habitat. For more information on pheasant hunting opportunities in south-central Michigan, contact the South-Central Management Unit of the MDNR at (517) 641-4903.Southwestern Reports
“Winter was tough on the birds,” said Southwestern Management Unit wildlife biologist John Lerg. “It was particularly bad in the snow belt in northern Berrien and Van Buren counties. There are still a few pockets of birds around, though.”
Lerg suggested looking for mixed habitat containing row crops, grasslands and abandoned properties. He admitted that finding such a piece of property these days is rare, but they are there if you do your homework. Look for increased numbers of birds given a good nesting season in Calhoun County up into Barry County. Pockets of birds can also be found in Cass and Berrien counties, where grasslands restoration is taking place on private lands. For more information, contact the Southwestern Management Unit of the MDNR at (269) 685-6851.
Pages: 1 2