Rocky Mountain Pheasant Hotspots

This colorful quarry shares one trait with baseball: If you build it, they will come.

Photo by Gary Clancy

By Cathy L. Clamp

You've passed this field a million times. The stubbled wheat is ringed by deep switchgrass. Ancient trees rise above thick bramble next to a small creek - perfect pheasant habitat. It is and always was private land.

But today, and at least for this season, the NO HUNTING signs have disappeared, and as the midday sun lights the way, you step into that hallowed field, past a public access sign. You say a silent "thank you" to the owner who has contracted with the state and agreed to allow your presence and your gun, just as a burst of color whirs into the air. You swear to yourself that you will leave no trace, give the owner no reason to withdraw his permissions next year, and begin to follow the birds.

No single program has met with greater success than the hunting access programs of the various Western states. For a small fee with a hunting license, Idaho's fledgling "Access Yes!" program allows hunters to enter some 90,000 acres of private land, including walking-only access to landlocked state land. Colorado's "Walk-In Access" program enrolls over 160,000 acres of private land, and Montana's "Block Management" program offers a whopping 8.5 million acres of formerly unavailable hunting land.

So, there will be land - but will there be birds? The answer is a resounding yes in a number of places.

COLORADO

"We're quite pleased with this year's crow counts," said Ed Gorman of the Colorado Division of Wildlife. "The numbers were significantly higher than last year. Of course, so much depends on storms and fires. We can get hailstorms that can wipe out a whole county the day before the opening. But, we're very hopeful."

According to Gorman, some of the best hunting in the state is northeast, in the counties of Phillips, Washington and Logan. This year, however, the top spot goes to Holyoke.

The shining star of pheasant hunting on the Colorado plains for 2004-2005 has to be Phillips County, where a ringneck pheasant holds a permanent spot on the county seal. Over 30,000 of the 160,000 acres available for walk-in access in the state are in and around the towns of Holyoke and Haxtun. This is due primarily to the efforts of one local organization.

The Phillips County Pheasants Forever Chapter is recognized as the top habitat producer in the country, and for the last 10 years has been the largest spender of improvement dollars. This amazingly energetic group has planted over 800,000 trees, laid 2 million feet of weed barrier and, through a private corporation, has purchased four and a half sections of land that are now devoted to pheasant habitat. In addition, they raise tens of thousands of dollars every year to help the CDOW offer area farmers a higher premium to convert 7-acre field corners (the square edges outside irrigated crop rounds) to habitat. Once contracted, the members plant trees and switchgrass for year-round cover, and drill wells for water.

"The CDOW offers a fairly low per-acre premium ($1.30) to farmers for access leases," said Bruce Rosenbach, a chapter spokesman. "It's a fair price in some cases but wasn't enough to convince locals to stop farming right up to the edge of their property. With our help, the CDOW has been able to offer $10 per acre."

The group also annually plants food plots for the birds on chapter-owned lands, all of which are available for hunting. Excellent maps of the Walk-In Access areas available in Phillips County can be found on the local Pheasants Forever Web site at http://www.coloradopheasants.net.

Holyoke is located about 2.5 hours from Denver International Airport on either U.S. Highway 385, or Interstate 76 (30 miles north of Phillips County). Interstate 80 is also north about one hour, and Colorado Highway 23 runs diagonal east to west from Holyoke to the Nebraska border. The area is served by two airports: one in Holyoke has a 5,000-foot runway, tie-down service, lighted helicopter pad, PCL-VASI approach lights and a lighted runway; and the smaller airport of Haxtun boasts a 3,860-foot asphalt runway with lights.

Motels are a premium in the region, with only 58 rooms servicing the two towns. However, most of the rooms permit hunting dogs, which are almost mandatory in this region! Try the Haxtun Inn, a bed and breakfast with an attached restaurant, at (970) 774-4900, the Golden Plains Motel in Holyoke at (800) 643-0451, the Cedar Inn in Holyoke at (877) 792-5545, or the Burge Motel at (970) 854-2261. The Phillips County Fairgrounds, (970) 854-3778, has camping sites and RV hook-ups, as does the Harvest Park, (970) 774-6104, in Haxtun. Additionally, the Cedar Inn has RV sites, as does the Holyoke Mobile & RV Park (970) 854-4302. Local dining includes the Haxtun Inn, The Skillet, Schmidt's and several chain restaurants, such as Taco John and Subway.

Although Holyoke is a fairly small community, the town has a library, a 9-hole golf course, indoor swimming pools, a movie theatre, a race track and horse arena, as well as fishing at the Gun Club Lake and Lions Club Fishin' Pond. In addition, the north edge of the Denver Metro complex is a mere two hours away.

NEWS WORTH KNOWING


Check these pheasant-hunting regulations before hunting this fall.



Arizona — New for 2004: All pheasants must be tagged. The bag limit is two roosters taken with shotgun in Area 40B (Yuma Valley, west of East Main Canal). Hunt permit/tags are issued through drawing only and must be paired with a Class F, G or H license. Try http://www.gf.state.az.us/.



Colorado — Units east and west of I-25 have different closing dates. Hunting hours are a half-hour before sunrise to sunset. Daily bag/possession limits are three and nine roosters, respectively. Lead shot may be used. Check http://www.wildlife.state.co.us or call (303) 297-1192 for details.



Idaho — Standard bag (3) and possession (6) limits apply to a single permit. Multiple permits may be purchased. Idaho continues its tradition of a noon opening time in Areas 2 and 3. Lead shot is allowed, and dogs do not require a separate permit. Try http://www.fishandgam

e.idaho.gov.



Montana — Three and nine birds remain the limits. Hunters between ages 15 and 61 need a conservation license and upland bird license. Hunters 12-14 and over 62 need only a conservation license. There are no additional restrictions on lead shot or the use of dogs. Try http://www.fwp.state.mt.us.



Nevada — Daily bag/possession limits are two and four. Some regulations changes are under discussion, including rules governing game hunting preserves. Visit http://www.ndow.org.



Wyoming — Non-toxic shot and an outer garment of fluorescent orange are required. Bag and possession limits differ by area; only one limit may be taken, regardless of the number of hunt areas visited. The largest possession limit may be utilized. Shooting hours are a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset, except as noted. Visit http://gf.state.wy.us for opening dates. — Cathy L. Clamp

 

MONTANA

The droughts of the previous few years relented a bit last year, but the winter snows "knocked the stuffing" out of Montana's pheasant population, according to Andrew McKean of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. "We estimate that we lost half of our adult population. But fortunately, we had a high number of birds, so the damage isn't as bad as it could have been. There's a lot of land, and a lot of birds."

It's because of the MDFWP that hunters have millions of acres of private land to hunt. More and more landowners are enrolling in Montana's Block Management Program, one of the most successful hunting access plans in the country. With nearly 65 percent of the state's land held in private ownership, FWP has worked hard to provide benefits to both the hunters of the state and the landowners. Through a series of reimbursement programs, such as the Block Management Program, Access Montana, the Upland Game Bird Release Program, Livestock Loss Reimbursement Program, Game Damage Program and Special Landowner licensing, the MDFWP has ensured that both sides win when it comes to fishing, upland game birds and big-game hunting.

Several areas still have good populations, according to the spring crow count. In addition to Region 4's Great Falls, recommended by Harold Wentland of MDFWP, the best hope for success is in Plentywood.

The county seat of Sheridan County is in the northeast section of the state, in Region 6. Plentywood has a lot to offer hunters. "There are always birds up here, some years more than others. But this year looks to be really good." stated Lowell Young of Hi-Line Sports in Plentywood, which sells guns, ammo and licenses. When asked for a specific hotspot in the region, he said, "I'd say that for someone who has never been here, Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge has some fine hunting."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the refuge in conjunction with the MDFWP. However, because it is a national wildlife refuge, non-toxic shot must be used for all bird hunting there. Hunting was considered excellent last year due to the previous mild winter, and experts are excited about the prospects for the 2004-05 season. A local Pheasants Unlimited chapter has worked hard to enhance the region's already excellent hunting.

One important note to keep in mind: The U.S. Patriot Act has come to Montana. Visitors to Plentywood from Canada must apply for a permit to brings guns and ammunition into the country about 10 to 12 weeks in advance, and they must provide exact dates of travel. You can download the necessary forms at: http://www.atf.treas.gov/forms/pdfs/f53303a.pdf. U.S. visitors should also be aware that trips to Canada must likewise be scheduled.

Located in the extreme northeast corner of the state, Plentywood is about the same distance from North Dakota (24 miles) as from the Canadian border (18 miles). You can take U.S. Highway 85 to Culbertson and travel north on Montana Highway 16 to reach the town, or reach it from the west on Montana State Highway 5. Small plane service is available at the Sherwood Airport, about one mile northeast of the city, which boasts more than one paved runway, the longest of which is 3,900 feet.

Rooms are scarce in this town of 2,061 people, but the Sherwood Inn has singles, doubles and even rooms for VIPs and handicapped hunters. They can be reached at (406) 765-2810. Restaurants include Cousins Family Restaurant, Dr. DeBelle's Kitchen, Laura Belle's and Ferge's Pizza, among others.

Try stopping by the Sheridan County Museum for an interesting visit to see the state's longest mural. Painted by local artist Bob Southland on a single sheet of stretched canvas, it measures 74 feet long by 4 feet high and depicts the entire history of the county, beginning with the state's earliest Native Americans.

IDAHO

Don Kemner, with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, says the state will increase the number of planted birds this year. "Last year, we released about 8,500 birds over our 10 (wildlife management areas). This year, we're increasing that number to 16,000."

That's good news for hunters.

"By releasing more birds, we're not only increasing the hunting potential, but we're hopeful that some might actually winter over," added Holly Miyasaki, regional wildlife biologist for the Emmett area. In addition to the WMAs, over 90,000 acres of private land have been enrolled in the department's 4-year-old access program, Access Yes! Ultimately, IDFG plans to enroll 1 million acres of land for hunting and fishing, including access to previously landlocked public land. One local hotspot was in last year's enrollment. Miyasaki was willing to share that the Brushy Creek area north of town should hold a good population of birds this year.

Emmett is about 25 miles northwest of Boise, in the southwest corner of the state. It is about a half-hour from the Oregon state line and is easily reached on either Idaho State Highway 52 (east/west) or 16 (north/south). Multiple airlines service the Boise area with both national and commuter flights.

This small town of nearly 6,000 has only a few motels, due to the proximity to the Boise complex. Try a local bed and breakfast, the Frozen Dog Digs, at (208) 365-7372, or the Holiday Motel, at (208) 365-4479. There are also two RV parks near town. Capital Trailer Park can handle the largest RV or trailer home at (208) 365-3889, and Emmett Valley RV Park has all the amenities a camper will need, at (208) 365-3399. Restaurants include Emmett Chinese Caf?, a popular Mexican restaurant called La Costa, Pizza Factory and Mocha Boy, a coffee bar that serves pastries and lunch.

There are a surprising number of things to do in Emmett. Local entertainment includes a movie theater, bowling alley, three athletic clubs, a municipal golf course and a community playhouse, as well as libraries and watering holes.

ARIZONA

The state's attempts to establish pheasants in the 1960s and 1970s succeeded in only a few small agricultural areas with relatively high humidity, including the citrus orchards of Yuma and Mesa, and the Virgin River and Verde River valleys. However, for hunters seeking a desert settin

g, a private preserve called Pheasant Recreation, in Coolidge (between Phoenix and Tucson), offers just that.

The club provides guests with bird dogs and handlers (or you can bring your own), optional bird cleaning and a clubhouse to relax in after the hunt. Chukar hunting and dog training is also available. According to owner Bob Henson, the preserve has some of the best hunting environment in Arizona for upland and migratory bird shooting. Contact this licensed guide at (520) 723-7234 or http://www.pheasantrec.com.

NEVADA

Gregg Tanner of the Nevada Department of Wildlife is hoping that the 2004 season will be good. Both he and Elmer Bull, Wildlife Area Supervisor, recommend the Yerington region, which offers quail and chukar in addition to pheasants. A $10 upland stamp must be purchased in addition to a small game license.

UTAH/WYOMING

The drought hasn't been kind to ringnecks in these two states, and officials couldn't give any indication that there were sufficient bird populations to justify a visit this year. Keep your fingers crossed for rain and mild winters, and perhaps next year the birds will be back.



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