Pheasants Forever is dedicated to the conservation of pheasants, quail and other wildlife through habitat improvements, public awareness, education and land management policies and programs.
– Pheasants Forever Mission Statement
There were pheasants forever just outside the little town where we hunt in South Dakota. There was cackling throughout the days, mornings, and evenings, and thundering out of the fields as the dogs forged ahead. A few newcomers where there and fared well, even as hens and roosters exploded underfoot and into the endless blue sky. It’s a trip we look forward to year in and year out, and this year the excitement only grew when the report came out that pheasant numbers in South Dakota had increased by 76 percent. Pheasants Forever was mostly responsible for that excitement.
Since 1982, Pheasants Forever has been doing more for the ring-necked pheasant than any other organization, hence the name. Later on, in 1983, they held their first banquet in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and were able to raise some money and awareness for the conservation of the pheasant. And the organization continued to grow from there. By 1985 there were 12 chapters and one thousand members, and the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) was established. Pheasants Forever was very instrumental in setting the program up, which allows, and pays, mind you, farmers to set aside land to conserve wildlife habitat. Today, the organization boasts over 125,000 members and 600 chapters across the United States and Canada.
To the milo, corn, and sage fields we went and from time to time the pheasants exploded like coveys of quail. The temperatures were a bit mild, but I’ve never complained about hot weather, not really an enthusiast of the cold. My friend, Lucy, brought her Lab, Duke. He’d never so much as sniffed a pheasant, but dove in headlong and kept pace with the landowner’s dog, much the way Lyle’s Lab, Bella, did last year. (Lyle stayed home in Alabama with a sore tooth. Feel free to make your own opinions.) A good dog, one that you hardly have to train, is something of a miracle—one of life’s little gifts to the individual that draws the lucky pup.
One thing that impressed me most about this year was the sheer number of hens. I’d say there were easily four hens to every rooster. For those of you (and me until recently) who are unaware of the evolution of the pheasant in our country, it dates back to the late 1800s when an Oregon man serving as the US consul to China, shipped 30 ring-necked pheasants to his home in the Willamette Valley. Hardly 11 years later, a season was opened and hunters killed some 50,000 birds.
With the allotment of CRP, pheasants are given a better chance to endure the harsh winters of the Midwest, and further north and west, by seeking shelter in the standing rows of evergreen trees—mostly cedar, called windrows. In fact, we pushed one windrow that housed more rabbits than I have ever seen in my entire life—I swear I saw Br’er Rabbit leaning against a cedar bough chuckling at me as I walked by incessantly yelling, “Up bird!” It wasn’t short of pheasants either.
The limits we got each day didn’t really matter all that much at the end of the trip, although the pheasants we’ve eaten since returning home sure have been a nice treat. There have been years when we’ve made the trip out to the Midwest and come home nearly empty-handed in the bird department. But I don’t think Pheasants Forever was such a valuable component to conservation at the time either. CRP wasn’t as readily available as it is today. Studies have shown that without CRP, grassland bird populations in the Prairie Pothole region might have declined anywhere from two to fifty two percent.
Even though I’m based in the Southeast, where the only cackling you might hear is at a preserve or a local tea party, I still support Pheasants Forever as much as possible, even if that’s just a few dollars here and there. Same with Ducks Unlimited. I don’t kill ducks on my little farm here in southern Tennessee, but the one or two times I go each year, whether that be Arkansas or wherever, I don’t mind watching a couple big flocks of mallards set their wings over the decoys. It’s because of these organizations that we as hunters are able to expand our reach, see new places, and hunt game that we wouldn’t ordinarily have the opportunity to find at home. If you can, plan your trip when there’s a PF banquet somewhere close by. I’ve been to one, and for those of you who know me, well, I can tell you the folks of the Midwest, the home to so many of the beautiful ring-necked pheasants, is also the home to some of the most gracious and kind people in the country.
For more information, visit PheasantsForever.org.
Image by Lucy Mahon