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Scott Rall: Perseverance is required to get your roosters

BY SCOTT RALL The Globe outdoors columnist Things have been getting a little more difficult over the past few weeks when it comes to bagging a few roosters. Normally the hunting gets better the later in the season. All of the crops are gone and t...

BY SCOTT RALL

The Globe outdoors columnist

Things have been getting a little more difficult over the past few weeks when it comes to bagging a few roosters.

Normally the hunting gets better the later in the season. All of the crops are gone and the field work is done so the birds have fewer places to hide.

My experience this season is the opposite.  I saw and shot a few birds earlier, and as the season progresses the birds in the bag are getting harder to come by. I had a stretch of five outings on public land where I never shot the gun.

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I have several guesses as to why this might be happening. First is that the birds have moved.

Now this is not an original idea. Of course, the birds move from lighter cover to heavier cover as the temperatures drop. The problem this year is that I cannot follow them to where they went.

Cattails are a favorite of this crafty prey. Even before the wetlands freeze over, hens and roosters will fly out into the middle of a wetland and rest on either a muskrat hut or the stems of this cattail plant.

I often wonder how they can actually do this. When it’s warm I have seen hunters wear hip boots and just trudge across the middle of these spots flushing and shooting birds.

I am too old for this level of intensity. That is a young man or woman’s game.

Normally these same areas will freeze over and allow the hunters to walk on top of the ice. This is not the case this year. We have had some cold nights and the area lakes are freezing and then re-opening a few days later.

Wetlands on the other hand behave differently than a lake will. The sun’s rays warm up the stems of cattails and the heat transfers down their stems.  It makes the ice around their bases unstable.

Ice that can carry your weight on a lake might very well collapse in a wetland. The other issue is that with all of the moisture we had this fall the farm drainage tiles are still running, in some cases, almost at full speed. The moving water goes a long way to keeping the ice from getting thick enough to carry the footsteps of a hunter.

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We had just enough snow that the wind blew the white stuff into the wetlands, and the snow had not completely melted as I write this. Snow acts as an insulator and also keeps the ice from solidifying. So the birds are in the wetlands and they are safe there from me and all of the other hunters.

The number of other hunters that I am seeing seem to be fewer than last year. Pheasant hunters are a fickle sort.  There are those die-hard rooster chasers that will hunt even when bird numbers are low or even much lower. Many others will decide when the pheasant forecast comes out in early August whether they will buy a license or not.

It is important to know that hunting has very little effect on overall pheasant population. It takes only one rooster for each group of 42 hens to maintain a population.

One rooster for 24 hens will result in an increase in pheasant populations. In Minnesota there is usually about one rooster for every four hens left alive when the season closes around January 1.  

We could harvest an additional 50 percent of all of those surviving roosters and still have more than enough males to breed every available hen in the spring. Pheasant hunting harvests a very renewable resource of excess male birds from the population.

Hunting the males also reduces the competition for quality winter cover and available food resources. Roosters will actually out-compete hens for these two vital survival necessities. Fewer roosters during winter will actually increase the survival rate for hens.

So I shoot roosters for the benefit of the hens. That thorough process works for me.

The season is about half gone for this year. I will continue my walks in the tall grass at sunset and harvest a rooster or two when I can.

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The limit goes from two to three birds per day after December 1. They could make the limit 10 a day and it would not make any difference. These birds are already very smart and very wary. It is almost impossible to get within gun range of that many birds in a normal day.

Rooster chasing is my very favorite outdoor adventure. It looks like the snow will be here in grand fashion this weekend. A little is good and too much makes things way harder. When I came back to work today from lunch the Labradors at home where all clamoring at the gate as if to say “dad, we are ready to go”.

I told them I was, too. See you in the tall grass somewhere.

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