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Scott Rall: Researchers are nice people, too

SCOTT RALL Daily Globe outdoors columnist Christmas is just past and the New Year is only two days away. AAA reported that this Christmas there were more people on the road than at any time in the past 10 years. Family, food, friends and the Chri...

SCOTT RALL

Daily Globe outdoors columnist

Christmas is just past and the New Year is only two days away.  AAA reported that this Christmas there were more people on the road than at any time in the past 10 years.

Family, food, friends and the Christmas rush is now a just a memory.  I hope your holiday was everything you hoped it would be.

I spent a few days with my son Brandon the week before Christmas in the same place as last year.  I traveled to McCook, Neb., to hunt with my boy and a few friends.  

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I took Scott Roemhildt and Ken Reed along on this outdoor adventure.  Brandon is an airplane mechanic at the Denver International Airport.  He works seven consecutive 12-hour shifts on and then has the next seven days off.

All of these are night hours. The week before our trip he even logged 40 hours of overtime in that week.

His seven year old Labrador, Stryker, could not be in his apartment for these extended time frames, so Brandon brought the dog home and left him with me for the indefinite future.

By heading to McCook I could bring his dog along and he and I could spend some time in the field with him.  It was a great time and one I will certainly repeat. Brandon loved his time with his dog companion very much, as well. I don't who was harder to say goodbye to, the dog or me.

Last year when we were hunting in this area, we were visited by a gal doing some research for the Nebraska Game Fish and Parks Department.  She was recording how many hunters used each parcel of land open to public hunting and how much game they harvested.  She was very pleasant and we saw her several times over the three days we spent there.

We expected to see a person like this again and we did,  but we also met other folks who were working on a much different research project.

Scott Roemhildt works for the Minnesota DNR and is in charge of the Walk In Area Access Program in our home state. In his calls to try to find the best hunting spots, he met a gal named Kathryn Sliwa. I met her as well and visited with her at length about what she was doing in Nebraska over a couple of cold ones at the local watering hole one night following a day’s hunt.

She was a native of New Jersey and had a degree in Conservation and Wildlife management.  She landed this job just out of school and traveled halfway across North America to pursue her career.

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Her research is too in-depth to fully explain here, but it centered around the human aspects of pheasant hunting -- how hunters use and interact on public lands.  Her research was to help determine how hunters used the six specific study sites she was assigned to. There was about 45 public land sites within a 30-mile radius of her station.

She monitored 30 trail cameras mounted about 15 feet off the ground on high line poles that took a photo every five minutes to determine how much use each spot received and by how many hunters. If she could locate a hunter just as they were starting their hunt she would ask the hunter to wear a GPS watch so she could track where hunters went on each spot.  It even monitored the heart rate of the hunter.

Some elements of the general fitness of participants could be measured to see how strenuous the land is.  In addition, she gave us a Go-Pro Camera to attach to a special dog vest for one of our dogs to wear. It allowed the researcher to see where the dogs went compared to their human hunting partner.  She could track miles and distance of each dog/hunter and record the data. Brandon's dog Stryker was the fashion model for that day.

The participants were sent the video of the dog footage for their viewing pleasure.

Some of the effort here was to determine what kind of cover a public lands hunter will use. Do the sites with light cover get more hunting pressure than those with harder-to-walk heavier cover?  Are there spots on these lands that nobody hunted on at all? What kinds of cover had the most harvest success?  

This information might help Nebraska Game Fish and Parks decide what kinds of private lands they should pursue for additional acres in the program. It can also possibly factor into whether to renew some of the current parcel contacts when they expire.  

All this research effort is part of a multi-year project. There are more than just a few folks wandering around the state.  This is a big deal, and there are many thousands of dollars being invested in it.

We also saw a guy walking around with what looked like an old TV antenna attached to a six-foot long pole.  I knew right away he was doing a telemetry tracking effort.  

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This is where they tag a bird and then use tracking equipment to find the exact location of the bird again at a later time. They had tagged over 100 hens and roosters and were detailing where they feed, roosted and loafed.  It allowed the ability to find and flush the bird at a later date to determine what kinds of cover the birds preferred at different times of the year and to determine the causes of their mortality. This researcher’s name was Dave Moscicki.

It amazed me how many birds died. After tagging 120 birds in only a few months there were less than 60 percent of them left. I was told that whatever the population is after the hatch, it is reduced by almost 70 percent over the next twelve months.

Pheasants need good habitat to thrive when losses are so high every year.

They even placed temperature pods in the roost sites to measure temperatures in that spot over the next 24-48 hours. Random samples of other habitats within a short distance from the roost were also inspected.  This brings to light what kinds of habitats birds prefer and how these different habitat types perform over a variety of factors.

My interaction with these wildlife professionals showed me that research is a very broad category and it includes both researching the human elements of hunting and the general wildlife ecology of many different species.

Other projects Kathryn had worked on include loggerhead sea turtles and other marine wildlife.  She showed me some super neat pictures of different sea turtles and also expressed an interest in doing bear research as her dream job.  I told her there were lots of bears in Minnesota and promised to pass on her name and contact information to my friends in the Minnesota DNR.  Who knows, maybe Kathryn will end up in Minnesota doing what she loves.

The hunting success was about what we expected.  We harvested about one bird per hunter per day.  Most of those were bobwhite quail, and you can't find them in Minnesota.

We found no skunks and no porcupines. This was a bonus.

When we left Minnesota on a Sunday morning it was 27 degrees below zero.  Eight hours later in McCook it was 27 degrees above.

The average high temperature in McCook in December is 41 degrees.  The average high temperature in January is 40 degrees. Some folks go to Mexico when it gets cold and other die-hard bird hunters just go to Nebraska. If this is a trip you would like to take contact me at scottarall@gmail.com and I will be glad to share the details of this hunt with you.  

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