January 29th, 2001

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Habitat Is The Key To Game Numbers

Bob Krumm

The last day of Wyoming's upland game bird season was really special for me. I finagled an invite to hunt some of the best bird habitat I have ever seen in the State. It seems that we were in pheasants most all of the day. The morning was a mix of bountiful sharp-tailed grouse and numerous pheasants.

If I could have hit my rear end with both hands I would have limited out in a couple of hours, but I missed the easy going away shots time after time. The pheasants I got were high, passing shots on cagey old birds that had gotten up wild and inadvertently passed too close to me.

The ground was covered with eight to 12 inches of snow yet there was plenty of cover - wheat grasses, orchard grass, bromes, cattails, chokecherry, wild plum, skunkbrush, willow, nanny berry, wild rose, and buffaloberry. Though we have experienced a tough winter already, the three pheasants I shot had gobs of fat. Not only were there plenty of birds, but also they were wintering well.

Why were there so many birds and why were they doing so well? I think it all can be attributed to the landowner. Though he runs a cattle operation, he has taken considerable effort to provide adequate habitat for the game birds on his property.

He has fenced the riparian areas along the two creeks that flow through his property. His cattle still have access to the creeks at strategically placed water gaps. The brush and trees that provide shade and bank stability for the creeks are protected.

The rancher has encouraged beaver to create ponds on one of the creeks on the property. Wyoming Game & Fish personnel have worked with the landowner to transplant several beavers to the creek. The beaver are making great strides in providing marshlands, sediment reservoirs, and trout habitat.

Rest rotation and rotation grazing plans keep the orchard grass-brome grass-wheat grass pastures high and healthy.

According to Bert Jellison, Wyoming Game & Fish habitat biologist, the science-based grazing scheme used on the ranch is "quick and light." The cattle are put in on a pasture for two weeks or so and allowed to graze most of the leafy material. Then the cattle are moved to another pasture. The vegetation on the grazed pasture bounces back quickly leaving lots of residual cover.

"Residual cover is important for Wyoming's upland birds," states Jellison, "the bigger the bird, the more cover that is needed for it to nest successfully. Around here, pheasants, sage grouse, and mallards need lots of cover in order to bring off their clutches. The ranch's grazing scheme leaves lots of residual cover and enables the pheasants to be very successful."

Occasionally, the cattle are grazed in the riparian areas, usually winter time, to cut down on the amount of brush and to knock down thick grass growth.

The landowner has put in several stock ponds and reservoirs to promote better pasture utilization, provide waterfowl and game bird habitat, and provide for fisheries.

Deer hunters harvested 73 deer on the ranch this year so it is evident that not only do the game birds, fish, and waterfowl benefit from the land management practices, but the big game as well. (Elk, antelope, and moose utilize the property, too).

Perhaps you're thinking that this is all well and nice, but what is the point? Well, much of this work was done with grants from organizations like Ducks Unlimited, and Pheasants Forever. Other help came from the Federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, (NRCS) in the form of a Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) grant. These grants enabled the rancher to provide fish and wildlife habitat at a minimal cost.

With the proper help and guidance a ranch can be run for cattle and wildlife. They don't have to exclusive, but inclusive. If there is plenty of water and forage for the cattle, there can also be plenty for the wildlife and fish. ~ Bob Krumm

About Bob

Bob Krumm is a first-class guide who specializes on fishing the Big Horn River in Montana, (and if there is terrific fishing somewhere else he'll know about that too.) Bob has written several other fine articles for the Eye Of The Guides series here on FAOL. He is also a commericial fly tier who owns the Blue Quill Fly Company which will even do your custom tying! You can reach him at: 1-307-673-1505 or by email at: rkrumm@fiberpipe.net

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