NEBRASKAland July 2017

NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to outstanding photography and informative writing with an engaging mix of articles and photos highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parklands, wildlife, history and people.

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64 NEBRASKAland • JULY 2017 W hen pursuing ring-necked pheasants and other upland game birds, hunters often find success by keying on what farmers have been growing in their fields. As no coincidence, many of the best locations will be humming with combine harvesters this month. John Laux, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission upland habitat and access program manager, said pheasants and other upland game birds thrive in areas of the state with abundant small grains, namely wheat and milo. "The presence of winter wheat on the landscape is a huge driver of pheasant abundance in Nebraska, there's no doubt," Laux said. "If you lay out a map showing acres planted to wheat, it pretty much mirrors the areas with our highest pheasant densities." Research conducted by the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln reinforces this observation. Researchers found that areas of the state with abundant small grains and fewer trees tend to support higher pheasant densities. In Nebraska, most of those small grain acres are in wheat. Laux said wheat can provide suitable cover for pheasants throughout the year but its value during the nesting season is what really sets it apart. "Unlike corn and soybeans, winter wheat is well-established by late April or early May and remains undisturbed throughout much of the nesting season. If the wheat crop is far enough along during nest initiation to provide overhead concealment from predators, they will nest it," he said. Winter wheat is not a preferred nesting cover compared to undisturbed grasslands such as those enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program. However, recent research has suggested that wheat complements these other forms of nesting cover and creates more usable space which, in turn, improves overall productivity. UNL researchers found a lower risk of nest predation in CRP fields with a greater proportion of wheat in the surrounding landscape. "Wheat increases the amount of area that predators have to search to find a nest," Laux said. "The more disked or fallow fields you have surrounding CRP fields, the higher the likelihood that predators will just key in on the CRP." Wheat harvest begins around the Fourth of July in the southwestern part Small Grains, Big Results Wheat may not be padding farmers' wallets these days, but it remains a major asset for making our state rich with pheasants. By Justin Haag PHOTOS BY JUSTIN HAAG Dan Lucht of Chadron shows off his limit of pheasants harvested during a walk through an Open Fields and Waters property north of Alliance.

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