The ringneck pheasant is a highly prized game bird and some hunters consider a wild, fair chase pheasant the best of all.
Chris Hitzeman, shown in one of the food plots on his farm, strives to produce the right mix of food sources and nesting, brood raising and winter cover to produce a high concentration of wild, fair chase pheasants. He has about 60 acres of food plots on the 700-acre farm.
BIRDS AND BEES
Different types of food plots are needed for pheasants to thrive. This pollinator habitat is an excellent feeding ground for young pheasants. The flowering plants not only attract pollinators, but other insects that are part of pheasants’ diets.
Hitzeman points to the cover crops he plants between corn rows in food plots. He modified a double disk grain drill to plant corn in 30-inch rows and to plant cover crops in three 7 ½ -inch rows between the corn. The corn provides the grain that roosters prefer in the fall and winter. The cover crops provide the cover that they can hide from predators and hunters in. Hitzeman rotates crop species in food plots like he rotates cash grain and oil seed crops. He is also experimenting with “chemical mowing” of interseeded cover crops. It’s the application of low rates of herbicide (Roundup in Roundup Ready corn, for example) to set back the cover crop and let the corn get ahead of competition and produce more grain. Chemical mowing is a labeled use.
Hitzeman has enrolled eligible land on his farm into the Conservation Reserve Program, He and the Natural Resources Conservation Services created grass planting mixes to provide light- and heavy-cover. Hitzeman has to manage the CRP intensively to get the desired results. He uses controlled burns, mowing and herbicide applications to set back some species and spur the growth of others.
Wetlands aren’t just for waterfowl on Hitzeman’s farm. He also likes to see cattails around wetlands and in the sloughs because they provide excellent winter cover for pheasants. Pheasants move only 1-2 miles during their lives, he says, and he is trying to provide the habitat and food sources they need to stay his farm year-round.
The bunkhouse that hunters stay in on Hitzeman’s farm used to be part of a cattle shed. Hitzeman creates a deer camp atmosphere in his UGuide pheasant camp. “Lots of hunters say, ‘I have my own dogs, I know how to hunt, and I just need a map and some directions and to be left alone to hunt the way I want to hunt.’ So that’s what we do,” Hitzeman says.
Hitzeman checks for soil compaction in one of his soybeans fields. He farms the cropland in partnership with the Lakeview Hutterite Colony. They no-till and rotate corn, soybeans and winter wheat, and they plant cover crops. Hitzeman and the colony are trying to produce profitable, sustainable yields; protect the soil from erosion; improve soil health; and provide nesting and winter cover for pheasants.
Hitzeman holds a plug of soil he dug up from grassland. Converting the formerly conventional tilled cropland to grassland has improved the soil structure and increased the amount of precipitation that the soil absorbs, he says.
Hitzeman rides an electric, fat-tire bicycle to check fields on his farm. It has less impact on the land than a pickup, tractor or ATV; makes no noise — a plus when you don't want to scare pheasants or deer, he says — and it costs a fraction of how what an ATV or tractor would to own and operate.
Hitzeman is a former information technology consultant who bought his farm so he had a place to hunt. He then developed the UGuide business model for his farm and several others in the UGuide network. “Our hunters fully understand and appreciate that we are not in the retail lodging business or the full-service outfitter business. We are in the habitat-that-naturally-produces-a-lot-of-fair-chase-pheasants business,” he says. For more information, see uguidesdpheasants.com.