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DNR hoping to boost bird populations

MUNCIE - Dale Smith of Anderson would love to go on more serious quail and pheasant hunts close to home in central Indiana.

Instead, Smith frequently travels to states such as Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and the Dakotas to hunt birds, since populations have been on the decline here in recent decades.

But local bird hunters may have reason to rejoice if a new program the state Department of Natural Resources boasts is effective.

Nearly $100,000 raised through the sale of state gamebird habitat stamps has been earmarked for use in the first year of the Priority Areas Gamebird Program, which began July 1. The DNR will use its resources with a goal of raising pheasant and quail habitat lands by 1,660 acres apiece.

The funds will go to help plant native grasses and shrubs, kill fescue, disc strips, rehabilitate fence rows and feather woodland edges on land enrolled in federal programs aimed at increasing habitat for local wildlife.

"Hopefully they'll avert back to their nature," said local farmer Bill Frazier, who bought 300 pheasants and 300 quail in an effort to raise populations on his farm off Ind. 28 in Hamilton Township. "If we can keep the predators and the hunters out, we can give them a chance to reproduce. We have feeders we're going to maintain year-long. I used to see them all the time as a kid but not anymore. I haven't seen any (pheasants) for years."

In the past, the DNR has used its yearly budget for population-boosting efforts all around Indiana. However, the state decided to take its 2004 budget and concentrate intensively on boosting quail and pheasant populations in key parts of the state where bird populations have been historically prevalent.

Emphasis for the pheasant program is in northeast Indiana in such areas as Newton, Jasper, Benton and parts of Tippecanoe counties. Conversely, the quail population-boosting program will be concentrated in parts of southern Indiana like Putnam, Sullivan and Ripley counties.

"There are guys like me and some others who are trying to get the populations up in this area," Sulphur Springs birdhunter Mark Holzinger said. "You don't want to hunt them, though, because the coyotes keep the population down. So it would be nice if the DNR gets involved again."

Mooreland hunter Eddie Manifold, who is in charge of hunt tests and field trials for the Greater Indianapolis Brittany Club, said he likes the true wild hunt the DNR sponsors in parts of northern Indiana such as Benton County.

"If they can do something along the same lines to help other places - that would be a big plus for the state of Indiana," Manifold said. "When they help (a program) out, it usually takes something else away. So I'm glad they're doing something to try and help people with bird dogs."

Ring-necked pheasants and bobwhite quail were once abundant in large sections of Indiana but have since fallen drastically due to technological changes in the farming industry, the planting of tall fescue grass and loss of habitat.

Populations peaked in the 1960s and 70s when 4 million acres of Hoosier farmland were enrolled in the farmland retirement program.

DNR private lands program manager Gary Langell said land enrolled in the decade-long conservation reserve program begins to lose its value for wildlife around the fourth year. The program is aimed at prolonging the life of such habitat lands and ensuring that farmers get the extra incentive and support needed to maintain their property.

"We want them to get in there and do mid-contract management," Langell said of enrollees in the conservation program. "Upkeep such as filter-stripping, field buffering and re-seeding so we can renew the benefits that land has."

While the DNR revitalizes its campaign to raise bird populations, at least one local hunter said he believes more people have become interested in bird hunting in the past few years.

"Man, bird-hunting is like a tradition," said Smith, who is about to start an East Central Indiana chapter of conservation group Pheasants Forever. "When birds start tapering off, people just stop hunting them because there are no birds to hunt. I would say it's picking up in recent years, but it's nothing compared to the 60s and 70s and even the early 80s. I can name 25 or 30 guys who have bird dogs and 20 years ago, no one had bird dogs."

It will be at least one year before the Department of Natural Resources will begin recording responses to see how many birds are nesting in the effected areas, Langell said.

Bird hunting in Indiana


Quail: Nov. 5 - Dec. 19 north of Ind. 26, Nov. 5-Jan. 15 south of Ind. 26

PHEASANT: Nov. 5-Dec. 19


QUAIL: five north of Ind. 26, eight south of Ind. 26.

PHEASANT: Two, male only; females legal to shoot only in put-and-take shoots in designated areas.


To learn more about the Department of Natural Resources' quail/pheasant program, go online to

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