Another Fine Covert Bites The Dust

It’s pheasant season, the ringnecks are cackling and flying and life is good; yet, sadly, some of my favorite coverts — thick, thorny, productive tangles I’ve plowed through regularly for 40 years — have become inundated with unfamiliar hunters, many from far away, a relatively new development.

It’s perfectly alright that “outsiders” find their way to the public, state-owned coverts on which all are not only welcome but directed by online maps that can be printed and stored in glove boxes or console compartments. But when new hunters and strange vehicles start spilling over into adjacent private land owned by folks who have always permitted their friends, classmates, teammates and neighbors to hunt — often stopping on fine fall days for warm conversation — well, let’s just say the owners are not always so welcoming to folks they’re meeting for the first time, strangers taking the liberties they’ve seen from afar other folks with personal connections take.

Hunters should know it’s never safe to assume that just because you see a vehicle parked out at the back of someone’s hayfield that everyone has the same privileges. Upon discovering a new place to hunt, it’s always best to find out who owns the property, seek out that owner, introduce yourself, ask permission and learn the ground rules, asking considerate questions like, “Is there anywhere you don’t want me to hunt or park?” By making bold assumptions and driving across private land like it’s yours, you can ultimately ruin it for everyone.

Truth be told, I’ve suspected for the past couple of years, judging from what I’d seen in passing, that things were about to change on a rich wetland where my roots lie deep; and I even went so far as to warn a couple people to be careful as I reduced my own presence and waited for the changes to unfold. Then, a little more than a month ago at an archaeological dig bordering ancient family acreage, a man with indisputable insight warned me it was coming.  I quickly reiterated my warning to a few friends and have intentionally stayed away this year since the season opened. Well, sure enough, Wednesday morning the inevitable phone call finally came. Yes indeed, one of the folks I had warned, a friend who had met the owners several times in my company, visited the site Tuesday afternoon, couldn’t find a parking place at the adjacent state covert, drove over the hump to the contiguous private covert and immediately noticed four trucks parked out along the brook cutting a vast hayfield in half. When he and his companion ventured out to see who was hunting and how they’d done, they found a band of unfamiliar orange-clad hunters milling about by their vehicles, stopped briefly to chat and departed for a different spot. Then, on the way out, they were flagged down by the landowner and politely asked who they were and where they were from before being informed that, unfortunately, times were going to change on the covert. In my opinion, posting was inevitable there. I sensed it coming long ago as more and more people found their way to the private side of the covert, and honestly, although I may sound provincial, I can’t say I blame them. If I owned it, I’d want to know who was hunting on my property, and if I wasn’t comfortable with the crowd, I’d put an end to it, too.

What’s interesting is that quite by accident I played a role in this sad development. Years ago, a fellow Frontier graduate was serving as Connecticut Valley Wildlife District game manager in charge of our pheasant-stocking and we were making small talk on the phone about “local” coverts we both knew well. During the friendly chat, it dawned on me to ask a question I had wanted answered for many years. That is: did they stock the place I called Balboni’s, an overgrown hayfield that had been very good to me over the years? I had hunted there for many years, primarily for woodcock and grouse, but knew pheasants always found their way to the covert as the season progressed. When he said, no, they never stocked property without the owner’s permission, I opined that the owner would have no problem with stocking it. Well, lo and behold, the man looked into the site, discovered it was for sale, tipped off the MassWildlife land-acquisition agent and the rest is history. Yes, the state promptly bought the parcel, a natural wildlife and wildflower refuge it soon “put on the map” as a Wildlife Management Area that has for 10 years or more attracted more and more hunters each year.

Talk about cycles, or maybe chickens coming home to roost. For years I’d wait a few weeks for that field to fill up with stocked pheasants from the nearby private covert, then visit it daily over the last half of the season, when I had it pretty-much to myself. Now, I suspect that just the opposite scenario will soon unfold, with the hunting pressure shifting exclusively to the public covert, which cannot hold many hunters at once, and many of the pheasants that escape them ending up over on the private posted covert t’other side, separated by a dense, wet, impenetrable alder swamp flooded by beavers. That dense wetland used to be huntable, holding many grouse and woodcock, but the vegetation is now older, taller, thicker, thornier and, even worse, much of it is underwater. But game birds can still find dry pockets of unhuntable jungle refuge full of nourishing seeds and berries.

My guess is that soon the private land will be legally posted, and thus no longer stocked but full of pheasants that will be out of play for most  hunters. In my mind, it was inevitable. I clearly saw it coming. Only a blind man could have missed it. Streams of out-of-town hunters and vehicles are seldom welcome to landowners.

And so, yes, another good covert bites the dust.

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