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What is CRP and What Does It Do for Me as Bird Hunter?

Decoding the acronym that's always tossed around in the bird hunting community.

What is CRP and What Does It Do for Me as Bird Hunter?

The CRP program is a volunteer-based conservation collaboration between private landowners and the USDA. (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

CRP. It’s a noun, a bird hunter’s buzzword, and for many, a lifestyle. It’s one of the most widely used acronyms in the upland hunting community. You’ve likely heard it a thousand times or more on your favorite podcasts, Facebook forums, and at the last Pheasants Forever banquet you attended. By now, you’ve probably deciphered that CRP stands for Conservation Reserve Program, and you know that it has something to do with habitat and upland birds. But what exactly is CRP land, and how can it help you bag more birds on your next hunt?


An Ecologically-Focused Agreement

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is administered by the Farm Services Agency (FSA), an agency within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The FSA is in place to directly assist farmers, ranchers, and agricultural partners with farm programs across the country. CRP, simply put, is a program where landowners are paid to make bird cover—ok, maybe it’s not that simple, but let me elaborate. In CRP, landowners remove portions of their land from agricultural production (land that is ecologically sensitive or contains specific plant species that would otherwise improve environmental health), in exchange for a yearly rental payment or cost-share assistance. Landowners must meet certain criteria for enrollment and these contracts are implemented for 10 to 15 years in length. The long-term goal of the program is to protect and restore valuable land cover to reduce erosion, improve water quality, and to provide wildlife with productive habitat.

As an environment-first program focused on aggressively combating climate change, CRP continues to update, evolve, and offer higher payments to incentivize landowners to enroll. This conservation collaboration is one the largest private land programs in the United States, and hinges upon complete volunteer participation from farmers, ranchers, and landowners. In order to streamline specific conservation objectives, the USDA has divided CRP into several subseries, with a few key components that are of particular interest to bird hunters.

crp land
In many places throughout upland bird country, CRP typically looks like overgrown fields, brushy hedgerows, thickets, or wetland edges. (Photo By: precinbe/Shutterstock.com)

Find Your Safe Space

One of these subsets is the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) initiative. SAFE aims to enhance important wildlife populations through creating critical habitat and food sources. Game bird species targeted by SAFE include those designated by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as threatened or endangered, such as the lesser prairie chicken, and those suffering population decline like the bobwhite quail, among others.

The SAFE initiative is working closely with states to identify populations of high priority, along with the sites and best practices that will have the most benefit. Much of this work is focused on disappearing wetlands, grasslands, and prairie habitats in the central part of the country. These restoration efforts include improving native habitat, restoring grasslands, and planting trees that offer protective cover for wildlife.

pointing dog retrieving a ring-necked pheasant
Aside from the many ecological benefits of creating diverse and healthy habitat, CRP land lends itself to becoming optimal upland bird habitat for bird hunters and their gun dogs. (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

Grassland CRP is another important subset. This section works exclusively with landowners to help protect grasslands, rangelands, and prairielands, while allowing farmers and ranchers to continue to graze, hay, and produce seeds. The main objective of this program is to preserve the integrity of the grassland ecosystem and mitigate the encroachment of shrubs and forbs.

And waterfowl hunters, don’t feel like I’ve left you out. The Farmable Wetlands Program (FWP) was created to restore previously farmed wetlands and wetland buffers to their natural state. FWP seeks to improve water quality, reduce soil erosion, decrease flood impacts, and provide habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife. These efforts are vitally important in providing healthy wetlands for the prairie pothole region that produces a signification portion of the duck population for the entire continent!

How to Find and Hunt CRP 

As of April 2022, there are over 315,000 farms with approximately 22.1 million acres of land in CRP—finding good ground to hunt shouldn’t be that hard. While most of these acres are located in the central “breadbasket” region of the USA, most states have at least some land enrolled in CRP. CLICK HERE to read the latest report and find out what’s happening in your neck of the woods.

united states map of the crp conservation reserve program
A map of the United States and those private lands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program as of April 2022. (Photo courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture)

I’m sure you’ve kept scrolling down and hoped I’d be sharing a detailed map of the bird-rich CRP fields in your area. Unfortunately, because of private property and other privacy laws, publicly locating CRP information is not super easy. And in the same way that no one is going to give up their secret covert, you may have to work a little bit to find CRP land. While I can’t give you a CRP map or comprehensive landowner listing for your exact location, be sure to check public land access programs with your state wildlife agency, as there’s a chance that CRP landowners are also participating in privately-owned public access programs.

Editor’s Tip: Test out the public land layers on your Onx Map to light up private land parcels that are open to hunting. Try it and cross your fingers as you may strike it rich and find CRP areas in those layers.

screenshot of onx hunt maps showing plots crp lands
OnX Hunt mobile app showing CRP land.

If you’re the get-after-it type, just go burn some gas, lace up your boots, and put your eyes on likely CRP cover. Knock on doors and start talking to the farmers and ranchers in your area about any land they may have enrolled in the program and go about making a plan to hunt it. Every state has different private land access laws, including those for unposted land, so be sure to familiarize yourself with the local laws to avoid trespassing, and always respect private property.

Once you’ve pinned down a CRP plot, it’s time to go exploring. As you can imagine, those difficult-to-farm places make perfect additions to CRP and become bona fide bird covers. Key in on low-lying areas adjacent to wetlands and waterways, and focus on overgrown edges and brushy corners. Birds could be using CRP for any number of reasons including roosting, loafing, feeding, escaping, or traveling between other areas. Overall, your general strategy for hunting a cover applies here just like anywhere else.

As mentioned earlier, the CRP program is wholly based on landowners volunteering to participate. Be sure to treat this private land paradise with respect and thank a farmer for helping to put food on your table—in both the produce bin at the market, and a wild bird in the game bag.


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