Posts Tagged ‘Kansas pheasant hunting’
Thursday, March 20th, 2014
Two factors are of critical importance to maintaining healthy pheasant populations: weather and available habitat. While these elements affect pheasants year-round, they’re highlighted annually as the harshest season comes to an end and pheasants begin their next reproductive cycle. A tough winter can certainly result in adult bird mortality, but the real key is getting healthy and strong hens into spring nesting season. Healthy hens lead to larger clutches of eggs, which adds up to more chicks headed toward autumn.
Generally speaking, the winter of 2013-2014 was toughest on pheasants and pheasant habitat in the Great Lakes region where heavy snows and bitter cold made for a long winter that continues despite the calendar turning to spring. Meanwhile, the Dakotas experienced a relatively mild winter, while the lack of snow accumulation across parts of the Great Plains has biologists concerned, the moisture being needed to restore habitat conditions following three years of drought. Here’s a state-by-state breakdown:
Editor’s Note: Additional states may be added as information becomes available.
While other regions of pheasant country experienced too much snowfall, it’s been the exact opposite in Colorado, where the state’s pheasant population has been tremendously suppressed by two years of extreme drought. “This winter has been drier than preferred in terms of the potential to rebuild soil moisture levels necessary to encourage development of this year’s nesting cover, brood cover and survival habitats,” says Ed Gorman, small game manager with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, “Residual nesting cover is very limited after successive drought years, which will likely force hens to nest in annually available habitats.” While pheasant survival has not been reduced by the few winter weather events that have occurred, Gorman says much more moisture is needed to improve the degraded habitat conditions, and a few more winter events, even if severe, would have been welcomed. “Recovery begins with significant precipitation (either rain or snow) that will allow habitat to recover.”
Northern Illinois counties (north of I-80) were hit with a lot of snow, some ice and very cold temperatures that kept the snow and ice on the ground for several months, according to Stan McTaggart, agriculture and grassland program manager with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. At first glance, those conditions indicate bad news for upland birds, but McTaggart isn’t rushing to judgment. “Preliminary observations from current research on two Pheasant Habitat Areas are showing surprisingly limited losses so far this winter. The generally good survival of birds in these areas may not be typical of all birds in Illinois as these study areas provide some of the best habitat in the state. Birds in marginal habitat may not have fared as well.” In what hopefully signals a trend going forward, McTaggart notes an uptick in enrollment in Illinois’ State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) program, which helps conserve upland habitat.
It’s been a tough winter for birds in Indiana, where the state recorded its sixth coldest winter and a top-three measurement of snowfall across the pheasant range of Indiana, according to N. Budd Veverka, Farmland Game Research Biologist with the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife.
Snowfall has been significant in northeast, north-central, and the east-central regions of Iowa, continuing an unprecedented run of snowy winters topping more than 30” of accumulation. History says that doesn’t bode well for the pheasant population, but that’s presuming a wetter-than-normal spring ensues, which is typical after a snowy winter. Areas that didn’t receive as much snow this year included the southwest and west-central regions of Iowa, according to Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Bogenschutz is optimistic that pheasant and quail numbers can improve in the southern half of the state this year, and the best bit of news is once continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) signups begin, 50,000 acres will be available through the Iowa Pheasant Recovery program.
Moisture is also the name of the game in Kansas, where precipitation this winter has been normal to below-normal depending on location. “Following three years of extreme drought across most of the state, spring precipitation will be necessary to replenish soil moisture and create adequate conditions for pheasant production,” says Jeff Prendergast, small game specialist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. While late summer 2013 rains improved habitat conditions slightly, winter wheat is important for providing nesting cover in Kansas, and as of last fall, 22 percent of winter wheat was rated poor to very poor, with just 34 percent rated good to excellent. On the habitat front, Prendergast says his department is working to concentrate additional resources into the two recently-established “Pheasant Focus Areas” in the state.
Like the other Great Lakes states, Michigan’s pheasants have suffered through a long winter. Pheasants Forever was excited to announce the addition of Bill Vander Zouwen earlier this month as our new regional representative for the state. Vander Zouwen brings 20 years of top level experience as the former wildlife section chief for the Wisconsin DNR. In his role with Pheasants Forever, Vander Zouwen will be focused on the Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative, which has a goal to reestablish pheasant habitat on key areas across the state.
Serious winter weather arrived early in Minnesota and hasn’t left yet. “This has been an extremely cold winter. Many areas have experienced more than 50 days with minimum air temperatures at or below 0°F,” says Nicole Davros, upland game project leader with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, “Snow drifts have filled all but the largest cattail marshes, so good winter cover has become more limited. Birds are taking advantage of food plots and are utilizing roadsides in areas where the snow has become too deep or crusted over.” Davros notes deep snow didn’t develop until late January, and the deepest snow depths occurred outside the state’s core pheasant range. And within that core range – west-central, southwest, and south-central areas of the state – strong winds helped keep fields open for feeding. While the winter has been tough at times, it pales in comparison to the 58,000 acres of undisturbed grassland habitat lost in the state’s pheasant range. To combat this acreage loss, Minnesota continues to permanently protect habitat through land acquisition via its voter-approved Legacy Amendment. Hunters will be happy to hear the state is also expanding its Walk-in Access (WIA) program from 28 to 35 counties in 2014.
Like points further north, Missouri’s winter was characterized by record lows and numerous large snowfall events, says Beth Emmerich, resource scientist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, who adds that because cover and food resources were impacted by the severe weather, she expects birds will be going into breeding condition in relatively poor condition.
While winter arrived early and a stretch of December included prolonged snow and cold, a warm-up in mid-January melted most of the snow in most of eastern Montana, and there’s been little snowfall since. “The lack of snow cover throughout most of the winter, current habitat conditions and an abundance of food mean pheasants have fared well throughout most of their range,” says Ryan Williamson, Region 6 upland game bird biologist for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks. While no firm prediction about the breeding season can be made yet, Williamson says if the mild winter continues and spring conditions play out favorably, it should be a good breeding season. “We often get late winter and early spring snow events that can delay nesting (as witnessed in the spring of 2011 and a little in 2013) but as of now, the winter shouldn’t have had a huge impact on the birds’ bodies or habitat conditions,” he says. Last year’s favorable weather generated some of the best habitat conditions in Montana in a long time, but while the quality improved, it’s the overall quantity that has upland game managers and hunters concerned. “. The largest impact right now on the landscape is the huge decrease in CRP acres across the state, particularly across northern Montana (Hi-Line),” Williamson says, “The CRP loss since 2010 is just over 1 million acres for the state, with more than 500,000 acres in the last year (2012-2013). Of those 500,000, almost 330,000 acres were across the Hi-Line.” Like other continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) practices across the country, landowners in Montana were very receptive to the state’s Pheasant and Prairie Pothole State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) programs, enrolling and using up the available allotment quickly and protecting habitat in the process.
The winter in Nebraska has been defined by cold. “There have been periodic snow events across the state, but nothing I would classify as devastating. I don’t expect a huge impact on pheasants, but it was very cold for long periods of time,” reports Dr. Jeffrey J. Lusk, Upland Game Program Manager with the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission. Nebraska’s pheasant population is still reeling from a double whammy of habitat loss and drought, but Lusk reports the southwest portion of the state – where pheasant abundance has typically been highest – is poised to bounce back provided there’s adequate moisture this spring to promote lush nesting habitat. It’s also in southwest Nebraska where Lusk says the state is looking more closely at a promising wheat-stubble incentive program. “During the drought, most successful hunters in the area reported hunting wheat stubble fields,” Lusk said, adding the study will be extended a few more years.
Winter started out early and extreme in December, but since then, pheasants have been spared from brutal conditions. “A lack of snow has provided many feeding areas, birds are able to feed on uplands, and little stress has been noted in birds because they can get to food,” reports Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor with the North Dakota Game & Fish Department. Snow cover may even be too low in some areas. “The lack of snow cover to date may set the stage for dry conditions throughout many counties in southwest North Dakota that were showing borderline drought conditions late last summer,” Kohn said, noting that snowfall in the state’s pheasant range is about 50 percent below normal. And at the northern edge of pheasant country, North Dakota hasn’t fully escaped winter’s wrath until May. “A big unknown will be weather conditions in this part of the country in the next six weeks,” Kohn says, “Late spring snowstorms can be a real problem with pheasants in March and early April.” While grassland conversion is continuing at a rapid pace in North Dakota, Kohn notes his department is promoting new habitat options for expired/expiring Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands, as the North Dakota Game & Fish Department has received a $1.9 million grant through the state’s Outdoor Heritage Fund to direct toward this effort.
Ohio pheasants took a hit this winter, which was a severe period featuring snowfall, long durations of snow cover and extreme cold. “Ohio pheasants undoubtedly struggled to find sufficient food and cover during this severe winter,” reports Mark Wiley, wildlife biologist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, “A typical Ohio winter has intermittent snow cover, which provides pheasants with ample opportunity to forage for waste grain and other seeds on the bare ground. This year, persistent snow cover likely forced pheasants to venture further from shelter in search of food, thereby increasing the risk of predation.” Wiley notes there is a habitat bright spot: More than 10,000 acres in the Ohio Pheasant State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) program will be available as a continuous signup practice as part of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), acres that will only be available within the primary pheasant range in the state.
South Dakota’s pheasant range has received only about 50 percent of its normal snowfall this winter, which is good news for the nation’s largest pheasant population. “Pheasant winter survival is higher when there is minimal snow cover such as this past winter,” says Travis Runia, lead pheasant biologist with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department, “The winter has not been stressful to pheasants this year and we expect that survival was higher than normal. Our population usually increases after winters with below normal snowfall, given nesting conditions are also favorable.” Runia notes a very severe blizzard did occur in the western quarter of South Dakota, which likely resulted in high mortality of pheasants outside their primary range, but in the rest of the state’s cattail sloughs and shelterbelts are providing excellent winter habitat due to the limited snow cover. With hopes turning to a productive breeding season, the state’s Pheasant Habitat Work Group, appointed by Governor Dennis Daugaard, continues its work. “The group is tasked with reviewing the many habitat-related comments received in conjunction with the Governor’s Pheasant Habitat Summit, which was held in December,” Runia says, “The group will deliver a report to the governor with a list of practical solutions to the many threats to pheasant habitat in the state by the summer of 2014.” With fingers crossed for a productive spring nesting season, South Dakota appears set for an autumn pheasant rebound.
Like their Viking neighbors to the west, “The Dairy State” has suffered through a long and cold winter. Pheasants Forever was excited by the embrace of the 21,000 people who attended National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic in Milwaukee this past February, demonstrating the state’s enthusiasm for the uplands. In particular, Pheasants Forever was encouraged by the 136 landowners representing 30,000 acres who visited the Landowner Habitat Help Desk for conservation assistance during the event.
Tuesday, July 9th, 2013
Lasting effects from the drought have carried into this pheasant nesting season as Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) nesting cover was reduced by last summer’s haying and grazing emergency. And winter wheat, the state’s most important cover for nesting pheasants, was slow to develop this spring due to the cool spring temperatures.
Though breeding populations remain higher than the long-term average in the state, the spring crowing count dropped 31 percent from 2012, according to Ed Gorman, Small Game Manager with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Gorman notes the nesting period appeared to be later than normal this spring, so only time will tell if pheasants will produce prolifically given slightly improved conditions as compared to 2012. Colorado’s proposed 2013-2014 pheasant hunting season is Saturday, November 9 through Friday, January 31, 2014.
Iowa pheasants are struggling to recover from a modern low population point, but on top of continued grassland habitat loss, the weather isn’t doing them any favors.
“This year, unfortunately, we are predicting a decline in bird numbers,” says Todd Bogenschutz, an Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Upland Wildlife Biologist. “Our pheasant population typically shows increases following mild winters and dry, warm springs. This past winter, while starting mild, ended with a vengeance.”
Many bird hunting enthusiasts were hoping a warm, dry spring would offset the snowy winter. Unfortunately this year’s nesting season (April/May) has been record-setting for cold temperatures and rainfall. Statewide, nesting season rainfall was 15.4 inches, and temperatures were 4.1 degrees cooler than normal. Iowa’s pheasant population has never seen a spring this wet since they were established in the state back in the 1920s.
Based on this weather data, Bogenschutz predicts Iowa’s statewide pheasant population will be lower than in 2012. However, Bogenschutz says the DNR’s August roadside survey is the best gauge of what populations are, and that report is available in mid-September.
Progress is being made on habitat for pheasants, says Bogenschutz. Iowa was awarded a new continuous Conservation Reserve Program practice targeted specifically for pheasants. The practice is called Iowa Pheasant Recovery (CP38) and 50,000 acres are available for enrollment statewide.
While other parts of pheasant country are recovering from the drought of 2012, Kansas isn’t one of them. In fact, as of mid-summer, all of western Kanas remained in an extreme-to-exceptional drought.
The drought is taking its toll on the pheasant population, as indicated by hunter harvest numbers. Last year, pheasant hunters bagged about 230,000 birds in the state, the lowest harvest in nearly six decades. And this year’s spring breeding population is extremely low. Spring crow counts were down 37 percent region-wide, according to Jim Pitman, Small Game Coordinator with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
“This is horrific compared to where we were just a few years ago,” says Pitman. “When you’re as low as we are this year, it means you’re pretty much going to have very low populations, even with good production. We just don’t have many birds out there.” Spring crow counts were down 40 percent in northwest Kansas, which still has the best bird numbers in the state. And losing nearly 185,000 CRP acres statewide in the last year was the last thing Kansas pheasants needed.
The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks’ annual brood count will be out in September and will provide a better idea of what the fall pheasant population will look like. The state’s 2013-2014 pheasant hunting season runs Saturday, November 9 through Friday, January 31, 2014.
Late-season snowstorms, a delayed green-up, and wet conditions during spring and summer definitely impacted the pheasant nesting season in Minnesota. “Many hens likely delayed nest initiation due to weather and habitat conditions or had to re-nest due to failed first attempts,” says Nicole Davros, Upland Game Project Leader with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, “The peak hatch normally occurs during June, but recent heavy rains may have decreased survival rates of chicks that did hatch during this timeframe.”
Quality pheasant habitat in Minnesota is at a premium right now, as the state has lost 164,000 CRP acres in the last year. “Conversion of native prairies and field tiling is occurring at a rapid pace across much of Minnesota’s farmland region, especially across the northern and western parts of Minnesota’s pheasant range,” Davros says. And many roadsides have already been mowed this nesting season for hay, further reducing nesting success.
On a bright note, Minnesota has expanded its Walk-in Access (WIA) program to 35 counties in 2013. “The WIA program targets parcels greater than 40 acres in size that are already enrolled in conservation programs such as CRP or Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM), although other high-quality habitats are also considered,” Davros said, adding that in 2013, a $3 WIA validation will be required when using WIAs. The validation will aid in determining WIA participation levels, which will help guide future funding and expansion efforts of the program. Results from Minnesota’s August Roadside Survey are typically available by Labor Day weekend. Minnesota’s 2013-2014 pheasant hunting season runs Saturday, October 12, 2013 through Wednesday, January 1, 2014.
In northeast Montana, spring crow counts were 15 percent above the 10-year average, these numbers certainly boosted by moderate winter conditions that resulted in low overwinter mortality. Spring nesting cover was dramatically improved by prolonged rains in late May and early June, so while early nesting was considered fair to good, conditions for re-nesting and late nests have been fantastic. In southeast Montana, spring crow counts are down 40 percent from last year’s all-time high counts. Carryover from last year’s drought resulted in hardly any residual cover for nesting birds, but early summer moisture events dramatically improved habitat conditions. Poor early nesting conditions combined with exceptional late nesting conditions create an average overall nesting outlook for southeast Montana. Montana’s 2013-2014 pheasant hunting season runs Saturday, October 12 through Wednesday, January 1, 2014.
Coming off an overall mild winter and a spring that helped to replenish some nesting cover following last year’s drought, Jeff Lusk, Jeff Lusk, Upland Game Program Manager, Nebraska Game & Parks Commission, remains optimistic that nesting production will be much improved this year.
That is, of course, where quality habitat remains, as more than 108,000 CRP acres in Nebraska were not re-enrolled in the program in the last year. And Lusk reports there were some regional severe winter weather events that could have adversely affected populations, particularly in areas hit hardest by the drought last summer.
Last year, 35,000 pheasant hunters in Nebraska harvested 120,785 roosters. Nebraska conducts a Rural Mail Carrier Survey in July to give hunters the best idea of what they can expect come open season. Results from that survey are available in August. Nebraska’s 2013-2014 pheasant hunting season runs Saturday, October 26 2013 through Friday, January, 31 2014.
Though North Dakota’s s spring crow count was down 11 percent statewide and 12 percent within its core pheasant range, Stan Kohn, Upland Game Management Supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, says late spring/early summer habitat conditions were excellent, leading him to predict a fair nesting outlook in the northern half of the state and a fair-to-good nesting outlook in the southern half.
Kohn says cool and wet weather in April and May likely caused some nest failures, but that June has been warm and dry so re-nesting efforts should have a chance. And though the early spring rains wreaked havoc on early nests, the moisture improved habitat conditions immensely.
Keeping upland habitat on the landscape in North Dakota remains the greatest challenge, evidenced by the nearly 630,000 CRP acres that weren’t re-enrolled in the program last year. Small but notable habitat success stories are the continuous CRP practices in North Dakota, the State Acres For wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) program and the Duck Nesting Habitat practice, as Kohn says interest in them from producers has been strong.
North Dakota’s walk-in hunting access program will drop by about 50,000 acres this autumn. Results from the state’s August Roadside Survey will be available in mid-September, and the pheasant hunting season opens on Saturday, October 12, 2013 (full season dates not yet determined).
The most telling statistic to come out of South Dakota this year isn’t weather related. “For the first time in two decades, less than 1 million acres of CRP grasslands will be available to nesting pheasants,” says Travis Runia, “The premier nesting cover has helped sustain high pheasant numbers since CRP was established in 1985.”
South Dakota has become ground-zero for accelerated upland habitat loss and Runia points out the conversion of non-CRP grassland (including native grassland) to cropland has exceeded even the CRP conversion rate, further reducing available nesting cover.
On top of this habitat double whammy, South Dakota experienced a very cold and wet spring – including April snowstorms – which is not favorable for pheasant production. “Birds that had initiated nests in late April probably abandoned their nest, and re-nested when spring-like weather finally arrived in May,” Runia said, “The delay in nesting chronology can limit the time pheasants have to re-nest if their first nests are unsuccessful.” Wet conditions and widespread severe thunderstorms extended into June, the period of peak pheasant hatch.
Runia says the rains, though untimely for nesting birds, were needed. “Nesting conditions would have been terrible in 2013 without some moisture to spur growth of cool-season grasses.” And though conditions have not been ideal, reports of pheasant broods at the end of June were coming in. “Pheasants are extremely resilient and are capable of modest reproductive success under poor conditions,” Runia says.
South Dakota’s popular Walk in Area program will again have 231,000 acres within the state’s primary pheasant belt, and the eastern James River CREP walk-in program will add at least 9,000 new acres to hunter accessibility this year. Results from the South Dakota’s annual brood survey are available around Labor Day, and the state’s 2013-2014 pheasant hunting season runs Saturday, October 19, 2013 through Sunday, January 5, 2014.
Friday, May 31st, 2013
Grassland habitat is disappearing at a meteoric pace in the Upper Midwest and Great Plains. In fact, a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences put the loss of grassland habitat in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska at a whopping 1.3 million acres between 2006 and 2011. This dramatically changing landscape is having profound negative effects on pheasants and other wildlife. Pheasants Forever’s list of the 12 most threatened areas in pheasant country brings sorely needed attention to what in modern times is unprecedented habitat loss, and also serves as a call to action for pheasant hunters, conservationists and policy makers to do more to preserve wild places and wildlife across America’s heartland.
“The list of the most threatened areas in pheasant country underscores the importance of the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the current CRP General Sign-Up,” says Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever’s Vice President of Governmental Affairs, “Voluntary conservation programs like CRP provide the bulk of upland habitat in pheasant country. Sustainable farming operations include plans addressing soil, water and wildlife conservation and these farms and ranches support strong rural communities and our nation’s hunting heritage. Pheasants Forever hosted hundreds of landowner meetings regarding CRP in the past two months, and landowners still have until June 14th to visit their local USDA Service Center to learn about options that create win-win situations for their operations and wildlife. And continuous CRP practices which specifically emphasize pheasant and quail habitat are available to landowners in many states on an ongoing basis.”
Dickey County, N.D. This southeast North Dakota county borders South Dakota and is a perennial top-10 county for pheasant harvest in North Dakota. But nowhere is grassland conversion happening as rapidly as it is in the Prairie Pothole Region, and areas around towns well known to pheasant hunters – Oakes and Ellendale – have suffered major CRP losses. “County-wide, we’ve lost 27 percent of our CRP habitat, and just in the last year the number of CRP acres has declined by nearly 14,000,” says Matt Olson, a Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist, “In the next two years another 16,000 acres are up for expiration. This is a great area where we want to make sure there’s always good upland habitat.”
Lyman County, S.D. - Pheasant hunters annually spend $10 million in Lyman County hunting ringnecks in the heart of pheasant country. But the county suffered a net loss of 13,173 CRP acres last year, and another 4,000 CRP acres are set to leave the program in the next two years. “While the county has lots of pastureland, the CRP acres are what provide the best pheasant nesting habitat in Lyman County,” says Matt Morlock, a Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist in South Dakota.
Washington, Marshall and Nemaha Counties, Kans. – This trio of neighboring counties in northeast Kansas has historically been a popular destination for Kansas City metro area upland hunters, but conservation and small grains have taken a backseat to corn and soybean production. Combined, CRP acreage in these counties has declined by nearly 29,000 acres since 2007, a decrease of 34 percent. The habitat horizon is blurry as well, with nearly 20,000 CRP acres set to expire in the next two years. “It’s almost a shame that you can get a hotel room in this area on the pheasant hunting opener, not too long ago it was booked up solid,” says Jordan Martincich, a lifelong Kansas resident and Pheasants Forever’s Development Officer, “We need to work with landowners in these counties to recoup as many CRP acres as possible and keep the upland tradition alive.”
Brown County, S.D. - Brown County has long been the gold standard for pheasant hunters in northeast South Dakota, but no county in the state is set to expire more CRP acres this year (9,136 acres) and next (12,338) than Brown, and this after a net loss of 10,000 CRP acres in the county in the last half decade. Existing upland habitat here is the economic driver for the $16.7 million that resident and nonresident pheasant hunters spend annually in Aberdeen and Brown County.
Carroll County, Iowa – Carroll County’s CRP acreage is down approximately 1,000 acres off its peak, but many of those lost habitat acres were high-quality field and waterway buffers, says Tom Fuller, Pheasants Forever’s Iowa State Coordinator, “This was considered a top-notch pheasant hunting county even a few years ago, but it has taken a big hit, and many winter covering areas that wildlife depended on have been removed from the landscape as well.” In the next two years, another 1,500 CRP acres are slated for program expiration.
Dixon County, Neb. – In 2003, there were nearly 35,000 CRP acres in this northeast Nebraska county, but by 2013 that number had dropped to just 11,876 acres, with nearly all of the exited acres returned to crop production. “Many of these acres were enrolled into the CRP-MAP public access program and provided a significant economic boost to the small towns in the rural county,” says Nebraskan Pete Berthelsen, Pheasants Forever’s Director of Habitat Partnerships. In the next three years, approximately 4,000 more CRP acres expire in Dixon County.
Norton County, Kans. – CRP expirations stabilize in Norton County the next few years, but this follows a period in which one-third of the CRP habitat in the county vanished. “This is a county with a lot of Walk-In Hunting Access, an area capable of providing excellent hunting if the habitat is there” Martincich says, “Pheasants Forever, along with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism, is focusing in on this area to reverse the recent habitat trend.”
Stearns County, Minn. - This central Minnesota location is a popular destination for Minnesota upland hunters, especially from the Twin Cities metro areas just east of it, but it hemorrhaged 50,000 acres of wildlife habitat – mostly grasslands – between 2008 and 2011. Additionally, 5,000-plus more Stearns County CRP acres expire from the program in the next two years.
Sheridan County, Mont. – This northeast Montana area is well-known for the quality pheasant habitat and great pheasant hunting and has been a destination for many hunters. Will it continue to hold that reputation in the future? Conservation Reserve Program acreage has dropped from 156,000-plus acres to just over 111,000 acres and another 17,000 acres leave the program this year. In addition to pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse and Hungarian partridge are upland game birds affected by the habitat loss.
Osceola County, Iowa. – A mix of habitat loss, snowy winters and wet springs has been lethal for Iowa pheasants, but if there’s been a bright spot, it’s been the northwest corner of the state. Even during the modern agricultural boom, CRP acreage in Osceola County has remained steady, actually increasing by a few hundred acres since 2007. However, more than 1,700 county-based CRP lands are set for expiration in the next two years, and the strength of future pheasant numbers could hinge on maintaining current CRP levels.
Codington County, S.D. – The Watertown, South Dakota region has been a popular one in recent times for nonresident hunters traveling from the east, but upland habitat loss has put a severe dent in pheasant numbers here. CRP acreage has nearly been halved, from 29,956 acres in 2007 to 16,318 today, and ringneck numbers have followed suit, with pheasant brood counts in recent years dropping off significantly from the previous 10-year averages. Another 5,700 CRP acres expire in 2013-2014 in Codington County.
Central Nebraska. – The Loess Hills of central Nebraska have always been a prime area for pheasants, quail and prairie chickens. The rolling topography here is a rich mixture of native grasslands interspersed with the draws and plum thickets and grassy draws close to row crops that upland game birds thrive in. Berthelsen says loss of CRP acres coupled with native grassland conversion to row crops is accelerating habitat loss in this region at a significant pace.
Friday, April 12th, 2013
As a wildlife enthusiast who enjoys diverse landscapes, as well as a wingshooter who’s succumbed to the addiction of hunting wild ringnecks, it’s been nothing short of tragic to witness the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) – often referred to as the “holy grail” of conservation programs – withering away the past five years.
If you’re a pheasant hunter and a conservationist, you’ve likely seen these facts before, and even so, they bear repeating. Consider that:
- In prime pheasant habitat, a 4 percent increase in CRP grassland acres was associated with a 22 percent increase in pheasant counts (source: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture).
- In 2006, Pheasants Forever estimated of the then 36 million-plus CRP acres nationwide, 25.5 million constituted in the pheasant range were responsible for producing 13.5 million pheasants annually.
Unfortunately, the U.S. has lost 9.7 million acres of CRP land in just five years and there are now just 27 million CRP acres nationwide. This mass exodus of wildlife habitat has cut right through the heart of pheasant country.
|State||2007 CRP Acreage||2013 CRP Acreage||Percent Decline|
|South Dakota||1.56 million||978,257||37 percent|
|North Dakota||3.39 million||1.79 million||54 percent|
|Kansas||3.26 million||2.37 million||27 percent|
|Minnesota||1.83 million||1.4 million||23 percent|
|Nebraska||1.34 million||895,251||33 percent|
|Iowa||1.97 million||1.53 million||22 percent|
|Montana||3.48 million||2 million||42 percent|
In two states, South Dakota and Nebraska, total CRP acreage has fallen below 1 million acres, a baseline number many biologists and hunters feel is critical to maintaining quality pheasant numbers, as CRP is so essential for pheasant production.
While another 3.3 million acres expire from the program on September 30th, we have the opportunity to cancel out that loss with a four-week general signup for the Conservation Reserve Program that begins May 20. While landowners have trended away from CRP in today’s commodity crop-rich environment, CRP remains the single most effective and widest-ranging upland habitat tool in existence. And to help end the withering, Pheasants Forever strongly urges Congress to pass a new 5-year Farm Bill that includes a strong Conservation Reserve Program.
Thursday, January 17th, 2013
This upland hunting season has been trying in many traditional pheasant strongholds, not the least of which is Kansas. “Upland bird hunting has been disappointing in most areas of the state as a result of below average populations due to prolonged drought and extreme summer heat,” according to a statement issued by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT).
“Expectations were quite low in west central Kansas this season due to a second year of extensive drought and excessive heat; those low expectations were warranted, as pheasant, quail and lesser prairie-chicken numbers were down substantially,” reported Mark Witecha, a Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist who serves seven counties around Ness City, “Furthermore, much of the habitat was hayed, grazed or stunted by the unfavorable climatic conditions, and is in less than ideal condition. Many local hunters have long since given up for the year, and out-of-state hunters simply never came.”
In early January, some regions in Kansas received up to 8” of snow, a blessing for hunters that timed it right. “We finally had birds flushing at our feet rather than 200 yards out in front,” Witecha said.
While the snow cover has since melted, two weeks remain in the season for hunters willing to give it one final try. “There are some bright spots, and for the hunter willing to travel and work, birds are there,” the KDWPT report continued, “The late season can be especially good because fewer hunters are afield and birds will be more concentrated in heavier cover.”
Have you been pheasant and/or quail hunting in Kansas this year? If so, post your own report in the comments section below.
Monday, November 26th, 2012
The state of Kansas is annually among the top three pheasant producing states in the country, but the devastating drought of 2012 definitely hurt this year’s ringneck crop. Kansas’ pheasant and quail hunting seasons are a couple weeks old, so are the effects of the drought and habitat loss as significant as previously advertised? Here with on-the-ground reports is a trio of Pheasants Forever staff members in Kansas:
Conditions in west central Kansas are far from ideal. Due to the drought, we had very poor reproduction and brood survival in the pheasant population. Much of the CRP has been emergency hayed or grazed, failed milo and corn has been cut for forage, and the grass that was left untouched experienced limited growth. In talking with other hunters, very few were successful in their efforts and the number of hunters in the area is down significantly. On opening day, I only saw one other group hunting, which was shocking. On a positive note, the northwest and north central part of the state is expected to have decent quail hunting this year, as quail are much more tolerant of drought and heat (but less tolerant of the cold).
- Mark Witecha, Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist – West Central Kansas
I went out with two other guys and at least two dogs in each field (opening weekend). We walked three CRP fields adjacent to harvested row crops and kicked up one hen and two roosters. We knew birds were living in these CRP fields (I’d even seen eight birds moving from one of them into the neighboring cropland as I drove by to meet up with my friends at daylight). We also hunted two quail pastures and kicked up one covey of about ten birds. Those quail flew to the adjacent property where another group of hunters were, and I saw them harvest a few birds from the covey. The long and short of it is that there are some birds in the area (quail populations may be stronger than pheasants) but with the hot, dry and windy conditions, birds were not sitting tight, and the dogs couldn’t pick up scent. We got some rain Saturday night which may improve things a bit. Cooler temperatures and lower wind speeds would help too. Every person that I’ve spoken with in this area says they got about one bird for every one to two people hunting in a group. I’m optimistic, though, that there will be better days later in the season.
- Zac Eddy, Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist – Central Kansas
Conditions near Marysville (in northeast Kansas) were hot, dry and windy for the Kansas opener. Our hunting party only saw a few pheasants and two coveys of quail during the day’s hunt. Overall, this area has seen a tremendous decline in quality upland habitat as CRP contracts expire and the acres go into agricultural production. The area has also seen a shift in the type of grain that is being produced, which is further limiting pheasant production. At one time, this part of northeast Kansas was known as “The milo capital of the world” and production of wheat and milo ruled the landscape. Now, the bulk of the farming is producing corn and soybeans. It should also be noted that a large percentage of the remaining CRP acres need a great deal of management before they will again be productive for upland birds. On a personal note, the CRP field where I harvested my first pheasant is now a soybean field so the only people who will see roosters rising from this field this year are those who have memories of this once great parcel of upland habitat…My how things change in 20 years.”
- Jordan Martincich, Pheasants Forever Development Officer – Ottawa, Kans.
Have you been pheasant hunting in Kansas this year? If so, post your own report in the comments section below.
Friday, August 31st, 2012
1. Buy a License and Use It. While pheasant numbers may not be where they were a half decade ago, there are still birds to be had. Many fair-weather pheasant hunters have chosen not to pursue ringnecks in these leaner years– combined hunter numbers in the top pheasant producing states – South Dakota, North Dakota, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa and Montana – have dropped by 20 percent since 2006. Make their loss your gain.
2. Scouting Is Critical This Year. The drought of 2012 has made its presence felt across most of pheasant country. To help agricultural producers feeling the effects, emergency haying and grazing was allowed on conservation lands and even some public land. Consequently, land you’ve hunted in the past could have undergone a transformation this year and may not hold birds. If there is a positive for bird hunters, this emergency action may condense bird numbers in some places, creating fast and furious action. Bottom line, make a few phone calls or put an extra day on the front end of a trip and get a lay of the land.
3. Hunt September. An appearance at the local trap range before pheasant hunting season should be a given, but why wait until October to chase wild birds? From doves to prairie grouse, most states have September seasons to prime your shoulder, shooting eye and pup for roosters.
4. Hunt the Late Season. The hunting pressure drops off so significantly by December in states like South Dakota that tourism officials are practically begging upland hunters to come out that time of year. A few states, including South Dakota and Kansas, even allow you to purchase licenses that time of year that will carry over into the next hunting season. It will be cold, birds will be cagy, and you and your dog will work harder than you can imagine, but it will be worth it.
5. Dog Checkup. Most vets will tell you the number one problem they see with dogs coming into their office this time of year is out-of-shape dogs. But they can’t tell you anything – good or bad – if you don’t schedule a visit and get a full checkup for your hunting buddy. Your dog(s) do most of the work, so give them some professional attention; they’ll pay it back this autumn.
6. Rotate Dogs. Chances are if you’re traveling to hunt pheasants, multiple people and multiple dogs will be involved. Rather than lining up every hunter and dog army style, consider breaking into smaller groups of two or three with one dog. After an hour or two, rotate that dog out and bring in a fresh replacement. You’ll enjoy focusing on dog work, and enjoy watching – and shooting over – fresh dogs throughout a trip.
7. Try a Silent Hunt. Every preseason pheasant hunting article mentions “going quiet “– not slamming car doors, loading guns quietly – but what about going completely silent? This tactic is best-suited for veteran pheasant hunters with veteran dogs that know the game (and are trained to hand signals), so if you fall into this category, challenge your hunting partners to walk an entire field as if you had duct tape over your mouth. You might be surprised by what you see…and hear.
8. Keep Knee Boots or Hip Waders in Your Vehicle. There’s a good chance you won’t need them, making this a list of only nine useful tips. Of course, on the one day only a crick or shallow slough stands between you and pheasant hunting glory, where do you want to be?
9. Use Pheasants Forever as a Resource. Pheasants Forever’s 2012 Pheasant Hunting Forecast will be released in early September (sign up here to receive it)…Attending a Pheasants Forever banquet helps support upland conservation and is a great way to connect with fellow pheasant hunters (find an autumn Pheasants Forever banquet here)…If you have a youngster interested in hunting, consider a Pheasants Forever Mentor Youth Hunt (Find a Pheasants Forever chapter here).
10. Become a Pheasants Forever Member. Grassland conversion has accelerated rapidly across large swaths of the pheasant range. “What’s hard to watch is to see native prairie being plowed up. It’s happening all across the Dakotas and what little we have left in western Minnesota. I’ve never seen the pressure on the landscape that’s happening right now,” says Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever’s Vice President of Government Affairs. Join Pheasants Forever’s wildlife habitat conservation mission, or if you’re already a member, upgrade your support, and ensure that upland habitat filled with pheasants is a sight that greets hunters for years to come: www.pheasantsforever.org/join
This article appears in “On the Wing,” Pheasants Forever’s monthly eNewsletter. Read more here.
Thursday, May 31st, 2012
While the date may vary slightly from the northern reaches of the pheasant range to its southern fringe, the average pheasant nest incubation start date is May 24th. The peak of the pheasant hatch follows 23 days later on approximately June 15th. The following describes recent pheasant nesting conditions, and was compiled through field reports from state natural resource agency wildlife biologists.
Colorado - Coming into spring, the overall pheasant population in Colorado was strong, and the state’s spring crow count survey should be comparable to last year’s phenomenal showing, says Ed Gorman, Small Game Manager with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. The downside is there was no winter moisture, so while there is good nesting cover, buoyed by green wheat, brood survival could be an issue due to a lack of forbs and broadleaves to generate brood cover and insect production as brood food. Gorman said the silver lining to the significant amount of CRP that’s expired from the program in Colorado is that most is being replaced as winter wheat, which serves as suitable pheasant nesting habitat for Colorado birds in the spring.
Illinois - The mild winter should have led to better pheasant survival, and though much of the pheasant range was abnormally dry in early spring, May rain events brought much of that range back to normal, reports Michael Wefer, Ag and Grassland Wildlife Program Manager with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Wefer added that a warm spring with low-to-normal rainfall bodes well for pheasant nest success where habitat remains. One habitat bright spot is the acreage enrolled in Illinois’ CRP State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement, which accounts for 6,300-plus acres in the pheasant range that are now two years old and close to being fully established as productive upland habitat.
Indiana - A good breeding summer last year and the extremely mild winter of 2011-2012 led to a big increase in Indiana’s spring pheasant crowing count, reports Budd Veverka, Farmland Game Research Biologist with the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife. “Road routes in our primary pheasant range of Benton County exhibited a 127 percent increase over 2011 numbers, and were 88 percent higher than the 10-year average, with more modest increases observed across the rest of the range,” Veverka said. With enough rain to keep things green, Veverka feels good about the prospects of this nesting season. Indiana is also putting more funding toward habitat management at its game bird habitat areas.
Iowa - Barring increased wet and or cold temps through mid-June, Iowa may finally see an increase in bird numbers after five lousy years, reports Todd Bogenschutz, Upland Wildlife Research Biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. In examining recent trends, Bogenshutz says this year is shaping up much like 2003, when Iowa saw a 42 percent increase in its overall pheasant count. The northwest and north-central regions of Iowa had the highest average counts last year and thus are the region’s most likely to have the best rebounding numbers this fall.
Kansas - The state is looking at a decline in its breeding population of pheasants due to the carryover effect of last summer’s extreme drought in western Kansas. “This decline was extreme in southwest and south-central Kansas, and our spring crow counts are showing declines in those areas,” reports Dave Dahlgren, Small Game Specialist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. Spring has brought precipitation to western Kanas, and conditions for nesting hens have been “near perfect” according to Dahlgren. Now attention turns to winter wheat conditions in western Kansas, as the crop serves as nesting habitat for pheasants. “The only concern now is the prospect of an early harvest, which could reduce nest survival at a large landscape scale. Currently the agricultural community is anticipating the wheat harvest to be at least 2 weeks earlier than normal,” Dahlgren said, adding the state could use a little more precipitation to continue the good nesting conditions and create good brooding conditions.
Michigan - The winter was abnormally mild this year and spring came early and has stayed relatively dry so far, reports Ben Wickerham, Pheasants Forever’s Michigan Regional Representative. Anecdotal reports of brood sightings in areas absent of them in recent years are a good sign.
Minnesota – The winter of 2011-12 was one of the mildest on record for Minnesota. “Pheasants were able to use grassland habitat and waste grain in harvested cropland throughout the entire winter, which is very uncommon for Minnesota. Hen survival should have been excellent during the past winter,” reports Kurt Haroldson, Assistant Regional Wildlife Manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Spring weather has been warm and dry, though a recent period of heavy rains and flooding is a concern in some locations. “If favorable weather persists, good progress should be made toward recovery from the previous devastating year (64 percent decline in pheasant counts).” Haroldson notes the significant area of concern is that nearly 300,000 acres of CRP lands will expire from the program this September.
Montana - It’s been a great spring, weather-wise, so far for Montana pheasants, reports Rick Northrup, Habitat Section Supervisor with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, though he notes more reports of former CRP lands in eastern Montana being converted for agricultural use.
Nebraska - According to the state’s April Rural Mail Carrier Survey, the statewide pheasant index was slightly higher in 2012, up 2 percent from 2011. Spring seems to be on an accelerated timetable this year in Nebraska, where there are already reports of pheasants hatching in the southern tier of the state, according to Jeff Lusk, Program Manager for Upland Game for the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission. Spring conditions have been warm and relatively dry leading into what will be the peak hatch period.
North Dakota – A very mild winter allowed North Dakota pheasants to enter spring in excellent shape, says Stan Kohn, Upland Game Management Supervisor with the North Dakota Game & Fish Department. The spring season has continued the trend, with mild rains and good nesting vegetation. Kohn notes that though the spring breeding population is lower than recent years, it is still above average. “If present spring weather conditions remain, pheasant populations will bounce back some, with the southwest probably having the best population this fall,” Kohn says. The major habitat concern is the 840,000 acres of CRP slated to leave the program in North Dakota later this year, with the biggest losses expected in the eastern part of the state.
South Dakota - Over winter survival of pheasants was excellent in South Dakota, reports Travis Runia, Senior Upland Game Biologist with the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks. The mild winter weather trend continued into spring as above normal temperatures and normal precipitation prevailed over much of the pheasant belt. “Adequate moisture existed to prompt good growth of cool season grasses used by nesting pheasants. So far, weather has been favorable for nesting pheasants,” Runia said. Of more concern than the weather is the continued loss of upland nesting cover in “The Pheasant Capital.” “CRP grassland acreage has declined by 400,000 acres since 2007 and 225,000 of the existing 1.1 million acres are scheduled to expire this fall,” Runia said. In addition to the loss of CRP acres, the conversion of grazing lands to cropland has reduced available nesting cover by approximately another 3 million acres since 1985.
Oregon - Conditions in Oregon are shaping up more favorably than the past two years, says Dave Budeau, Upland Game Bird Coordinator with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “This year we had good moisture in March and the first part of April with current May conditions dry and above average temps. If this pattern holds through the peak hatching period over the next few weeks we could be in good shape for upland game bird production,” Budeau says.
Utah – The adult breeding population of pheasants in Utah is holding steady, but the spring has been very hot which could translate into lower nesting success, this according to Jason Robinson, Upland Game Coordinator with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
Wisconsin - One of the state’s mildest winters on record certainly helped pheasant survival – a much needed reprieve from the previous severe winters. Anecdotal reports from state biologists indicate an increase in the number of crowing roosters this spring, including at the state Department of Natural Resources’ Glacial Habitat Restoration Area in east-central Wisconsin, and nesting season weather has been favorable, says Doug Fendry, Pheasants Forever Regional Wildlife Biologist in Wisconsin.
Monday, April 30th, 2012
I always enjoy reading Outdoor Life’s annual list of America’s top hunting & fishing towns. Following is my list of America’s top pheasant towns factoring in area bird counts, annual harvest, acres of accessible public hunting land, local Pheasants Forever chapter activities and available lodging for the traveling bird hunter. It’s by no means scientific, but a fun exercise in day dreaming about next fall. Hopefully you’re lucky enough to live in one of these pheasant country towns, and if not, have the chance to visit often.
These dots on the map are great starting points for autumn pheasant hunting adventures, but this is a conversation starter. If you live in or know of a pheasant hunting town that has yet to be represented, please share it with us in the comments section below!
1. Chamberlain, S.D. For jaw-dropping pheasant numbers, you won’t beat this Missouri River town in south central South Dakota. Part of the famed “Golden Triangle” region (the storied pheasant hunting area from Gregory, Winner to Chamberlain), the pheasant brood counts around Chamberlain have averaged 15.7 birds per mile during the last decade, more than double the statewide average.
2. Bismarck, N.D. Maybe calling Bismarck a “town” is a stretch, but it may be the only population center of 60,000 or more with world-class pheasant hunting just minutes outside of town.
3. McCook, Neb. This southwest Nebraska town boasts a fair amount of lodging. Drive out of town in any direction, and you’ll find plenty of CRP-MAP (Conservation Reserve Program – Managed Access Program) areas. Through the program, the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission, in partnership with PF, pays private landowners to improve their CRP acres for wildlife and open them up for public hunting. Don’t be surprised to bump a covey of quail either. Note: CRP-MAP lands are being restructured and transitioned into Nebraska’s Open Fields and Waters Program.
4. Oakley, Kans. Conveniently located on Interstate 70, which bisects the Sunflower State, getting to Oakley is only the beginning: more than 350,000 acres of publicly accessibly hunting lands, and pheasants, quail and prairie chickens in northwest Kansas awaits.
5. Lewistown, Mont. This agriculture community is located in the geographic center of Montana, where pheasants can be found with buttes and mountain ranges as beautiful backdrops. Travel northwest to hunt the Pheasants Forever Coffee Creek BLOCK Management Area, one of the largest habitat projects in Pheasants Forever’s history.
6. Aberdeen, S.D. Even in pheasant-filled South Dakota, the Aberdeen area in the northeast part of the state stands out as one of the most appealing destinations for public land and outfit-based pheasant hunters. The surrounding area has more than 200,000 acres of public hunting land available. Hunters in Aberdeen’s Brown County averaged 8.5 birds each during the course of the last hunting season.
7. Mott, N.D. Mott bills itself as a pheasant hunting destination, and with good reason. Contrary to rumor, there’s enough Private Land Open to Sportsmen (PLOTS) areas in the area to make a shoe-string budget hunt an option.
8. Sterling, Colo. Eastern Colorado has its own version of a “Golden Triangle” – the state’s best pheasant range from Sterling to Holyoke to Burlington. With proximity to the prime hunting grounds of southwest Nebraska and western Kansas, the traveling bird hunter that’s willing can plan a triple threat trip.
9. Okoboji, Iowa. This tourist destination is a great place to base a freelance pheasant hunt. The 4-county block of Clay, Dickinson, Emmet, and Palo Alto Counties offer more than 40,000 acres of pheasant habitat open to public hunting.
10. Marshall, Minn. Marshall is the ideal jumping off point to hunt four rectangular shaped counties in southwest Minnesota – Lyon, Lincoln, Murray and Pipestone Counties – which offer up some of the best rooster action Minny has to offer. Minnesota’s vast Wildlife Management Area system provides excellent public hunting opportunities in each county.
11. Kimball, Neb. The southern portion of Nebraska’s Panhandle region boasts an abundance of CRP-MAP lands, highlighted by more than 21,000 acres enrolled in Kimball County.
12. Hart, Tex. Believe it or not, the 37-county Texas Panhandle offers some of the best pheasant hunting around. In many of the area’s towns, private landowners offer up blocks of acreage for hunting at relatively nominal fees, some good just for opening weekend, some all season long.
13. Medicine Lake, Mont. Set in the rolling plains of northeastern Montana, between the Missouri River and the Canadian border, you’ll find the Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The 31,700-acre area consists of two separate tracts, and hunting is allowed on designated areas and all Waterfowl Production Areas.
14. Lemmon, S.D. If solitude is the name of your pheasant hunting game, you’ll find it in this modest northwest South Dakota locale, along with opportunities for sharptails and Hungarian partridge. A reasonable drive to the south and west puts you in the Grand River National Grassland, and if you’re up for a two-state trip, a mile to the north you’re in the other Dakota. To give you an idea of its remoteness, there were more resident hunters in Perkins County last year than nonresident hunters.
15. Montevideo, Minn. Getting here puts you a stone’s throw away from the 31,000-acre Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area, which is managed intensely for wildlife and contains more than 2,000 acres of food plots.
16. Russell, Kans. You’ll find pheasants and quail in the heart of the Smoky Hills around the town that Outdoor Life named one of the 35 Best Hunting and Fishing Towns in the U.S.
17. Mobridge, S.D. Another Missouri River town, the Mobridge area boasts historically strong pheasant numbers, while drawing roughly half as many nonresident hunters as its nearby counties to the east.
18. Hays, Kans. Lodging in northwest Kansas is at a premium. Hays is the largest town in the northwest region of the state and serves as a great overnight location with more than 1,000 motel rooms.
19. Mitchell, S.D. The annual Pheasant Country Pheasants Forever chapter banquet on the eve of South Dakota’s general pheasant hunting season opener is held at the famous Corn Palace.
20. Worthington, Minn. Nobles County has more than 30 Wildlife Management Areas, including the Pheasant Run 1 Wildlife Management Area, a 32-acre grassland the was Pheasants Forever’s first land purchase wildlife project.
21. Dodge City, Kans. This famous frontier town serves as the gateway to more than 180,000 acres of publicly accessible land in southwest Kansas.
22. Bend, Oregon. This sportsmen’s paradise rests in the unique landscape of the Columbia Basin, where wild roosters are the progeny of the first-introduced pheasants in the U.S.
23. Le Mars, Iowa. Plymouth County and the northwest corner of Iowa currently provide the best pheasant hunting opportunities in the Hawkeye State.
24. Winner, S.D. Located in the farm and ranch country of south central South Dakota, the Winner area has long been known for its incredible pheasant hunting.
25. Bird City, Kans. The origin of the town’s name actually has nothing to do with pheasant hunting, but it lies in northwest Kansas pheasant country, so it’s worth it.
Thursday, December 29th, 2011
As the pheasant season begins to wind down in the northern reaches of the rooster range, I begin to receive calls from Pheasants Forever members in places like Traverse City, Michigan; Baraboo, Wisconsin and St. Cloud, Minnesota. These callers all draw out their “O’s” and are known to drop an occasional “eh” to the end of their sentences. They also share a common question this time of year, “Where should I travel this January to extend my pheasant hunting season?”
My short answer to that question is to follow the Nebraska/Kansas border from Norton, Kansas and McCook, Nebraska all the way to the Colorado border. The further west you go along that line, the better the bird numbers with decreasing hunter pressure. In Colorado, draw a triangle from Sterling to Holyoke to Burlington. Any of the regions in that three state corridor should produce roosters if you’re riding with good dog power.
My longer answer to the question involves a story you’ve probably heard before centered on habitat loss and harsh weather. Like most states in the last year, this trio of January “hotspots” have suffered through significant habitat loss due to CRP conversion coupled with poor spring reproduction conditions. Additionally, the early winter weather has been brutal. Kansas, for instance, has been hammered with two winter storms already this month leaving more snow on the ground there than we have in Saint Paul, Minnesota outside the PF offices. That’s right; there is more snow on the ground in Kansas than in Minnesota to start 2012.
Season Ends: January 31, 2012
Season Ends: January 31, 2012
Season Ends: January 31, 2012
The other nugget I’d suggest is to get your hand-shaking smile warmed up. There is a lot of public hunting ground in all three of these states, but those acres have been pounded with Danner boots the last few months. During an early December trip to Kansas, a pair of my pheasant hunting partners purchased a county plat book and began knocking on doors to gain permission. Three front steps later, we had access to half a township’s worth of private ground filled with ring-necks.
One final note on gaining permission to hunt private land; all three of those landowners have received notes of our sincerest thanks and a pound of fresh pecans shipped direct to their doorstep at Christmas. Remember, it only takes one idiot to ruin a landowner’s impression of hunters, so do your part to thank them for the habitat they’ve left alongside their crops and show them your appreciation for the access they’ve granted after the hunt. It’s a lot easier to slam the door in your face the next time around after a bad experience.
And after all the seasons are closed, remember to mark your calendars and join the fun for Pheasants Forever’s National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic 2012 in Kansas City on February 17, 18 & 19.