Gone Hunting: Pheasant reports encouraging in most states
November 10, 2016
The upland game bird seasons are in full swing with both North Dakota and South Dakota along with Montana having already opened for pheasant, grouse and partridge — the elusive Triple Crown of upland bird hunting.
Iowa and Nebraska opened their pheasant seasons on Oct. 29. Nebraska's grouse have been hunted since September. Colorado and Kansas have traditionally opened their pheasant seasons the second Saturday in November. This year that happens to be this Saturday.
Jim "Legends of the Fall" Harrison remarked in his book "Just Before Dark:" "My own hunting and fishing are largely misunderstood activities under the banal notion of 'macho,' whereas I tend to view them as a continuation of my birthright."
To sum this up, one does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted.
Collectively, bird numbers continue to rebound from the drought years — 2011 through 2014. Bird populations depend on winter and spring weather conditions and the availability of quality habitat. I have already hunted in Montana and North Dakota. I can tell you the numbers are down in both states because of the late summer hailstorms that tore across the northern plains. Some areas remain strong but overall I would guess the bird numbers are down at least 30 percent.
Ed Gorman, Colorado Wildlife and Parks small game manager, tells us Colorado's pheasant population continues to improve as Mother Nature has cooperated with nesting in 2015 and 2016. This could change dramatically since several thousand acres of prime Conservation Reserve Program acres expired in September. These acres are critical to brood survival.
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Nebraska's report from Jeffrey Lusk, upland game bird project manager, is difficult to piece together.
He tells us severe weather with abundant hail may be cause for concern. However, rural mail carrier roadside surveys indicate populations are "similar to slightly lower" than those from 2015.
Survey conditions were not ideal and likely affected wildlife observation. Lusk said spring rains produced abundant nesting and brood rearing cover.
Some parts of that report seem to conflict with other parts. I will be heading to the Cornhusker state to find out for myself.
Kansas' small game biologist, Jeff Prendergast, tells us that the 2015 pheasant harvest was up nearly 30 percent — the highest levels Kansas has seen in four years. Additionally, spring crowing counts also increased by 30 percent over 2015 numbers. Kansas looks good this year.
The "Mount Rushmore State," South Dakota, remains the undisputed champion and still king of the pheasant states. South Dakota's season has been open for a couple of weeks. It generally follows North Dakota by one week with an opener the second Saturday in October.
Hunters have been bagging about one million birds a season in South Dakota for the past several years.
Mitchell, Chamberlain, Aberdeen, Winner, Pierre and Huron are legendary locations for the pheasant hunter. There are over 5 million acres open to public hunting, but you had better get there early. There may be 5 million hunters lined up in front of you with reports like this.
The hunting seasons are in full swing.
Jim Vanek is a longtime hunter who lives in Greeley with his family. Contact him email@example.com.