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28
Pleasant for pheasant

Outlook bright, especially for hunters who put in time for advance scouting

In a time long past, before all the variables of cultivation and drought, it might be tempting simply to declare this the Year of the Pheasant and let it go at that.

Lacking many of the essential assurances, an outdoor communicator trying to deliver a preview of the coming season instead is left with a bag full of wherefores and maybes. But not without hope.

Generally, prospects are good throughout the upper Midwest - from the Dakotas south through Nebraska and Kansas and west into Colorado.

More rainfall and better cover combined to promote conditions that more closely approximate those better times that existed before the 2002 drought.

Yet not all of pheasant country is cackles and tailfeathers. Whether hunters find more birds than last year depends largely upon where they walk. Time spent scouting will yield a firm reward, particularly in eastern Colorado, where a checkerboard rain pattern created wildly divergent conditions.


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"You'll find 20-mile dividers where the countryside goes from looking like a rain forest to a desert," said Ed Gorman, small-

game manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. "A little bit of driving before the season definitely could pay off."

This much is certain: With the exception of certain dry pockets, upland game bird enthusiasts will be walking in much more cover than in either of the past two seasons. This improved habitat generally translates to more birds throughout pheasant country.

Finding them is another matter completely.

The first thing one discovers about the coming season is that it starts about a week later than usual, beginning Nov. 6 in Nebraska and progressing at weekly intervals in Kansas and Colorado.

This should mean a completion of crop harvest in most locations, concentrating birds in grasslands and weed cover, which exists in grand abundance.

Bird numbers deviate by location. The following is a forecast for regions most favored by Colorado hunters:


Colorado
Conditions in northeast Colorado may be wildly variable, depending upon rainfall distribution.

"Along a certain line, the country will go from looking like a rain forest to a desert," Gorman said.

Expect improved bird numbers in areas that received more rain.

"Our experience is that birds follow habitat," Gorman said.

The message is plain enough: Do some scouting before the season.

"You'll know very quickly whether you're in the right place," Gorman said. "If you find yourself in a dry area, don't be afraid to move. A little bit of driving could pay off."

Look for areas where fallow wheat stubble or irrigated corn coincide with grassland or weed cover.

In the southeast, biologist Jeff Yost predicts pheasant populations similar to last year.

"We've got good cover all over, but for some reason pheasants haven't responded as well as I expected," he said.

Yost hopes lagging brood sightings can be attributed to the dense cover, which makes birds difficult to count.

"In the last couple weeks, I've spotted birds I hadn't seen all summer," he said.

Yost believes southeast quail have prospered with improved nesting cover and forage.

"A lot of guys say they're seeing more bobwhite than in a long time," he said.

Quail reports in the northeast along the South Platte River are mixed - good in the far east toward Julesburg, less so in the area around Tamarack State Wildlife Area.

One thing is certain, Gorman said: "The river bottom is back to the thick jungle it was before the drought. I think populations are about the same. Definitely there are quail out there, but finding them will be more difficult."


Nebraska
Prospects in the southwest are mixed. The strongest numbers in recent years are projected in those counties along the Colorado border. But the traditional pheasant hotbed in those counties around McCook still is lagging, although a bit better than last year.

"My gut feeling is that the southwest will be a little better, but I don't know that for a fact," said Scott Taylor, Nebraska's game bird chief.

Taylor touts the abundance of public walk-on access to Conservation Reservation Program grasslands in Perkins County as an area that might prove attractive to Coloradans.

He also predicts better quail hunting in the river bottoms and eroded canyon areas.


Kansas
In a rare example of exchanging science for hearsay, biologist Randy Rodgers is predicting generally better pheasant production, particularly through the central and southwest parts of the state.

Official census results indicate slight declines, but Rodgers isn't buying it.

"There's quite a discrepancy between the surveys and what farmers are telling us. Farmers almost universally are reporting more birds than last year, and our field biologists are saying the same thing," said Rodgers, who made plain he's putting his money on the men of the land.

Rodgers paints an encouraging picture along a broad band reaching from Belleville and Norton in the north southwest to Ulysses, then east to Pratt and up to Concordia.

As for the northwest area favored by many Coloradans, prospects were dimmed by a poor wheat crop.

"Spotty," is the best Rodgers can promise.

Quail hunters will find the best action in the south central region, with improved changes in the north central area.

Listen to Charlie Meyers at 9 a.m. each Saturday on The Fan Outdoors, radio KKFN 950 AM. He can be reached at 303-820-1609 or cmeyers@denverpost.com .

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