posted on September 18, 2008 00:00
Upland Bird Regional Forecast
Kansas Regional Map
Kansas is divided into five regions for KDWP administrative purposes. Each region has a full-service regional office, as well as numerous local and district offices.
Several major weather events during the last year affected the number of game birds that will be available this fall. Large areas in central and northeast Kansas were hit with severe ice storms last December. There were also some significant hail storms early last summer that took a toll on game bird populations within some localized areas in northwest, northcentral, and eastern Kansas. Some of the far southwestern Kansas counties received <10” of rainfall during the last year and the lack of moisture meant little vegetative cover for nesting and few insects which are the sole food source of developing young game birds. The southeast portion of the state experienced the opposite weather extreme for the second consecutive year. Portions of southeast Kansas received >15” of rain during the month of June and much of that region is >20” above normal rainfall on the year. Upland bird hunting in southeast Kansas will be poor again this fall. However, hunting opportunities will be good to excellent in portions of the state that were not substantially affected by a major weather event.
Kansas has long been a premier destination for hunters pursuing pheasants, quail, and prairie chickens. That won’t change in 2008 with good numbers of birds and >1.5 million acres open to hunting between private lands enrolled in the department’s walk-in-hunting areas (WIHA) program and publicly owned properties. Kansas also offers some of the longest upland game seasons and most liberal bag limits in the country. For the third year the regular seasons for pheasant, quail, and prairie chicken will open on 3 consecutive Saturdays beginning with pheasants on November 1. Kansas will also offer a special pheasant and quail hunt for youth 16 and younger on the weekend of October 25. Those youth must be accompanied by a non-hunting adult 18 or older. One notable change to the 2008 seasons is the extension of the quail season to the traditional closing on the 31st of January.
PHEASANT – Due to good production last summer and a relatively mild winter, the number of pheasants going into the nesting season was 35% higher than in 2007. A cool, wet spring slowed development of the wheat crop resulting in a later-than-usual harvest. Because many of Kansas’ pheasants nest in green wheat, the timing of wheat harvest plays a big role in the number of young produced each year. The delayed wheat harvest gave hens a longer time period to hatch their nests and rear young. The timing and quantity of early summer precipitation also plays a big role in game bird productivity. Success of nests and survival of young is generally best when rain comes slowly and in near-average amounts during May and June. There were large areas in Kansas’ primary pheasant range that met that prescription. However, there were a few localized areas in northwest and northcentral Kansas that received heavy May rainfall along with large damaging hail. Production in those localized areas was negatively affected as a result. Pheasant populations in far southwest Kansas were hurt by the other extreme, as several counties have still received <10” of rainfall on the year. Habitat conditions in those areas were poor for nesting and brood rearing due to little vegetative cover. Because habitat and weather conditions were favorable in much of Kansas’ pheasant range, the statewide pheasant harvest in 2008 should be at least as good as last year. That is saying a lot because last fall’s harvest of an estimated 887,000 roosters was the most since 1987. The best pheasant populations will be found in Region 1 and eastern portions of Region 3. Compared to 2007, pheasant numbers in the other regions will be improved in southcentral Kansas, slightly improved in northcentral Kansas, similar in northeast Kansas, and down substantially in far southwestern Kansas.
QUAIL – Going into the breeding season quail numbers were similar to 2007 in most areas with the exception of central and northeast Kansas where declines were observed. The declines were probably the result of an ice storm last December that hit the central part of the state and left a layer of ice >1” thick. That ice stayed on the ground for several days, inhibiting the ability of quail to locate food. Across much of the state, precipitation and temperatures were near average during early spring and summer. Those conditions were favorable for nesting and brood rearing and productivity was generally above average in all but southeast and southwest Kansas. Southeast Kansas received heavy rainfall during the early part of the bobwhite nesting season. At the other extreme, southwest Kansas experienced severe drought, resulting in poor vegetative conditions during the nesting season. Generally, bobwhite hunting in Kansas will be improved from last fall when an estimated 481,000 birds were harvested. The best quail hunting will be found throughout the central part of the state from the eastern Red Hills northward to the Nebraska line and eastward to the edge of the Flint Hills. Compared to last fall, in the other regions, quail numbers will be down in northeast Kansas, slightly improved but still poor in southeast and northwest Kansas, and down substantially in southwest Kansas.
PRAIRIE CHICKEN – Kansas is home to both greater and lesser prairie chickens. Lesser prairie chickens are found in the westcentral and southwestern part of the state. Greater prairie chickens are found primarily in the Flint Hills and Smoky Hills but populations occur in every region of the state except the southwest. The spring prairie chicken lek count indicted that the lesser prairie chicken breeding population was relatively unchanged from the previous year. Nesting conditions for lesser prairie chickens were good in the eastern and northern portions of their range. Habitat conditions were poor in western portions of the bird’s range due to severe drought. It is likely that populations will be down substantially in the drought stricken areas of far southwestern Kansas. Expect the best lesser prairie chicken hunting to be in the eastern portion of their range. This spring the greater prairie chicken breeding populations were down in the southern Flint Hills and up farther north and west throughout the Smoky Hills. In the Flint Hills, almost all pastures were burned again this spring and there was little vegetative cover available during the nesting season. The northern and southern Flint Hills were also hit with heavy May and June rainfall and/or large damaging hail. The central Flint Hills and Smoky Hills were mostly spared from the severe weather. Production was likely average or above average in that region as a result. The best greater prairie chicken hunting should be found in the central Flint Hills and in parts of the Smoky Hills.
Region 1 - Northwest and Northcentral Kansas
Last winter was relatively mild across Region 1 and carry-over of upland birds was good. Productivity across the region was generally good as a result of timely rainfall and a late wheat harvest. There were a couple of weather events that hurt productivity in some localized areas. The far western tier of counties experienced drought during the nesting season and habitat conditions were only fair. Some localities in the central portion of the region experienced heavy rainfall and large hail during late May which hurt local pheasant productivity. However, there was sufficient time for renesting after the storms and vegetative conditions were improved in that area as a result of the May rain. In addition to more than 90,000 acres of state and federal wildlife areas, over 461,000 acres of Walk-In Hunting Access will be available to Region 1 hunters this fall.
Pheasant – The breeding population was up >30% from the previous year across Region 1. Good habitat conditions and a late wheat harvest meant generally good production in the region. The exceptions include the far western tier of counties that were very dry this spring and summer and local areas hurt by severe thunderstorms. Pheasant populations in these areas will be lower than the remainder of the region. However, the hunting outlook looks very good across much of the region. Pheasant numbers will be similar or slightly improved in the eastern 1/3 of the region and up substantially in most of the central and western counties. Bird numbers will be outstanding in the central and western portions of the region that were not affected by the late May storms.
Quail – The breeding population in Region 1 was relatively unchanged from last spring. Vegetative conditions were generally good for nesting and weather was favorable during late June and July when most young quail are produced. As a result, quail numbers in the central and eastern counties should be much improved over last year and offer some good hunting opportunities this fall. Populations in the far western and northwestern reaches of Region 1 will be sparse. The far northwest corner of the state was blanketed with deep snow during January and February of 2007 and it will take several years with good production for quail populations to recover.
Prairie Chicken – Prairie chicken populations have expanded in both numbers and range within the region over the past 20 years. The better hunting opportunities will be found in the eastern and central portions of the region in the area known as the Smoky Hills. Spring lek counts in that region were up somewhat from last spring and nesting conditions were generally good so there may be some improvement in chicken numbers in that area.
Region 2 - Northeast Kansas
There were 2 major weather events that impacted game bird populations in Region 2. During mid- December of 2007, an ice storm blanketed much of the region with >1” of ice which stayed on the ground for several days. As a result, the bobwhite breeding population was generally down from last year across the region. Additionally, the western and northern counties in the region received 5-8” above average rainfall during June and one storm dropped large hail across the southwest portion of the region. In Region 2 there are approximately 180,000 acres of public land and >90,000 acres enrolled in the WIHA program.
Pheasant – Pheasants came through the winter in pretty good shape across Region 2 despite the severe ice storm. However, most of the better pheasant areas were impacted by early June storms that dumped several inches of rain right at the peak of nest hatching. As a result of the wet weather, production was generally poor in the western and northcentral counties. Pheasant numbers will be down substantially within the traditionally better pheasant areas. There were a few isolated pockets in the far northwestern portion of Region 2 that missed the heavy June rains. In those areas bird numbers will likely be similar or even slightly improved from last fall. Pheasant numbers in the eastern 2/3 of the region will likely be similar to last fall but this area is not within the state’s core pheasant range.
Quail – Breeding populations were generally down across the region this spring likely a result of last winter’s ice storm. Production was also poor across most of the region as a result of heavy rainfall during the month of June. Generally, quail numbers in the region will be down substantially from last fall. However, there were a few areas in Region 2 that were spared from one or both of the major weather events. Quail numbers in the far northwest and east central portions of the region will likely be somewhat improved over last fall. There should be some fair to good quail hunting opportunities in these areas.
Prairie Chicken – Greater prairie chickens occur only in the central and western counties of Region 2. Spring counts indicated that the number of birds heading into the nesting season was generally down. The heavy June rain that hurt pheasant production in the region probably had a similar effect on chickens. Additionally, large hail fell across many of the better chicken areas in the southwestern portion of the region. It is likely that chicken numbers across the western and southwestern portions of the region will be down this fall. Chicken numbers in the far northwestern corner and central portions of the region should be similar to last fall or somewhat improved because those areas missed most of the severe weather.
Region 3 - Southwest Kansas
The upland game forecast for Region 3 varies substantially from west to east. The far western and southwestern counties experienced severe drought conditions during the spring and summer of 2008. The dry conditions resulted in extremely poor nesting conditions. Precipitation was near average across most of the eastern and northeastern parts of Region 3 with good May rains that stimulated vegetative growth. As a result, nesting conditions were very good in that part of the region. In Region 3 there are approximately 149,500 acres of public land and >425,000 acres of WIHA enrolled for the upcoming seasons. However, many of the WIHA tracts in far southwestern Kansas will have little cover due to drought and emergency grazing that was allowed on many conservation reserve program grasslands.
Pheasant – Spring crowing counts were up >30% from last year in Region 3. Production varied considerably across Region 3 from very poor in far southwest Kansas to very good in the eastern and northcentral portions of the region. Pheasant numbers will be very strong in the northeastern and northcentral portions of Region 3 offering some of the best hunting in the state. Pheasant numbers in the Red Hills region in the southeast corner of Region 3 will also be improved from last year but that area is seldom among the better areas in the state. Although diminished from 2007, good carry-over will still provide fair-to-good hunting opportunities in some of the areas hit by drought. However, hunting will be poor in far southwestern Kansas where the drought was most severe.
Quail – Quail made it through last winter in pretty good shape across the region but numbers were still low in the far western and northwestern counties due to heavy snow cover that blanketed the area during early 2007. Much of that same area was also stricken with severe drought over the last year resulting in poor nesting conditions. Quail numbers in the far western and southwestern portions of the region will be low due to low breeding populations and poor productivity. Quail numbers will be similar to last fall in the southcentral portion of the region and much improved in the southeast, northeast, and northcentral counties. The eastern 1/3 of the region will offer some of the best quail hunting in the state this fall.
Prairie Chicken – Most of the prairie chickens in Region 3 are lesser prairie-chickens with a few greater prairie chickens in the northcentral and northeastern counties. Counts this spring were generally unchanged from last year. Productivity should have been good in all but the far southwestern portion of the region that experienced severe drought. Expect prairie chicken numbers to be down substantially from last year in the southwest portion of Region 3. Chicken numbers should be similar or slightly improved from last year in the northcentral and eastern portions of the region.
Region 4 - Southcentral Kansas
Breeding populations of game birds were generally improved from last year across Region 4. Habitat conditions were also good across the region for nesting and brood rearing. That coupled with mostly favorable weather and a late wheat harvest will generally mean more birds than last year. However, there are a few areas in the eastern portion of the region where conditions weren’t favorable. An ice storm hit the far northeastern corner of the region last December leaving a thick layer of ice. There was also a small area in the east central portion of the region that received heavy rainfall (>6”) in one day near the end of June. Other than those relatively small areas the region will offer some good hunting opportunities for all of Kansas’ primary game birds. In region 4, there are approximately 38,000 acres of public hunting land along with >25,000 acres of WIHA open to public hunting.
Pheasant – Due to a relatively mild winter throughout the region the breeding population was >30% better than last spring. Vegetative conditions were good for nesting throughout the region and production was good. The best pheasant populations in the region occur in the western and northwestern counties and bird numbers in those areas should be substantially better than last fall. Pheasant numbers in the rest of the region will likely be similar or slightly improved from a year ago but numbers are sparse in the eastern reaches of the region even in good years.
Quail – Quail came through the winter in good shape across all of Region 4 except the far northeast corner that was affected by last December’s ice storm. Production was very good across almost the entire region. The one exception was a relatively small area in the east central portion of Region 4 that received heavy rainfall during the peak of quail hatching. Expect quail hunting to be similar to last year or slightly improved in the far northeast portion of the region, down slightly in the east central reaches of Region 4 where heavy rainfall fell in late June, and much improved in the rest of the region. There will be good quail populations across the bulk of the region this fall offering some very good hunting opportunities.
Prairie Chicken –Greater prairie chickens occur in the northern and easternmost portions of Region 4. Spring counts were generally down in the southeastern portion of Region 4 and similar or improved from last year in the more northern areas. Most of the chicken habitat in the region is burned annually in early spring. These annually burned pastures provide little cover for nesting even when weather is suitable. However, annual burning is much less prevalent in the northern and northeastern portion of the region. There were no major weather events this summer in that part of Region 4 and it is likely that chicken populations in that area will be improved over last year. Chicken numbers will likely be down again in most of the eastern and southeastern counties due to the prevalence of annual burning and untimely rainfall.
Region 5 - Southeast Kansas
During late June of 2007 much of Region 5 was affected by heavy rain and flooding. Those wet conditions coincided with the time when most quail nests were hatching and prairie chickens were rearing their young. The wet weather resulted in the worst production ever recorded in the region and pushed game bird populations to record lows last fall. When populations get low it takes several consecutive years of good production for them to recover. Unfortunately, the same general area again received heavy June rainfall and the northern portion of the region was also hit with large hail. Weather conditions during late June and most of July were pretty favorable which did provide a small window for some productivity to occur. Game bird populations in the region will be somewhat improved over 2007 but hunting will still be generally poor. In region 5, there are approximately 82,000 acres of public hunting land along with >38,000 acres of WIHA open to public hunting.
Pheasant – The vast majority of region 5 is outside of the pheasant range. There are a few areas in the western and northwestern counties where pheasants persist at low densities.
Quail – The winter was relatively mild across Region 5 and the quail breeding population was similar to last spring as a result. Vegetative conditions were generally favorable for nesting due to the wet weather in 2007. However, heavy rain and hail that fell across the region during early June hurt production again this year. While production was better than last year across the region it was still only average at best. Expect quail hunting to be slightly improved over last fall but bird numbers will still be poor in the region.
Prairie Chicken – Greater prairie chickens are most abundant in the western and northwestern parts of Region 5. Spring counts were down substantially across the region likely due to poor production in 2007. A high percentage of the prairie chicken habitat in Region 5 burned again this spring. It is likely that production in the region was poor as a result of little nest vegetation and heavy rainfall that coincided with the peak hatching period. Prairie chicken populations in Region 5 will likely be down from last fall and hunting will remain poor.