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2011 Pheasant Season Outlook 

The 2010 pheasant season was outstanding across much of the United States.  Severe winter weather coupled with a wet spring has most states calling for a decreased harvest in 2011, in many states drastically less.  In South Dakota, the capital of pheasant hunting, game managers expect the pheasant harvest to be down about 30%.  However, there are a few bright spots, including increased opportunity in Kansas and Utah. 

As is the case with any species, habitat conditions, weather, and hunter access are the main elements that separate quality hunting experiences from below average. The following capsules offer a general view of hunting in the most popular pheasant hunting states in the country.  Local conditions can vary. Exceptional hunting can be found in less popular areas and hunters can strike out in states known as pheasant factories. Please use this information as reference, but be sure to check regulations in your area before going afield.

California

The Golden State does not conduct bird counts.  But by all accounts from sources in the field, habitat conditions for spring broods could not have been better.  In most states, wet weather is a hindrance to upland populations.  In California, rain improves nesting conditions and spikes a population explosion.  It sounds like production was excellent this spring so hunters can look forward to a superb season.  Prime hunting locations are the Sacramento Valley, San Joaquin Valley, and the Sacramento/San Joaquin River delta. Check out Gray Lodge State Wildlife Area, Delevan National Wildlife Refuge, and Sutter National Wildlife Refuge. Pheasants are not the only game in town. Chukar, sage grouse, ruffed grouse, and several species of quail keep California hunters busy. The bag limit on quail is ten birds per day. Check regulations for more details.

Season Dates: November 12 through December 25
Daily Bag Limit: 2 the first weekend, 3 the remainder of season

Colorado

Colorado pheasant hunters are experiencing “The Good Ole Days”.  Last season, hunters in Colorado took a record 4.1 roosters per hunter.  This year’s spring call survey recorded the highest spring breeding population in over 50 years.  However, dry conditions, especially in Southeast Colorado, reduced nesting success.  Hunters should still expect a very good season.  It just may not be as good as last year.  Public hunting land is prevalent in Colorado and bolstered by the Small Game Walk-In Access Program which opens over 200,000 acres of private land to public hunting. 

Season Dates: November 12 through January 31, 2012
Daily Bag Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 9

Idaho

Brood success is varied across Idaho.  The southwest and southeast portions of the state look promising for 2011.  South-central Idaho, known as The Magic Valley, suffered cool, wet weather during the hatch and populations may suffer.  However, find good habitat and you will likely find birds.  The Snake River Plain and the Boise River Valley offer plenty of prime habitat. The Bear River Area offers the highest density of CRP land, making cover conditions excellent. The state releases thousands of pheasants on Wildlife Management Areas. Mud Lake WMA is one of the best spots in the state. The Access Yes program also opens nearly 1 million additional acres of property to hunters.

Season Dates: Varied (check regulations)
Daily Bag Limit: 3 cocks

Illinois

Wildlife officials in Illinois expect a similar season to last year despite severe winter weather. Spring crowing counts were comparable to last year but a wet June may have diminished brood success.  Last season hunters took just over 64,000 birds which was about the same as 2009.  However, hunter numbers increased almost 10 percent.  Good news considering recent trends in bird hunting participation.  Popular public pheasant hunting areas include The Des Plaines State Fish & Wildlife Area, Eldon Hazlet State Recreation Area, Green River State Wildlife Area. 

Season Dates: Varied
Daily Bag Limit: 2
Possession Limit: 6

Indiana

Spring call count surveys in Indiana are down nearly 25% compared to last year. The Northwest section of Indiana holds the best numbers of birds.  But it was hit hard with severe winter weather.  Willow Slough Fish & Wildlife Area & Winamac FWA are prime hunting areas. Northeast Indiana also has excellent pheasant hunting opportunities. In that section of the Hoosier State, Pigeon River FWA and Roush Lake State Recreation Area hold good numbers of pheasants.  Hunters can also register for special put-and-take hunts on some state properties.

Season Dates: November 4 through December 18
Daily Bag Limit: 2
Possession Limit: 4

Iowa

Just a handful of years ago, Iowa was a premiere pheasant hunting destination state.  Habitat degradation, five straight severe winters, and a wet nesting season have reduced the Iowa pheasant hunt to record low harvests.  Last season hunters bagged just 238,000 birds, an all-time low.  Follow that bad news with a record low August roadside survey and the season is shaping up to be a rough one for Hawkeye hunters.  There are a few positive notes.  Some south central and southwest Iowa counties had increases during the August survey.  The state is also implementing a new private land access program that opens up 1,300 acres in nine counties.  This is the first year of the program.  Chichaqua Bottoms and the Iowa River Corridor are two of the top public hunting spots to take birds in the Hawkeye State. Several smaller public hunting areas also offer good shooting.

Season Dates: October 29 through January 10, 2012
Daily Bag Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 12

Kansas

Things continue to get better for Jayhawk pheasant hunters.  Last season was one for the record books and spring crowing counts were up about 15% from 2010.  Roadside survey numbers have yet to be released, but 2011 could be another banner year. Kansas proves great pheasant hunting is directly related to great habitat. In addition to state and federal properties, Kansas has over one million acres of private land enrolled in it’s Walk-In Hunting Access Program, much of that acreage is in CRP. The western part of the state holds the majority of the birds and access areas.  The west is also in the midst of a drought.  Dry conditions limit nesting habitat and could leave the pheasants in this area more susceptible to hunting pressure and winter kill. 

Season Dates: November 12 through January 31, 2012
Daily Bag Limit: 4
Possession Limit: 16

Michigan

The severe winter weather that wreaked havoc with pheasants across the northern United States did damage in Michigan as well.  Heavy snow coupled with wet nesting conditions have wildlife officials pessimistic about the 2011 pheasant season.  Mail carrier counts were not surprisingly way down compared to recent years.  Michigan DNR officials continue to work on public lands and with landowners to improve habitat in an effort to boost upland bird populations. Last season, Michigan hunters experienced superb ruffed grouse and woodcock hunting despite both species being on the downswing of their population cycles.  Great nesting conditions led to a bounty of juvenile birds.  In 2011, hunters may not be so lucky. 

Season Dates: Varied (check regulations)
Daily Bag Limit: 2
Possession Limit: 4

Minnesota

After years of huge pheasant harvests, the Gopher State is expected to experience it’s worst pheasant season in 15 years.  The August roadside survey was down 64 percent compared to last year with some areas down as much as 80 percent.  Severe winter weather coupled with a wet spring are to blame.  One interesting aspect to the survey is a major dip in the hen to rooster ratio.  This suggests either a higher than usual hen mortality rate or that hens were still nesting during the survey.  Wet spring conditions could have led to late second nest attempts.  If this is the case, hunting may not be as bad as advertised.  Habitat loss is another big story in Minnesota.  The state lost over 100,000 acres of CRP since last year with another 300,000 acres or more with expiring contracts in the next two years.  The state is working to reverse the trend thanks to Minnesota’s Outdoor Heritage Fund, a sales tax intended to increase public hunting land acreage. 

Season Dates: October 15 through January 1, 2012
Daily Bag Limit: 2 (increases to 3 on December 1st)
Possession Limit: 6 (increases to 9 on December 1st)

Missouri

Pheasant hunting in Missouri continues its free fall.  Roadside surveys show a 5% decrease from last year which was one of the worst pheasant hunting seasons on record.  Hunters brought home just over 16-thousand birds last season, down nearly 50 percent from 2009.  Worse yet, fewer hunters are going afield since prospects for success are so low.  The only good news is a slight pheasant population increase in Northwest Missouri.  In general, the northern third of the state holds the best numbers of birds but good habitat will have the highest densities of pheasants. While ringneck numbers are down, Show-Me State hunters can supplement their bag with doves and quail. As always, check regulations before hunting.

Season Dates: Varied (check regulations)
Daily Bag Limit: Varied (check regulations)
Possession Limit: Varied (check regulations)

Montana

Expect fewer pheasants flying in Big Sky Country in 2011.  Heavy snows throughout winter and wet cool spring conditions leave Montana’s pheasant population way down from last year.  This is the story nearly statewide.  Due to better winter cover, southwest Montana should be on par with last season.  There are millions of acres of public land and private land that is available for hunting. The Block Management Program alone has nearly 9 million acres of privately owned land enrolled. Hunters still need to visit with the property owner before hunting these areas, but many of them offer excellent pheasant hunting. 

Season Dates: October 8 through January 1, 2012
Daily Bag Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 9

Nebraska

The summer survey shows a 24 percent decrease in the Nebraska pheasant population compared to 2010.  The main culprit is heavy winter snow and spring flooding.  However, the western and panhandle regions of the state should be nearly as good as last year.  The eastern half of Nebraska will see the biggest decrease in hunter success in 2011.  CRP acreage is rapidly declining as demand for cropland rises.  Quail numbers are also diminished but hunting is still good, especially where habitat is intact. In addition to public lands, Nebraska also has a CRP-Management Access Program that grants access to over 150,000 acres of private lands to hunters.

Season Dates: October 29 through January 31, 2012
Daily Bag Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 12

NewYork

New York continues to invest in intensive habitat work in the lake plains region of western New York and a put-and-take approach in other areas of the state. Since most “planted” birds do not survive to nest the following year, extended seasons are in place to give hunters more bang for their management buck.  Farm raised pheasants are not susceptible to harsh winters or bad nesting conditions, so hunters can expect continued success in 2011.  As habitat restoration work begins to take hold, wildlife managers hope wild birds will make up more of the bag in the near future. 

Season Dates: Varied (check regulations)
Daily Bag Limit: Varied (check regulations)
Possession Limit: Varied (check regulations)

NorthDakota

NoDak suffered the same harsh winter and wet spring that much of the Upper Midwest experienced.  Roadside surveys reflect a 36 percent decrease in the population compared to 2010.  “Brood survey numbers from this summer match closely to numbers from 2001, when hunters harvested 420,000 roosters,” said Stan Kohn, North Dakota Upland Management Supervisor.  “If fall weather conditions hold through most of the year, I could see a fall harvest of about 400,000 birds. But if winter weather sets in early, we could be much lower. Either way, this could be the first fall since 2001 that we harvest less than 500,000 roosters.”  Southwest North Dakota saw a drop of 54 percent compared to last season but should still offer hunters the best hunting in the state.  Public access to private land is wide spread in North Dakota thanks to the P.L.O.T.S.(Private Land Open To Sportsmen) program.  However, much of the P.L.O.T.S. access areas are in CRP.  North Dakota, like many states, is losing CRP acreage at a rapid pace as program funding is outpaced by potential farming income.

Season Dates: October 8 through January 8, 2012
Daily Bag Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 12

Ohio

Heavy snowfalls affected winter survival for wild birds in the Buckeye State.  Where cover and food sources are good, the pheasant hunting will be best. The Ohio DNR adds to the wild bird population with stocked birds. Prime hunting locations include Deer Creek Wildlife Area, Grand River Wildlife Area, Berlin Lake Wildlife Area, and Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area.

Season Dates: November 4 through January 8, 2012
Daily Bag Limit: 2
Possession Limit: NA

Oklahoma

Spring crowing counts are up from 2010, but nesting success is believed to be limited due to heat and drought conditions.  When it comes to pheasant hunting in Oklahoma, the panhandle is the place to be. The Optima Wildlife Management Area covers over 8,000 acres and offers good cover for ringnecks. In the west central region of the state, Kaw Lake Wildlife Management Area is a solid choice for quail hunters but pheasants are also common.

Season Dates: December 1 through January 31, 2012
Daily Bag Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 9

Oregon

Early rains hampered brood survival for early nesters but late broods fared well and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife expects a fair to good season.  The Columbia River basin and Willamette Valley are the places to go for pheasants in Oregon. The state is also working to improve access.  Over 250,000 acres of private land will be open to hunters thanks to the Columbia Basin Access Program.  Habitat conditions are good and wildlife officials are predicting a season equal or better than last year’s harvest of nearly 34,000 birds. It doesn’t sound like many, but considering less than 7,000 people hunt pheasants in Oregon each year, the harvested bird to hunter ratio is impressive.  Hunters planning to take youngsters hunting should be aware of new youth regulations for hunter orange.

Season Dates: October 8 through December 31
Daily Bag Limit: 2
Possession Limit: 8

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania wildlife managers and landowners are working hard to restore upland habitat. But wild pheasants are a thing of the past in the Keystone State. That doesn’t mean there isn’t any interest. The state will release over 100,000 birds during the season to help satisfy hunters. In an effort to begin building a sustainable population of ringnecks, Pennsylvania is developing Wild Pheasant Recovery Areas(WPRAs). These areas are stocked with wild trapped pheasants since pen reared birds rarely survive in the wild long enough to breed. Intense bird and habitat management have Pennsylvania on the road to a better hunting experience. However, regulations are varied so review them before hunting. It’s also a good idea to check the Pennsylvania Game Commission website for details on stocking. This information can help you bag more birds this fall.

Season Dates: Varied (check regulations)
Daily Bag Limit: 2
Possession Limit: 4

South Dakota

SoDak hunters may have enjoyed the most prolific eight year run in the history of pheasant hunting.  That run of success is coming to an end in 2011.  This year’s survey is down 46-percent from 2010 and 41 percent lower than the ten year average.  A severe winter led to high winter mortality.  Many wintertime hunters reported finding dead pheasants with nostrils completely iced over.  Habitat loss is also a factor.  CRP acreage is currently at 1.17 acres, down from over 1.5 million acres in 2007.  Despite the bad news, South Dakota pheasant hunting is still the nation’s best.  Wildlife officials expect a harvest in the neighborhood of 1.2 million birds.  Last season hunters took 1.8 million pheasants, up from 1.6 million in 2009.  With over 1 million acres of Walk-In Areas, private land access is exceptional. The South Dakota Game, Fish, & Parks website allows hunters to access maps and download them to their GPS.

Season Dates: October 15 through January 1, 2012
Daily Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 15

Texas

The Lone Star State offers an annual Public Hunting Permit which provides hunters access to over 1 million acres of public hunting lands. Access is not a problem. But weather will be an issue.  Drought conditions in the panhandle, Texas’ prime pheasant range, will diminish hunting success in 2011.  Nesting conditions were less than desirable and to add fuel to the fire, emergency ag usage was allowed on CRP lands.  Hunters should expect numbers should be slightly lower than last year, when hunters took just over 60,000 birds.  Popular public hunting areas include Lake Meredith National Recreation Area.  There are a number of smaller public areas in the vicinity also worth checking out.

Season Dates: Varied (check regulations)
Daily Bag Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 6

Utah

Like California, wet weather improves pheasant habitat in Utah.  Weather conditions in prime pheasant areas were good over the winter and into the nesting season. Utah wildlife officials expect hunters to bag more than the 40,000 roosters harvested last season. The northern half of the state offers the best pheasant hunting.  State Wildlife Management Areas are popular hunting sites and the Huntington WMA in Emery County is one of the best.  Utah is also expanding it’s private land Walk-In Program. 

Season Dates: Varied (check regulations)
Daily Bag Limit: 2
Possession Limit: 3

Washington

Wet and cold conditions during nesting has Washington wildlife officials predicting a season similar to last season.  The 2010 harvest totaled 57,500 birds, down from over 65,000 roosters in 2009.  Hunter participation also dipped to under 17,000, down from just below 20,000 in 2009.  Southeast Washington is the go-to area.  CRP areas in this region are especially productive and some of these private lands offer public access. Washington also releases thousands of pheasants on public lands.  For hunters seeking a unique experience, partridge and quail numbers are up in Washington for the second straight year, giving hunters an opportunity to add variety to the game bag.

Season Dates: Varies (check regulations)
Daily Bag Limit: Varies (check regulations)
Possession Limit: Varies (check regulations)

Wisconsin

For the fourth straight year, pheasant numbers are down in Wisconsin. Cool and wet spring weather coupled with a continued decrease in CRP enrollment are the culprits.  Thanks to good public land access and a reliable stocking program, Wisconsin hunters continue to have good hunts. Roughly 240,000 birds were harvested last season, about the same as 2009.  Kenosha, Fon du Lac, and Dodge counties topped harvest reports in 2010.  Lafayette County’s Yellowstone State Park is also a popular put-and-take destination.  For those focused on wild birds, St. Croix County has an abundance of Waterfowl Production Areas with prime pheasant habitat. Keep in mind, only non-toxic shot can be used on WPAs. In addition to a small game license, a $10 state pheasant stamp is required to hunt pheasants in Wisconsin.

Ruffed grouse hunting is also popular in Wisconsin.  Thanks to incredible nesting conditions in 2010, hunters enjoyed a dream season.  Spring drumming surveys show a 38% increase from last season.  However, brood success is down from last year.  Still, hunters should expect another superb season. Most grouse hunting is done in the northern third of the state. Large tracts of public land are available. The Chequamegon National Forest and several county forests are popular hunting areas.

Season Dates: October 15 through December 31
Daily Bag Limit: 1 opening weekend, 2 remainder of season
Possession Limit: Twice the daily bag limit

Wyoming

Average to below average nest success is tempering expectations this season, but the Cowboy State’s pheasant hot spots will continue to produce. Big Horn and Goshen Counties are the top destination for ringnecks in Wyoming. The state also stocks in other areas of the state. A management stamp is required to hunt these stocked areas.

Access is good with huge tracts of public land supplemented by Wyoming’s ACCESS YES program which allows hunters to use more than 3 million acres of private land. Admittedly, much of this is big game territory. However, there are several walk in areas for pheasant hunters.

Season Dates: Varied (check regulations)
Daily Bag Limit: Varied (check regulations)
Possession Limit: Varied (check regulations)