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Pheasant access maps out
By Charlie Meyers
Denver Post Outdoors Editor

The maps have arrived. Let the scouting begin.

To mark the fourth year of the Colorado Division of Wildlife pheasant walk-in access program, an atlas with maps and descriptions of properties is available at all DOW offices and license agents.

The maps detail locations of approximately 160,000 acres available under this hunter assistance plan, a precise blueprint to some of the best pheasant habitat in the state. But the value begins well in advance of the Nov. 20 season opener.

"Now is the time to go out and select the places you want to hunt," DOW small-game coordinator Ed Gorman said.

For best opening-day pheasant success, Gorman advised, make a preseason trip to the desired area, then try to pinpoint four or five fields where you think you'll find the most birds.

"Figure out where they roost, where they are likely to go when pushed," Gorman said of this early strategy.

The key to this scheme, of course, is a copy of the atlas, along with subscription to the walk-in plan. As usual, participation costs $20, money that goes directly to pay landowners for access. DOW spends an average of $1 per acre for the land, mostly concentrated in that portion of northeast Colorado that produces the most pheasants.

While Gorman and other program administrators take special pains to enlist the best possible habitat, the walk-in program is no guarantee for success. Some areas attract a heavy concentration of hunters, who rather quickly pressure birds away from the public areas.

That's where scouting and a fall-back strategy come in. A key element of such a plan, Gorman said, might involve avoiding those most popular parts of Phillips, Yuma, Washington and Logan counties altogether.

Many lesser-used areas also hold significant bird populations, along with ample walk-in access. Find these, Gorman said, and you'll significantly extend your time in fields that haven't been hunted.

During the next 2 1/2 weeks before the start of the season, Gorman expects nearly all of Colorado's corn crop to be harvested, exposing pheasants that typically use tall standing corn as their primary cover.

"A lot of birds should be out and exposed," he said. "You should be able to look around and see where they're going to be."

Gorman expects pheasant numbers to approximate 2003, but with one nagging caveat. Improved cover conditions mean birds will be less concentrated, generally harder to find.

"Last year, which was a pretty good year, the habitat was either really good or really bad," Gorman said. "Now there's a lot more average habitat, a lot more places for birds to be."

In fact, if opening weekend weather turns mild, heavy cover may not be the place to look.

"If it's 50 degrees and sunny, expect them in thin cover in out-of-the-way places. Think about the current weather," Gorman said.

Meanwhile, it pays to sign up for the walk-in program and, maps in hand, do some serious scouting.

Regional pheasant action gets cranking Saturday with the opening of the season in Nebraska. Kansas kicks off a week later.

Nebraska prospects have improved with an abatement of drought, with most of the gains coming in the eastern part of the state. The southwest is best in the area south of the South Platte River and, serendipitously, closest to the Colorado state line.

Kansas, too, offers better hunting, particularly along a wide crescent from the north-central part of the state down through the southwest. The northwest, favored by many Coloradans, should be slightly improved, but below long-term levels.

Charlie Meyers can be reached at 303-820-1609 or

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