Hunters may find far fewer pheasants this fall

After several great seasons, Kansas pheasant hunters may struggle to find birds this fall. Kansas’ pheasant season runs Nov. 12-Jan. 31.

Kansas hunting dogs may find pointing and fetching opportunities few and far between in southwest Kansas this year.

Summer surveys by rural mail carriers and Wildlife and Parks employees in southwest Kansas showed an 84-percent population drop from last year’s summer survey, said Jim Pitman, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism upland game coordinator.

He blamed this year’s severe drought and heat for greatly reducing this year’s pheasant hatch over the portion of Kansas south of I-70 and west of Hutchinson.

The same conditions may have impacted this year’s survey a little as well because birds were hunkered down rather than out where they could be seen during the survey. Still…

“I’d still say we’re going to be down more than half and feel safe,” Pitman said. He said the worst populations will be in extreme southwest Kansas with things possibly showing gradual improvement the further north and east you go.”

Before he read the survey, Pitman hoped for improved pheasant populations in north-central and northwest Kansas where rainfall amounts were good. Not so.

“Things are down a little north of I-70, too, though we expect some places up there will still have some good hunting,” he said. “We can only figure it was because of some hail storms they had up there…or maybe the extreme heat.”

Such poor production is especially disappointing since much of Kansas went into spring with high numbers of breeding birds. Pitman said hunters shot about 780,000 pheasants last season. That’s almost identical to the 2007 season, which was the state’s best in more than 20 years.

Another possible problem are that large amounts of the Conservation Reserve Program lands hunters frequent have been hayed or grazed in the region. Pitman said many lands within the department’s Walk-In Hunting Area program could have been impacted. The federal government has allowed such action to help off-set tough agricultural conditions.

The overall Kansas quail population may be a bit better than last season, but Pitman said the summer survey shows depressed numbers again in the southwestern quarter of Kansas. Populations are down 93 percent from about Dodge City west and south. Again, populations gradually improve in areas east and north of that region. North-central Kansas and the northern Flint Hills reported improved quail numbers compared to last year.

Wild turkey broods were larger in southeast Kansas, a region that’s had low to very low populations for several years.