Kansas pheasant harvest, spring population near all-time lows

First, for the bad news.

Last fall and winter Kansas pheasant hunters shot about 230,000 pheasants. That’s the lowest since about 154,000 in 1957, the first year harvest records were kept.

A rare sight last season…a hunter with a rooster pheasant. Last season’s harvest was the lowest in about 55 years because of severe drought.

Second, for the really bad news – this coming season could be worse in some areas, according to spring surveys.

Jim Pitman, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism upland bird biologist provided the harvest estimates. ┬áHe also furnished the results of the agency’s annual spring pheasant counts. It’s an annual event where agency staff run prescribed rural routes, stopping at prescribed locations to listen for rooster pheasants crowing.

“This is horrific compared to where we were just a few years ago,” said Pitman. “When you’re as low as we are this year, it means you’re pretty much going to have (very low populations) this fall, even with good production. We just don’t have many bird out there.”

As a comparison, Pitman said hunters shot about 900,000 rooster pheasants back during the 2010-2011 season. That was one of the highest of all time, and the highest in about 25 years. Two to three years of severe drought across much of Kansas’s top pheasant country, and record-setting heat, killed a lot of adult birds and made it almost impossible for chicks to survive.

As low as crow counts were last year, many are far, far lower this spring. Northwestern Kansas still has the best numbers, but…

“…from the spring of 2012, the counts are down 40 percent region-wide,” Pitman said. “That’s just a one year change. It’s probably 75 to 80 percent down from 2010.”

Some figures of interest – southwest Gove County had a 90 percent decline from last year. Thomas County is down 72 percent from last year and Gray County down 71 percent. As a region, south-central Kansas was down 27 percent from last year and the entire state was down 37 percent.

“It’s just an example of of how quickly things can fluctuate,” Pitman said. “It can go the other way just as quick, too…if it ever rains.”

Wildlife and Parks will do brood counts this summer, and have a better idea of this fall’s populations.