The best news heading into the 2013 pheasant and quail seasons is that maybe things will finally be better in the 2014 seasons.
Jeff Prendergast, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism small-game biologist, said summer rains came too late to help this year’s crop of young birds. It may, though, mean there will be plenty of residual cover for next year’s crop.
Here’s the breakdown for this fall, based on annual agency summer counts of pheasant and quail broods..
“Last year we all said it couldn’t get any worse, but it got at least a little worse about everywhere,” Prendergast said of Kansas pheasants.“We at least have some hope for (good nesting) next year.”
Prendergast explained that several years of severe drought had done unprecedented damage to the pheasant population. While the 2010-11 season was one of the best in 30 years, last season was about the poorest in history and this one should be worse.
The spring adult bird populations were down about 35 percent across the state from last year, and there were noticeable declines in all regions. Northwest Kansas has really dropped, with a decrease of about 75 percent compared to this time last year.
“That was kind of our last stronghold for pheasants last season. It wasn’t great, but there was some decent hunting,” Prendergast said. “They really got hit by the drought this year.”
Adding to the problem has been several years of farmers and ranchers being allowed to graze or hay Conservation Reserve Program grasses for emergency cattle food. Even a delayed wheat harvest, which normally helps pheasants by sparing nests or young birds from farm machinery, did no good because such chicks had little cover or food.
Southwest Kansas is expected have fewer birds than last year, which Prendergast described as “very poor.” South-central Kansas pheasant densities were the lowest of any region in Kansas’ main pheasant range, and are down about 60 percent from last year.
Prendergast did see moderate hope in the eastern part of the Smoky Hills. Mitchell, Cloud, Ottawa and Republic counties had spotty rains should have fair pheasant hunting.
Prendergast reported that their annual summer counts by biologists and other employees show quail numbers have made minor declines in most places. That’s compared to last year, which wasn’t good. Again, the drought and destruction of habitat are to blame.
That includes about every place within an hour of Wichita.
“The south-central prairies have really been slipping since the drought started. All of those counties have been opened to emergency CRP (programs),” Prendergast said. “When you don’t have rainfall to recover, the cover is naturally going to be lacking.”
Flint Hills populations maybe the best in the state this year, particularly in the northern portions of the region. Prendergast said spring counts of whistling males were above the area’s 15-year average for the region, but populations still aren’t overly strong.
Prendergast expressed hope the greater prairie chicken numbers may be improved in the Flint Hills this year since only about 30 percent of the region was burned last spring because of the drought.
“It’s not ideal, but it beats when everything is burned,” he said. “At least maybe a few of the birds found enough habitat for nesting.”
Turkeys had pretty poor production across most of the state, including brood decreases of about 50 percent in northeast Kansas and 60 percent in north-central Kansas.