The seasons begins Nov. 12, but Kansas bird hunters may want to start getting their bird dogs, and themselves, in shape. This year could be one of the best in several years for pheasant and quail.
Kansas pheasants went into the winter with a higher population than probably anytime since the 2010 season, said Jeff Prendergast, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism pheasant biologist. This year’s many rains produced ideal nesting and brood-rearing conditions across Kansas. Most of the state will see some improvement over last season, though few places will have the number of birds they did before the drought that began five years ago.
Prendergast discussed this year’s official forecast for the birds on Thursday. The projections largely come from a summer brood survey run by agency personnel. The study had biologists driving standardized routes 25 to 50 miles in length, through 74 Kansas counties. Ideally each was run four times through a six-week period.
Southwest Kansas, Prendergast said, could have the best overall pheasant population in the state. The same wet weather that frustrated wheat harvesters came through for pheasants.
“The production was very good because they had some timely rains,” said Prendergast. “It seemed like every week or two they’d get another good rain that just seemed to keep the vegetation lush and the conditions right for producing birds.”
A down side to all of the lush vegetation was that it may have kept biologists from seeing as many birds during their surveys. Prendergast said some routes showed a decline in the total number of pheasants seen. He still remains confident things are better in most areas based on the number of birds that showed up in spring surveys, and the average number of chicks per hen during the summer brood survey.
Pheasant hunting should be good across most of the southwest region but the area from Dodge City to Garden City, and south to the Oklahoma border, could be best.
Northwest Kansas gave southwest a run for best pheasant region but Prendergast said there are some pockets of low bird numbers scattered about that part of the state. The four counties along the Nebraska border could offer some of the best pheasant populations in northwest Kansas.
North-central and South-central Kansas pheasant numbers showed improvement. Probably the best of both regions is where they join, roughly from Hays eastward several counties and south to Pratt and Greensburg
This year Kansas quail hunters should have one of their best seasons in the past 20 to 30 years. Last year the average number of quail bagged per hunter day, 1.7 birds, was the highest it’s been since before 2000. Thanks go to an unlikely ally.
“One thing I’m pretty adamant about is that the same drought that brought us a big decline a few years ago is what’s making it good again,” Prendergast said. “A lot of the pastures really got beat up and that brought on a lot of the weeds quail need. It created some excellent production conditions and that seems to continue.”
South-central Kansas will probably have the best hunting for quail this season, particularly the areas with a lot of prairie. That could include areas south and west of Pratt, plus some areas of sandhills prairie north of there, too. Areas with similar habitat in southwest Kansas are expected to have good numbers of quail, too. North-central Kansas should have more quail this season.
Flint Hills quail populations, which have been strong the past two seasons, may be down slightly but Prendergast said he’s still pleased with the region’s quail densities.
Though the news is good to great on pheasants and quail, it’s not so with wild turkeys in Kansas. The summer survey showed the statewide population down about 25 percent from last year, which wasn’t an impressive population. Some biologists never saw a young turkey on all of their hours driving survey routes.
“Turkeys are more subject to flooding events,” said Prendergast. “They nest a lot in riparian areas. That could be a lot of it, but we also don’t have a definitive answer as to what’s happening with our turkey populations.”
Prendergast hopes hunters make time to get out and experience the improved pheasant and quail populations this year. Surveys show hunter numbers were surprisingly low last season.
“Last year we only had about 72,000 pheasant hunters. In 2010 (a year of good populations) we had 123,000 hunters,” Prendergast said. “Our birds (shot) per day (1.25) last season was pretty good, but we only got around 4.15 days per hunter during the season. Even in 2013, when we had the lowest recorded harvest, days per hunter was better than last year.”
Sometimes it takes a while for hunter numbers to match current bird populations.
“I’m expecting a bigger jump this year,” said Prendergast. “I guess maybe hunters like to let somebody else test the waters before they jump in.”