Upland upswing

English setters Storm and Woody will begin a well-deserved vacation beginning Tuesday morning.

Steve Swaffar's dogs have pointed and fetched a lot of pheasant and quail through the seasons that end Monday.

"It was a great year. Several times we walked out of a field thinking we wished it could be like that every time," Swaffar said. "I was out more this year than the last three or four. I just had to make more time for myself because it's been good."

Swaffar, of Rossville, hunted in about a dozen counties through the seasons that opened Nov. 13.

"I tried to go where I knew there would be good birds," Swaffar said. "For me, between Gray and Ellis counties was probably best."

Jim Pitman wasn't surprised by Swaffar's success or the location of his best hunts.

"We were expecting a good season out west and it was," said Pitman, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism's small-game coordinator. "All of our surveys were up going into the season with the exception of north-central Kansas. Other than there, I've heard few negative reports."

Pitman credited good reproduction from three springs for building pheasant populations over most of central and western Kansas.

"We had good cover conditions due to moisture and not many bad weather events during the peak of productivity, like major hail storms," he said. "Getting good production is usually our most important thing. We also didn't have any major winter storms. Over-winter survival is of secondary importance."

Pitman estimated this season's pheasant kill to be more than 800,000 birds. That could be more than a 10-percent increase over last season.

This season seemed to be one of extremes, though.

"Some guys weren't finding any birds while guys 30 miles away were finding all kinds of birds," said Brad Odle, Wildlife and Parks biologist from Stockton. "There were some pockets (in north-central Kansas) where it was just not very good, as in almost no birds at all."

Odle and Pitman blamed a string of severe spring and summer storms across many counties along or near the Nebraska border for poor pheasant populations in that region.

Pitman said reports from quail hunters indicated improved populations over much of Kansas.

"Southwest Kansas was really good and we heard good stuff from a lot of places in central and western Kansas," he said. "Things were a little improved in the Flint Hills and southeast Kansas but you could still go out and hunt hard and only find a covey or two per day."

Will Carpenter, of El Dorado, said he noticed an increase in localized quail populations.

"I didn't get a lot but I really think the birds were there," he said. "It was just one of those years when things never seemed to go right. I think scenting conditions (for bird dogs) were bad because it's so dry."

An ongoing drought has many concerned for next season's pheasant populations, too.

Some places in western Kansas have had little moisture since mid-September.

"As far as cover conditions, what (moisture) we get in the early spring is really important for production," said Pitman. "It's dry now but we'll just have to wait and see what we get in March and April. That will be really important."