UPLAND BIRD HUNTING OUTLOOK GOOD
Despite drought in the west, good hunting should be found in much of the state
For the second year in a row, the Kansas upland bird hunting outlook appears upbeat. Good numbers of birds and more than 1.6 million acres open to public hunting make Kansas a premier destination for hunters pursuing pheasants, quail, and prairie chickens. Kansas also offers some of the longest upland game seasons and most liberal bag limits in the country.
Hunters should be aware that there will be some changes to the upland game seasons this fall. Most notably, the regular pheasant season will open one week earlier, on Nov. 4, and run through the end of January. Also, the quail units have been eliminated; the statewide season will run Nov. 11 through Jan. 21. Season dates for prairie chickens will be similar to last fall. An early season east of U.S. Highway 281 will run Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. The regular season will be divided into three units: the Northwest Unit (north of I-70 and west of U.S. 281) will run Nov. 18-Jan. 31 with a daily bag limit of two; the East Unit (all of Kansas east of U.S. 281) will also run Nov. 18-Jan. 31 with a daily bag limit of two; and the Southwest Unit (south of I-70 and west of U.S. 281) will run Nov. 18-Dec. 31 with a daily bag of one.
The daily bag limit for pheasants will be four (roosters only), and the daily bag limit for quail will be eight. Possession limits for all three upland bird species will be four times the daily bag.
Kansas will also offer a special pheasant and quail hunt for youth 16 and younger on the weekend of October 28-29. Those youth must be accompanied by a non-hunting adult 18 or older. Daily bag limits for the special youth season are two pheasants and four quail.
Due to a relatively mild winter across most of the state, pheasant numbers going into the nesting season were the highest recorded in the last 10 years. However, drought and a late fall blizzard in western Kansas resulted in an averaged statewide decline in production of more than 20 percent from last year. Because of poor production, the number of pheasants will be down, on average, 15-20 percent statewide. Fortunately, pheasant production was not poor across the entire state, and in certain areas, the number of birds will be similar or even greater than last year.
Like pheasants, quail numbers going into the nesting season were the highest observed in the last several years due to the relatively mild winter across most of the state. Unlike pheasants, quail did not suffer poor production due to differences in nesting times and habitat requirements. Quail production was actually up 10-20 percent averaged statewide and even greater in some regions. Quail experienced poor production only in the severely drought-stricken western one-third of the state. All indications point to the upcoming quail season being one of the best in the last several years.
Kansas is home to both greater and lesser prairie-chickens. Lesser prairie-chickens are found in the western and southwestern part of the state. In recent years, the lesser prairie-chicken population has increased across the majority of its range, offering good hunting opportunities. Greater prairie-chicken numbers appear to be declining in the Flint Hills and were down substantially again this spring. However, because of dry conditions this year, pasture burning wasn’t as widespread in the Flint Hills, so production may have been better than last year. Greater prairie-chicken numbers in the northcentral part of the state were up this spring.
The following is a region-by-region analysis of upland bird populations in Kansas.
Region 1 (northwest and northcentral)
Pheasant densities in the western one-third of the region will be substantially lower than last year. However, the number of birds in the northcentral and northeastern counties of the region will be similar to last fall or somewhat greater, offering some of the best prospects in the state for the upcoming season.
Quail numbers in the western one-third of the region will also be reduced from last year. Despite the annual decline, quail densities in these far northwestern counties will still be greater than the previous five-year average. In eastern areas of the region, the number of quail should be similar to last fall in the central counties and increased by 10 percent or more in the easternmost counties.
Prairie chicken populations have expanded in both numbers and range within the region over the past 20 years. The better hunting opportunities will be found in the eastern and central portions of the region.
Region 2 (Northeast Kansas)
Upland game numbers in Region 2, especially quail, should be substantially greater than last year.
Because the majority of the counties in the northeast region are not within Kansas’ better pheasant range, expect to find the greatest number of pheasants in the western and northwestern counties in Region 2.
Quail numbers should be up approximately 10 percent from last fall throughout the region, the best in several years. The best quail prospects can be found in the counties in the southern and southwestern portions of the region.
Greater prairie chickens occur only in the central and western counties of Region 2. The number of nesting birds was up from last year, and nesting conditions were good. The best hunting opportunities occur in the Flint Hills in central and western portions of the region.
Region 3 (Southwest Kansas)
Extremely poor production in most of the western and southwestern counties of the region will result in about 25 percent fewer pheasants than last year. However, pheasant numbers in those counties should still be near the 5-year average because of good carry-over through last winter. Production was better farther east in the region but still below the long-term average. Pheasant numbers in the easternmost counties of Region 3 will be similar to last year.
Quail populations in Region 3 will be down substantially in the far western reaches of the region and similar to last year or slightly improved in the easternmost counties of the region. In most portions of Region 3, quail numbers will be greater than the previous 5-year average. The best prospects for this fall will be in the eastern and southeastern counties, which should offer some excellent quail hunting.
Most prairie chickens in Region 3 are lesser prairie-chickens, but a few greater prairie-chickens inhabit the northcentral and northeastern counties. Counts in spring were up modestly from last year across most of the region. Expect prairie chicken hunting in Region 3 to be similar to last year.
Region 4 (Southcentral Kansas)
Pheasant numbers across the region will be somewhat down from last year. The best pheasant hunting in the region will likely be in the northernmost counties.
Quail numbers in Region 4 will be similar or moderately greater than last fall. The best quail production was observed in the northern and northeastern counties of the region. Expect quail hunting in those northernmost counties of the region to be the best in several years.
Good populations of greater prairie-chickens reside in the northern and eastern counties of Region 4. Although spring counts in the Flint Hills were down substantially from last year, chicken hunting in Region 4 should be similar to last year, with the highest densities of birds in the eastern and northeastern counties.
Region 5 (Southeast Kansas)
The vast majority of Region 5 is outside of the pheasant range, but quail populations in this region came through the winter in great shape. The number of birds heading into the spring nesting season was up more than 30 percent from last year, the highest observed in the past five or six years. Quail production in Region 5 was also up more than 30 percent from last year, more than 20 percent above the long-term average. Expect quail numbers throughout the region to be up substantially, which should result in one of the best quail seasons in the past 10 years. Some of the best quail hunting in the state can be found in the Flint Hills and Chautauqua Hills regions in the southwestern corner of Region 5.
Greater prairie-chickens are most abundant in the western and northwestern counties of Region 5, but there are spotty populations elsewhere in the region. Expect prairie chicken hunting in Region 5 to be similar to last year with the best densities in the western portions of the Flint Hills of the region.
A more detailed 2006 Kansas Upland Bird Forecast is available here .