Nov. 17, 2011
Dry, hot year produced one of the slowest openers in years
PRATT — As predicted by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism’s (KDWPT) Upland Bird Forecast, 2011 did not yield a banner opening weekend for pheasant and quail hunting, Nov. 12-13. Although a mild winter of 2010-2011 left solid numbers of breeding birds in the spring, severe heat and drought severely reduced nesting habitat and brood success for pheasants and quail this year. Hunter numbers were down somewhat, as well, although a few areas of the state produced good hunting. The best pheasant hunting was west of Highway 183 and north of I-70.

Region 1 (northwest Kansas) likely fared better than the rest of the state, as was forecast. KDWPT staff reported that hunter numbers were down a little while harvested birds were down significantly from last year. The best portions of this region were in the far northwest, where some groups of hunters reported one to one and one-half birds per hunter on opening day. Hunter numbers dropped on Sunday, likely because of warm weather and fewer birds.

Region 2 (northeast Kansas) staff reported some of the lightest hunting pressure in years although the region’s habitat is good due to rains that other portions of the state did not have. However, pheasant and quail populations have been down in the region for several years. Those who did hunt pheasant and quail had low success, although staff noted that quail hunting “may have been better.”

Hunting success was poor in Region 3 (southwest Kansas), where the drought hit hardest. The best report was from a group of nine hunters who had 12 roosters. “Find the habitat, and some birds can be found” seems to be rule of thumb in this region. However, in most of the region, habitat is sparse. As with other regions, Region 3 opening weekend success reflected the Upland Bird Forecast.

Region 4 (southcentral Kansas) seemed to be the exception in terms of hunter numbers, which staff felt was only slightly down. Most hunters appeared happy although they were taking fewer birds than in previous years. Field staff reported that most hunters felt they had been given an honest forecast by KDWPT and were just enjoying the time afield. Groups were smaller than in most years, as was the case in Region 3, and fewer nonresidents were reported. Quail hunting in this region was likely better than pheasant.

Region 5 (southeast Kansas) is not pheasant country, and hunter participation was described as “very slow.” Those who hunted quail reported fair numbers, however, with four coveys seen in a half day of hunting reported on several occasions. Quail have been down in this region for several years.

While the opening of pheasant and quail season in 2011 did not produce a lot of birds in the bag, many memories were bagged by friends and family who look forward to this time of year, when relationships are rekindled and plans are made for better hunting, which always comes back around. And there’s still good hunting to be had this season, which runs through Jan. 31, 2012.

Hunters should keep in mind that the Kansas pheasant harvest last year was second in the nation, just behind South Dakota, at nearly 900,000 roosters, so when the weather improves, the birds will be back.

Hunting licenses are valid through Dec. 31, and 2012 licenses go on sale Dec. 15, providing two weeks of hunting in 2011 and all of 2012. Holiday hunting is a great tradition, and if snow is on the ground in January, some better hunting may yet be in the offing.