Greater and Lesser Prairie Chicken

Greater and Lesser Prairie Chicken

Upland Bird Forecast Brochure

Kansas currently harbors two species of prairie grouse. The greater prairie chicken ( Tympanuchus cupido) is much more abundant than the lesser prairie chicken ( T. pallidicinctus). A third species of prairie grouse, the sharp-tailed grouse ( T. phasianellus) disappeared from it’s historic western Kansas range during the droughts of the 1930’s. Attempts to restore sharptails in the 1980’s and 1990’s, while initially promising, ultimately proved unsuccessful.

Prairie chickens may be best known for their unique spring breeding behavior. Early in spring, groups of males assemble on communal mating grounds known to biologists as leks. The low, booming sounds produced by greater prairie chicken cocks accounts for the common reference to their leks as "booming grounds." Similarly, the higher-pitched, bubbly sounds made by lesser prairie chicken cocks has conferred the term "gobbling grounds" to their leks. On a quiet spring morning, these sounds can carry as much as two miles across the open prairie, serving as an audible beacon to prairie chicken hens. Males of either species compete with each other through a series of spectacular displays, calls, and sparring for the coveted inner-most territories on the lek. The one or two males most successful in attaining and defending these small territories typically perform about 90% of the matings that occur on the lek. Unlike the polygamous ring-necked pheasant or the more monogamous bobwhite, prairie chickens do not form lasting behavioral bonds between cocks and hens.

Greater prairie chickens currently occur in parts of 10 states, but by far the largest populations occur in Kansas and Nebraska. The traditional stronghold of greaters in Kansas is the Flint Hills, a roughly 50-mile-wide band of tallgrass prairie that extends from the Oklahoma border northward nearly to the Nebraska line in the eastern third of the state. The tallgrass prairie of the Flint Hills was saved from the conversion to cropland that consumed of most of North America’s original tallgrass prairie by its shallow soils and underlying limestone that resisted the plow. Strong greater prairie chicken populations also exist in the mixed prairies of the Smoky Hills in northcentral Kansas. Significant numbers of greaters can be found as well in the grassland breaks that parallel the streams of northwest and west-central Kansas. These western Kansas populations have increased and expanded over the last two decades, particularly with the addition of mixed grasslands seeded through the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

Lesser prairie chickens are indeed a bit smaller than their greater counterparts. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added the lesser prairie chicken to the Threatened Species List in 2014, so prairie chicken hunting is not allowed in the Southwest Unit (see map). Kansas currently harbors the most extensive remaining range and largest population of the lesser prairie chicken among the disjunct populations found in the five states where it occurs (KS, TX, NM, OK, CO). Good numbers of lessers still occur in Kansas' mixed grass and sand sagebrush prairies but their greatest densities can now be found north of the Arkansas River in a matrix of native rangeland and CRP grasslands. Lessers were thought to have been extirpated from this portion of their historic range as recently as 15 years ago. However, the addition of CRP grasslands restored the missing habitat components and populations of both prairie chicken species responded with range expansions and large increases in numbers. This expansion of lesser and greater prairie chicken populations in west-central Kansas has brought these two historically overlapping species back together in a zone ranging from 20 to 40 miles in width. Some mixed leks with cocks of both species occur in this zone of overlap.

Two distinct forms of prairie chicken hunting occur in Kansas. In the eastern half of the state (east of U.S. Highway 281), an early season (Sept. 15 – Oct. 15) allows hunters with dogs to take advantage of the tendency for young greaters to hold well at this time of year. Later in the fall, chickens gather into larger groups, often making it more difficult for hunters with dogs to get within gun range. By fall, many prairie chickens will begin feeding in cut sorghum, corn, or soybean fields. Since these birds often fly directly to specific fields when they leave their roosts in early morning, hunters can get pass shooting opportunities by positioning themselves at the margin of the field closest to the roosting area. This pass shooting is the more common way of taking greater prairie chickens during Kansas’ regular season (3rd Saturday in Nov. to Jan. 31st, Daily Limit = 2).  Since 1990, estimated greater prairie chicken harvests in Kansas have varied from a high of 59,000 in 1991 to a low of only 9,000 in 2002.

Prairie chicken adults are exceptionally hardy birds and are seldom significantly threatened by severe winter weather. Should deep snows occur, their ability to dive into the snow for roosting helps shield them from cold temperatures and wind chills above the snow surface. More significant weather threats to greater prairie chickens sometimes come in the form of excessive, drenching rains during nesting or when chicks are very small and most vulnerable to chilling. Drought is probably the greatest weather threat to lesser prairie chickens. Normal conditions in the range of the lesser prairie chicken varies from arid to semi-arid, so significant droughts can severely impact their habitat and production.

Historically, conversion of native prairies to cropland has accounted for the greatest loss of prairie chicken habitat in Kansas and elsewhere. More recently, other forms of human land use and development have posed additional threats. Particularly in the Flint Hills, the thorough annual burning of vast areas of tallgrass prairie associated with intensive, early cattle grazing in May, June, and July leaves few places for ground nesting birds like prairie chickens to successfully nest. Greater prairie chicken populations in the Flint Hills have declined significantly since this grazing system became widespread. However, less frequent burning, ideally once in 3 years or twice in 5 years, is critical to the health of the prairie and for prairie chickens. Possibly a more serious threat to greater prairie chickens and other grassland birds is the spread of invasive trees like eastern red cedar, Osage orange, and others into parts of our Kansas prairies ( read more: Tree Invasion). Ironically, this has resulted from too little application of controlled burning in some regions and from failure of land managers to quickly recognize and respond to the threat tree invasion poses to prairie, livestock production, and grassland wildlife.

Recent radio-telemetry studies conducted by Kansas State University researchers in southwest Kansas has highlighted yet another threat to prairie chickens. These workers documented a distinct avoidance of man-made structures by lesser prairie chickens. Generally, most prairie chicken hens avoided nesting or rearing their broods within a quarter-mile of power lines and within a third-mile of improved roads. Buildings, including a power plant and gas booster stations, were avoided from anywhere between two-thirds of a mile to one mile, depending on their size. This information, coupled with similar avoidance behavior noted in other species, suggests there is cause for concern over negative impacts on prairie chickens of other types of structures as well, including communications towers, wind farms, and suburban homes. Fragmentation of the open grassland horizons preferred by prairie chickens appears to represent yet another man-made threat to these species habitats.

Maintaining extensive tracts of open, well-managed prairie is critical to the conservation of prairie chickens. In Kansas, where 97% of the land is privately owned, ranchers are, unquestionably, the most important stewards of the prairies. Wildlife conservationists can best help conserve prairie chickens by forming alliances with ranchers to assist them in preventing tree invasion, to help them resist economic pressures to sell their lands, and to test new, economically-viable management systems that could prove more friendly to grassland wildlife. One such system with great promise is the "Patch Burning / Patch Grazing" system developed and tested by researchers at Oklahoma State University. Traditional grazing systems remain very viable for prairie health, provided they incorporate periodic fire ( not annual burning) and light to moderate stocking rates.

Range Map
Greater Prairie Chicken Map
Season Information
Current Seasons
Greater Prairie Chicken Regular Season - Greater Prairie Chicken Unit

Dates: 09/15/2021 - 01/31/2022


Upcoming Seasons
Upcoming Greater and Lesser Prairie Chicken seasons have not been scheduled yet.
Regulations
115-25-01 (PDF - 84.84 kB)

Prairie Chickens - Open Seasons, Bag Limits and Possession Limits

115-25-01a (PDF - 8.88 kB)

Quail; open seasons, bag limits, and possession limits.

115-25-01b (PDF - 8.92 kB)

Pheasants; open seasons, bag limits, and possession limits.

Greater and Lesser Prairie Chicken

Greater and Lesser Prairie Chicken

Kansas currently harbors two species of prairie grouse. The greater prairie chicken ( Tympanuchus cupido) is much more abundant than the lesser prairie chicken ( T. pallidicinctus). A third species of prairie grouse, the sharp-tailed grouse ( T. phasianellus) disappeared from it’s historic western Kansas range during the droughts of the 1930’s. Attempts to restore sharptails in the 1980’s and 1990’s, while initially promising, ultimately proved unsuccessful.

Prairie chickens may be best known for their unique spring breeding behavior. Early in spring, groups of males assemble on communal mating grounds known to biologists as leks. The low, booming sounds produced by greater prairie chicken cocks accounts for the common reference to their leks as "booming grounds." Similarly, the higher-pitched, bubbly sounds made by lesser prairie chicken cocks has conferred the term "gobbling grounds" to their leks. On a quiet spring morning, these sounds can carry as much as two miles across the open prairie, serving as an audible beacon to prairie chicken hens. Males of either species compete with each other through a series of spectacular displays, calls, and sparring for the coveted inner-most territories on the lek. The one or two males most successful in attaining and defending these small territories typically perform about 90% of the matings that occur on the lek. Unlike the polygamous ring-necked pheasant or the more monogamous bobwhite, prairie chickens do not form lasting behavioral bonds between cocks and hens.

Greater prairie chickens currently occur in parts of 10 states, but by far the largest populations occur in Kansas and Nebraska. The traditional stronghold of greaters in Kansas is the Flint Hills, a roughly 50-mile-wide band of tallgrass prairie that extends from the Oklahoma border northward nearly to the Nebraska line in the eastern third of the state. The tallgrass prairie of the Flint Hills was saved from the conversion to cropland that consumed of most of North America’s original tallgrass prairie by its shallow soils and underlying limestone that resisted the plow. Strong greater prairie chicken populations also exist in the mixed prairies of the Smoky Hills in northcentral Kansas. Significant numbers of greaters can be found as well in the grassland breaks that parallel the streams of northwest and west-central Kansas. These western Kansas populations have increased and expanded over the last two decades, particularly with the addition of mixed grasslands seeded through the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

Lesser prairie chickens are indeed a bit smaller than their greater counterparts. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added the lesser prairie chicken to the Threatened Species List in 2014, so prairie chicken hunting is not allowed in the Southwest Unit (see map). Kansas currently harbors the most extensive remaining range and largest population of the lesser prairie chicken among the disjunct populations found in the five states where it occurs (KS, TX, NM, OK, CO). Good numbers of lessers still occur in Kansas' mixed grass and sand sagebrush prairies but their greatest densities can now be found north of the Arkansas River in a matrix of native rangeland and CRP grasslands. Lessers were thought to have been extirpated from this portion of their historic range as recently as 15 years ago. However, the addition of CRP grasslands restored the missing habitat components and populations of both prairie chicken species responded with range expansions and large increases in numbers. This expansion of lesser and greater prairie chicken populations in west-central Kansas has brought these two historically overlapping species back together in a zone ranging from 20 to 40 miles in width. Some mixed leks with cocks of both species occur in this zone of overlap.

Two distinct forms of prairie chicken hunting occur in Kansas. In the eastern half of the state (east of U.S. Highway 281), an early season (Sept. 15 – Oct. 15) allows hunters with dogs to take advantage of the tendency for young greaters to hold well at this time of year. Later in the fall, chickens gather into larger groups, often making it more difficult for hunters with dogs to get within gun range. By fall, many prairie chickens will begin feeding in cut sorghum, corn, or soybean fields. Since these birds often fly directly to specific fields when they leave their roosts in early morning, hunters can get pass shooting opportunities by positioning themselves at the margin of the field closest to the roosting area. This pass shooting is the more common way of taking greater prairie chickens during Kansas’ regular season (3rd Saturday in Nov. to Jan. 31st, Daily Limit = 2).  Since 1990, estimated greater prairie chicken harvests in Kansas have varied from a high of 59,000 in 1991 to a low of only 9,000 in 2002.

Prairie chicken adults are exceptionally hardy birds and are seldom significantly threatened by severe winter weather. Should deep snows occur, their ability to dive into the snow for roosting helps shield them from cold temperatures and wind chills above the snow surface. More significant weather threats to greater prairie chickens sometimes come in the form of excessive, drenching rains during nesting or when chicks are very small and most vulnerable to chilling. Drought is probably the greatest weather threat to lesser prairie chickens. Normal conditions in the range of the lesser prairie chicken varies from arid to semi-arid, so significant droughts can severely impact their habitat and production.

Historically, conversion of native prairies to cropland has accounted for the greatest loss of prairie chicken habitat in Kansas and elsewhere. More recently, other forms of human land use and development have posed additional threats. Particularly in the Flint Hills, the thorough annual burning of vast areas of tallgrass prairie associated with intensive, early cattle grazing in May, June, and July leaves few places for ground nesting birds like prairie chickens to successfully nest. Greater prairie chicken populations in the Flint Hills have declined significantly since this grazing system became widespread. However, less frequent burning, ideally once in 3 years or twice in 5 years, is critical to the health of the prairie and for prairie chickens. Possibly a more serious threat to greater prairie chickens and other grassland birds is the spread of invasive trees like eastern red cedar, Osage orange, and others into parts of our Kansas prairies ( read more: Tree Invasion). Ironically, this has resulted from too little application of controlled burning in some regions and from failure of land managers to quickly recognize and respond to the threat tree invasion poses to prairie, livestock production, and grassland wildlife.

Recent radio-telemetry studies conducted by Kansas State University researchers in southwest Kansas has highlighted yet another threat to prairie chickens. These workers documented a distinct avoidance of man-made structures by lesser prairie chickens. Generally, most prairie chicken hens avoided nesting or rearing their broods within a quarter-mile of power lines and within a third-mile of improved roads. Buildings, including a power plant and gas booster stations, were avoided from anywhere between two-thirds of a mile to one mile, depending on their size. This information, coupled with similar avoidance behavior noted in other species, suggests there is cause for concern over negative impacts on prairie chickens of other types of structures as well, including communications towers, wind farms, and suburban homes. Fragmentation of the open grassland horizons preferred by prairie chickens appears to represent yet another man-made threat to these species habitats.

Maintaining extensive tracts of open, well-managed prairie is critical to the conservation of prairie chickens. In Kansas, where 97% of the land is privately owned, ranchers are, unquestionably, the most important stewards of the prairies. Wildlife conservationists can best help conserve prairie chickens by forming alliances with ranchers to assist them in preventing tree invasion, to help them resist economic pressures to sell their lands, and to test new, economically-viable management systems that could prove more friendly to grassland wildlife. One such system with great promise is the "Patch Burning / Patch Grazing" system developed and tested by researchers at Oklahoma State University. Traditional grazing systems remain very viable for prairie health, provided they incorporate periodic fire ( not annual burning) and light to moderate stocking rates.

Upland Bird Forecast
Upland Bird Map

Figure 1: Map of the seven small game management regions within Kansas. Areas in gray are closed to prairie chicken hunting.

 

Forecast Factors

Two important factors impact availability of upland game during the fall hunting season: number of breeding adults in the spring and the reproductive success of the breeding population. Reproductive success consists of both the number of hatched nests and chick survival. For pheasant and quail, annual survival is relatively low; therefore, the fall population is more dependent on summer reproduction than spring adult numbers. For prairie chickens, reproductive success is still the major population regulator, but higher adult survival helps maintain hunting opportunities during poor conditions.

In this forecast, breeding population and reproductive success of pheasants, quail, and prairie chickens will be discussed. Breeding population data were gathered using spring calling surveys for pheasants (crow counts), quail (whistle counts), and prairie chickens (lek counts). Data for reproductive success were collected during late-summer roadside surveys for pheasants and quail, which quantify both adults and chicks observed. Reproductive success of prairie chickens cannot be easily assessed using the same methods because they do not associate with roads like pheasants and quail.

Habitat Conditions

Kansas has a dramatic rainfall gradient from more than 50 inches of average annual rainfall in the far east to less than 14 inches in the far west. The amount and timing of rainfall plays a major role in reproduction for upland birds. In the west, wet years typically improve the available cover and increase insect availability for chicks. In the east, dry years are typically more optimal, as heavy rains during spring and summer can reduce survival of nesting birds and young chicks. In 2021, Kansas had above-average spring precipitation across much of the state, resulting in good nesting habitat. Summer transitioned into a hotter and drier period which had the potential to impact chick survival. However, Kansas received enough rainfall throughout the summer to stay relatively drought free. This, paired with ample insects and cover produced from spring moisture, appears to have sustained chicks as production indices were improved. 

Overall Outlook: "Good"

Kansas should have good upland bird hunting opportunities this fall. Kansas has almost 1.7 million acres open to public hunting (wildlife areas and WIHA combined). This is only a small portion of the more than 52 million acres of private land that also provides ample opportunity where permission can be obtained. The opening date for pheasant and quail seasons is November 13, and youth season is November 6-7. The youth age was increased this year to allow hunters 17 years of age or younger to participate. Youth must still be accompanied by a nonhunting adult that is 18 years of age or older. Please consider taking a young person hunting this fall!

2021 Statewide Summaries

Pheasant  Above average spring rainfall created good nesting cover across most of the primary pheasant range. Some areas in far west Kansas had better nesting conditions then observed in a decade. While spring conditions were good and there didn’t appear to be any problems with overwinter survival, poor production last summer left fewer birds in the breeding population this spring. The hot and dry conditions that settled in from mid-July through August was well after the peak hatching period when most birds were of considerable size and unlikely to be impacted by these conditions. This did, however, coincide with our summer brood survey creating challenging survey conditions. Estimates for the summer brood survey did not show any significant change; however, most regional estimates trended down. The western extent of the High Plains generally showed improvements, with the Northern High Plains having the highest regional roadside estimates this year. Measures of reproductions were greatly improved across most regions of the state this year. This, combined with several opportunistic reports from farmers and staff of improved numbers, suggests that the poor survey conditions may have impacted counts this year. Kansas continues to maintain one of the best pheasant populations in the country and the fall harvest will again be among the leading states.

Quail  Kansas continues to support above-average quail populations with spring densities remaining similar to last year. This includes significant increases in spring densities in both the Smoky Hills region of North Central Kansas and the Flint Hills. The peak nesting for quail is later then pheasants, which has led to some concern about chick survival with late summer conditions. However, reproduction measures remained high and improved across most regions on the brood survey. Despite the improved production, the brood survey estimates a decrease in the statewide densities of quail fueled largely by large decreases in estimates in the Smoky Hills. Disagreement between these estimates and the estimates of production may again suggest that poor survey conditions impacted counts. Kansas maintains one of the premier quail populations in the country and harvest will again be among the highest this year. The best opportunities will be in the Flint Hills and central regions, with plenty of quality hunting opportunity scattered in the remaining regions.

Prairie Chicken Kansas is home to both greater and lesser prairie-chickens. Both species require a landscape of predominately native grass and benefit from a few interspersed grain fields. Lesser prairie-chickens are found in west-central and southwestern Kansas in native prairie and nearby stands of native grass established through the CRP. Greater prairie-chickens are found primarily in the tallgrass and mixed-grass prairies that occur in the eastern third and northern half of the state. Greater prairie-chickens have recently expanded in numbers and range in the Northwestern portion of the state while declining in the eastern regions. Hunting opportunities will be best in the Northern High Plains and Smoky Hills Regions this fall, where populations have been either increasing or stable, and public access is more abundant. The Southwest Prairie Chicken Unit, where lesser prairie-chickens are found, will remain closed to hunting this year. Greater prairie-chickens may be harvested during the early prairie chicken season and the regular season with a two-bird daily bag limit in the Greater Prairie-Chicken Unit. All prairie chicken hunters are required to purchase a $2.50 Prairie Chicken Permit.  This permit allows KDWP to better track hunter activity and harvest, which will improve management activities and inform policy decisions. New this year: Kansas has combined the two season segments to have one continuous season from Sept .15 through Jan. 31.

2021 Regional Summaries
Northern High Plains (Northwest)

Public Land: 12,849 acres

WIHA: 389,111 acres

Pheasant – Regional bird indices remained similar to last year and the region boasts both the highest regional index from the summer brood survey and spring crow survey this year. While some routes in the eastern region indicated large decreases, the western and southern portion of

this region showed marked improvements. The highest densities will be found in the southwestern portion of the region.

Quail – Quail are limited and are typically harvested opportunistically by pheasant hunters. Recent weather patterns have facilitated a population expansion into the area where appropriate habitat exists, providing hunters with a welcomed additional opportunity in recent years. Densities on the summer roadside survey increased. Opportunity will remain the best in the eastern-most counties of the region.

Prairie Chicken – Prairie chicken populations continue to expand in both numbers and range within the region. Only portions of this region are open to hunting (see map for unit boundaries). Lesser prairie-chickens occur in the southern and central portions of the region within the closed zone. Production in the region should be improved with above average spring precipitation across the area. Within the open area, the best hunting opportunities will be found in the northeastern portion of the region in native prairies and CRP grasslands.

Smoky Hills (Northcentral)

Public Land: 106,558 acres

WIHA: 317,754 acres

Pheasant – Due to poor production last summer, there was a decrease in the spring calling survey. Despite this reduced production, the region maintained the highest regional harvest last year. The roadside survey estimates trended down this summer. With reduced densities, success rates may decrease again in this region. Given its size and variability, this region will still be important to pheasant hunters and be a major contributor to the overall harvest. The northcentral portion of the region had the highest roadside densities this year.

Quail – This region has enjoyed several years of well above average quail densities. The spring whistle survey increased this year, maintaining the above average spring densities. However, the brood survey estimates decreased substantially across most of the region. Total regional harvest in 2020 was the highest in the state with good hunter success rates. Hunters in the area are becoming accustomed to the high densities experienced across the region in the past few years, making birds relatively easy to find; however, targeting edge habitat and weedy areas with nearby shrubs will be the most productive. Densities appear best in the south-central portion of the region but several other areas across the region maintained good estimates as well.

Prairie Chicken – Prairie Chicken hunting opportunities in the region should remain good. Production was likely improved with good spring moisture. This region includes some of the highest densities and access in the state for prairie chickens. Greater prairie-chickens occur throughout the Smoky Hills where large areas of native rangeland are intermixed with CRP and cropland. The best hunting will be found in the central portion of the region, but several other areas support huntable densities of birds in appropriate habitat. Lesser prairie-chickens occur in a few counties in the southwestern portion of the region within the closed zone (see map for unit boundaries).

Glaciated Plains (Northeast)

Public Land: 51,469 acres

WIHA: 72,856 acres

Pheasant – Opportunities will remain poor with pheasants occurring only in pockets of habitat, primarily in the northwestern portion of the region or areas managed for upland birds. Spring crow counts decreased from 2020. While roadside surveys trended up, this can be attributed to slight improvements on a single route. Pheasant densities across the region are typically low, especially relative to other areas in central and western Kansas.

Quail – Spring densities trended up and summer estimates trended down, but neither were significant changes this year. Like many regions, the last five years have provided above average opportunity for quail. While densities will still be lower than western regions, the above average densities will provide better opportunities for those spending time in northeast Kansas this winter. With the limited amount of nesting and roosting cover throughout much of this region, targeting areas with or near native grass is key for success. Roadside counts were highest in the northeastern portion of the region.

Prairie Chicken – Very little prairie chicken range occurs in this region and opportunities are limited. Opportunities for encounters are highest in the western edges of the region along the Flint Hills, where some large areas of native rangeland still exist.

Osage Cuestas (Southeast)

Public Land: 109,883 acres

WIHA: 36,092 acres

Pheasant – This region is outside the primary pheasant range and very limited hunting opportunities exist. Pheasants are occasionally found in the northwestern portion of the region at very low densities.

Quail – Opportunities will be poor this year. While roadside estimates trended up this year, the improved production was not enough to recover from the three consecutive years of poor production. Roadside surveys remained low this year, with this region having the lowest regional density for quail. While hunting will be slightly improved, the best opportunity will be on those areas specifically managed for upland birds. The best hunting will be in the western counties in grasslands extending east off the Flint Hills.

Prairie Chicken – Greater prairie chicken populations have consistently declined over the long term in this region. Fire suppression and loss of native grassland has gradually reduced the amount of suitable habitat. Hunting opportunities are limited, but chickens can be in large blocks of native rangeland along the edge of the Flint Hills.

Flint Hills

Public Land: 196,901 acres

WIHA: 79,336 acres

Pheasant – This region is on the eastern edge of the primary pheasant range in Kansas and offers limited opportunities. Pheasant densities have always been relatively low throughout the Flint Hills, with the highest densities found on the western edge of the region. The spring crow counts and summer roadside survey both remained stable. The best opportunities will be in the northwest portion of the region along the Smoky Hills.

Quail – After a significant increase in the spring calling survey and upward trend in the roadside brood counts, this region has above average quail densities and the highest regional density heading into fall. Quail production can be impacted in the core of the Flint Hills with annual burning practices limiting nesting cover. Hunters will find the best success in areas that maintained nearby nesting cover and have retained shrub cover that has been removed from large areas of the region during invasive species control. High roadside estimates were scattered throughout this region this year.

Prairie Chicken – The Flint Hills is the largest intact tallgrass prairie in North America and has been a core habitat for greater prairie chickens for many years. Management changes resulting in both areas of too little and too much prescribed fire have gradually degraded habitat quality and prairie chicken numbers have declined as a result. Burning was higher than average in 2021, resulting in less nesting cover. Hunting opportunities will likely be similar to last year throughout the region.

South Central Prairies

Public Land: 41,125 acres

WIHA: 62,605 acres

Pheasant – Roadside survey estimates were very similar to last summer. While roadside estimates are lower than the other major pheasant regions, this region boasted the highest hunter success rates last year. The northeast portion of the region saw declines where a localized area suffered an extended period without precipitation. The highest pheasant densities will be found in the west central portion of the region this year.

Quail – The spring whistle survey and summer brood survey both trended down; however, neither saw significant declines. Harvest rates for quail were also highest in the region last year and opportunities should remain strong this year with marked improvements in key areas. The intermixing of quality cover types in the region provides more consistent opportunities across the Southcentral Prairies compared to other regions. The roadside counts were highest in the central portion of the region.

Prairie Chicken – This region is almost entirely occupied by lesser prairie-chickens and areas included in their range are closed to prairie chicken hunting (see map for unit boundaries). Greater prairie chickens occur in very limited areas in the remainder of this region and will occur in very low densities with encounters most likely in the few remaining large tracts of rangeland in the northeastern portion of the region.

Southern High Plains (Southwest)

Public Land: 116,821 acres

WIHA: 172,486 acres

Pheasant – The pheasant crow index declined this spring after drought conditions in 2020 limited production. Roadside brood survey estimates trended down for this region, but regional production indices were much improved and the best they have been this year. Roadside brood survey estimates showed improvements in the western portion of the region this year. The highest pheasant densities will be in the southcentral portion of the region.

Quail – The quail population in this region is highly variable and dependent on weather. The roadside estimates trended down but were greatest in the northwest portion of the region. The highest densities in this region are found along riparian corridors or where adequate woody structure exists. This association with riparian corridors makes surveying the region for an accurate density of quail challenging, and opportunities can be better than roadside surveys suggest at times. Scaled quail can also be found in this region but make up a small proportion of total quail.

Prairie Chicken – This region is entirely occupied by lesser prairie-chickens; therefore, prairie chicken hunting is closed in this area.

Other Information

Conservation Reserve Program

Under the 2018 Farm Bill, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage cap will gradually increase each year. Kansas currently has 1.7 million acres of CRP statewide. There was an enrollment period in 2021; however, with 368,672 acres expiring and only 242,932 acres offered, there will be a net decrease in acres again this year. Lower interest is currently attributed to reduced rental rates and incentives. In addition to loss of acres, the quality of habitat on the remaining acres may also be impacted. There were 30 counties in Kansas that were released for emergency haying and grazing of CRP. A large portion of properties enrolled in the WIHA program include CRP and expirations can reduce habitat quality or exclude properties from the program. However, the Kansas WIHA program remains strong, with nearly 1.14 million acres enrolled (atlases are available at ksoutdoors.com/wiha or at any license vendor).