Good carry-over, habitat, nesting conditions indicate good season ahead

PRATT -- The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) has good news for upland bird hunters. The prospects for the upcoming seasons are very encouraging. Good cover and bird numbers combined with more than one million acres of Walk-In Hunting Areas (WIHA) and more than 500,000 acres of public wildlife areas make Kansas one of the premier destinations for pheasant, quail, and prairie chicken hunters. In addition, Kansas offers long seasons and liberal bag limits.

Pheasant numbers appear to be up considerably in the western half of the state. East of Highway 281, substantial rains the first two weeks of June may have hurt chick survival, but statewide, summer brood counts show good numbers of broods.

Quail numbers appear to be significantly up in the west, as well as most of the southcentral part of the state. In most of the state, weather during nesting season was good to ideal.

Kansas is home to both the greater and lesser prairie chicken. Lesser prairie chickens are found in the southwest part of the state. Populations of both species appear stable across the major portion of their ranges and provide unique hunting opportunities. An early season for greater prairie chickens east of Highway 281 runs Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, the best opportunities being in the Flint Hills. The regular prairie chicken season will run Nov. 19 through Jan. 31 in the east and northwest units of Kansas. In the southwest, the season will run Nov. 19 through Dec. 31.

Region 1 (northwest and northcentral)
Nesting and brood-rearing habitat was good throughout most of Region 1. Extremely hot, dry weather during July and heavy rains in the northeast portions of the region probably impaired brood survival to some extent. However, an early hatch in many areas, with some re-nesting in others, appears to have offset those losses, and good numbers of birds should be available this fall.

In addition to more than 72,000 acres of state and federal ground, more than 420,000 acres of WIHA will be open in Region 1. Hunters should concentrate on areas that provide good cover near grain fields.

Overall, pheasant densities for 2005 appear to be similar or improved over 2004 throughout most of Region 1, with the highest densities occurring in the eastern half of the region. However, look for improvements in the west, especially in the northern counties.

Although not the best area of the state for quail, quail numbers appear to be continuing an upward trend in Region 1. Quail densities appear moderately higher than last year throughout most of the traditional quail habitat in this area, especially in the east. Also, hunters should find increased numbers of birds in pockets of the central portion of Region 1.

Prairie chicken populations appear to be expanding in both numbers and range within the region. The better hunting opportunities will be found in the eastern and central portions. Production appeared to be good this year, with many small flocks occupying the larger blocks of native rangeland.

Region 2 (northeast)
Although habitat is good to excellent throughout the region, the pheasant population in Region 2 remains below the long-term average. It appears that pheasant numbers will be fair to poor in most of the region with numbers up slightly in the northwestern counties. Even here, the outlook will probably be only fair.

Quail numbers appear to be below average in Region 2 despite late-summer heavy rains that may have created good to excellent habitat in many areas. Early reports from landowners indicated a slight increase in quail numbers, but few broods are being seen this fall. The hunting projection for quail in the region will be poor to fair with some spotty areas of better conditions.

Region 2 has 101,684 acres enrolled in the WIHA program this fall.

Region 3 (southwest)
Overall, Region 3 will provide a good to excellent upland bird season this year. Last season was good in most areas of the southwest, and good numbers of adult birds carried over this spring. Production has been very good in most counties with the best reports for pheasant and quail being from Garden City east. Hail in some counties along the Kansas-Colorado line may have hurt local bird numbers. Much of the southwest has heavy cover going into the fall hunting season.

Reports for the Cimarron National Grassland indicate pheasant and quail numbers may be down some from last year, but hunting should still be fair to good. Lesser prairie chicken hunters should be able to find good numbers of birds on this area.

More than 407,000 acres of WIHA are available in Region 3.

Region 4 (southcentral)
Cover in all of Region 4 is excellent because of abundant summer rainfall. Late June rains delayed a portion of the wheat harvest, which may have helped pheasant brood survival. July storms brought isolated heavy hail in portions of southern Reno and Kingman counties, and hail also hit parts of Rice, McPherson, and Marion counties. Heavy August rains in much of the region flooded low-lying fields and may have prevented late nesting in these areas.

Still, pheasant carry-over in the Region 4 pheasant range was excellent. Production this year appears to be about average in much of the region, which will mean a higher percentage of adult birds in the population when the season opens. Good reports have come from areas in Marion, McPherson, Rice, and Reno counties.

In the Flint Hills counties, quail numbers appear to be somewhat improved over several years ago. In the northern Flint Hills, populations are still somewhat depressed when compared to the 10-year average. In the southern Flint Hills, ranchers report seeing more quail than they have in several years. Quail numbers in the southern and western portions of Region 4 range from fair to good.

Range habitat has improved significantly in the northern Flint Hills, so prairie chicken hunting should be fair.

The region has 25,255 acres of WIHA this fall.

Region 5 (southeast)
Overall, quail numbers in Region 5 continue to be below the long-term average. However, the eastern portion of the region should be improved. Severe weather through the summer probably affected quail populations in some areas.

Prairie chicken production was poor this spring and summer. A combination of extensive spring burning and severe weather are the primary reasons for the poor production year with a population that is struggling. Most landowners are reporting a few small broods.

More than 44,000 acres of WIHA are available in Region 5 this fall.