KANSAS UPLAND BIRD HUNTING OUTLOOK
Ideal spring weather and nesting conditions create one of the best outlooks in years
PRATT - Kansas pheasant and quail hunters can look forward to the best overall hunting season in several years this fall, according to research from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP). The same spring weather that produced an excellent wheat crop was also ideal for nesting and initial phases of brood rearing.
Ample, timely rains and moderate spring temperatures not only were good for nesting success but provided habitat for broods to withstand the hot and dry conditions that prevailed over Kansas during July and August. The quality of Kansas' wheat-stubble habitats is above average.
Kansas pheasant populations have experienced one of the best production seasons in many years. Pheasant production indices more than doubled compared to 2002 and, hunters can expect the best populations since 1997.
While almost all regions of the state have experienced significant pheasant increases, these improvements are not uniform across the Kansas pheasant range. Parts of extreme western Kansas have suffered from severe drought for several years and, while improved this year, pheasant populations remain spotty in those areas. The greatest increases in pheasant numbers appear to have occurred in the central part of the state from north to south, but excellent production also occurred in the eastern half of the southwest region and several counties in the western part of the southcentral region. The high proportion of juveniles in the population should enhance hunter success.
Bobwhite experienced good reproductive success this summer and populations have continued a second year of recovery from the low levels of 2001. This should prove to be the best year since 2000. The greatest improvement appears to have occurred in the southcentral region of the state, with more modest gains elsewhere. Survey data indicate that bobwhite numbers have come close to doubling in southcentral Kansas compared to 2002 and better than average hunting can be expected in that region.
While bobwhite numbers increased in other parts of its range, these areas will offer average quail hunting. The Flint Hills and southeast regions will offer the next best bobwhite populations after the southcentral region. Quail in the northeast showed a significant increase this year but still remain below the long-term average.
Greater prairie chicken populations were modestly higher this spring compared to 2002. Lesser prairie chicken numbers were significantly down following severe drought in western Kansas in 2002. It is difficult to monitor these species during summer, but weather conditions suggest that both species may have increased this summer.
In the northwest portion of the state, pheasant populations increased sharply this year and current indices are about double the 5-year average. Very good pheasant hunting will occur in the eastern 2 tiers of counties. Pheasant numbers are much improved, but still spotty farther west. Bobwhite populations are thinly distributed in the northwest and, while slightly improved this year, population indices remain well below the 5-year average. The region's best bobwhite hunting will be in the eastern 2 tiers of counties. September cover conditions were about average, with some locally good areas.
In the northcentral region, overall pheasant population indices doubled from 2001 and are about 50 percent above the 5-year average. Pheasants appear to have increased sharply throughout the region, and hunting prospects are very good. Bobwhite indices are slightly improved over 2002 but remain below the 5-year average. Post-survey reports indicate that bobwhite numbers may be somewhat higher than survey indices suggest. Late summer cover conditions were average but variable over the region.
In the northeast, both bobwhite and pheasant populations have shown significant improvement this year, but current population indices for both species remain just below the 5-year average. Locally good numbers of bobwhite may be found in the best available habitats. September cover conditions varied from below average to locally good but were improving after late-summer rains.
In southwest Kansas, pheasant populations have more than doubled compared to 2002, and population indices are moderately higher than the 5-year average. Drought conditions persisted through spring in the westernmost counties, and pheasant populations, while much improved, are variable in those areas. Very good pheasant hunting can be expected in the easternmost counties of the region. The better bobwhite habitats in this region are found in the southern and eastern tiers of counties. Overall, bobwhite indices remain at roughly two-thirds of the five-year average. However, substantial increases did occur in the eastern 2 tiers of counties, and hunting should be good in the southeastern counties. Late summer cover varies from below average in the west to locally above average in the east.
Southcentral Kansas pheasant numbers have nearly doubled over last year, and current indices are well above the five-year average. With the exception of the western counties, this region is not normally among Kansas' better pheasant hunting areas. Pheasant numbers in the western and northern tiers of counties will be good and locally very good. Bobwhite production was excellent this summer, and their numbers are sharply improved over 2002. The bobwhite population index for the region is well above the five-year average, and hunting should be the best since 1998. September cover conditions varied from fair to good.
While southeast Kansas does not harbor pheasants, bobwhite populations are modestly improved over last year. Population indices are about equal to the five-year average but still generally at or below the long-term average. The southern Flint Hills and counties immediately east appear to offer the better bobwhite hunting prospects. Late summer cover conditions varied from below average to a little better than average.
Hunting access should not be a problem this year, either. In addition to the more than 300,000 acres of state and federal public hunting lands, more than 977,000 acres of private land are enrolled this year in the Walk-In Hunting Area (WIHA) program. For the first time, KDWP offers an atlas that illustrates all public hunting lands, including WIHA. The 115-page atlas includes detailed county maps with state, federal and WIHA areas color coded.
The new 2003 Hunting Atlas is free and can be obtained at any department office, wherever licenses are sold, downloaded from the department's website (www.kdwp.state.ks.us), or requested by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. A detailed upland bird forecast complete with map may also be viewed at and printed from the department's website.
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