2022 Pheasant Hunting Forecast

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Better moisture has many states poised for good pheasant hunting this Fall, but challenges still persist

From golden autumn mornings to gray winter afternoons, colorful ring-necked roosters fill our upland hunting dreams and desires. You know the allure. But you don’t always know where to go, or what destination might be ready for you and your bird dog, or even what to expect in your home state.

Enter Pheasants Forever’s annual Pheasant Hunting Forecast, an undertaking of monumental editorial effort that is our pleasure to bring to you. Click on a pheasant state on the map below, or open one of the tabs following it, to see what’s going on in that place with the habitat, the birds and the hunting prospects.

If you find a theme, and you will, it is this: Drought has impacted habitat, birds and hunting prospects to some extent, but for the most part the farther north you get into the pheasant range, the more that same rain returned compared to last year and the better the forecasts get. To the west and south, it stayed dry. Each state has its own tale to tell.

We all know what the key is: Habitat. It cures all ills – from places for the birds to live and feed and nest and brood, to conquering too little (or too much) rain, surviving predator pressure … and having public-access places for you and your family and friends to hunt.

Let your planning begin. Have a wondrous pheasant season. And when you are in the field, think about what really matters – habitat – and commit to staying part of the Pheasants Forever Family and the upland habitat and public access missions.

Tom Carpenter, Editor – 2022 Pheasant Hunting Forecast


Click on a state to jump to its report


State-by-State Reports - Click to Expand

Pheasant Hunting Forecast 2022: California

Drought making it tough for California pheasants, but a few bright spots persist

By Andy Fondrick

While drought conditions have made things tough on upland birds in California the past couple of years, important moisture last fall helped to provide a few bright spots hunters can turn to when chasing pheasants this fall.

For this year’s forecast, Ian Dwight, Matt Meshriy and Katherine Miller, of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), provided input on the state of the 2022 pheasant hunting season in “The Golden State.”

WEATHER AND CONDITIONS

According to the team from CFWD, the fall of 2021 saw some increased precipitation in the Central Valley, but the winter months were extremely dry and added to the water deficit the state is currently experiencing.

“Pheasants often do well during wet fall months and dry winters because flooding due to rain is much less likely,” says Dwight, an environmental scientist with CDFW. “Fall rains create more habitat structure in the form of emergent vegetation and is maintained to the following spring unless disced, mowed or flooded by land managers.”

Dwight also added that continued drought conditions likely reduced the available vegetative cover for nesting pheasants as well as the food resources they need to support chicks.

HABITAT, BROODS AND COUNTS

Upland habitat is suffering due to prolonged drought. The lack of water across California in 2022, especially within agricultural communities of the Klamath Basin and Central Valley, has resulted in fallowed lands providing little cover for pheasants.

“The hatch was likely small this year with early nesters making up a greater proportion of successful nests and broods as conditions became drier and resource availability decreased,” says Dwight. “Many of the fields in agricultural regions are disced and a large portion of irrigated lands associated with rice in the Sacramento Valley are currently bare ground.”

The CFWD hopes that a new conservation initiative will help to offset some of the impact made by the dry conditions. Active management incentives from the new Nesting Bird Habitat Incentive Program (NBHIP) may provide landowners with greater opportunities to create cover for upland birds next season.

While the weather patterns are putting heavy pressure on upland habitat in the state, the NBHIP is a bright spot for California’s future. Funding and framework for this program was developed based on current needs of upland nesting birds in the Central Valley. According to the team at the CFWD, a pilot year is needed to further evaluate the quality of upland habitats in the target regions, but the implications for 2023 and beyond are very exciting.

California does not currently conduct statewide counts for pheasants, with the exception of Breeding Bird Survey Data. The CFWD breeding bird survey trends, in addition to harvest trends, show a sharp decline in pheasant detections and harvest in the last two decades.

TOP SPOTS

According to Dwight, Meshriy and Miller, the areas with the best pheasant harvest numbers from previous seasons are likely the best bet for this fall. Those counties would include Yolo (Yolo Bypass WA) and Solano (Grizzly Island WA) Counties.

INSIDER TIP

Dwight reminds hunters to pack your steel shot and follow a dog to boost chances of flushing birds, especially in areas with low densities of pheasants.

“Look for edge habitat within upland-wetland complexes, especially along levees and drainage canals in the morning hours,” he adds. “Toward the afternoon, birds tend to hunker down in dense vegetative cover and move around less than in morning hours or at dusk.”

Pheasant Hunting Forecast 2022: Colorado

Drought continues to pound Colorado pheasant numbers

By Greg Breining

In Colorado, pheasant abundance hinges on rainfall. And for the past couple of years, there hasn’t been much of that.

“On average across the range, pheasant hunting will certainly range from below average to poor,” says Ed Gorman, small game manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “Like most years, there will be spots that are better than the surrounding areas, but considering how drought — severe drought, that is — has impacted the areas which have the most potential to produce large numbers of pheasants, it’s going to be tough, on average, across the state.”

“This year will be similar to last year,” says Gorman, “when hunters in Colorado harvested the fewest pheasants in the history of our harvest survey. In 2021, the statewide harvest estimate suggests that just under 20,000 roosters were harvested in Colorado, which is an all-time low, and a 34 percent decrease from 2020. This type of decline has been the trend since the inception of the current drought.”

The department bases its forecast on spring crow counts and harvest data from the previous year as well as personal experience with drought and a general sense of bird numbers garnered from summer field work.

Jackson Martini, Pheasants Forever farm bill biologist, agrees that drought has done much damage.

“The short and simple message is, this drought is hurting habitat and bird numbers,” Martini says. “It’s not looking good out there as far as habitat, which I blame on the weather — hot, dry and windy. So the habitat isn’t looking great. And if the habitat isn’t looking good, it’s going to show in your bird numbers.”

BEST BETS

Huge chunks of Colorado’s pheasant stronghold — Yuma, Phillips, Sedgwick, Kit Carson and southeast Logan counties — are in poor shape. But that’s here the birds there are, are.

Still, some places will be better than others. “The best numbers will likely be found in the area lying south of Highway 34 between Yuma and Wray where habitat is conducive, and south into Kit Carson County,” says Gorman. “Precipitation has been highly variable in this zone, but a bit more pheasant-friendly than other areas.”

TIPS FOR HUNTERS

Private land is a good bet, if the habitat is in good shape. And, says Gorman, it’s still possible to make connections with landowners, if you’re willing to spend the time.

Colorado’s Walk-In Access (WIA) program provides some of the best areas to find public-access birds. Colorado Parks and Wildlife outlines Walk-In Access property boundaries on its interactive hunting atlas. A print atlas is also available. Other places to hunt include state wildlife areas and state trust lands.

Gorman says whatever kind of land you hunt, it pays to scout — especially because of the drought. “There is no substitute for getting out and looking at your hunting spots before the season to evaluate conditions,” he says. “As common with drought, tiny spots tend to get a thunderstorm when nowhere else does. The only way to find these areas is to spend some time looking.”

Martini says hunters should check out Corners for Conservation, a private land access partnership with Pheasants Forever and the Natural Resources Conservation Service that provides habitat creation and hunter access to privately owned corners of center-pivot irrigation fields.

IF YOU GO

The 2022 pheasant hunting season runs Nov. 12 to Jan. 31, 2023, east of I-25 (Season 1) and Nov. 12–Jan. 2, 2022 west of I-25 (Season 2). The daily bag is three roosters. Possession limit is 9 birds.

Pheasant Hunting Forecast 2022: Idaho

It will take some work, but Idaho has birds

By Jack Hutson

Idaho compiles its pheasant data in early September. To provide the most up-to-date forecast, we waited to publish this report. Was it worth the wait? Let’s find out!

Based in Lewiston, Iver Hull is the Regional Wildlife Biologist for Idaho Fish & Game (IDF&G) and is responsible for compiling pheasant data in Pheasant Area 1. Hull offers this report: “Our surveys showed about an 80 percent decrease in pheasants as compared to the 10-year average, but that number should be taken with a grain of salt since the fields adjacent to the routes had not been harvested as yet.”

Nick Gailey is the Co-Chair of Habitat Projects for the Upper Snake River Chapter of Pheasants Forever and spends a good deal of the summer hiking the uplands in Southeast Idaho with his German shorthair, Wilson.

He offered this boots-on-the-ground, report: “Habitat conditions in much of our pheasant-producing country are good; some places, excellent!” He adds, “Our regional winter weather was favorable for pheasants as snow levels were average.”

From the Southwest, IDF&G Regional Wildlife Manager Ryan Walrath offered this report: “Adult birds over-wintered well but spring conditions weren’t as favorable in some areas.”

What can pheasant hunters look forward to this fall?

Walrath says, “Pheasant numbers along established brood routes were down. However, larger flocks have been observed around the Treasure Valley where there is good over-winter habitat.” He concluded, “Though the region is below its ten-year-average, hunters should find pheasant hunting good to fair overall.”

“Better than last fall!” declares Gailey for Southeast Idaho. He is quick to add, “I have noticed numerous young birds; an indication that later hatches fared well. My guess is that we could have a successful pheasant season.”

WHERE TO FIND PHEASANTS

It should be noted that, in northern Idaho, much of the crop-producing land is bordered by deep draws of hawthorn, service berry and monster wild rose. This habitat offers good protection from just about everything – weather included – and is generally distant from roads. Uplanders respectfully inquiring about access often receive an obliging nod later in the season.

The highest pheasant harvest typically occurs throughout the southern regions (Areas 2 & 3) where there is a good mix of irrigated farm fields and riparian cover. Get in the thick of it! Pheasant broods fared better where thick cover sheltered them from the region’s spring weather and predators.

For folks with young dogs or that are new to the sport, Idaho has expanded its captive-raised pheasant program. Released in publicly accessible areas such as Wildlife Management Areas, (WMA’s), the program has been gaining popularity.

For information specific to these areas, go to: https://idfg.idaho.gov/hunt/pheasant/stocking.

SEASON DETAILS

Idaho is divided into three areas for wild pheasant management.

AREA 1— Resident: October 8 through December 31. Nonresident: October 13 through December 31.

AREA 2— Resident: October 15 through November 30. Nonresident: October 20 through November 30.

AREA 3— Resident: October 15 through December 31. Nonresident: October 20 through December 31.

State-Wide Youth Hunt Season: October 1 through October 7.

The daily bag limit statewide is 3 roosters, with a possession limit of 9 birds.


Jack Hutson is a pointing dog consultant/trainer and vagabond upland bird hunter. In between, he writes about upland hunting and fly fishing from home near Lewiston, Idaho.

Pheasant Hunting Forecast 2022: Illinois

Quality spring conditions could lead to good bird numbers in Illinois' pheasant range

By Casey Sill

Illinois is sometimes overshadowed by its western neighbor Iowa when it comes to pheasant hunting. But in areas with quality habitat complementing agricultural production, there are roosters to be found in the Land of Lincoln. Encouraging weather forecasts in early 2022 held true, and this fall should bring good bird numbers to the state.

WEATHER AND CONDITIONS

Winter conditions in Illinois were just about ideal for pheasant survival, and spring conditions were equally as encouraging, according to Jason Bleich, a former Pheasants Forever team member and current private lands biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Wildlife Program.

“For the most part we had a really mild winter here in Illinois,” Bleich said. “We had a little bit of snow in February, but I really wouldn’t expect the winter to have affected our bird numbers going into the breeding and nesting seasons.”

Spring brought additional good news, with excellent brood rearing weather across the state. Early rains or flood events can harm nesting and brood survival, and in recent years Illinois has seen those kinds of storms in areas that traditionally hold pheasants. But this year much of the rain held off until later in the summer.

“Last year in east-central Illinois, we did have several areas which typically have higher pheasant populations experience flooding,” said Kathryn Kauzlarich-Stockman, Pheasants Forever’s Illinois state coordinator. “Luckily we haven’t seen those same floods this year, so we’re more optimistic for a good fall.”

Bleich echoed Kauzlarich-Stockman’s comments, and said spring and summer have been really ideal in Illinois.

“It’s almost been about as perfect as you could ask for,” Bleich said. “The spring was maybe a little later than usual and might’ve pushed nesting season back just a bit, but once spring and summer finally got here we’ve been pretty consistent with no hard rains and good overall weather. And here in the last three four weeks we’ve gotten some nice rains, which are producing a ton of bugs for the young birds.”

HABITAT AND BROODS

Between 2014-2018, USFWS and other partners in Illinois planted between 150,000-200,000 acres of CP42 pollinator habitat across the state, according to Bleich. Those acres have now had time to get established, and are producing excellent cover.

“Those pollinator fields are finally coming into their prime, and they’re just loaded with birds,” Bleich said. “Just like most places, long term habitat loss has hurt pheasant populations in Illinois, but wherever there are good blocks of habitat, there are good bird numbers. These pollinator acres are a great example of that.”

Habitat production as a whole has leveled off in Illinois over the last several years. Limitations on habitat programs as well as high corn prices have impacted the number of acres implemented, but Bleich said he’s hopeful things will pick back up.

“Moving forward, we’re expecting to get a bunch more conservation acres on the ground,” he said. “We’ve got some proposals that would open up some more CRP acres and also we’ve got programs with other organizations that we’re looking at to get more prairie on the landscape. So we’re definitely optimistic for the next few years moving forward.”

Brood numbers on existing habitat this spring have been good, according to Wade Louis, a habitat team program manager for the Illinois department of Natural Resources.

“We’re slightly above average for pheasants and right around average for quail,” he said.

TOP SPOTS

For hunters heading out in Illinois this fall, the east central portion of the state should be an area of focus, according to Bleich.

“To be a little more specific, Ford, Iroquois and Livingston counties are kind of the heart of the Illinois pheasant population,” he said. “But more broadly, there’s probably about eight to ten counties in east central Illinois from Champaign up to Kankakee where we still have pretty good bird numbers and where a guy can go out, knock on a few doors and get permission to shoot some birds in the fall.”

SEASON DETAILS

The Illinois pheasant season is splint into a north and south zone. The northern zone opens on the first Saturday in November and runs through January 8. The southern zone also opens the first Saturday in November, and runs through January 15.

The limit is two roosters per day in both zones.

Pheasant Hunting Forecast 2022: Indiana

Indiana’s Wild Pheasant Pockets Should Have Birds

By Greg Breining

Indiana doesn’t currently have a small game biologist to survey pheasants and quail. But according to field staff, both with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and with Pheasants Forever, it would appear hunters can expect an average or perhaps better-than-average season.

Indiana doesn’t have a ton of wild pheasants. You’ll rarely hunt the state and think for the moment you’re in South Dakota. But there are pockets.

“We do have some birds. Where we do have birds, there are huntable populations, but you don’t see birds driving around like you do other places,” says Will Hinshaw, a Pheasants Forever farm bill biologist who live just north of West Lafayette.

Hinshaw guesses this will be an average year. “From what I’m seeing, at least in my area, it’s about the same,” he says. He often hunts with his aunt on property she owns just north of him. “We shoot two, three, four birds off it a year. Nothing crazy, but it’s enough to get to go out and pull the trigger on some wild birds,” he says. “She said they have been seeing more birds than last year but not the most they have ever seen.”

Thomas A. Despot, northwest public lands supervisor for the Indiana DNR, says last winter’s weather was normal and did not include the kind of heavy ice or prolonged deep snow cover that would kill birds. Weather during spring nesting and brood-rearing seasons was also temperate.

“I have not personally seen any pheasant broods —I don’t live in an area with an abundance of pheasants — but I have seen a good number of turkey broods and some quail broods as well, so I think the weather has been reasonably good for nesting and brood rearing,” says Despot. “I don’t believe we experienced any major winter die-offs and this year’s recruitment should be reasonably good. I’m not very good at forecasting, but I would say hunting for upland game birds should be similar to what it was last year.”

Michael Schoof, property manager for Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Area in the heart of Indiana’s wild pheasant range, agrees that the season is shaping up to be at least average, and maybe better. “I am seeing good production of quail, pheasants and turkeys in my region,” he says. It should be a good fall.”

Jacob Frame, a Pheasants Forever farm bill biologist in northwestern Indiana, suggests the season might be better than average. “I can say anecdotally that I have kicked up a handful of pheasant during some of my visits in Starke County (northwestern Indiana). Starke has some of the highest density of CRP properties in the state. So I am not too surprised that they have birds there. I have also heard that Newton and Jasper counties have quite a few birds.”

BEST BETS

Hunters’ best chances to find wild pheasants are in the northwestern part of the state, especially Benton, Jasper, Pulaski, Newton, Tippecanoe, Warren and White counties, says Despot. And, according to Frame’s report, Starke County.

Says Despot, “Pheasants do occur in other counties in western and northern Indiana, but generally in smaller numbers and in more localized areas—often associated with wetlands and muck soil types.”

Check the Reserved Hunt Information page for details about put-and-take pheasant hunting. The Indiana DNR Where to Hunt Finder is an interactive maps for hunters to find public land for hunting, fishing, and other activities.

The Indiana Private Lands Access Program provides opportunities for hunters to tromp privately owned land enrolled in the program. When the application period is open, hunters can apply online.

IF YOU GO

Pheasant season runs Nov. 1–Dec. 15. The daily bag limit for pheasants is two roosters. Possession limit is four.

Pheasant Hunting Forecast 2022: Iowa

Buoyed by strong preseason survey, Iowa shines as pheasant bright spot

By Anthony Hauck

With a preseason pheasant survey similar to last year, when Iowa’s rooster harvest was its highest in more than a decade, the 2022-2023 pheasant season appears to be set for good-to-excellent wingshooting opportunities statewide.

The annual August roadside survey found Iowa’s statewide pheasant population to be about a carbon copy of last season’s preseason count, at just under 20 birds per 30-mile route. In 2021-2022, Iowa’s rooster harvest climbed to 373,000, and hunter numbers were up, too, to an estimated 63,000.

“If hunters enjoyed last year, they should enjoy this year. Pheasant hunting will again be good for most of the state, with the best hunting being north of Hwy. 30,” said Todd Bogenschutz, Upland Wildlife Research Biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). If that uptick in hunter participation trend continues, Bogenschutz says a 400,000-bird harvest is very possible.

The Iowa DNR grids the state into nine regional squares for its roadside survey. The Northwest Region was the lone area block to top 30 birds per 30-mile route, with the West Central Region just a hair below. The North Central Region topped 27 birds per 30-mile route, while the Central Region checked in respectably at just over 22.

Iowa map

While not near the bird densities of these northern regions, the good news for hunters on the east side is this is where the biggest survey gains showed — +31% in the East Central Region and +22% in the Southeast.

Bogenschutz calls the weather in the past year a mixed bag for upland wildlife, with a welcome mild winter followed by below-normal spring temperatures that likely put some drain on pheasant nesting success. Working in Iowa’s favor is that the statewide upland habitat — an aggregate of Conservation Reserve Program land plus hay and small grain acres — has stayed constant at about 2.9 million acres since 2010. That’s not enough to produce Iowa heyday bird numbers, but is a formative, productive base when weather conditions abide.

Iowa Survey

Uriah Hansen, a longtime Pheasants Forever volunteer and current member of the Iowa Natural Resource Commission, reports spotting good bird numbers on dog training outings as well as drives in northern Iowa. Despite no statistical increase in the statewide pheasant survey, he suspects the count may be slightly underrepresenting the pheasant population. “I would put more of that on weather conditions during the survey versus true bird populations,” he said. Affirming his stance, Bogenschutz reported many survey staff felt the exercise did not capture the birds they’d been seeing prior to conducting surveys, likely due to lack of good morning dew during the survey on many routes.

The absence of dew is not surprising considering that by September 1, more than 60% of Iowa was categorized in some stage of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. On his scouts, Hansen said he’d witnessed a handful of grassland fields mowed in August due to the resulting emergency haying & grazing options provided to landowners to weather the strain. “I'd advise anyone who has normal honey holes or areas they hunt to check them out prior to the season. With some emergency grazing/haying going into effect, that could throw a wrench in plans for hunting,” he advised.

Upland hunters will want to note that Iowa’s walk-in hunting offering, the Iowa Habitat and Access Program (IHAP), has enrolled new properties, growing to an all-time of 32,000 acres. “Most IHAPs are located in southern and western areas of the state, but they've been a great addition to opening up public access. Given their geographies, they are often great options for mixed bag hunts with chances at both ringnecks and quail,” Hansen said.

On that multispecies note, it’s a bounce back year for northern bobwhites, with all southern regions reporting greater than 100% increases in quail numbers over 2021 counts (look for the full Iowa bobwhite quail report in Quail Forever’s Quail Hunting Forecast).

Hansen says hunters should also check their maps for new permanent public properties. “The DNR, County Conservation boards, and Pheasants Forever chapters across the state, continue to work on acquisitions as they become available,” Hansen said. He has tracked more than 1,000 acres via DNR acquisitions since he joined the Natural Resource Commission in the spring of 2021.

Iowa’s pheasant hunting season opens Saturday, October 29 and runs through Tuesday, January 10, 2023. The daily bag limit is 3 birds, with a possession limit of 12 birds.

Pheasant Hunting Forecast 2022: Kansas

Drought still affecting Kansas pheasants and hunting will be challenging; pockets of bird are there though

By Greg Breining

The story of the upcoming Kansas pheasant season is drought.

Lack of rainfall has been responsible for a loss of pheasant production this spring and summer, especially in the western third of the state, according to the recent upland bird hunting outlook for 2022, a report based on spring crow counts and late-summer roadside surveys published by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP).

Drought and hot weather have also affected bird-holding cover. “The further west you go, the drier and crispier it’s been this year,” says Kent Fricke, small game coordinator for the DDWP. That means less cover to hunt, with the possible effect of concentrating birds and hunting pressure. Drought has also created emergency conditions allowing farmers and ranchers to graze or hay their Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage. That may leave many Walk-In Hunting Access (WIHA) areas unsuitable for birds or hunters.

But all is not lost.

“Preliminary observations for pheasants have been better than expected,” says Jeff Prendergast, the KDWP small game specialist who authors the report. “The timing of rainfall in April and May appears to have been enough to support some production in central regions of the state.”

As the report states, “In portions of the north-central Smoky Hills region, spring precipitation was apparently enough to support a strong initial nesting attempt resulting in an overall increase for the region.” Lower-than-normal rainfall has actually benefitted bird production in areas such as the Flint Hills, on the eastern edge of pheasant range.

Even so, says the report, “hunters are likely to find challenging conditions and should be prepared to work for birds.”

Following the map below, which lays out Kansas’ upland regions, find a pheasant report for each area. Note that the shaded portion of the map is the area of the state closed to prairie chicken hunting, to protect the threatened lesser prairie chicken.

Kansas Units

Smoky Hills

The Smoky Hills of north-central Kansas is probably the best bet for traveling pheasant hunters this year. According to the report, “This region showed an increase on the roadside survey index and had the highest roadside density this year. The region maintained the highest regional harvest last year. Given the observed increase, the region will again be a major contributor to the overall harvest this year. The western and southern portions of the region had the highest roadside densities this year.”

Moreover, the Smoky Hills have more than 106,000 acres of public land and 298,000 acres of WIHAs, better public access than most areas of the state.

Northern High Plains

The Northern High Plains in the northwest started off with a bang—the highest density of birds during the spring crow call survey. But drought was hard on nesting and brood-raising. The late-summer roadside survey showed the bird population had suffered.

According to the report, “Hunters may find some success in areas where there were good bird numbers last year, as there is the potential for more carry-over birds. Targeting grasslands adjacent to irrigation where there was a higher potential of moisture for production could also prove successful. The highest bird densities will be found in the western counties of the region where densities were greatest from last year.”

South-Central Prairies

Roadside counts were lower than last year, but abundance was spotty. Some routes maintained relatively high numbers. And while densities were lower than other major pheasant-hunting areas in the state, the region posted last year’s highest hunter success rates. Go figure. According to the report, look for best numbers in the west-central part of the region and in the north near the border with the Smoky Hills.

Southern High Plains

The Southern High Plains started strong, posting a slight increase over last year in the spring crowing surveys, but by the summer roadside survey, bird numbers had declined. The reason most likely was drought. According to Barry Sullivan, whose family is involved in large-scale agriculture, southwestern Kansas was a desert for most of the spring and summer, though some broods have been spotted.

According to the report, “Carry-over birds may provide the best opportunity for success in areas where there were good bird numbers last year. Additionally, targeting undisturbed grasslands adjacent to irrigation may increase the likelihood of encountering birds where moisture may have facilitated some production. The highest densities were found in the south-central counties of the region where densities were greatest last year.”

Flint Hills

The Flint Hills is a bit east of the state’s best pheasant range but that may work to the area’s advantage during the drought. According to the report, “There were no roadside routes where pheasants declined this year and routes on the western portion of the region saw some large increases. The best opportunities will be in the northwest portion of the region along the Smoky Hills.”

Glaciated Plains

Roadside surveys showed pheasant numbers declined in this region this year. Pheasants were spotted on only two routes. But this isn’t good pheasant country anyway, compared to farther west.

Osage Cuestas

Pheasants are occasionally found in the northwestern corner of this region, but otherwise there’s not much hunting opportunity.

If You Go

The Kansas pheasant season runs Nov. 12 to Jan. 31, 2023. The youth season (17 and younger) is Nov. 5 – 6. Daily bag limit is 4 roosters. Possession limit is 4 times the daily limit (two times the daily bag limit for youth during the youth season). Pheasants must retain a foot or plumage that will readily identify sex while being transported.

Find Kansas’ full Upland Bird Report here and click on the PDF.

Pheasant Hunting Forecast 2022: Michigan

Good spring conditions could make for high bird numbers this fall

By Casey Sill

Michigan had a slightly colder winder in 2021-22 than it had experienced for the past few years. But snowfall was below average, and by all estimates the overwinter survival of adult pheasants was high.

WEATHER AND CONDITIONS

Cold weather continued in early spring, which may have delayed nesting by a week or two. But since temperatures rebounded nicely in May, nesting and brood rearing conditions in Michigan were ideal.

“Conditions were pretty good during the peak nesting season,” confirmed Ben Beaman, Pheasants Forever’s Michigan state coordinator. “Some areas have experienced mild to moderate drought as summer has progressed — including parts of the thumb that traditionally provide Michigan’s best pheasant hunting. But adequate spring moisture has the cover looking really good, even in those areas.”

BEST BETS

If you’re looking for roosters in Michigan, head to the thumb. The southeast portion of the state holds the most habitat — and the most birds. Numbers should be stable despite the semi-dry conditions, according to Adam Bump, upland game specialist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

“We have scattered pheasant populations in Michigan, but if you’re in the right areas there are good opportunities,” he said. “Farmlands and state game areas in the southern third of the state are your best option due to available habitat and the a more agriculturally based landscape.”

Other regions to look for birds include the rest of the Lower Peninsula south of U.S. Highway 10, and Menominee County in the southern Upper Peninsula.

Michigan has several public access programs available for anyone who’s not able to hunt private land. The state’s Hunter Access Program (HAP) lands offer private lands leased to provide public access. There are numerous properties in southern Michigan, which can be found on the Department of Natural Resources website. And Michigan’s Adopt A Game Area program is assuring good places for the public to hunt roosters.

SEASON DETAILS

The Michigan pheasant season runs October 10-31 in zone one (upper peninsula), October 20-November 14 in zones two and three (lower peninsula), and December 1-January 1 in a portion of zone three. Pheasant unit boundaries can be found in the Michigan Hunting Digest. The daily bag limit in Michigan is two roosters.

Pheasant Hunting Forecast 2022: Minnesota

Everything has lined up for a good 2022 pheasant hunting season in Minnesota, and late should be great

By Tom Carpenter

Serious Minnesota pheasant hunters are a funny lot. I say that as one of them.

Every time a winter blizzard bears down, or when winter and snow just keep hanging on well into April, we worry about the birds. Every time a summer hailstorm hammers the land, or torrential downpours march across pheasant country, we worry about the birds. Every time the skies turn blue for weeks to months on end and the habitat shrivels for lack of rain, we worry about the birds.

Last winter, in pheasant terms, wasn’t that bad. Summer saw its share of weather extremes. But most of the state (especially the pheasant range) saw timely (or timely enough) moisture this year to keep habitat robust and emergency haying and grazing on wildlife lands more at bay compared to 2021.

End result? The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) much-anticipated annual August roadside survey results show an 18 percent increase in pheasant numbers from 2021. That number exceeded the survey’s 10-year average by similar amount. All regions saw an increase in pheasant numbers except the southwest, which saw a decrease of 8 percent.

By many accounts and reports, last year’s drought-impacted hunt was better than expected. With more birds on the ground, this year should see a notch-up in your and your bird dog’s luck at finding birds.

WEATHER / CONDITIONS

“On paper, last winter may have seemed severe,” says Tim Lyons, Upland Game Research Scientist in the Farmland Wildlife Populations and Research Group with the Minnesota DNR. “But I think that, outside of some really prolonged bouts of cold and snow at the far northwest edge of Minnesota’s pheasant range, it wasn’t all that bad.” Plenty of hens made it through to spring. The bigger and gnarlier roosters, you could say, almost had it easy.

HATCH AND BROOD-REARING

“The weather really cooperated this year in terms of producing favorable nesting conditions for pheasants,” says Lyons. “Other than some flooding in the northwest range, things were pretty good.”

“Spring got off to a cold and wet start in early April,” he adds. By my observation, it was also very slow in coming and late to arrive.

“But things dried out very quickly and temperatures soon went above average,” Lyons says. June was warm and dry after the kickstart of moisture. Says Lyons, “Precipitation was lower than average throughout the summer, but most of the state escaped drought status until later in the summer, if at all. The most drought-affected areas were the Twin Cities metro and border counties as well as some areas of southwest part of the state.”

HABITAT, BROODS AND COUNTS

“I’d say habitat is in great shape,” says Lyons. “Things might be drier than normal, but we are in better condition, moisture-wise, than last year.”

Minnesota Map

“The state-wide average on the roadside survey was up only 18 percent, but that overshadows some of the really large increases in the central and south-central regions,” he insights. “Those areas both saw substantial, 25-percent-plus increases. The south-central region actually had the greatest count of birds per 100 miles this year.”

HUNTING NOTES

“Hunting should be as good to much better than last year, with a lot more regions of the state having good bird numbers,” says Lyons. “One caution I would give is that, due to the late planting season this year, crop harvest is likely to be delayed a few weeks. If birds are in the corn, it could make the opening two weekends more challenging where lots of fields are not yet harvested. It’s certainly not going to be an issue everywhere, and if folks are underwhelmed in the beginning, I expect things to improve once the crop harvest picks up.”

He's right. But don’t sit out the season’s early days. Just hunt. Look to the last page of our upcoming Fall Journal to read my Carp’s Corner take on that topic, “Early Bird Gets the Bird.”

TOP SPOTS

It’s easy to study up Minnesota’s Pheasant Hunting Prospects Map and head to the darkest colored areas. “The south-central, southwest and central regions all had the greatest index values,” says Lyons, “but the west central was close as well.”

Hello, those are the places everybody else is going. Lyons’ advice, and I like it, is to explore beyond. The Southwest is “it” traditionally. “But this year, a lot of other areas had good numbers, have decent amounts of public lands, and are starting to include private lands in the Walk-in-Access program,” says Lyons. “The biggest advantage is they’re not as crowded.”

Hint: Look north.

FIELD REPORTS

In an annual tradition, let’s take a tour around Minnesota’s pheasant range and see what’s happening with the habitat and the birds, and what local experts are thinking about hunting prospects in their area

Nobles and Jackson County Areas

“In spots, our habitat down here is the best I have ever seen on some properties, and there is good bluestem everywhere,” reports Scott Rall, a Pheasants Forever stalwart and chapter leader from Worthington (where, by the way, the Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Opener is scheduled for October 14 – 16).

The pheasant prospects map may look a little rough for this area of the state, but Rall gets out and about – a lot – and is seeing birds: “Our bird numbers are good. I re-ran one route that only had 4 birds on the official run, but saw 25 birds there a week later. From my layman’s perspective, I think overall our bird numbers here could be up to 30 percent better than last year.”

Marshall Area

“Our pheasant counts were up in the Marshall Area of Lyon and Lincoln counties,” says Troy Dale, assistant wildlife manager for the Minnesota DNR in the area. “And on some routes, the jump was significant.”

“We are still seeing a lot of young birds,” adds Dale. “Nesting conditions seemed good, though the season did start late. Certainly some first nests and broods were successful. But there’s no doubt we had a delayed and/or second hatch too, into July and August.”

Dale sums it up in clear terms: “Pheasant numbers here are really good.”

Lac qui Parle Area

“On the habitat side, our grass out here is way better than last year — fuller, thicker,” reports Laq qui Parle County resident, pheasant hunter and PF supporter Gary Hauck. “Even though we got dry in late summer, the moist start was great for the habitat. Get ready to bust some grass and pound some cattails.”

“I am leaning optimistic that we will have a good hunting season out this way,” Hauck says. “Bird numbers appear to be better than last year. I am seeing a number of young roosters that are just starting to color up, and a lot of ‘half-sizers,’ too. That tells me we had a second hatch.” That’s good news for hunters, as those little ‘half-sizer’ roosters grow and show more color later in the season after surviving opening weekends thanks to drab feathers.

“There has been some haying and grazing on public lands,” cautions Hauck, “but not on the scale of the emergency order of last year.” Hauck says the land will need a moisture re-charge this winter and next spring.

Stevens County Area

“Spring was cold and late for us here in west-central Minnesota,” says Dave Jungst, Prairie Bank Specialist for the Minnesota DNR, longtime PF supporter (Stevens County Chapter #5), and serious pheasant hunter. “We had good precipitation in spring and early summer, but now we are in a dry pocket.”

“Still, the habitat squeaked by with that early moisture surge,” Jungst says. “Things are looking okay there.”

“I think our hatch was late, but good,” Jungst observes. “Nesting and brood-rearing happened much later than normal. And the vegetation was good from those early rains. I am seeing birds.”

“There are a lot of young birds out there,” Jungst adds. “I think it is going to be a good season. And those young birds will be coloring up later … I think late season could see some very good hunting out this way.” That’s good news for Jungst, who recently got a new English setter puppy, and he is excited to get Ellie romping after some roosters.

Pipestone Area

Marty Wollin is longtime chapter president of Pipestone County PF. “It is going to be a fair season here,” says Wollin. “A lot like last year.”

“We are seeing some birds,” he says. “Broods are out there, but brood size isn’t big. The hatch seemed late, and perhaps there are second-try hatch birds too.”

“We have been pretty dry all summer,” says Wollin, “but the habitat has held up well after spring moisture. Our public lands are in good shape. There are decent numbers of birds, but lots of those birds are small yet. There will be some good later-season hunting as those young roosters color up.”

Kandiyohi County / Willmar Area

Chad Bloom is a serious uplander, good friend of PF and longtime employee who has “gone forest” with the Ruffed Grouse Society these days, but he lives in the Willmar area and keeps a pulse on the habitat and birds around his region.

“I have been driving and scouting,” says Bloom, “to see what crops are where and scout out spots to hunt. I am seeing good numbers of birds and broods. The USFWS and DNR are doing a great job with our habitat in Kandiyohi and surrounding counties.” Bloom is also proud to point to PF and the local Kandiyohi chapter as leaders in starting the acquisition process on many of those WPAs and WMAs.

“We are dry now, but the habitat had a good start this spring,” he says, “and I think we pulled off a good hatch this summer. The dogs and I always see some birds on our hikes.”

“This isn’t drive-by country for bird hunters,” he says. “There are good numbers of birds around, and plenty of public land opportunities to hunt. I think it’s going to be a solid year.”

CONCLUSION

Minnesota is a top-tier pheasant state. Last year’s harvest numbers are still being crunched. But as usual they are sure to be in the top 5 and I would bet, top 4.

This year, the habitat is back better, and the birds are there. Get out and hunt.

And when you do, think about this. Last year saw 9,000 acres of habitat permanently protected in Minnesota through U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as WPAs and by the DNR as WMAs. Many of those acres started their journey to public access with Pheasants Forever.

We worry a lot about the birds. Don’t worry about the birds. They can take care of themselves. If they have the habitat. Worry about the habitat. If you hunt in Minnesota but don’t belong to Pheasants Forever yet, or have let your membership lapse, join or renew today and support the habitat and public access missions.


Tom Carpenter, assisted by Lark, is editor at Pheasants Forever.

Pheasant Hunting Forecast 2022: Missouri

Missouri Pheasant Numbers Rebound

By Greg Breining

A year after an upland bird season that had been crushed by heavy snowfall the previous winter, Missouri’s pheasant population has rebounded to numbers that are not only higher than last year, but also higher than the long-term average, according to this year’s roadside survey.

Pheasant numbers this year appear 47 percent higher than the five-year average and about 17 percent higher than the 10-year average, says Beth Emmerich, research scientist for the Missouri Department of Conservation.

The increases are dramatic in northwestern and north-central Missouri, the state’s pheasant strongholds. Admittedly, hardly any pheasants at all were seen in that region in the 2021 survey.

“But it’s just got to be better,” says Emmerich. Unlike the previous year, “we had a mild winter for the birds and we had what should be a really good nesting season this year.”

In northeastern Missouri, pheasant numbers dropped a bit, “but probably not enough to be noticeable,” says Emmerich.

Emmerich says field reports tend to confirm the results of the roadside survey. Department field staff are seeing pheasants and broods. “When I hear good reports that helps me feel confident,” she says.

Andrew White, Missouri state coordinator for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, agrees that favorable weather allowed pheasant numbers to recover. “We had a fairly decent spring and summer with consistent rains across northern Missouri,” he says. “Mother Nature has treated us fairly well this year. The further north you go in the state, the more pheasants you will see. I have seen and heard quite a few birds while out and about, and have even seen a couple of broods along the roadsides.”

The recovery isn’t confined to pheasants. “I am observing and hearing more quail and turkey when I am out doing field checks, so it seems to have been a good year for them,” says Heather Jones, farm bill wildlife biologist for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever.

BEST BETS

Devoted pheasant hunters should head to the northwest, says Emmerich. “The northwest is still kind of our prime pheasant spot. Where the habitat is good, that’s where the birds are.”

Hunters should check the Department of Conservation’s interactive map of public land, especially conservation areas and Missouri Recreational Access Program sites, where private land is leased for hunter access. These MRAP sites are open to various activities. Hunters need to be aware that not all areas are open to all kinds of hunting.

IF YOU GO

Missouri’s youth pheasant season is Oct. 29–30. The regular pheasant season follows, Nov. 1–Jan. 15, 2023. The bag limit is 2 roosters daily, with 4 in possession.

Missouri’s quail season is identical to the pheasant season. Hunters looking to chase quail as well should check the department website for information about state Quail Restoration Landscapes, where habitat work on both public and private land has led to quail densities of up to a bird per acre.

Pheasant Hunting Forecast 2022: Montana

Big Sky roosters are still fighting drought, but hunters prepared to walk and work will find some birds

By Jack Hutson

In Montana, to get the most accurate ringneck roundup, we check with experts from each major pheasant-producing region. This year the weather has been a crazy mix — everything from flood to continuous drought. After all, it is Montana!

Here’s a look at the pheasant fall forecast under Montana’s Big Sky.

REGION 4 / CENTRAL

Weather data seems shows that precipitation remains elusive in much of north-central Montana. Based centrally in Great Falls, the region’s newly appointed Upland Game Bird Specialist for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (MT FW&P), Matt Strauch, verified drought mapping information: “There are large areas within our region that suffer from the effects of on-going drought.”

On the extreme eastern edge of the region’s pheasant range, Pheasant Forever Coordinating Biologist Joshua Hobbs reports, “It has been dry — very dry. 2022 started out where 2021 left off. Following a winter of very little snowfall, we have remained in severe drought.”

Traveling west toward the Rockies, PF Senior Biologist Erin Fairbank says, “Our area remains in extreme drought conditions this year, as well.”

What’s in store for uplanders looking to round-up a few ringnecks in Region 4?

“Well, pheasants are a bit more than slightly below the long-term average,” says Strauch. He continues, “We are seeing young birds around and it appears as if a second nesting attempt enjoyed a fairly good survival rate. Folks that know the region, or can find water, should find birds.”

Hobbs reports, “You bet, there are still pheasants in the eastern portions of the region, but their numbers are low. They remain predominantly on private ground in areas of crop ground adjacent to riparian areas. The vast majority of the area is rangeland and this ground is best for folks looking for a mixed bag of sharptails and sage grouse with a few Huns (gray partridge) and pheasants as a bonus.”

Further north and west, Fairbank offers a more dire outlook: “I have not seen any broods; pheasant numbers have been down the last few years and I imagine it'll be no different this year. Honestly, there are better places in Montana for hunters to find pheasants this year.”

REGION 6 / NORTHEAST

“It’s a good idea to be ‘weather wise’ if you’re hunting pheasants in Montana this season,” says Ken Plourde, the region’s Upland Bird Specialist for the MT FW&P. Plourde spent some time after-hours to chat about pheasants. He continued, “The western portion of the region is still in extreme drought (according to the U.S. Drought Monitor) and upland birds of all species have been badly affected.”

Indeed, the Drought Map shows an orange to burnt orange pod in north-central Montana — proof that severe to extreme drought chokes western portions of the region.

Heather Brower, a Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Biologist out of the USDA’S Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Scobey, Montana, reports, “We got slightly more rain than last year but it’s still very dry.” Compounding on the issue of weather, Brower adds, “In my area, hoppers have been causing damage to alfalfa fields as well as the rows of windbreaks.”

The news is far from all bad, however. There were several timely precipitation events in eastern parts of the region that fueled some good habitat regeneration. Plourde painted a picture of increasingly favorable conditions as one travels from west to east in Region 6. “Most of the potholes in the east are still likely to be dry, but the vegetation sprang-up after receiving rain, creating pockets or honey-holes of good pheasant cover,” he explains.

Good cover should mean pheasants. Have there been any brood-sightings?

“I’ve seen very few,” says Brower. He then confides, “But I haven’t been out in the field much this summer.” Residing further east, Plourde shares this experience: “I’ve seen several and the average brood-size seemed to indicate a good rate of survival.”

What can pheasant fanatics expect this fall?

Plourde predicts, “I would say that several areas will have pheasant numbers from average to good. Basically, the hunters that know the region or know good habitat when they see it will do well.”

An upland-enthusiast herself, Brower speaks cautiously: “Tentatively, hunting should be about the same as last year.” She follows up with a statement and advice: “There’s plenty of accessible state and Block Management ground to hunt. There are birds out there but hunters will have to go and look for them.”

That’s why they call it hunting. Get out there and look for them.

REGION 7 / SOUTHEAST

“It was great to finally see some young birds after two years of drought, but grasshoppers have decimated the region,” says Justin Hughes, Montana FW&P Upland Bird Specialist for Region 7.

“Habitat conditions have drastically changed for the better in southeast Montana and it will greatly benefit pheasants,” Hughes continues. “After having two years of drought the region finally received a good amount of moisture. It’s hard to believe the difference one year can make.”

Martin Ellenburg, NRCS Biologist based in Miles City, reports that not only is the local CRP ground not being hayed or grazed heavily this year, but there has been a slight increase in new program acreage. Ellenburg observes, “The habitat is in good shape and populated with enough hoppers for young pheasants to grow healthy.”

That’s amazing news after a very disappointing 2021. Going into winter without adequate food and cover, upland game birds, especially pheasants, could have been devastated by a bad winter. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.

However, Hughes informs us that the weather wasn’t perfect: “Many areas received a fair amount of severe weather in the form of torrential rains and hail events that could potentially affect recruitment in localized areas. These weather events occurred right around the period of peak hatch.”

Were there any indications that these weather events had a negative effect?

“There were many younger broods spotted in August, indicating that there were some earlier nesting efforts affected by the severe weather that the region received in the end of June and beginning of July,” answers Hughes.

All in all, our experts remained positive for Region 6. “The hatch was average to good across most of the region,” Hughes declares. Ellenburg agrees: “I have seen several broods in the hay fields that I have inspected.” He additionally notes that, “If the habitat held pheasants last year, hunters should notice better numbers of younger birds in those areas.”

For those looking for ringnecks this fall, what can they expect?

Hughes makes this prediction: “Hunting this fall could be tough. With pheasant numbers below long-term averages and the habitat being so good, birds may be spread throughout the landscape, taking advantage of all the available cover.” Translation: Get ready to work, but you should find birds.

Ellenburg suggests doing some homework: “Use onX Hunt software to locate public land adjacent to riparian zones or irrigated farmland. Areas that likely held pheasants last season should be better this fall.” He adds, “It may take a few more good years before pheasants are found in the marginal habitat distant from these areas.”

DROUGHT MAP

Following is Montana’s current drought monitor map. Focus more toward areas less affected by drought for better chances this fall.

Montana Drought Map

MONTANA SEASONS

Youth Season: September 24 and 25 with a limit of 3 roosters daily. See regulations for mentor stipulations.

General Pheasant Season: October 9 through January 1, 2023. Limits are 3 roosters daily / 9 in possession.

See Montana’s Upland Regulations for license details and complete information.

Pheasant Hunting Forecast 2022: Nebraska

Find cover, find birds … but drought has impacted cover

By Jenny Prenosil

As the days begin to shorten, the mornings start to hint at fall. This is the prime-time pheasant hunters, including you, are talking about where and what to expect. The crisp morning air and crunch of frost under boots is what Nebraska’s pheasant hunters look forward to for the season which runs October 29, 2022, through January 31, 2023. Anyone with looking to take advantage of the Youth Season opener should mark October 21, 2022, on the calendar.

HABITAT AND DROUGHT

Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres are important habitat blocks for pheasants in Nebraska. CRP acres peaked in the mid-1990s at 1.39 million acres. John Laux, Upland Game Bird Manager for Nebraska Game and Parks, says undisturbed CRP acres provide the most beneficial cover for pheasants. Currently over 1 million acres are enrolled statewide, and the decrease in enrollment is likely due to expirations and limited interest in new enrollments in recent years.

Ongoing drought, resulting in emergency haying or grazing in addition to additional availability, has also shifted the type of habitat CRP provides. This, combined with continued losses in small grains, has reduced the availability of suitable pheasant cover.

Drought is widespread through pheasant country in Nebraska. Many of the areas which experienced drought in 2021 have continued the dry trend into 2022 after a relatively mild winter. Roughly 75 percent of the state remained in moderate to severe drought by late summer 2022. The U.S. Department of Agriculture authorized emergency haying and grazing of CRP acres in 88 of Nebraska’s 93 counties. Due to these conditions, John Laux strongly encourages hunters to do some pre-season scouting to locate fields which have remained in cover.

According to Farm Bill Biologist Rob van Leishout in northeastern Nebraska, larger CRP fields have been voluntarily hayed or grazed during this drought. He suggests tuning into parcels that you may normally overlook.

“Your hunting options may be looking to weedy field buffers, unfarmable sloughs, or standing crop stubble. Scout early, or converse with locals before planning your trip,” Rob van Leishout.

ACCESS

The Open Fields and Waters Program (OFW) is a largely popular program in which private landowners open their properties for public access for hunting. Total OFW acres in Nebraska going into this 2022-2023 hunting season are at 342,000 acres. Andy Houser, Senior Coordinating Wildlife Biologist located in southwestern Nebraska, says: “As part of Nebraska’s Berggren Pheasant Plan, new incentives for OFW have been made available, and there has a positive outcome from this for new private lands being enrolled for public access within OFW.”

CRP acres are often enrolled into OFW. Houser recommends making plans ahead of your hunting trip to locate which sites may have taken advantage of the emergency haying or grazing under this year’s CRP. Localized areas that did receive some amounts of rain during the growing season, and where cover has been left, will have pheasants. Houser tells us that pheasant distribution will be patchy, but where cover remains you will find birds.

Nebraska typically enrolls an additional 30-40,000 acres of tall wheat stubble into OFW according to John Laux. This year, with long term trends in drought in the southwest and the southern panhandle, wheat fields will have sparser cover which will result in a lower enrollment of stubble acres this coming season. Stubble Access Acres will be made available later in September.

Nebraska’s Public Access Atlas, which highlights public lands and private lands open to public access is now available. An online version is available here. The atlas is also compatible with mobile phones.

PHEASANT NUMBERS

Late spring precipitation in portions of the state did improve nesting conditions for hens. Brood reports where highly variable throughout the summer, though. According to the July Rural Mail Carrier Survey, pheasant numbers were up by 26 percent statewide despite drought conditions. The Panhandle region is expected to have the highest densities of pheasants. The northeast and southeast portions of Nebraska both exceeded the five-year average for pheasant counts. Habitat is patchier in these eastern portions of Nebraska compared to western portions, but where you find cover and quality habitat you will find birds.

You can read the full report here or here.

TIPS

For anyone who is looking to make the most of the upcoming season, there are four things to do.

First, scouting before going afield is going to be critical to identify which sites have cover available. Ben Wheeler, Coordinating Wildlife Biologist for Pheasants Forever offers this tidbit of advice:

“With it being so dry in so many areas of Nebraska this year, upland sites will likely produce less covering habitat. Wetland areas, however, should still have outstanding vertical cattail structure and being drier this year, may be more accessible to hunting as they are less likely to have standing water.”

Second, here is a recommendation to review the rural mail carrier survey (see above) to focus in on which parts of the state to target. Above average pheasant numbers are found in the northeast, southeast, and Panhandle regions.

Third, pre-hunting scouting is critical … or at least, be ready to drive and look for areas of good cover on your hunt. Even within local areas and regions of the state, habitat conditions and bird numbers will vary due to varying precipitation and management of habitat sites. For hunters willing to put in a little extra effort to scout, try new areas, and put in a few miles, you should still have a happy bird dog at the end of the day.

And finally, please be mindful of the on-going drought conditions and avoid parking in tall vegetation, to prevent unwanted fires. Let’s leave the habitat management to *prescribed* burns!

Pheasant Hunting Forecast 2022: North Dakota

North Dakota’s grasslands and pheasants in better shape for 2022

By Anthony Hauck

Following a year of all-consuming drought, it has been a year of rebound and recovery for North Dakota’s grasslands. From a statewide standpoint, pheasant hunters can expect to find better cover to work in 2022 and, it looks like, better bird numbers.

Last year’s drought-driven year was a tough one for North Dakota pheasants and pheasant hunters, evidenced by the numbers: 47,020 hunters (down 18%) and 259,997 harvested roosters (down 21%), compared to 57,141 hunters and 330,668 roosters in 2020.

The depleted starting point for habitat this spring is preventing 2022-2023 from being a banner year, but there should be some bounce back of birds. “Early nesting conditions were poor,” says RJ Gross, Upland Game Biologist with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department (NDGFD). However, from there, he says, adequate moisture continually improved conditions across the state, fostering the insect hatches that provide forage for pheasant chicks to feast on.

In some regard, calling this a recovery year does not fully encapsulate the transformation of most North Dakota prairies. “Across the board, the habitat this year is not like anything I’ve seen,” says Emily Spolyar, Pheasants Forever’s Southwest North Dakota Precision Ag and Conservation Specialist. “The growth as far as height and density is huge.”

Spolyar says that on her summer scouting routes in North Dakota’s southwestern quadrant, this habitat has given the birds that made it through the drought the opportunity to pull off very successful nests. “I haven’t seen a single brood that has less than 8 pheasant chicks, and most have been 10 to 12. That’s what has me most excited.”

Moving the compass, Gross says northwest North Dakota — Divide and Williams counties — look to be the best bets in 2022 as far as overall ringneck numbers. Bordering Montana, this is a traditional stronghold for birds … for those with the gumption to drive that far.

Eastern North Dakota doesn’t boast the pheasant population the westside does. Still, Kevin Kading, Game and Fish Department Private Land Section Leader, said there has been an acreage increase east of the Missouri River for the Private Land Open To Sportsmen program, better known by its PLOTS acronym. With a slight decline in PLOTS acreage in western North Dakota, there are about 800,000 acres statewide open to walk-in hunting, about on par with last year.

PLOTS acres cover many working lands, but last year’s drought meant those acres were grounds for more haying and grazing, including some parcels that had never undergone any type of direct habitat management efforts. But the short-term pain for hunters last year might be this season’s gain. “Sometimes, that’s okay. You get a little management out there that you might not otherwise get,” says Kading. “And those grasses need something. They need either some kind of grazing management, which we also do on PLOTS, but also haying.”

The combination of overriding weather conditions plus habitat management has kicked regrowth into high gear.

“I always say the best pheasant habitat is a super pain in the ass to walk through — it’s thick and weedy — and that’s what I’m seeing this year,” Spolyar says. “Hunters should be ready to fight through some good cover. The difference between last year and this year is night and day. It’s nice to see quality habitat and folks should see some great bird numbers in places.”

North Dakota’s pheasant season opens on Saturday, October 8, and runs through New Year’s Day, which is Sunday, January 1, 2023. The daily bag limit is 3 birds, with a possession limit of 12 birds. Visit the NDGFD pheasant page for more information and details, including limitations on nonresidents some hunting public lands during the season’s first week.

Pheasant Hunting Forecast 2022: Ohio

Upland optimism: Should be a good season for pheasants in the Buckeye State this fall

By Andy Fondrick

After an average winter and timely moisture, habitat in Ohio looks to be in great shape for pheasants this fall. There is optimism that with average overwinter survival, nesting birds were likely able to dodge spring rain events, setting things up for a good season ahead.

WEATHER AND CONDITIONS

Last winter didn’t test birds in the Buckeye State nearly as hard as they had the past few years, which transitioned nicely into nesting season.

“The winter of 2021-22 was an average Ohio winter,” says Joseph Lautenbach, wildlife biologist for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). “Spring crow count surveys seem to indicate populations were similar to the spring of 2021. I expect that overwinter survival was average.”

While there were some heavy rains in June, Lautenbach provided a positive view for the birds since.

“Other than some heavy rains in June, spring and summer conditions were very conducive for nesting and brood-rearing season in Ohio,” he says. “There have been many positive reports of nests and broods throughout the pheasant range.”

Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s Ohio State Coordinator, Cody Grasser, paints a similar picture in terms of weather patterns not being overly harsh this year. “The spring was good overall and hopefully resulted in high nest success, but July was a particularly wet month with increased heavy rain events that could have hurt young broods and/or late nesters,” said Grasser. “We are optimistic that bird numbers were not drastically affected though, and they were able to retreat to good cover during the toughest times.”

HABITAT, BROODS AND COUNTS

According to Lautenbach, upland habitat on public wildlife areas with wild pheasant populations looks excellent going into fall. Division of Wildlife staff members have been working to control invasive species, remove woody plants encroaching into grassland habitats and conducted prescribed fires. They have also been working to increase diversity of grasslands by planting native forbs into many warm-season grass fields. Reports from staff seem to indicate those areas experienced excellent reproduction.

Lautenbach adds, “Ohio has seen a decrease in land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). However, Ohio's most successful conservation program, the Scioto River Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), continues to provide excellent pheasant cover in Central Ohio.”

With much of the state covered in development or agriculture, CRP and CREP are critically important to the state’s bird populations.

“Pheasants rely heavily on upland habitat made available through CRP acres, and this spring CRP acres were relatively similar to last year, but time will tell what is available after the current CRP signup is complete,” says Grasser. “The quality of CRP acres across the state varies based on age of each contract, but CRP management requirements are in place to ensure that upland habitat is always providing benefit to wildlife.”

When asked about reports and insights on the 2022 hatch, Lautenbach mentioned that Ohio's spring crow counts indicated that the spring population was similar to last year's population index. ”There have been reports of broods from our wildlife areas with wild pheasants, and I have heard some nice reports of broods from landowners enrolled in the Scioto River CREP,” says Lautenbach.

TOP SPOTS

Lautenbach offered a wide range of opportunities for pheasant hunters to chase birds in Ohio this fall.

“Visiting Deer Creek Wildlife Area and nearby Wildlife Production Areas in south-central Ohio (in Madison, Pickaway, Ross, and Fayette counties) can be very productive,” he suggests. “Deer Creek Wildlife Area is managed with crops and grassland interspersed throughout the area, creating excellent pheasant habitat.”

Additionally, many private lands in this region are associated with Scioto River CREP and can be very productive. Be sure to obtain written permission before hunting these areas.

Big Island Wildlife Area in Marion County and surrounding private lands are popular for many of Ohio’s wild pheasant hunters.

Lautenbach continued, “The Lake La Su An Wildlife Area in Williams County, and surrounding private lands with suitable cover in Fulton, Williams, and Defiance counties, are also popular destinations for pheasant hunters in Ohio. The wildlife area provides a mix of cropland and large grasslands and is interspersed with forest and wetlands. CRP grasslands on private lands can provide excellent opportunities in this corner of the state.”

Grasser adds that he would also steer hunters to somewhere in the extreme northwest Ohio or the Scioto River watershed. “Both these areas are home to some of the highest CRP enrollment acres in the state and have the pheasants to show for it,” he said. “There are public land hunting opportunities in both those areas, and landowners willing to give hunting permission, or hunters can also look for private land enrolled in the Ohio Landowner / Hunter Access Partnership Program for further opportunities.”

Visit the Ohio Division of Wildlife website to find public land hunting opportunities.

INSIDER TIPS

Grasser and Lautenbach provided a few tips for successful pheasant hunts in Ohio this fall.

“My best advice is to be patient and persistent. If you know there are birds in the area then take your time and hunt thoroughly and you will find them,” says Grasser.

“On public lands, going during the week often results in fewer hunters and can improve the quality of the hunt,” says Lautenbach. “But with a little bit of effort, folks can find some of the less visited portions of the Wildlife Areas, even during the busy weekends.”

“Another strategy to avoid crowds would be securing permission to hunt on private lands with CRP or CREP in central Ohio,” he adds. “While there are excellent opportunities on our wildlife areas and Wildlife Production Areas, the private lands typically get a lot less pressure,” he adds.

Pheasant season in Ohio runs from Nov. 4 – Jan. 8, 2023. As a reminder, the small game season, including pheasants, no longer closes during the deer gun season (Nov. 28–Dec. 4); however, all hunters must where orange during that timeframe.

Pheasant Hunting Forecast 2022: Oklahoma

Oklahoma hunters can expect a season like last year’s

By Greg Breining

Tell Judkins, upland game biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, predicts the state’s pheasant season will look a lot like last year’s, despite results of a spring crow count that show lower numbers.

The May crow count, conducted in 13 northwestern and Panhandle counties, averaged 1.68 pheasants per stop this year, compared with 2.73 last year.

The August roadside survey also showed a decline in pheasant numbers, to 1.0 pheasant per route this year compared with 1.44 last year. The number of broods spotted per mile also declined, but the number of broods is small, so it’s tough to make conclusion on the basis of so little data, Judkins says.

“I don’t think the survey numbers reflect exactly what is going on on the landscape because they don’t focus on those areas of good habitat,” says Judkins. If hunters concentrate on areas managed for good grassland habitat, such as state wildlife management areas and Oklahoma Land Access Program (OLAP) walk-in areas, they’re likely to find birds, he says.

Some squirrely weather may be responsible for the fall-off in pheasant numbers. “Over the winter we had multiple rounds of fairly harsh weather. It would come in big swings of temperature and of weather. So we could have days where it was 50s, 60s or even 70s and then all of a sudden we’re down to zero. That can really put stress on the birds. That definitely had some impacts,” Judkins says.

The weather improved with springtime. “We started to have some pretty decent timely rains. Things were looking great and then we had some pretty severe flash drought — like somebody turned off the spigot,” he says. Then came localized intense rainstorms.

“Hopefully we get a couple years of better weather, and we’ll have better quail and pheasant numbers,” he says.

A second roadside survey in October (geared toward bobwhite) may provide additional insight into pheasant production.

So what can pheasant hunters expect?

“I would expect a pretty standard season as far as pheasant hunting in Oklahoma. It’s never super spectacular here,” says Judkins. “It’s going to be pretty standard in that you can go out and find some birds, you can get your dog on some birds. We’re not really a destination pheasant state. Pheasant aren’t something that’s widely targeted here in Oklahoma.”

Pheasant numbers have generally declined since about 2010, he says. “Habitat is the big driver.” Changes in agriculture, especially the use of more herbicide- and pesticide-dependent products has probably been the cause. “A lot of those practices aren’t really agreeing with the birds,” he says. Meanwhile, the Department of Wildlife Conservation is reaching out to landowners to improve wildlife habitat in farmland.

BEST BETS

Pheasant numbers are typically best in the Panhandle and elsewhere in the northwest, including Cimarron, Texas, Beaver, Alfalfa, Grant and Woodward counties. Alfalfa County has an unusually large amount of nonprivate land. “That’s usually one of our high spots,” he says. “Grant County in north-central Oklahoma has some decent pheasant numbers typically year to year.”

Unless they have access to private land, hunters should target state wildlife management areas and OLAP walk-in areas. Look for good cover with plenty of forbs, not just solid grass, and nearby food (usually crops).

Judkins recommends scouting via the department’s website (wildlifedepartment.com). Interactive maps provide information about state WMAs and OLAP sites and show where they butt up against private row crops.

Hunters can look to a written pheasant season forecast on the department website in late September or early October.

IF YOU GO

Oklahoma’s pheasant season runs Dec. 1 to Jan. 31, 2023. Limit is 2 roosters daily, with 4 in possession after the first day.

Pheasant Hunting Forecast 2022: Oregon

Drought conditions persist in eastern Oregon, which could make for a challenging season

By Casey Sill

Parts of eastern Oregon had a very wet spring, with above average rainfall. But the precipitation wasn’t enough to make up for an exceptionally dry winter with very little snowpack. Roosters will still be found this fall, but the less-than-ideal conditions means numbers will most likely be down.

WEATHER AND CONDITIONS

The winter was once again mild in Oregon this year, which means survival of adult birds wasn’t a major issue. But it was also very dry — the eastern half of the state received almost no winter precipitation between mid-December and mid-April. Cover was sparse.

“All of our moisture came after that,” said Mikal Cline, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s upland game bird coordinator. “Unfortunately, our big push of precipitation happened during the hatch this spring. The end of May into June, we had days on end of rain and cold, so we knew our upland birds were going to be impacted.”

Cline said that’s bad news for nesting and early brood survival, but she’s also hopeful that plenty of hens have re-nested after conditions improved.

“We did see things turn around later in the spring,” she said. “So I think we’ll definitely see some successful re-nesters this year.”

HABITAT AND BROODS

The cold, wet spring may have hampered early brood survival, but Cline said moisture was badly needed to improve long-term habitat in Oregon.

“We really needed that moisture,” Cline said. “It definitely helped put some cover on the ground and also helped with the insect hatch.”

Julie Unfried, Pheasants Forever’s sage-grouse LIT coordinator, echoed Cline’s comments and said while the wet spring may be bad news in the short term, it’s a positive for long term habitat trends.

“All that rain brought ample wildflower blooms and invertebrate populations for summer,” she said. “And we all know how critical both of those things are to young upland birds.”

TOP SPOTS

The eastern reaches of Oregon are traditionally where you want to look for pheasants, and Unfried said there are several spots where hunters should focus their efforts this year.

“The very western edge of the Snake River Plan around Ontario, Oregon and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge are among the remaining pheasant strongholds in eastern Oregon,” she says. “I think you’d have to be pretty dedicated to plan an out-of-state hunting trip to shoot pheasants in eastern Oregon, especially this year and especially if you had to drive through North Dakota and Montana to get here. But I’ll definitely sneak out to the refuge for some afternoon hunts with my pooch.”

Those on the western side of the state will find even more challenging conditions, but western Oregon isn’t completely void of opportunity.

“The once-famous pheasant populations on the west side of Oregon continue to shrink, but hunters still have solid options to chase roosters at private preserves, ODFW youth pheasant workshops, and ODFW fee pheasant hunts offered at state wildlife areas near Portland, Corvallis, Eugene, and Medford,” says Brandon Dyches, Pheasants Forever’s hunt program coordinator in Oregon. “The wildlife areas are managed for multiple species and tend to offer a habitat mix of planted corn, millet, buckwheat, sunflower, blackberry hedges, emerging wetland and gravel roads. Savvy hunters will work thick cover and field edges where they can search for pheasants and also flush an occasional quail covey or mourning dove.”

The Oregon pheasant season runs from October 8 to December 31, with a bag limit of two roosters per day. For more pheasant and upland game bird regulations, visit the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife upland gamebirds page.

Pheasant Hunting Forecast 2022: South Dakota

South Dakota habitat rebounds, setting the stage for a good hunt this fall

By Andrew Johnson

Widespread drought was the headline item leading up to South Dakota’s 2021 pheasant hunting season. But in spite of the abnormally dry and poor habitat conditions found statewide, hunters still bagged just over 1 million birds in 2021.

“The drought conditions we experienced last year during the nesting and brood-rearing seasons probably hampered pheasant production somewhat,” says Alex Solem, an upland biologist for the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department. “But overall, hunting was on par with what it has been in the past. Our long-term average is about 8 pheasants harvested per hunter, and last year we saw 7.85 birds harvested per hunter.”

WINTER, NESTING AND BROODING CONDITIONS

“South Dakota experienced another relatively mild winter last year,” Solem continues. “Areas in the primary pheasant range were below their average cumulative snowfall totals, which certainly helps overwinter survival for pheasants.”

Coming off a drought year, vegetation was stunted as spring arrived. But favorable weather arrived just in time for peak nesting season.

“In late May and early June, much of the primary pheasant range experienced timely rains followed by normal temperatures,” Solem reports. “This provided some drought relief and caused a positive response in available nesting and brood-rearing cover in most areas.”

Solem did point out, however, that portions of southeastern and west-central South Dakota continued to experience drought conditions throughout the spring, which could have hampered bird production in those areas.

“Outside of these little patches of drought, overall nesting conditions were good after a light winter, and we had enough rain throughout the year where we had great bug production,” says Matt Morlock, Pheasants Forever’s acting director in South Dakota. “We’re hearing reports of some big, nice broods that are looking really healthy, and I’ve been seeing a few as I’ve been traveling around the state, too. I’m excited. I am expecting a really good year this year.”

Darwin Weeldreyer, a landowner and habitat manger in Beadle County, reports similar brood sightings south of Huron in the James River Valley.

“Nesting habitat was good in our area, and the weather really cooperated,” says Weeldreyer, who is able to drive backroads most every weekend going to and from the property he owns. “Most of the broods I'm seeing are carrying a high number of chicks. I believe the first-nest success rate was high, which equates to larger brood numbers.”

FALL HABITAT OUTLOOK

“Heading into fall it’s the polar opposite of last year,” Morlock contends. “Most of the state is looking phenomenal for habitat, so hunters should know ahead of time that it’s going to look a lot different than it did a year ago.”

Morlock believes more habitat can actually make for a more challenging hunt, though, as the birds will be spread out and harder to corral.

“Remember, if you’re hunting big areas to focus on the edges of wetlands or where two habitat types meet,” Morlock says. “You don’t have to hunt the whole piece. Hunt the transitions where one cover type meets another.”

While overall the state’s habitat looks better than a year ago, dry conditions will once again play a role in how this fall’s hunt plays out.

“There are still areas within the pheasant range that are in some sort of drought status, and hunters need to be mindful of that and how it could influence the cover in those areas,” Solem says. “The Farm Service Agency did open emergency haying and grazing on CRP acres in most areas of the primary pheasant range in August, and hunters can expect some of those practices to occur on areas they may have hunted in the past.”

As far as haying goes, Morlock says I-90 seems to be somewhat of an unofficial boundary in the eastern half of the state, as there is noticeably more haying occurring south of the interstate than north. So, much like last year, scouting will be more important than ever to find areas of quality habitat that will hold birds.

“There is definitely some haying and grazing going on. It’s not at the same level as last year, though, and the further north you go, the less of it you see,” he says. “if possible, it would be good to put your eyes on what you plan to hunt just to make sure it still has plenty of cover.” Or: be prepared to put in some drive time working around your hunt area to locate good habitat.

Man on Mower

Checking the U.S. Drought Monitor’s map of South Dakota from September 1 illustrates where drought is still lingering in some areas of the state. It bears repeating that the shaded areas, which are more prevalent in the southern half of the state, likely have CRP acres that have been mowed or hayed this year. This will not only impact CRP on private ground, but it also includes CRP acres found on publicly accessible Walk-In Areas and CREP lands.

REGIONAL REPORTS

East — Brookings and Moody Counties

Brookings and Moody counties are often overlooked, but Senior Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist Cody Rolfes says the area can be a sneaky good option for hunters willing to work for their birds.

“I have been hearing really good reports from around the area of people seeing broods, and I have seen quite a few myself,” Rolfes reports. “The cover going into fall is looking really good. Last year we had a ton of haying on CRP acres, but that hasn’t been the case this year.”

Rolfes points hunters toward the area’s numerous Waterfowl Production Areas that are well managed and often clumped up within a few miles of each other. Mixed in with some state Game Production Areas, he believes the area can provide good hunting if given the chance.

“Like I said, I know this isn't a go-to area for traveling hunters to pursue pheasants in the state, but there are still plenty of birds to be had,” he says. “Hunters shouldn’t be afraid to stop at a spot around here as they head west.”

Southeast — Clay, Hutchinson, Lincoln, Turner and Union Counties

As mentioned, the southeastern part of the state is currently experiencing varying stages of drought. Due to the dry conditions, a greater proportion of the region’s CRP acres have been hayed or grazed, and some grain fields have already been chopped for silage, reports Senior Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist Nick Goehring.

“As the fall goes on, I’d suspect the hunting to get better as birds congregate and they start to focus on wintering grounds,” Goehring adds.

However, don’t be discouraged if areas you planned to hunt were mowed this summer. Instead, Solem believes hunters should look at it as a glass half-full scenario.

“The haying in areas could congregate birds more in the cover that is left and create an edge that hunters can use to their advantage,” he advises.

Northeast — Glacial Lakes Region

The northeastern part of the state has seen substantial precipitation this year, which has refilled prairie potholes and sloughs. To that end, Morlock says hunters should pack the muck boots in case they traipse through soggy wetland edges or cattails before things freeze over.

It would be well worth the work, however, as preliminary bird reports indicate the northeast had a good hatch.

“Some friends of mine up in that area who pay attention are saying they’ve seen plenty of broods,” Morlock says. “They’re telling me birds are up anywhere from 25 to 40 percent on their land.”

East-Central — Beadle, Jerauld and Sanborn Counties

“Early season moisture along with some timely rain and showers in July has the native grasses looking really good,” says Weeldreyer. “The drier conditions in August and the early part of September have stressed food plots, but again, the early moisture allowed the food plots to put food out there for the wildlife.”

Weeldreyer says there is some emergency haying and grazing occurring in the area, which is something public-land hunters should keep in mind if they plan to visit the numerous CREP areas that dot the landscape of the James River watershed.

“Do some scouting to avoid areas that have been hayed or grazed,” he advises. “The habitat that is out there is going to provide good cover for the pheasants. With the recent drier conditions, some of the corn and sorghum has already been chopped, but if you look for that birdy cover, there is a good chance you will find birds.”

North-Central — Campbell, Edmunds, McPherson and Walworth Counties

Senior Farm Bill Biologist Tom Zinter says hunters should expect better habitat conditions and bird numbers this fall compared to last year.

“We were blessed with a great amount of spring moisture this year, which lead to the best nesting conditions that I can remember,” Zinter explains.

Based on what he’s seen and heard, Zinter believes the north-central region has experienced an above-average hatch this year.

“I have seen good brood sizes, and various chick sizes tell me there was success from initial nesters as well as re-nesters,” he says. “I heard reports of flushing broods coming out of all the new CRP plantings when they had their weed control clippings done this year.”

“All signs point to a great year of hunting here this year,” he continues. “Habitat still looks great going into the fall, especially compared to where things were at this time last year. There has been some haying and grazing on CRP, but nothing more than the typical managed haying and grazing that happens on an annual basis in order to keep those grass stands healthy. As it has been the past few years, there will still be pockets that have a lot more birds than others. With some pre-hunt preparation and planning it should be fruitful to get out and walk through some grasslands and food plots around the area this fall.”

Central/South-Central — Jones, Stanley, Haakon and Jackson Counties

In this region, Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist II Derek Hartl expects to see better pheasant numbers this fall and winter, based on habitat conditions and the number of broods he’s seen so far.

“While out visiting with landowners the past few weeks, I have seen a lot of pheasants in the road ditches — groups of 8 to 20 pheasants in one area, so there should be some good opportunities this fall,” he believes. “I am also seeing two different chick body sizes. Some pheasant chicks are almost fully grown, while others are still fairly small in body size. So come this fall there is a possibility that you might run into a few young birds while out hunting.”

INSIDER TIPS

New CREP Program

A new CREP program in the Big Sioux River watershed in the eastern third of the state is coming this fall, and the plan is to enroll up to 25,000 acres — all of which will be open to public hunting. The Big Sioux drains the Coteau des Prairies, a 200-mile-long anvil-shaped plateau in the eastern part of the state.

“The Big Sioux CREP program has hopes of offering contracts this fall,” Solem says. “However, there are a few steps left to fully implement this program. Whenever parcels are officially enrolled in the program, they will be available for public hunting opportunities. Unfortunately, these areas won’t be in GFP’s printed atlas, which was printed prior to their enrollment.”

However, hunters should note that when the program goes live, any new CREP areas will be added to the state’s online hunting atlas, which can be found using this link.

The online hunting atlas is also available through the state’s free GoOutdoorsSD app, which can be downloaded for free from the App Store and Google Play.

Morning Drive Time

Here’s another good insider tip: Grab a cup of coffee and bag of donuts, and use those daylight hours before 10:00 a.m. to drive around, looking for birds and habitat to hunt at opening bell … and later in the day too.

IF YOU GO

South Dakota’s general pheasant season is open Oct. 15 to January 31, 2023. Shooting hours are from 10 a.m. to sunset, and Central Time is used for opening shooting hours statewide. The daily limit is 3 rooster pheasants, with a possession limit of 15. The resident-only hunt (public lands only) runs October 8 – 10. September 24 to October 2 is the youth season (open statewide on private and public land, see regulations for rules regarding hunting public road rights-of-way during this season). Click here for details.

Pheasant Hunting Forecast 2022: Texas

Wild roosters can be had in the Texas panhandle, if you’re willing to work for it

By Casey Sill

As is the case for much of the Great Plains region, drought conditions in recent years have hampered habitat in Texas. The lack of water, and resulting lack of nesting and brood rearing cover, has hurt pheasant populations. But if you’re willing to put some miles on your boots, wild birds can still be found in the Lone Star State.

WEATHER AND CONDITIONS

Drought conditions persisted throughout 2022 in the Texas panhandle, and that has undoubtedly impacted both young and adult pheasants.

“We began the long march to drought last fall, and unfortunately the high plains region of Texas, where 95 percent of our pheasant population resides, has been one of the worst hit regions,” says John McLaughlin, upland gamebird program leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “So any grass growth we did have last year that might provide good nesting cover going into the spring, was pretty much non-existent.”

HABITAT AND BROODS

Current conditions are really just the worsening of a more long-term drought in the region that began in 2017-18, which has led to more sustained impact on habitat and drops in the pheasant population.

“The populations out here have been pretty depressed for some time,” McLaughlin says. “Because we don’t have good nest conditions or good grass conditions, and because we have low breeding stock in our number of hens, there was not much of a springboard going into this year. And I think generally pheasant populations are going to be below average across the region. It’s going to be tough sledding when it comes to hunting.”

TOP SPOTS

For Texans or travelers looking to beat the odds and put a few Lone Star birds in the bag, there are still some areas in the high plains region where roosters can be found. The northern panhandle holds the most promising opportunities.

“There is nothing that’s going to be contiguous, but there will be pockets of birds,” says Dustin McNabb, Pheasant Forever’s regional representative in Texas. “Up near Gruver and Spearman there are places where folks have done some good habitat work on corners that seem to have consistently held birds in the last few years.”

While Texas is primarily made up of private property, public access is improving. Pheasants Forever and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department run a Voluntary Public Access HIP program in Texas, and have recently added some new properties in the northern part of the state.

“We’ve recently picked up some additional properties in the panhandle and south plains,” McNabb says. “The newest property is actually in a good pheasant and quail area. We know there are quail on the property and historically there are pheasants in the area.”

Whether hunting public or private, McNabb said the key to pheasant success in Texas is putting in long miles over tough terrain.

“Find thick cover and heavy brush,” McNabb says. “Pheasants can be plentiful in certain areas, but you really have to commit to getting dirty and to walking through some nasty stuff.”

Pheasant Hunting Forecast 2022: Utah

Utah’s wild pheasant population hanging on despite drought

By Greg Breining

Utah has only a fairly small number of wild pheasants, which live largely on private cropland and nearby riparian areas. The Utah Division of Wildlife doesn’t conduct spring crowing counts or summer brood surveys. But Annelyse Biblehimer, Sage Grouse Initiative range and wildlife conservationist for Pheasants Forever, says weather was favorable to pheasants and brood production this year.

“We’re still in a drought, but I felt our water situation on was a bit better this year compared to last year. Habitat was green longer, so broods should have done good this year,” says Biblehimer.

REGIONAL REPORTS

Heather Talley, upland game coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, has provided notes, county by county, on areas where hunters might find wild birds. She emphasizes that hunters should be sure to acquire written permission from landowners before entering private land, even if it isn’t posted. Here is what she has to say.

North

Throughout northern counties, hunting success should be about the same as last year, Talley says.

Box Elder County: Brood production this year was about average for recent years, says Talley. Most pheasants are found on private land in the eastern part of the county.

Cache County: Though most pheasants are on private land, hunters can have success on Bud Phelps WMA and Walk-in Access areas.

Weber County: Pheasants are most plentiful on private land in the western portion of the county or on state wildlife management areas.

Morgan, Davis, and south Rich counties: Brood production this year was comparable to recent years. Most pheasants are being found on private land in and around agricultural fields, or on wildlife management areas.

Central

Resident pheasants are found in agricultural areas with a lot of cover, Talley says. Agricultural lands and marsh areas around Utah and the Great Salt Lake harbor some wild birds, but hunting places are getting harder and harder to find because of urban sprawl. There is limited public hunting available on the Utah Lake Wetland Preserve. Powell Slough is overgrown by phragmites and is very difficult to hunt.

Tooele County: Pheasant hunting in the west desert is marginal. Agricultural areas harbor some birds. Populations are highest along the south shore of the Great Salt Lake and agricultural areas around Erda. There is ample public hunting on Walt Fitzgerald, Timpie Springs and Pine Canyon (also known as Carr Fork) WMAs. Non-toxic shot is required on the Timpie Springs WMA.

Northeast

Some wild pheasants can be found on private farmland, but the Division of Wildlife Resources also turns loose hundreds of pen-raised birds on area wildlife management areas.

Southeast

The wild pheasant population is relatively limited in this region. Most pheasants are found near irrigated fields on private lands. Hunting for wild pheasants should be very comparable to last year. Popular pheasant hunting areas include the Green River Valley near the town of Green River, the Miller Creek area of Carbon and Emery County as well as Huntington, Straight and Ferron canyons.

South

Monroe/Fishlake: Wild populations exist in the best habitat in Sevier Valley. Most of the pheasant habitat is located on private land, so obtain permission before the hunting season. Wild populations can also be found on wildlife management areas in Sevier valley. Hunters should expect wild pheasant populations to be similar or slightly better than last year.

Plateau Boulder/Thousand Lakes/Kaiparowits: A very small wild population exists at the Bicknell Bottoms WMA. It is a relatively small wildlife management area surrounded by private land, so public areas can be crowded especially the opener and the weekends.

STOCKED BIRDS AND TRIBAL LANDS

“There are some wild birds here in Utah, along with some pockets on tribal lands, but we do stock birds to meet hunting demand,” says Biblehimer. The Utah Department of Natural Resources website provides details about releases throughout the state here.

Biblehimer does suggest trying tribal land this fall. “I have hunted tribal before and while there weren’t oodles of birds seen, it was fun and when we found one since it was a wild rooster.” Check out respective tribal websites for season, rules and regulations.

IF YOU GO

The Utah pheasant season will run Nov. 5 – Dec. 4. Youth hunting season will be Oct. 29–Nov. 3. Daily limit is two roosters. Possession limit is six roosters. The Goshen Warm Springs WMA in Utah County is closed to all hunting. The Annabella and Pahvant WMAs — and part of the Ogden Bay WMA — are closed to the public Nov. 12 for youth and beginner pheasant hunts.

Pheasant Hunting Forecast 2022: Washington

Washington has ups and downs, but upland habitat conditions are trending in the right direction

By Andy Fondrick

A mild winter in Washington was a great start for pheasants in the Pacific Northwest. Then an especially tough spring created difficult times for nesting birds. Luckily, with moisture comes habitat, and late nesters should have had favorable brooding conditions throughout much of the state.

WEATHER AND CONDITIONS

After another mild winter in Washington, pheasants should have had a fairly high survival rate heading into nesting season.

“Eastern Washington saw a fairly mild winter this year, so adult survival should have been good over the winter months,” says Sarah Garrison, small game and furbearer specialist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “We had an unusually cool, wet spring in 2022. This may have been hard on early-hatching broods, but it has led to improved forage and cover through the summer.”

Garrison adds, “Though some of eastern Washington is still in moderate drought or abnormally dry, most of the pheasant core area in southeastern Washington is not currently in drought status. In particular, Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield and Whitman counties are in decent condition this season.”

HABITAT, BROODS AND COUNTS

The ups and downs in weather conditions have made for difficult predictions on pheasant numbers, although there aren’t any official counts to provide a more concrete outlook. WDFW recently launched a brood and distribution survey for wild turkeys and upland birds to get a better idea of bird numbers in the future.

“This is an opportunistic survey, open to the public, so reports from any time of the year are valuable,” says Garrison. “We’re especially interested in reports from July and August. These give us an idea of brood sizes and productivity. In the first year of the survey, we haven’t received enough reports to say much about 2022 broods, but as more people become familiar with the survey, we’re looking forward to having a new tool to monitor these populations.”

You can be part of the WDFW efforts in tabulating upland bird numbers across the state into the future by submitting your reports here.

TOP SPOTS

With reports of encouraging habitat conditions providing excitement heading into the 2022 hunting season, Garrison recommends a few bright spots in the state if you’re looking to chase pheasants this fall:

“Grant, Whitman and Walla Walla counties saw the most pheasant harvest during the 2021 season, and these should be good bets for the upcoming season. For more detailed information, annual Hunting Prospects are available for each district in the state.” Click here for locally produced hunting reports for each district within the state.

“In western Washington, we continue to offer a pheasant release program since this area does not sustain wild pheasant populations,” adds Garrison. “This is a great opportunity for new, young and seasoned hunters, in an area where other upland bird opportunities are limited.”

Click here for more information on the Western Washington Pheasant Release Program.

INSIDER TIPS

When it comes to upland hunting in Washington, Garrison offers a tip that can be an “ace in the hole” for hunters across the state.

“Eastern Washington pheasant hunters can benefit from WDFW’s Private Lands Access Program.This program offers multiple types of access options to accommodate hunters.”

Pheasant Hunting Forecast 2022: Wisconsin

Wisconsin bird numbers better than last year but still below average

By Greg Breining

Wisconsin hunters can expect somewhat better hunting for wild pheasants than last year, according to the state’s spring pheasant survey. Unfortunately, numbers are still fewer than the running five-year average.

On the bright side, because of good weather this spring and summer, hunting might be better than the survey would indicate. “We’ve had a good year for grassland nesting species. We’ve had a relatively warm and dry nesting period, a great brood-rearing period,” says Taylor Finger, game bird specialist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “We had really, really good conditions for pheasants to be successful.”

Pheasants Forever biologists concur.

“In the core northwestern region of the state, spring conditions were good for nesting,” says Cody Tromberg, senior farm bill biologist for Pheasants Forever. “We did hit a mild drought through a good portion of the range midsummer, but we've been seeing good grasshopper numbers, which bodes well for chick survival,” he says. “The handful of broods I have seen have a healthy number of chicks. All things considered, I'd expect an average year here in northwest Wisconsin.”

“The previous winter was pretty mild, which always helps the birds’ survival, “adds Grant Gagliardi, another PF Farm Bill biologist. “The counties south of Highway 64 and west of Clark and Taylor counties had the most birds.”

According to the survey, the estimated pheasant abundance index increased 11 percent in the northwest, 24 percent in the east-central, and more than doubled in the south. Despite those hefty increases in the south and east-central counties, by far the greatest abundance of wild birds overall was in the northwest—roughly four times higher than farther south.

“If you were pursuing wild pheasants, I would tell you that you have to get up in the northwest, central part of the state — that Eau Claire-to-northwest area,” says Finger. “I would think that you’ve definitely got good opportunities this year.”“If you were pursuing wild pheasants, I would tell you that you have to get up in the northwest, central part of the state — that Eau Claire-to-northwest area,” says Finger. “I would think that you’ve definitely got good opportunities this year.”

Wisconsin revamped its survey protocol in 2013 to standardize procedures and eliminate survey routes in regions where few pheasants could be found. Says research scientist Chris Pollentier, “This was our effort to at least have everybody on the same page.”

Pollentier and colleagues have tried to design the survey to better account for when conditions are favorable (or unfavorable) for seeing and hearing pheasants. The result, they hope, is a more accurate estimate of pheasant numbers from year to year.

Pollentier says he remains puzzled as to why pheasant numbers remain below the running five-year average. “The big void is in 2020,” he says. The loss of survey data that year because of Covid make it hard to tell if the last two years constitute some kind of trend. “I don’t know why the last two years have been below the five-year running average,” says Pollentier.

“I’m encouraged that our results were higher in 2022 than in 2021,” Pollentier says. “If we just sort of have an average winter I would hope and I would expect those numbers to rise and get back to what our five-year running average is. I’ve got my fingers crossed.”

GRASSLAND DECLINE

The loss of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) grasslands hasn’t helped the trend in pheasant numbers in Wisconsin. “It’s not been good,” says Finger. CRP acreage peaked in the mid-2000s at about 750,000 acres, he says. It has dropped to under 200,000.

“So we’ve lost over a half million acres of CRP,” Finger says. “And we’ve seen the impact”—not only on pheasants, but also on waterfowl and other grassland-dependent species. “When you take good quality nesting habitat off the landscape you’re going to see those impacts.”

Unfortunately, given crop prices and support for corn production, says Finger, “it’s sure hard for a farmer to justify pulling his land out of ag and putting it into CRP.”

As a side note, this is the first year the DNR has provided the Survey123 smartphone app to DNR staff and the public to record the number, size, and GPS location of game bird broods. In the future, the info gathered from this citizen science project will help develop better estimates of game bird populations and models of how they will respond to weather and other factors. Says Finger, “Having this data is going to be great.”

BEST BETS

As has been true in recent years, the highest number of wild pheasants live in counties along the Minnesota border near the Twin Cities. These northwestern counties include Polk, Barron, St. Croix, Dunn, Eau Claire, Pepin and Pierce.

“That’s where we have our best grassland habitat. We also have a lot of public land in terms of state-managed areas,” says Finger. “You want good grassland but you also need some of those cattails and you need that wetland adjacent to those grasslands, because that’s what’s going to keep them surviving through the winter.”

Wild pheasants persist in southern and east-central Wisconsin, but farm fields are larger with fewer grassy breaks. “Down by Madison literally everything is big farming operations,” says Finger. The limited grass in between is fine for hunting and stocking pheasants but won’t provide winter cover and nesting and sustain them year around. Elsewhere in the south, woodlands and urban development have overtaken some of the best grassland.

Hunters chasing wild birds can find public hunting areas here. Hunters should also check out Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program lands, where landowners have been paid to allow hunting, on this interactive map.

OnX Hunt also has thee above properties in its mobile application.

For hunters in southern Wisconsin, the DNR stocks public lands with about 75,000 birds at regular intervals throughout the season. (The state doesn’t stock birds in the northwest. Says Finger, “There’s no sense in introducing the game farm genetics to a potential population that is being sustained.”) The Fields and Forest Lands Interactive Gamebird Hunting Tool (https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/Lands/FFLIGHT.html) is an online map showing properties stocked with pheasants, managed dove fields, and suitable cover for ruffed grouse and woodcock.

IF YOU GO

The 2022 pheasant season runs 9 a.m. Oct. 15 to –Jan. 8, 2023. The daily bag limit is one rooster on opening weekend and then two roosters for the remainder of the season. Possession limit is three times the daily bag limit.

Pheasant Hunting Forecast 2022: Wyoming

Favorable winter conditions provided a glimmer of hope for Wyoming pheasants before drought persisted through the brooding-rearing season

By Andy Fondrick

Pheasants in Wyoming have had a tough go in recent years.

Even though the drought persisted through spring and summer, a mild winter in 2021-22 had provided a bit of hope that birds have better cover and more numbers than in recent years. Under these tough conditions, Wildlife Biologist Keaton Weber with Wyoming Game and Fish Department out of Wheatland, indicates hunters may need rely on stocked birds to find success again this fall.

WEATHER AND CONDITIONS

“This winter was fairly mild, with no major snowstorms persisting over a long period of time that would have impacted food availability or structural cover,” Weber says. “Hopefully this saved some birds and provided them with better food and cover availability.”

Unfortunately, the mild winter was met with unfavorable nesting conditions this spring and summer. “The drought from last year has continued on, and much of southeastern Wyoming's CRP still consists of a lot of thin monocultures, and hasn't improved from last year,” he says.

Weber did note that southern portions of Goshen County and parts of Laramie County received some reprieve from the dry conditions. “Those areas did receive some good late-summer rainfall, which has been beneficial for some warm season grass growth in areas.” He went on to warn that the late moisture is unlikely to greatly improve cover in time for this fall.

HABITAT, BROODS AND COUNTS

With dry conditions continuing and upland habitat running a bit thin, crow counts are down again this year as they have been the past few decades, although these counts are only taken in a select area of the state.

“We only conduct roadside crow counts throughout Goshen County, “Weber says. “Crow counts have decreased dramatically since the’ 80s and ‘90s, and has been a concern for many years now.”

More moisture is greatly needed to help give habitat a chance to start building not only for this season, but into the spring and summer of 2023.

Top Spots

When it comes to hunting pheasants in Wyoming, Weber suggests hitting areas where birds have been stocked.

“Wyoming typically stocks some Walk-In areas, as well as our Springer and Table Mountain Wildlife Habitat Management Areas,” Weber said. “However, we may struggle to stock Walk-In areas this year due to the extreme lack of cover. We will update our website in early October on where we plan to stock birds this fall.”

Insider Tip

Weber suggests logging on to the Wyoming Game and Fish Website to check out follow the WGFD stocking plans if you’re interested in a few planted birds.