Eastern Colorado should provide some fair to good pheasant hunting on Walk-In and C4C lands this fall
By Andrew Johnson
Hunting was average across Colorado’s pheasant range last year, according to Ed Gorman, small game manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).
“Hunting reports ranged from fair to good in 2018-19, with normal variances depending on location and hunter experience,” he says. “CPW did not survey statewide pheasant and quail harvest for the 2018-19 season, but based on hunter reports, it appears that 2018-19 was very much an ‘average’ year for Colorado pheasant hunting. In the last 10 years, we have experienced much better, and much worse seasons.”
The “average” theme carried on throughout the winter, as Gorman says last year’s winter weather had virtually no impact on the state’s pheasant population.
“Populations remained at expected levels through the spring of 2019,” he says. “However, it is important to note that a dry winter is not necessarily a good thing for future recruitment here, and Colorado's nesting and brood habitat was very late in development during the May nesting period.”
Additionally, Gorman reports the May and early June were cooler than normal, with significant precipitation falling in May.
“After this cooler-than-normal period, wheat harvest was delayed by up to two weeks in some areas and not complete until early August in a few locations,” he says. “Late harvests are generally a boon for pheasants, but it is unclear if nesting was similarly delayed. As is common in any year, hailstorms occurred randomly across the plains, but not to the degree of last summer.”
HABITAT AND BROODS
Generally speaking, Gorman says eastern Colorado has seen more precipitation this year, which is also a good thing for pheasant production. At the same time, he admits some of the state’s traditional pheasant hotspots have actually been drier than normal from the beginning of nesting season through August.
“Brood habitat was obviously less good in other areas where dry conditions held through the season, and it would be reasonable to expect lower numbers of birds in these areas,” he says.
Overall, Gorman estimates Colorado’s primary pheasant habitat is in fair condition heading into the fall, noting that the birds make due with what’s available to them for food and cover.
“Colorado pheasants primarily persist in CRP and wheat stubble,” he says. “With reductions in CRP the last several years, wheat stubble has increased in importance. Due to the precipitation that eastern Colorado has received since mid-July and with the late wheat harvest, wheat stubble is in decent shape as we approach the fall. In some areas, a significant amount of stubble has been harvested and baled. It is unclear if this stubble harvest is a trend or a one-time occurrence.”
Colorado’s pheasant season doesn’t open until early November, but considering the limited information available at this early of a juncture, Gorman says CPW officials expect the season to be slightly better than average in 2019.
“Bottom line, it is too early to tell with any degree of certainty,” Gorman states. “CPW does not officially perform brood counts surveys for pheasants. Anecdotally, landowners are generally reporting normal numbers of broods, while some have expressed disappointment in what they have observed. Once fall crops are harvested, we will have a much better idea of what hunters can expect to see in the hunting fields this year.”
Gorman points to Yuma, Logan and Baca counties as the top three potential targets for pheasant hunters.
“Yuma County traditionally leads the state in pheasant harvest, and it has plenty of access in both large fields and small fields (pivot corners) for hunters to access through the Walk-In Access Program,” he says. “Logan County is always in the top-five pheasant harvest counties, but generally gets less pressure than Yuma. In Logan County there is also plenty of land enrolled in the Walk-In Access Program. Southeastern Baca County has plenty of access, and it’s very unique in that hunters can pursue pheasants, bobwhites and scaled quail within a relatively small area.”
In addition, Gorman says pheasant hunters should explore the expanding opportunities associated with a new Pheasants Forever-initiated program called Corners for Conservation (C4C), a habitat project agreement that targets the outlying corners of square crop fields irrigated by center-pivot irrigation. Think round peg, square hole, and you’ll get the idea, as the target areas in a quarter section are the half-dozen or so acres in each corner that lie outside the circular water line.
“Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Pheasants Forever, through the Pheasant Habitat Improvement Program, have completed the fourth season of C4C,” Gorman reports. “The partnership works with private landowners to establish diverse habitat on sprinkler corners within the core pheasant range in eastern Colorado. To date, 403 corners totaling 3,300 acres have been enrolled and planted. All C4C plantings are enrolled into the Walk-In Access (WIA) Program, and their locations published in the Late Cropland Walk-In Access Atlas.”
IF YOU GO
Colorado’s pheasant season opens November 9 and closes January 5 west of I-25, while on the east side of I-25 the season remains open until January 31. The daily limit is 3 roosters, with a possession limit of 9. Shooting hours are a half-hour before sunrise to sunset.
Gorman says Colorado has expanded its Walk-In Access Program this year to include hunting for big-game species. He points out that pheasant season is open during the Late Plains rifle deer season and that there may be some deer hunters on WIA properties from December 1-14. With that in mind, he advises all hunters to be safe, courteous and highly visible during the access period.