Hot, dry weather keeps Colorado pheasant numbers below average. It will be a challenging season.
By Greg Breining
“Better than last year, but that’s not saying much.” That’s Ed Gorman’s assessment of the upcoming pheasant season in Colorado.
Gorman, small game manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, notes that as comparisons go, last year’s pheasant season is a very low bar indeed. It was the poorest year on record in numbers of pheasants shot.
Hot and Dry
“In Colorado the pheasant population is 100 percent tied to precipitation, and we just haven’t had good or close to optimal precipitation,” he says. This year has been wetter, but only a little and not at the best of times. Rain in May, during nesting season, was not ideal for ground-nesting birds. “Then it’s been hot and dry ever since,” says Gorman. “The habitat is suffering right now. That’s the big issue.”
To make matters worse, federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres have been in decline. Says Gorman, “The trend on that has been down for the last six or seven years with no end in sight really.”
As a result, the harvest is likely to fall below the funning five-year average, he says.
The department bases its forecast on spring crowing counts and harvest data from the previous year. “The crowing counts are pretty low right now, which is an indication that the breeding population is low,” says Gorman. “It’s lower than what we’ve come to expect.”
Though numbers will be down, there will be birds to hunt. Gorman says you’ll find them in the northeast counties, as always. “Yuma County is traditionally the top county for harvest,” he says, and that’s likely to be true this year. Vying for second will be Logan, Phillips and Kit Carson. Fifth on the list is Sedgwick.
The best spots to look for? Private land, if you can make connections. “There are still plenty of opportunities to hunt on private land. You just have to be willing to work for it,” says Gorman. “If you’re a hunter and you want to maximize your opportunities, you should spend some time getting some private land access in your portfolio.”
On the public side of the ledger, the best hunting is likely found on Walk-In Access areas. 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.
Corners for Conservation, a private land access partnership with Pheasants Forever and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, provides habitat creation and hunter access to privately owned corners of center-pivot irrigation fields. The spots are likely to be good early in the season, Gorman says.
“You have to realize it’s all in the public access program, and it probably gets hit relatively more frequently than most of the Walk-In Access properties just because they’re small and easy to hunt and generally speaking the habitat looks good. So they really get a lot of pressure.”
“Most of the national grasslands don’t support large numbers of pheasants,” says Gorman. They are largely short-grass prairie and too short and sparse and far from agriculture for pheasants.
The 2021 pheasant hunting season runs November 13 to January 31 2022 east of I-25 (Season 1) and November 13 to January 2 2022 west of I-25 (Season 2). The daily bag is 3 roosters. Possession limit is 9.