Conditions are shaping up for a good pheasant hunt in Idaho this fall. When you come, make it a multi-species adventure.
By Andrew Johnson
Idaho pheasant hunters killed roughly 37,300 roosters last year, according to Jeff Knetter, upland game and migratory bird coordinator for Idaho Fish and Game Department.
“Harvest estimates were similar to the 2017 results, but below the 10-year average of 55,300 birds harvested annually,” he reports.
Here’s how winter went down, what spring and summer brought, and what you might expect in Idaho’s pheasant country this Fall.
WEATHER, HABITAT AND BROODS
“Winter conditions were relatively mild throughout the state, with heavy snow in February,” Knetter says. “There may have been some impacts in southern Idaho, but winter weather was likely not a major factor affecting hunting prospects this year — no real surprises at this point.”
Even though some nesting efforts were delayed this spring due to above-average precipitation in April and May, Knetter says the resulting nesting conditions were excellent across the state, and he expects pheasant production to respond in kind.
He says brood ages recorded during IDFG’s late-August brood survey routes showed various-sized broods from tiny chicks that likely hatched in late July to fully grown chicks that probably hatched in early to mid-June.
“Brood-rearing conditions have been great for cover and insects in early summer. It’s been very dry late this summer, but hasn’t seemed to affect brood survival,” he says. “Current conditions are very dry, but there is good cover as a result of spring precipitation. Grasshoppers are very abundant, too.”
Michelle Kemner, regional wildlife biologist with IDFG, reports that it’s currently dry in southwest Idaho, but the residual cover is hanging in there. She also notes that the region has had a huge sunflower bloom this year, as well as lots of green lactuca (prickly lettuce).
“We have some preliminary brood route counts, and overall pheasant numbers were down in southwest Idaho, but it was unusually hot and dry during the survey period this year,” Kemner says. “As a result, we likely missed a lot of birds that would otherwise be more visible. Overall brood success appears to be excellent this year.”
“Like many other years, hunting can vary widely geographically,” Knetter says. “Idaho is an extremely geographically diverse state. However, given spring nesting conditions and most reports from the field, this fall should be promising.
“While pheasant hunting should be good this year, much of the best pheasant habitat occurs on private land,” he continues. “The resourceful hunter can still find roosters on public land along the Snake River and in the numerous riparian areas found across Idaho’s pheasant range.”
Kemner agrees, pointing out unique upland opportunities exist on islands of the Snake River with public access. Furthermore, she encourages upland hunters to take advantage of Idaho’s “Access Yes!” lands, as more and more acres are enrolled into the program each passing year. Access Yes! is similar to other walk-in programs, where landowners are compensated for opening up their ground to public access. Currently, the program is up to almost 1 million acres, according to IDFG. For more information on Access Yes!, go to idfg.idaho.gov/yes.
In south-central Idaho, regional wildlife biologist Sierra Robatcek says the Magic Valley area had average brood counts during the August roadside surveys, with broods ranging from four to 10 birds. She says a few small fires in the region may have reduced cover locally for some birds, but she says there were no large-scale landscape disturbances that would have had population-level effects.
“The Magic Valley certainly has pockets of good pheasant hunting opportunities, but the area is more popular for other upland game such as huns, chukars, and grouse,” she concludes. “Hunters should not overlook thickets of native habitat in between agricultural tracts, as they can occasionally hold a few birds. WMAs provide good opportunity to get youth out hunting and some limited pheasant opportunity. The King Hill area is a popular destination for chukar and hun hunters.”
Along the same lines, Knetter believes Idaho’s biodiversity is its greatest strength. In essence, he feels pheasants could almost be considered “bonus birds” picked up while pursuing a full gamut of other upland game species.
“Historically, Idaho was a destination pheasant hunting location,” Knetter says. “Although populations have declined because of changes in farming practices and increased urbanization, there are still opportunities to harvest wild pheasants. Additionally, there are a multitude of upland game bird hunting opportunities on millions of acres of public land. Season lengths are long and the bag limits are generous.”
As an example, Knetter says hunters can pursue five species of grouse that are all native to Idaho: dusky, ruffed and spruce are forest grouse options, while sharptails and sage grouse roam the prairies.
“Idaho also offers some of the best chukar and gray partridge hunting in the West, not to mention robust populations of California quail,” he says. “Chukars and gray partridge thrive on large tracts of public ground, and they are available to everyone willing to make the effort to hunt them. Furthermore, wild turkey hunting is another pursuit available in Idaho. That makes 10 species available for harvest in Idaho.”