By Tom Carpenter
“Spring and Summer call counts indicate pheasant calls were up 15% over 2017 data in Illinois,” reports Wade Louis, Habitat Team Program Manager with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). “However, long-term trends for pheasant are down.” Louis provided the following numbers to illustrate this decline:
*In 1965, there were 215,000 pheasant hunters that shot an estimated 658,000 pheasants (a relatively poor year for the times!).
*In the 2015-16 season, an estimated 7660 hunters shot 29,000 wild quail and 13,800 pheasant hunters shot just under 25,000 wild pheasant. We do not have a statewide estimate of upland hunter numbers or harvest data for 2017-18 season at this time.
“The weather this year has been all over the board,” says Louis. “Record cold in April, to record heat and rain in May and June. Some areas of the state had very heavy rain events and some flooding during late May and early June which could have been trouble for birds in low areas and for recently hatched broods.”
There is habitat. “Illinois has almost 900,000 acres of CRP,” says Louis, “and we have enrolled over 100,000 acres of Pollinator Habitat (CP42) since 2012. There are also over 25,000 acres of SAFE (State Acres for wildlife Enhancement) enrolled, and we were recently allocated another 15,000 acres for the priority areas within the two eligible natural divisions.”
“The best area of the state for pheasant is east-central Illinois,” says Louis. “The land is mostly private.” Courteous hunters with a connection or two may be able to get access, especially in late season.
“Hunters should do well were sufficient habitat exists,” concludes Louis. “Private lands enrolled in CRP will provide the best hunting. Focus on newer plantings with higher forb to grass ratios over monoculture grass.”