Signs of late broods provide hope for upland bird hunters in the Buckeye State after flooding conditions in spring and early summer
By Andy Fondrick, Digital Marketing Specialist at Pheasants Forever
Ohio experienced a wet spring and summer which included heavy flooding in pheasant country, making for less-than-ideal nesting and brooding conditions. Even after the poor conditions, southern counties and state Wildlife Production Areas (WPAs) will still offer some opportunity to chase wild roosters.
Weather and Conditions
“Overall, the 2018-19 winter was not extreme,” says Joseph Lautenbach, wildlife biologist for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “Although there were periods of extreme cold and snow throughout Ohio, these conditions did not persist for extended periods of time. While these types of events are not ideal for pheasants, these conditions likely had little effect on pheasant survival where habitat is good.”
While pheasants may have made out with decent winter conditions, spring and summer saw above-average precipitation, resulting in flooding throughout much of the pheasant range in Ohio, according to Lautenbach. “The flooding was extreme in many areas and often flooded the best pheasant nesting and brood rearing habitat,” he says, “likely further inhibiting pheasant recruitment.”
Habitat, Broods and Counts
With Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage remaining stable, and many farm fields overgrown with “weedy” plants after not being planted during the wet 2019 growing season, Lautenbach is optimistic about habitat conditions. “These unplanted fields could have provided much needed cover during the spring and summer flooding,” he says. “Anecdotally, it seems that more farmers than usual are planting cover crops going into fall, which could provide valuable fall and winter cover for pheasants.”
Having the added cover likely wasn’t enough to improve the pheasant population, though. “Ohio conducts a spring crow count,” says Lautenbach, “The spring index indicated wild pheasant populations remain near historic lows. The statewide population index was 0.13 pheasants per stop, a 23 percent decrease from 2018 and below the 10-year average (0.17 pheasants per stop). This has been the common trend for Ohio in recent years so hunters can likely expect similar bird numbers to the past few seasons." The full report is available here
The early reports may not have provided much to be excited about, but there is still some hope for upland hunters in the state this fall. “We did have a very wet spring,” says Michael Retterer, a coordinating wildlife biologist for Pheasants Forever and Quails Forever; that moisture has put habitat into good shape. “We have seen some late broods running around,” he adds.
“Ohio’s hunters can find decent numbers of wild pheasants within the Scioto River Watershed and in the northwest corner of the state,” says Lautenbach. “Private lands enrolled in CRP often support pheasants within these regions. Public hunting areas which support wild pheasant populations include: Big Island Wildlife Area, Deer Creek Wildlife Area, Lake La Su An Wildlife Area, and WPAs in the south-central and southwestern portions of the state.”
Lautenbach recommends setting out along the Scioto River in search of wild pheasants. He also reminds hunters that much of the land along the river is private land and to always secure written permission from the landowner before pursing upland game.
“State WPAs should provide decent opportunity for public areas to bird hunt,” adds Retterer, who recommends focusing on the southern counties of Ohio’s pheasant country.