Good habitat conditions from plentiful rain, and fingers-crossed for a good second-try hatch, will drive Oklahoma’s pheasant hunt this fall
By Andrew Johnson
Monsoon, torrential, abunant, crazy rains -- call then what you want -- certainly messed up Oklahoma's first-try pheasant hatch this year. But with habitat conditions ultimately benefitting from all the rain, round 2's hatch will drive this year's hunt.
“Winter was relatively mild and moist,” reports Tanner Swank, PF/QF farm bill biologist based out of Woodward, Okla. “There were some timely snows and rains, and cover was plentiful for the most part. Late in the season there were a couple arctic blasts that caused temperatures to plunge for a few days, but other than that it was relatively mild compared to past winters.”
WEATHER, HABITAT AND BROODS
The same couldn’t be said for the spring, however, as heavy rains soaked Oklahoma’s primary pheasant range before and during nesting season. In other words, the summer sun couldn’t arrive soon enough for birds in the Sooner State.
“First nesting was probably close to a total failure across the board,” Swank explains. “Extreme flooding across the state this spring and early summer most likely took a toll on early nest success, and successful nesting was delayed by the flooding events that took place this spring. However, it dried out as the summer continued on, and birds were able to quickly renest.”
The silver lining of the wet spring, of course, was habitat conditions improved dramatically, providing brood-rearing habitat that was very good, according to Swank.
“The heavy rains produced an explosion of wildflowers and other forbs for broods to take advantage of,” he says. “As the summer rolls on, grasses and taller forbs have also taken off, and there is no shortage of cover. Food is also very plentiful, as there is an abundance of grasshoppers and other insects that are readily eaten by chicks.”
Overall, Swank believes habitat heading into the fall hunting seasons is decent across the board, as all the various weather factors have helped vegetation grow to a density and height that pheasants prefer.
“Right now we are working with Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, completing our roadside surveys and brood counts,” Swank reports. “There won’t be any hardcore data until October, but preliminary results from the surveys so far are showing an increase in birds from last year. Again, this is based off preliminary results, but hunters should expect a slight increase in birds from last year.”
“Hunters should focus their efforts in the north-central, northwest and panhandle regions of Oklahoma, as that is where the majority of the pheasant population resides,” Swank says. “There are several Wildlife Management Areas and Oklahoma Land Access Program properties that hunters have access to in each of those regions.”
Swank says Alfalfa and Grant counties, as well as the panhandle, generally hold the greatest densities of pheasants.
“However, there is not much in the way of public access in those two counties,” he says. “The panhandle has some public access hunters can get on, though.”
IF YOU GO
Oklahoma’s pheasant season opens December 1 and will run through the end of January. Licensed hunters may harvest only 2 cock pheasants daily. Pheasant (and quail) hunters must wear blaze orange when any big-game hunting season is also open in the area they are bird hunting. Shooting hours are from sunrise to sunset.