Oklahoma should produce some roosters for hunters this season
By Andrew Johnson
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WEATHER AND CONDITIONS
For the most part, Oklahoma had a relatively mild and dry winter, according to Tanner Swank, PF/QF farm bill biologist based out of Woodward, Okla.
“There were a handful of real cold snaps and snow events sprinkled throughout winter,” he says. “Those events were relatively short-lived however, which in theory would’ve allowed for better survival going into nesting season.”
Tell Judkins, upland game biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC), says spring surveys indicate the state’s pheasant population came through winter just fine.
“ODWC conducts annual roadside surveys for spring crow counts and August brood counts,” he says. “The 2020 numbers show an improvement over 2019 in our spring counts, and the August surveys are still in progress.”
NESTING AND BROODING
Across the board, nesting conditions were decent for both pheasant and quail this spring, Swank reports.
“It was relatively dry when needed, and we got critical moisture at the right times,” he states. “Nesting was on time this year, if not slightly early.”
Judkins also believes nesting potential was decent for quail and pheasants and says plant and insect communities have fared well.
“I have received reports of broods of varying ages throughout the summer,” Judkins says. “There were several isolated hail events that I expect had an impact on broods, but given the nesting potential and insect crop, a secondary or tertiary attempt (at nesting) would have been possible.”
Swank says brood-rearing season started dry and hot, especially in northwest Oklahoma and the Panhandle.
“However, conditions improved rapidly in July when it cooled off and started raining,” he reports. “Since then, habitats have provided excellent potential for a successful crop of pheasants this year.”
“Most of Oklahoma’s pheasant habitat is in need of management, whether it being prescribed fire, eastern red cedar removal or things of that nature,” Swank says. “However, in general, habitats are looking productive for pheasants this season.”
Oklahoma is on the edge of pheasant range, and while Swank says hunters could expect better pheasant numbers than 2018 and 2019, they will still prove elusive and challenging.
“The variety of terrain pheasants inhabit mixed with dense vegetation could prove tricky to get flushes within range,” he says.
Pheasant hunting is limited to the northwestern part of Oklahoma, Judkins says, and he advises anyone wanting to chase roosters on public land to check out the ODWC’s online maps (https://www.wildlifedepartment.com/hunting/where-to-hunt).
Judkins says Wildlife Management Areas such as Cooper, Ft. Supply and Beaver River are good places to start. He also says Oklahoma Land Access Program (OLAP) properties near Buffalo and Freedom, as well as the Great Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, are a few additional locations that provide pheasant hunting opportunities.
“The main tip I would provide is to enjoy yourself,” Judkins says. “Oklahoma is full of unique landscapes and history. Pheasants can be pretty sneaky, especially late in the season, so work some ground, trust your dog, and make a memory.”
IF YOU GO
Oklahoma’s pheasant season opens Dec. 1 and runs through the end of January. The quail season, which begins Nov. 14 and ends mid-February, overlaps the entire pheasant season, giving upland hunters a large window of time where they have the chance at a mixed bag.
“Hunters in Oklahoma are primarily after quail and bag pheasants as a happy bonus,” concludes Swank. “In fact, many hunters wait to hunt quail until after pheasant season opens so they can bag a rooster, should one flush.”
The state’s daily limit is two cock pheasants, with a possession of four. 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.