Excellent forbs and foraging opportunities this summer should help pheasant numbers to hold steady after late winter storms
By Andy Fondrick, Digital Marketing Specialist at Pheasants Forever
After a mild winter, late snowfall may have made for difficult early nesting conditions in Oregon’s pheasant county. Much more favorable summer conditions provided ideal cover and food sources, leaving the door open for hopes of a successful upland hunting season.
Weather and Conditions
A late surge by Mother Nature took what had been a decent winter for upland game and turned it into a much more difficult one.
“Oregon had a very mild winter until late March and early April,” says Mikal Cline, upland game bird coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Then we received a season’s worth of snow in a two-week period.”
According to Cline, the late snowfall seemed to have been hard on game bird populations, particularly in the northeast and north-central part of the state. “The snow thawed quickly resulting in widespread flooding in river valleys around the Blue Mountains, particularly around John Day, Pendleton and LaGrande,” says Cline. “Luckily, most of the flooding subsided before the heart of nesting season, though it likely displaced some birds from their favored nesting locations.”
There was some relief for nesting pheasants as the calendar turned and days started to get longer.
“Summer conditions have been excellent with above-average precipitation in eastern Oregon, which tends to be arid,” Cline says. “Those broods that were successful should have had abundant forage for growing the feathers necessary for fledging and putting on some reserves before winter.”
Habitat, Broods and Counts
The strong summer conditions may have prevented numbers from dropping too drastically, providing strong cover and food sources for young chicks.
“Habitat conditions are in good shape with above-average precipitation keeping things green all the way into fall,” says Cline. “We expect that the broods had excellent forb and insect forage which should put the chicks in good shape for this fall and winter.”
The biggest concerns would be around the early nesters and first hatches surviving a few different cold and rainy spells early in the nesting season. Summer production surveys showed a decline in most species in this area, while southeastern Oregon populations seem to be on the increase.
“Pheasants did not turn out in large numbers during our summer brood surveys, compared to last year,” Cline says. “It does look like production was fair, but overall numbers may be down.”
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Even after some difficult spring conditions, Cline is optimistic that upland hunters will be able to find success flushing pheasants in some traditional hotspots.
“Oregon’s Columbia Basin is the heart of pheasant habitat,” says Cline. “This year, I would recommend hunters focus on the Heppner area, Wasco County, and south of Pendleton. The valleys of the Blue Mountains also host pheasants, particularly in Union and Wallowa counties.”
Cline also recommends a few areas where private land is more prevalent like the Vale and Ontario area which is known for pheasants. Hunters must secure permission before hunting on private land in Oregon, even if it is unmarked.
When it comes to hunting pheasants, it is all about the cover, especially as the seasons start to turn and temperatures start to drop.
“Look for permanent cover, including irrigation and road ditches, fence rows, or seasonal wetland edges, adjacent to agriculture,” recommends Cline.
You can also utilize Oregon’s access programs to find pheasants on private land in the Columbia Basin with their online access map