Utah should see an improved hunt this year, with habitat in good shape from a wet spring
By Andrew Johnson
WEATHER AND CONDITIONS
Pheasant hunters had a relatively successful season last year, even though harvest totals were slightly lower than 2017.
“Pheasant hunting in Utah last year was about average to a little above average,” says Avery Cook, upland game project leader with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. “Total harvest declined in 2018 to 46,000, down from 60,000 in 2017; however, that level of harvest is still above many years in the last decade.”
In other words, pheasant populations were generally regarded as stable heading into winter, which was moderate across most of Utah, according to Cook.
“However, there were considerable late-season storms in the spring,” Cook says. “Pheasants in good habitat likely had good survival through the winter, but there was likely more winterkill than the preceding light winters.”
HABITAT AND OUTLOOK
Cook says spring nesting conditions were passable, but also notes the wet, cold spring may have delayed or reduced nest success.
“Due to the above-mentioned wet spring, however, brood conditions were very good,” Cook reports. “We had lots of forb and grass growth later into the summer than typical, along with abundant insect forage.”
“In general, pheasant habitat is limited and declining due to development and agricultural conversion,” Cook says. “The remaining habitat is still capable of supporting huntable wild pheasant populations and is generally in good condition.”
Overall, Cook believes this year will be on par with last year, or maybe even a bit better.
“Wild pheasant populations will likely be up slightly from last year as a result of good brood-rearing conditions,” Cook says. “DWR pen-reared releases will continue with about 11,000 rooster pheasants released on wildlife areas. The DWR also publishes a pheasant release area map on wildlife.utah.gov
Cook says Utah’s largest remaining populations of wild birds are in the wetland areas around the Great Salt Lake, Cache Valley and Utah Valley.
“Be willing to hike a long way away from parking areas and people to get into wild birds on WMAs,” Cook says. “In addition, many other pockets of pheasant habitat remain in the vicinity of Utah's agricultural communities throughout the state.”
Heather Talley, upland game coordinator for UDWR, says pheasant hunting in Utah’s west desert is marginal. In that region, agricultural areas typically harbor some birds, but she says populations are highest along the south shore of the Great Salt Lake and agricultural areas around Erda. She also says that here is ample public hunting available on Walt Fitzgerald, Timpie Springs and Pine Canyon (AKA Carr fork) WMAs.
In the southeastern part of the state, Talley notes that the wild pheasant population is relatively limited.
“In the southeast most pheasants reside near irrigated fields on private lands, and hunting should be comparable to last year,” she says. “Popular pheasant hunting areas include the Green River Valley near the town of Green River, the Miller Creek area of Carbon and Emery counties, as well as Huntington, Straight and Ferron Canyons.
Northern Utah experienced average brood production compared to recent years, Talley says.
“In the north hunting success should be about the same as last year,” she expects. “The majority of pheasants are being found on private land in this area of the state, but can also be found on Bud Phelps WMA and Walk-in Access areas.”
IF YOU GO
Pheasant season opens November 2 and closes December 1in Utah. The bag limit is 2 roosters, with a possession of 6.
Before entering or hunting private land, hunters are reminded they need written permission from landowners. If hunters choose to hunt WIA areas, they should view the individual property rules online and register at the registration boxes, if required.