Badger State Pheasant Hunters Should Be Able to Find Some Roosters This Fall
By Andrew Johnson
Wingshooters enjoyed an above-average pheasant season last year in Wisconsin, according to harvest data from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. In fact, it was the highest harvest total seen in 20 years.
“According to our small game harvest report, we harvested approximately 403,766 pheasants in the 2018-19 season,” says Alaina Gerrits, assistant upland wildlife ecologist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “This is a significant increase from when 301,490 pheasants were harvested in the 2017-18 season, indicating a 34 percent increase in harvest that’s also slightly above the long-term average. It is important to note that this metric includes both stocked and wild birds.”
What’s more, biologists and state wildlife officials agree that 2019 has the potential to be even better than last year.
WEATHER, HABITAT AND BROODS
“Winter across Wisconsin was similar to much of the Midwest: cold and wet with record snowfall coming late in January through April,” reports Scott Stipetich, senior farm bill biologist from Altoona, Wisc. “Bird populations in areas with good winter habitat — standing prairie grasses with forbs, windbreaks, cattail and native sedge marshes, and grain crops left standing — were able to survive with what appears to be little effect on the population.
“Record, late snowfall this past winter delayed spring break with plants not greening up well into May across much of the state,” he continues. “But cool, wet conditions promoted the growth of clover and cool-season grasses that likely provided excellent nesting cover, concealment and growth.”
Gerrits agrees, adding that the abnormally wet weather early in the nesting season initially raised some concerns with pheasant production, but habitat conditions improved as the late spring finally gave way to summer, leading to some encouraging results.
“Brooding conditions were good for most of the state, with normal to below-normal precipitation in June and slightly above-average temperatures,” Gerrits says. “Ten-week brood survey data shows a slight increase in pheasant broods spotted this year compared to last.
“Overall, favorable nesting and brooding conditions this year likely indicate good opportunities for hunting this fall,” Gerrits continues. “Our crow count survey this spring indicated a slight increase in the number of pheasants heard per stop: 0.64 pheasants were heard per stop, up from 0.59 in 2018. This year is above the five-year running average of 0.56 pheasants heard per stop.”
Stipetich believes another reason for the slight uptick in pheasant numbers is that many crop fields in Wisconsin could not be planted or worked due to the wet weather. Along the same lines, he says a ton of effort was placed on promoting cover crops and forage-based plantings on farm ground that was too wet to plant early.
“This may provide additional acres that could hold birds this fall, as well, but the best fall cover to hunt will be found on DNR wildlife management areas, USFWS waterfowl production areas, and private land where flowers and grass persist,” he says. “Pheasant hunters should expect similar hunting conditions to last year across most of the state. Find the great habitat, and you will likely find more birds.”
Stipetich also says the western prairies in Pierce, St. Croix and Polk counties tend to have the highest pheasant densities in the state.
“But, if you find the right habitat mosaics, you should be able to locate birds around the southern two-thirds of the state,” he says.
Gerrits admits the overall decrease in lands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program has likely hurt pheasant populations in Wisconsin through the years, but she also says the DNR is active in developing and maintaining pheasant habitat on state-owned, federally owned and private lands with cooperating partners such as Pheasants Forever through the pheasant stamp program.
“Funds from the pheasant stamp program are derived from the $10 pheasant stamp hunters are required to purchase before going afield,” she says. “All funds collected go exclusively toward habitat, information, education and research projects regarding pheasants.”
IF YOU GO
Wingshooters should check out WDNR’s Fields & Forest Lands Interactive Gamebird Hunting Tool (FFLIGHT), which can be found online at dnr.wi.gov/topic/lands/fflight
“FFLIGHT is an interactive map that shows public hunting areas, all wildlife areas that are stocked with pheasants and even places suitable for parking,” Gerrits says. “Another equally useful tool is our Hunt Wild app that can be downloaded for free. It contains up-to-the-minute information on shooting hours and regulations. You can also use the app to keep track of your best hunting spots and log your hunting tracks.”
Wisconsin’s 2019 pheasant season is open statewide from Oct. 19 to Jan. 5. For the first two days the daily limit is one rooster, then two roosters daily for the rest of the season.