Wisconsin pheasant hunting this fall may surpass poor spring survey results
By Greg Breining
Here’s the bad news from the Badger State: Spring crowing and sighting surveys in 2021 recorded a third fewer birds than in 2019. (Surveys weren’t conducted in 2020 because of Covid.) The number was also 29 percent lower than the five-year running average.
“This is not good news,” says Alaina Gerrits, assistant upland wildlife ecologist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “We know that our wild pheasant population in Wisconsin has been declining pretty steadily in the last couple decades. The biggest reason why obviously habitat loss, but especially things like CRP enrollment, which has really been decreased the last few years in Wisconsin.”
But here’s the good news: Conditions since the spring survey have been very favorable, suggesting that nesting and brooding proceeded well and that hunting may be better than the spring surveys suggest.
Over much of Wisconsin, spring and summer weather has been dry, “which is actually beneficial for upland game birds,” Gerrits says. Despite some localized storms with heavy rains, “nesting and breeding conditions have been really favorable. So I think that we’re going to see more birds this year than last.”
As has been true in recent years, the highest number of wild pheasants live in lower northwestern counties along the Minnesota border.
Says Gerrits: “Right now our strongest wild pheasant populations are mostly in that northwest part of the state — counties like Barron, Dunn, Eau Claire, Pepin, Pierce, Polk and St. Croix — where we still have pretty good amounts of high-quality grassland habitat.”
In southeastern counties, woodlands and urban development have overtaken some of the best grassland.
In the hilly southwestern Wisconsin, grasslands and prairie restorations are going strong and there are birds to be had, but access is the challenge. You will need to work landowner contacts.
For hunters chasing wild birds in northwestern Wisconsin, Gerrits recommends finding Voluntary Public Access lands, where landowners have been paid to allow hunting, on this interactive map
This Public Access Lands mapping application
shows VPA lands as well as other public access sites. OnX maps also has the properties in its mobile application.
“If you just want to go on the ground and scout, I would say look for the highest-quality grasslands you can find, especially grasslands that might have adjacent emergent wetland vegetation—things like cattails that provide winter cover,” she says.
For hunters in southern Wisconsin, the DNR stocks public lands with about 75,000 birds at regular intervals throughout the season. See the DNR website for details.
The Fields and Forest Lands Interactive Gamebird Hunting Tool, an online map showing properties stocked with pheasants, managed dove fields and suitable cover for ruffed grouse and woodcock. Visit dnr.wi.gov and search keyword “FFLIGHT” for more information.
If You Go
The 2021 pheasant season runs October 16 to January 9, 2022. The daily bag limit is one rooster on opening weekend and then two roosters for the remainder of the season. Possession limit after opening weekend is three times the daily bag limit.