The future is here! Pheasants Forever has been warning us about the negative impact on pheasant populations resulting from the reduction of CRP lands. Evidence of their prediction is already clear in central Kansas. Coupled with the loss of habitat, a prolonged drought throughout much of the pheasant’s southern range and you have (excuse the cliche) the perfect storm and pheasants are caught in the eye.
I hunted central Kansas the first full week of January and was both shocked by the lack of cover and disappointed by the lack of pheasants. My Llewellin Setters and I hunted waterways (usually very productive areas late in the season) spread over approximately 9,000 acres of farm land across two counties. I’ve hunted the properties annually for 5 years now and while the pheasant count was reduced last year from what had been experienced previously, we still enjoyed good hunting. However, this year the reduction was shocking. On our best day we had only 4 opportunities at roosters and flushed an equal number of hens. On our last day we saw only a single rooster. The pheasants just weren’t there.
The lack of pheasants was disappointing but the real disappointment is what we observed with the land. In the area west of I-35 and south of I-70 in central Kansas, much of the CRP lands have been converted to crop lands, specifically winter wheat, meaning a loss of habitat. Combined with the transition to crops, a good deal of the remaining CRP land has been cut and bailed to support the cattle industry. The result is more loss of habitat. Additionally, I observed that milo and corn stubble has been cut and bailed to also be used as cattle feed. Can you say more habitat loss? In years past, I hunted waterways out of choice, this year they were hunted out of necessity!
I shudder to contemplate the results on the remaining population if a prolonged period of frigid weather or heavy wet snow hits the area. Carry over could very well be as sparse as the cover. When the birds that do survive attempt to repopulate this spring there will be a distinct lack of residual nesting cover, a continuation of the perfect storm.
Obviously, a good dose of timely spaced rain during 2013 could help ease some of the pressure on the land and improve what cover remains; but as Pheasants Forever emphasizes, a concerted focus on wildlife and the creation of permanent habitat is going to be the prescription for a population rebound.
On the positive side of the trip, we found a healthy population of Bobwhite Quail. Those waterways with trees usually seemed to hold a covey of quail and one long creek produced two coveys. The coveys were large, plus or minus 15 birds which flew very well and much further than is typical of the coveys in my native Texas. Quail seemed to be a bright spot and the species worthy of a return trip in the fall. The fall of 2013 may be the time to focus on quail and take a rooster simply as a ‘bonus bird’. A little different strategy but my dogs and I will be hunting nevertheless and after all, that is what we live to do!
Until then, I’ll be praying for rain, continuing to support Pheasants Forever, and practicing my shooting skills so as to capitalize on every opportunity that is presented.
Phil R. Hechler
Focus Outdoors TV, Pro Staff
NSCA Level II Instructor