Special to The Hays Daily News
Over the last year, weather and habitat conditions across Kansas were generally good for upland game birds. The winter of 2009-10 was near average across most of the state in terms of snow and ice accumulation, which led to strong breeding populations in most regions.
The exception was in the northeast where more than 12 inches of snow covered the ground for more than three weeks after Christmas. Most of the state received average or above average precipitation last fall and early this spring, resulting in good vegetative conditions for nesting and brood rearing.
Additionally, weather conditions during the critical nesting and brood rearing period (May-July) were conducive to productivity in all but a few areas across the state. The exceptions were due to severe thunderstorms in June or early July that dropped in excess of 4 inches of rain in a few localized regions of the state. Many of those storms were also accompanied with large hail, especially storms that affected portions of north-central Kansas.
Kansas will continue as a premier destination for upland bird hunters, according to the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.
Additionally, there will be more than 1.5 million acres open to public access, and much of that acreage will provide upland bird hunting opportunities. The regular opening date for the pheasant and quail seasons will be Nov. 13 for the entire state. The previous weekend will be the special youth quail and pheasant season. Youth participating in the special season must be 16 years old or younger and accompanied by a non-hunting adult who is 18 years of age or older. During the special youth season, hunters will be able to access all Walk-In-Hunting Acess tracts and most of the acreage contained within public wildlife areas.
Statewide, good production last summer and a relatively mild winter, the number of pheasants going into the nesting season was similar or slightly improved from 2009 in most regions of the state. Precipitation in June and early July prevented many farmers from harvesting their wheat crop until well after the peak time when pheasant nests hatch. The timing of wheat harvest plays a big role in the number of young produced each year in Kansas because a substantial number of hens initiate nests in green wheat. The delayed harvest gave hens a longer time period to hatch their nests and rear young before machinery came through the fields.
The timing and quantity of early summer precipitation also plays a direct role in game bird productivity. Success of nests and survival of young is generally best when rain comes slowly and in near average amounts during May and June.
Most of the areas in Kansas' primary pheasant range met that prescription resulting in above-average production.
However, a few areas did receive heavy rainfall or hail during the peak reproductive period and as a result production was likely below average in all or a portion Cheyenne, Thomas, Sherman, Logan, Jewell, Republic, Marion, Decatur, Norton, Phillips, Rooks, Smith, Osborne, Harvey, Reno, and Sedgwick counties.
Pheasant numbers in those areas will likely be down from last fall, but prospects throughout the rest of Kansas' pheasant range should be similar or improved.
Compared to 2009, pheasant numbers will generally be improved throughout their range. In those parts of northwestern Kansas not affected by one of the major summer storms, the pheasant numbers will be higher than at any point in the last 20 years. Pheasant numbers will be down from last year in those areas inflicted with heavy rain and flooding this past summer.
The best pheasant hunting will be in northwest and west-central Kansas, but portions of central and southwestern Kansas will also offer some excellent opportunities.
-- Next week will include a look at quail and prairie chickens.