Thursday, September 13, 2012

2012 Bobwhite Quail Forecasts - KS, NE, OK, TX, GA, FL, SC, AL, IL, IA

 by Jillian LaCross
When it comes to hunting bobwhites this season, it’ll pay off to have your homework done. With drought conditions spreading over much of bobwhite territory – the South got some relief – and the continued loss of habitat, most state departments agree it’s going to be a tougher year with scattered opportunities.

Last year, KANSAS had an average to below-average harvest. Though the brood numbers won’t be tallied until September, Dave Dahlgren, Small Game Specialist, provided an anecdotal report. Southwest and south-central Kansas have been the most affected by the drought, and those areas had already experienced a hard year in 2011. “There are some bright spots,” says Dahlgren. “It seems the Northern Flint Hills and northeast Kansas had better production. Parts of southeast Kansas have potential with the current habitat conditions.” Hunters will also likely find some spots in the north-central part of the state, based on preliminary reports from landowners and biologists.

NEBRASKA bobwhites were on the rebound in 2011, despite the loss of woody cover and CRP acres. Broods hatched last year were better able to sustain the mild winter that came to the state; however, unusually warm weather soon set it, and that could have affected department surveys. “Conditions during the July Rural Mail Carrier Survey [high temperatures and drought conditions] may have biased low the survey results and should be interpreted with caution. Results from the Whistle Count Survey indicated that statewide, bobwhite populations were comparable to 2011, with regional increases in the East-Central, Southeast, and West Platte bobwhite management regions,” says Jeff Lusk, Upland Game Program Manager. Jefferson and Thayer counties in the southeast region will probably be the best places to go, Wildlife Management Areas in particular. The full gamebird forecast will be available at within the next few weeks.

Mostly due to drought conditions, the OKLAHOMA statewide index in 2011 declined 37 percent below the 2010 level, leading biologists to forecast low hunting opportunity in nearly every region. And unfortunately, that turned out to be more true than not. Last year, the number of hunters (17,000) and number of birds harvested (109,000) were the lowest numbers on record. The adult quail population was also low going into the 2011 season due to the high heat. Doug Schoeling, Upland Game Biologist, is hoping for a better year, and it looks like there will be a slight increase. “We had decent carryover into the nesting season, and a fairly decent first hatch,” says Schoeling. The department is seeing a high percentage of juvenile birds, which will help to “fill in the gaps of adult birds taken last year.” But the unfavorable weather, high temperatures, and little moisture have made it another tough year on bobwhite production. There’s still time for a late hatch if there were more moisture and a break in the heat, but birds can’t wait too much longer, says Schoeling. There are enough insects for food but it’ll depend on if the birds can find shade. Visit for updates.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Montana Open Fields for Game Bird Hunters - Public Hunting Areas

Open Fields is officially here in Montana! The Volunteer Public Access-Habitat Improvement Program (VPA-HIP) - or commonly referred to as "Open Fields" - represents the first time federal Farm Bill funding has been offered to assist states in implementing private land hunting, fishing, and access programs. Recently, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks was awarded a VPA-HIP grant to fund expansion of the Block Management Program in new directions, one of which is the Open Fields for Game Bird Hunters, a new program that will be delivered through the FWP Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program.

Although Montana's Block Management Program is extremely popular, bird hunters often agree that finding quality places to hunt birds gets trickier each year. An 80-acre CRP tract can have a lot of appeal for bird hunters, yet this small acreage often doesn't qualify for enrollment in Block Management when competing with larger parcels of property that offer multiple types of hunting opportunities.
Likewise, finding permission to hunt on private land can be daunting. Open Fields can change that by providing landowner incentives to enroll these smaller tracts of land suitable for fall season game bird hunting. Tracts enrolled in Open Fields for Game Bird Hunters are clearly marked by signs to help improve hunter access and management.

Program Details

Click on image for details.

For 2012, game bird hunters will have walk-in access with no further permission required on 55 enrolled lands totaling 17,000 acres of CRP and other quality habitats.

Watch for these signs!
During the fall season, hunters may walk in to hunt upland game birds and waterfowl without further permission. All lands enrolled in Open Fields for Game Bird Hunters will have boundaries signed.

Visit the FWP Hunt Planner
Hunters, go to the Hunt Planner to view Open Fields for Game Bird Hunter project locations. You may zoom in close to projects, create GPS waypoints, and even print individual maps for each project area

2012 Notice to Hunters
Be aware that some parcels of land enrolled in the Open Fields for Game Bird Hunters may be newly-seeded stands of CRP, may have recently undergone USDA-required maintenance provisions that include haying or grazing activities, or may have been hayed or grazed under the 2012 USDA-sanctioned drought & wildlife fire emergency provisions just prior to enrollment in the Open Fields program. Subsequently, for this first year of enrollment, the habitat on some parcels may not meet hunter expectations. Please keep in mind that these lands are enrolled in long-term contracts for up to 10 years, so subsequent years can be expected to yield improved habitat on affected parcels.

Downloadable County Maps
Downloadable county maps are now available for the 2012 bird season! Get your maps here.

Open Fields for Game Bird Hunters Comment Survey

Your opinion matters! Please take a moment to participate in an online survey. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks appreciates your feedback on the Open Fields for Game Birds program!


Need more information? Call Debbie Hohler, Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program Biologist, at (406) 444-5674 or by e-mail.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

2012 Pheasant Forecasts SD, ND, NE, KS, MI, IA, MT, MN

by Larry Brown

For the 2012 season, pheasant hunters should expect one of those good news/bad news years. First, the good: The winter across most of our prime pheasant range was mild, a very positive change after a succession of harsh winters. And the spring and early summer nesting season was generally warm and dry. Result: Pheasant numbers increased almost everywhere over last year. But to put that into some perspective, last season was below average in many of the top pheasant states, and significantly below long-term averages in some.

The bad news is habitat loss, which explains why—even with increased bird numbers this year—some states are down in comparison to long-term averages. And it does not bode well for the longer term future of pheasant hunting. Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres are declining everywhere. And that critical habitat loss will impact both nesting success and winter survival.
For this season, a severe drought across the Midwest has resulted in CRP acres from Kansas up to central South Dakota being opened for emergency haying and grazing. If you’re hunting on private land, you should contact landowners in advance to see how that will impact cover conditions where you’re planning to hunt.

SOUTH DAKOTA remains in a class all by itself when it comes to pheasant harvest. The state’s 2011 harvest of 1.55 million birds, although a significant decline from the 1.83 million taken in 2010, is over twice as high as any other state. This year, hunters should see some improvement over last season. The summer brood survey showed an increase of 18 percent in the number of pheasants observed per mile. Greatest increases over last year were in the eastern part of the state: Aberdeen, Huron, Mitchell, Sioux Falls, Brookings, and Watertown areas. However, overall numbers remain highest farther west: Chamberlain, Pierre, Winner, and Mobridge areas. In the latter three areas, bird numbers are at or slightly above the 10-year average, while numbers elsewhere in the state remain below the long-term average. About 20 percent of South Dakota’s 1.1 million CRP acres are scheduled to expire this fall. If most of those acres are planted in row crops—and grain prices are currently at or near historic highs—continued prospects for 1.5-2 million bird harvests in South Dakota will be less likely.

NORTH DAKOTA claimed number two status last season, with a harvest estimated at 683,000 birds. That represented a healthy increase of about 130,000 over 2010. Part of that is due to an unusually mild winter, which allowed hunting to continue right up to the end of the season. That same mild winter, coupled with good nesting habitat and weather, put North Dakota on track for a season very similar to last year. In particular, virtually all of the state south of I-94 should offer good hunting for pheasants this season. Long term, North Dakota faces the same habitat issues as its neighbor to the south—but without the emergency haying and grazing situation for this season. CRP losses to this point have resulted in the state’s Private Lands Open To Sportsmen (PLOTS) acres decreasing from over a million to about 800,000. Hunters heading to western North Dakota, especially from Dickinson on west, need to make sure they can find lodging. The oil boom in that region means a lot of motels are full to capacity, year round.

NEBRASKA’s harvest of 218,000 birds last year was down slightly from the 2010 total (252,000). This year, rural mail carrier counts show numbers that are either comparable to last year, or up somewhat. Best areas should be the southwest and the Panhandle, although parts of those areas may have been impacted somewhat by the heat and drought. In the eastern part of the state, habitat loss—both temporary, in the form of emergency haying and grazing, and longer term as CRP acres expire and leave the program—will impact bird numbers and hunter success.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Pheasants Forever's 2012 Hunting Forecasts

Overall Outlook:

While the drought of 2012 will make its impact felt on pheasant populations in the central Great Plains (portions of Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska), pheasant hunters in the Upper Midwest (the Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota) can expect bird numbers to be much improved from last year. Unfortunately, upland hunters will note a rapidly changing landscape in these states as habitat is converted to row crops. With commodity prices at or near all-time highs, and federal crop insurance coverage buffering the risk of planting marginal lands, grasslands formerly enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and previously unbroken native prairie are being plowed up at an astounding rate. It should give pheasant hunters pause, and more reason than ever to get involved in the work of upland conservation.
Many CRP lands and even some public lands were opened to emergency haying and grazing to help agricultural producers through the drought of 2012. Thus, hunters are urged to check ahead due to the effects of this dry season and land use changes. There’s some good hunting out there, it’s just going to take a little more work to find it.
Remember to always consult official state hunting regulations for rules and season dates, and please carry Pheasants Forever's code of conduct with you into the field this fall:
As a member of Pheasants Forever, I believe in conserving wildlife and protecting the environment. I promise to leave the outdoors a little better than I found it. I will hunt safely and treat hunting on public and private land as a privilege. I will always ask permission before hunting private land. I will obey all game laws and insist my companions do as well.
Good luck pheasant hunters!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Minnesota’s 2012 pheasant index up 68 percent from 2011

A mild winter followed by a warm spring contributed to a significant increase in Minnesota’s pheasant count, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The pheasant population index increased 68 percent from 2011. Pheasant hunters are expected to harvest about 290,000 roosters this fall. That’s up from last year’s estimated harvest of 204,000 but roughly half the number taken during the 2005-2008 seasons when hunting was exceptionally good.
“While the 2012 increase reflects movement in a positive direction, the counts still remain 51 percent below the 10-year average,” said Kurt Haroldson, the DNR biologist who compiled the survey.
While favorable weather worked in the birds’ favor this year, their long-term success is more closely linked to habitat than annual variations in snowfall, rainfall and temperature.

“The state’s pheasant population is linked more closely to quantity and quality of habitat than annual differences in weather,” Haroldson said.

The pheasant population estimate is part of the DNR’s annual roadside wildlife survey. The survey summarizes roadside counts of pheasants, gray (Hungarian) partridge, cottontail rabbits, white-tailed jackrabbits and other wildlife observed in the early morning hours during the first half of August throughout the farmland region of Minnesota.

The highest pheasant counts were in the west central region, where observers reported 58 birds per 100 miles of survey driven. Hunters will find good harvest opportunities in portions of west central, east central and southwest Minnesota.

The most important habitat for pheasants is grassland that remains undisturbed during the nesting season. Protected grasslands account for about 6 percent of the state’s pheasant range. Farmland retirement programs such as Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CRP), Reinvest in Minnesota and Wetlands Reserve Program make up the largest portion of protected grasslands in the state.

High land rental rates and competing uses for farmland diminish the economic attractiveness of farmland conservation programs. During the next three years, contracts for 620,000 acres of CRP lands are scheduled to expire. If not re-enrolled, this would reduce CRP acres in Minnesota by 42 percent.
Minnesota’s pheasant population largely has mirrored what’s happened on the land.

“Pheasant numbers were higher during the small, diversified farming days from roughly 1931 to 1964 when habitat was more abundant,” Haroldson said. “Pheasant numbers declined during the intensive farming boom from 1965-1986 as field sizes grew and habitat shrank. Then, pheasant numbers rebounded when CRP began in 1987. However, enrollment in that program peaked several years ago, and further declines will not bode well for future pheasant populations.”

To help offset continued habitat losses caused by reductions in conservation set-aside acreage, DNR has accelerated acquisition of wildlife management areas in the farmland region of Minnesota. DNR also supports habitat conservation on private lands by working with a variety of partners in the Farm Bill Assistance Partnership and Working Lands Initiative. More than 15,000 acres of private property have been opened to public hunting through the state’s Walk-In Access program.

The August roadside survey, which began in the late 1940s, was standardized in 1955. DNR conservation officers and wildlife managers in the farmland region of Minnesota conduct the survey during the first half of August. This year’s survey consisted of 171 routes, each 25 miles long, with 152 routes located in the ring-necked pheasant range. The complete report is available online.

Observers drive each route in early morning and record the number and species of wildlife they see. The data provide an index of relative abundance and are used to monitor annual changes and long term trends in populations of ring-necked pheasants, gray partridge, eastern cottontail rabbits, white tailed jackrabbits and other select wildlife species.

The gray partridge index also increased from last year and is similar to the 10-year average. The cottontail rabbit index remains below the 10-year and long-term average. The jackrabbit index was 96 percent below the long-term average. Finally, the mourning dove index was 36 percent above last year but similar to the 10-year average.

Original DNR Article

2012 MN Walk-In Access (WIA) Program Atlas Available

...providing public hunting opportunities on private lands thanks to volunteer landowners.
  • Walk-In Access sites are open during any legal hunting season from Sept. 1 to May 31. Please respect private property and verify public hunting areas by observing boundary signs.
  • No hunting is allowed in any WIA until it is posted.
  • Only walk-in hunting traffic is allowed on enrolled acres. Land enrolled in the WIA program is not open to trapping, trap shooting, dog training or activities other than hunting. No vehicle traffic is allowed. Parking is along roads or in designated parking areas.
  • Hunters must follow the Code of Conduct This is a PDF file. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to download it. developed for WIA lands.
  • Emergency Grazing and Haying on WIA sites

Find a WIA Interactive Map

See WIAs for Grant County See WIAs for Traverse County See WIAs for Stevens County See WIAs for Pope County See WIAs for Big Stone County See WIAs for Swift County See WIAs for Kandiyohi County See WIAs for Lac Qui Parle County See WIAs for Chippewa County See WIAs for Yellow Medicine County See WIAs for Renville County See WIAs for Redwood County See WIAs for Lincoln County See WIAs for Lyon County See WIAs for Brown County See WIAs for Pipestone County See WIAs for Murray County See WIAs for Cottonwood County See WIAs for Watonwan County See WIAs for Rock County See WIAs for Nobles County See WIAs for Jackson County See WIAs for Martin County Click on a county in the map to bring up detailed maps of WIAs

WIA tools


Printed Atlas Updates

Map update status as of 8/31/12:
  • All WIA online map products and downloads are now updated!

WIA maps & data

All map data and map products (including Google Earth, Google Map, and GPS files) are general and do not accurately represent the actual legal or established boundary of these areas, and thus should be used for reference only. Please respect private property and verify public hunting areas by observing boundary signs.