2011 Pheasant Forecast
By Larry Brown
An extremely harsh winter across the heart of the pheasant range in the Midwest -- the last in a string of bad winters in some states -- plus a wet spring in the Dakotas and Minnesota, and the continued loss of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres, all combine to mean tougher prospects for ringneck hunters in the traditional top states.
As we go to press with this forecast, summer brood surveys from several states have not yet been completed. We will provide that information as soon as it becomes available.
SOUTH DAKOTA was #1 for pheasants again last year. The 2010 harvest of 1.8 million was the eighth straight season in which the total bag topped the million and a half mark.
Unfortunately, the state suffered its harshest winter since 1996-97, combined with an unusually wet spring and a loss of 400,000 CRP acres since 2007. As a result, it was no surprise that this year's brood survey showed a 46 percent decline from last year, and was 41 percent below the 10-year average. But as bad as that sounds, pheasant numbers appear similar to 2002, when hunters bagged a million and a quarter roosters.
All areas of the state showed lower numbers than last year. Declines were the least severe in the Pierre and Winner areas, and the Pierre area is slightly up in comparison to the 10-year average.
KANSAS ranked a strong #2 last year, with hunters there harvesting over a million birds for the first time since the early 1980s. And this year's spring crowing count was up slightly compared to last year.
However, Mother Nature hasn't been kind to Kansas either. While the issue farther north has been too much rain, it's been the opposite in Kansas: a drought in the western part of the state. Although the breeding population there is extremely strong, reproduction was probably poor. The birds depend upon a good wheat crop, and the drought left hens short of necessary nesting cover.
Because of the drought, prospects in the southwest and south-central look poor this year, with better opportunities in the central, north-central, and northwest regions.
Last year’s pheasant harvest in NORTH DAKOTA, at 553,000, was down about 100,000 from 2009. North Dakota has seen the most severe CRP losses in the region (over a million acres from peak enrollment), and the state also experienced a hard winter followed by a very wet spring and record-setting floods in some areas.
Statewide, crowing counts this spring were down 14 percent. Although southwest North Dakota reported a 5 percent increase, all other regions were down, with the sharpest drop in the southeast (30 percent), where CRP losses have been the worst.
Pheasant hunters in NEBRASKA harvested 252,000 roosters last year, which was down just slightly from 2009. This year, indications are that hunting should be regionally good in the southwest. The east will be generally poor, due to reduced CRP acres and following a harsh winter. The central and panhandle regions should provide fair opportunities.
Much of the MINNESOTA pheasant range suffered the unfortunate harsh winter/wet spring combination. The harvest had increased to over half a million birds annually from 2005-08, but fell to 400,000 in 2009, and to 360,000 last year. The state also lost 120,000 acres of CRP this year. And from next year on, those losses will increase to about 200,000 acres per year.
IOWA's 2010 harvest of just 238,000 roosters set yet another record low, for the fourth straight year. When you consider that Iowa topped the million mark as recently as 2003, and was the top pheasant state in the nation more years than not during the '90s, it demonstrates just how quickly a state can go from boom to bust, when bad weather combines with habitat losses.
And this year's news is even worse, with the August roadside counts down 40 percent statewide. Even the northwest region, which had retained decent bird numbers, dropped significantly -- although northwest and central Iowa remain the state's best areas.
Stay tuned for more 2011 Traveling Wingshooter Gamebird Forecasts
as they become available!
When you are up to your butt in alligators, it is hard to remember your intent was to drain the swamp. Stay focused!