2015 Pheasant Hunting Forecast

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Pheasants ForeverQuality habitat is needed to sustain truly abundant, wild pheasant populations. But from year to year, pheasants live or die with the weather. Fortunately, many pheasant strongholds in the northern and central plains and the upper Midwest dodged horrendous winter storms and bitter cold. Some western states found relief from a savage drought. Wildlife managers in many states, such as South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska, are reporting that pheasant numbers are up significantly from last year and predicting much better pheasant hunting. Just how much? Read our comprehensive state-by-state Pheasant Hunting Forecast to find out.

Good luck in the field this fall. If you’re not yet engaged in the cause for conservation, help us continue the fight and become a Pheasants Forever member today.

CALIFORNIA—STILL DREAMIN’ OF MORE RAIN

Forecast: It’s no secret California is experiencing one of its worst droughts on record. The extreme weather has had its effect on pheasants—and not for the better.

“Pheasant populations and production are spotty this year because of drought and water availability,” says Scott Gardner, senior environmental scientist for the upland game unit of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “The northern part of the state, Klamath Basin, is probably the best in the state. The Central Valley is pretty poor. The Imperial Valley does have some birds, but mostly on private lands.” 

Season Dates: November 14, 2015 through December 27, 2015

Youth Season Dates: Special youth/apprentice hunts available by application; See registration page below

Daily Bag Limit: 2 for first two days of season, and 3 thereafter

Possession Limit: 6 for first two days of season, and 9 thereafter

Field Notes: Since July 1, 2015, nonlead ammunition has been required when hunting upland game birds on state wildlife areas and ecological reserves. For more information please see the Department’s nonlead ammunition page below.

Helpful Links:

COLORADO—BIRDS RESPOND TO END OF DROUGHT

Forecast: Colorado pheasants—and hunters—are catching a break after a long drought. A wetter year has meant more abundant habitat for birds.

“Our crowing counts increased about 60 percent in our core area—a pretty healthy jump,” says Ed Gorman, small game manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Admittedly, that’s a 60 percent improvement over some pretty low numbers because of a drought that began in 2012. “But it’s still a significant increase from last year to this year,” he says. “It’s slightly above the long-term average.”

That’s in the core area—Colorado’s six northeastern counties. Elsewhere in Colorado’s pheasant range improvements were more modest.

What impact will the higher bird numbers have on hunting? “It’s going to be better than last year,” says Gorman. “To what degree it will be better—that’s really difficult to predict. Just judging by what we’re seeing in the field as we’re putting up walk-in signs and what landowners are seeing, it’s going to be moderately better than last year.”

A detailed report on Colorado’s pheasant population will be available on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website beginning in mid-October, Gorman says.

Season Dates: November 14, 2015 through January 31, 2016 (east of I-25); November 15, 2015 through January 3, 2016 (west of I-25) 

Daily Bag Limit: 3

Possession Limit: 9

Helpful Links:

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IDAHO—WITH MILD WEATHER, PHEASANTS HOLD STEADY

Forecast: Depending on the region, Idaho pheasant hunting looks to be either holding its own this year, or improving for 2015. Winter was generally mild and timely rain made for good brood-rearing.

“This year should be similar to last year,” says Jeff Knetter, upland game and waterfowl staff biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. “Primarily, the best hunting is found on private lands.” The highest pheasant harvest typically occurs in the Southwest, Magic Valley, and Southeast regions.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Southwest: Up from last year and above the 10-year average
  • Magic Valley: Same as last year and below the 10-year average
  • Southeast: Similar to last year and the 10-year average
  • Clearwater: Up from last year and above the 10-year average
  • Panhandle: Same as last year, but down from the 10-year average
  • Upper Snake: Similar to last year and the 10-year average
  • Salmon: Similar to last year and the 10-year average

Overall, pheasant numbers have declined due to changes in farming. “Pheasant is no longer king here,” says Knetter. “Although populations have declined because of changes in farming practices, there are still opportunities to harvest wild pheasants.”

Season Dates: Area 1 (North): October 10, 2015 through December 31, 2015; Area 2 (East): October 17, 2015 through November 30, 2015; Area 3 (Southwest): October 17, 2015 through December 31, 2015

Youth Season Dates: October 3–October 10 (Ages 15 years or younger, daily bag limit is 3, and possession limit is 6

Daily Bag Limit: 3

Possession Limit: 9

Helpful Links: 

ILLINOIS—HARD WINTER, WET SPRING HURT PHEASANTS

Forecast: A hard winter and wet June pretty much obliterated any gains pheasants might have made during a good nesting season in 2014. For that reason, according to upland bird surveys conducted in June and July, the 2015 hunting season will probably be no better than last year’s—and perhaps a bit worse.

“In areas with good habitat, anecdotal reports and some current research show that birds were able to nest successfully despite the rainy weather,” says Stan McTaggart, agriculture and grassland program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. “Areas with marginal habitat will likely see any gains made in 2014 slip away.”

Numbers in Illinois have been falling for most of the last 10 years. Parts of Illinois with new or well-managed CRP are maintaining birds, but overall, Illinois continues to lose habitat, either to row crops or to invasion by trees and brush.

“Habitat quality and quantity are the primary factors which we can control, and we are always at the mercy of the weather! Current research in east-central Illinois has shown the birds can handle more severe weather than expected—provided that they have enough quality habitat,” says McTaggart.

The 2015 Status Report should be available on the Department’s website very soon.

Season Dates: North: November 7, 2015 through January 8, 2016; South: November 7, 2015 through January 15, 2016

Youth Season Dates: One day hunts available with controlled youth pheasant hunt permit; See below for application

Daily Bag Limit: 2

Possession Limit: 6 for first day of season, and 4 thereafter

Field Notes: A group of Illinois Division of Wildlife biologists and technicians have recently formed a “habitat team” as a pilot project to improve grassland habitat on state-owned designated pheasant habitat areas and supporting habitat on private lands within the project area (a 50-mile radius) in east-central Illinois.

Helpful Links: 

INDIANA—POOR WEATHER SUPPRESSES BIRD NUMBERS

Forecast: Weather has continued to hit Indiana pheasants hard. “Poor weather—either bitter cold, snow and ice in winter, or heavy rains in spring and summer—has been the biggest factor in holding down pheasant numbers in recent years,” says Budd Veverka, farmland game research biologist for the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife.

“In 2015, we had the wettest June on record and the fourth wettest July on record—not real great for nesting.” The effects of weather were exacerbated by a loss of grassland to agriculture and succession to woodlands.

“We saw a bounce back in our spring crowing counts from 2014, but they didn’t return to 2013 levels. Production is likely down this summer, which could lead to another season with record low harvests,” he says. “We saw our worst declines in Tippecanoe and Montgomery counties, and again had zero birds along routes in St. Joseph and Porter counties,” he says.

The news wasn’t uniformly bad: “Benton and Newton counties bounced back well, and we saw our best numbers in LaPorte County in a number of years,” he says. 

Season Dates: November 1, 2015 through December 15, 2015

Youth Season Dates: November 7

Daily Bag Limit: 2

Possession Limit: 4

Helpful Links: 

IOWA—PHEASANT NUMBERS JUMP SECOND YEAR RUNNING

Forecast: Iowa’s roadside count showed the second straight year of increasing pheasant numbers. The statewide index of 24 birds per route represented a 37 percent increase over last year and a 260 percent increase over the all-time low set in 2013. The highest concentration of birds occurred in the northwest.

“Several favorable winters have helped us recover bird numbers statewide,” says Todd Bogenschutz, upland game biologist and farmland coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “The pheasant index in the northwest, central, and southeast regions is at or above the long-term average. So where pheasant habitat is available, hunting should be pretty good in these regions. Counts improved in most other regions, and hunting should be better than last year. But the number of birds will be less than the long-term average.”

The statewide index is the highest it has been in eight years—before five consecutive winters with more than 30 inches of snow drove pheasants to the lowest numbers ever.

But while this year’s roadside index is 52 percent above the 10-year average, it remains some 40 percent below the long-term average, reflecting deleterious changes in farming in much of the state’s pheasant range.

“We continue to lose habitat, particularly CRP, like many other Midwest states, but with lower crop prices we are seeing strong interest among landowners for CRP on marginal lands,” says Bogenschutz. State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE), a continuous CRP practice, has enrolled over 100,000 acres statewide.

Season Dates: October 31, 2015 through January 10, 2016

Youth Season Dates: October 24 & 25

Daily Bag Limit: 3

Possession Limit: 12

Field Notes: The state received a new Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program grant from USDA to expand the Iowa Habitat and Access Program to over 20,000 acres in the next several years.

Helpful Links: 

KANSAS—MORE RAIN MEANS MORE BIRDS

Forecast: Severe drought pushed Kansas pheasant numbers to record lows in recent years. The return of rain in 2014 and 2015 has helped restore cover, food crops, and insects (though rainfall in eastern regions was too heavy and hurt brood survival). Statewide, summer brood counts are 51 percent higher than in 2014.

With more birds, hunting should be better than last year. But recovery from the drought will require more time. This year’s harvest will probably remain below average, according to Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

Here’s the forecast by region in the primary pheasant range:

  • Northern High Plains will provide some of the best hunting. Pheasant numbers are up 130 percent from last year (though still well below average). This region showed the highest numbers of any region this year. The most birds will be found in the northern half of the region.
  • Smoky Hills should also provide good hunting. The summer brood survey was up 40 percent compared with last year. The highest bird numbers occurred in the northeast and southern tier of counties.
  • Glaciated Plains started well, but heavy rain in June and July hurt broods. Roadside surveys indicate a 48 percent decrease compared with last year.
  • South-Central Prairies showed an increase of nearly 70 percent. No CRP land has been released for emergency haying and grazing this year, so the quality and quantity of cover will be better than in recent years.
  • Southern High Plains pheasant population improved by 47 percent, according to summer brood surveys. Nonetheless, densities are low compared with other regions.

Season Dates: November 14, 2015 through January 31, 2016

Youth Season Dates: November 7 & 8 (age 16 or younger; daily bag limit 2, possession limit 4)

Daily Bag Limit: 4

Possession Limit: 16

Helpful Links: 

Dustin Owen, of Omaha, with his Labs Minnie and Bo during a pheasant hunt in Colfax County
Dustin Owen, of Omaha, with his Labs Minnie and Bo during a pheasant hunt in Colfax County

MICHIGAN—LARGE BROODS POINT TO BETTER HUNTING

Forecast: Field reports of crowing roosters and large broods this summer suggest pheasant numbers will be at least as high this fall as last year.

Weather during the nesting and brood rearing period has been good, without excessive cold and rain. This mild weather also produced an abundance of insects, which are an important food source for pheasant chicks. 

Results of the hunter cooperator survey, spring breeding surveys and the mail harvest survey should be compiled and available later this year on the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website.

While pheasant numbers are far below the high levels of the 1950s and 1960s, pheasants can be found in the central and thumb regions. Counties with some of the highest pheasant numbers include Ingham, Ionia, Hillsdale, Huron, Lenawee, Livingston, and Tuscola.

Season Dates: Zone 1 (U.P.): October 10, 2015 – October 31, 2015; Zones 2 and 3: October 20, 2015 – November 14, 2015; Zone 3 (partial, Southern Lower Peninsula): December 1, 2015 – January 1, 2016

Daily Bag Limit: 2

Possession Limit: 4

Helpful Links: 

MINNESOTA—GOOD WEATHER BOOSTS BIRDS A THIRD

Forecast: “The mild winter and good nesting season conditions helped give our pheasant population a boost this year, which should mean a good fall hunting season in many areas,” reports Nicole Davros, upland game project leader for the Department of Natural Resources. “The southwest, west-central, and east-central regions had the highest roadside indices, and hunters should have the best luck in those regions.”

According to Minnesota’s August roadside survey, the range-wide pheasant index was 33 percent higher than last year.

The roadside index showed the biggest increases in the southeast (138 percent) and east-central (126 percent). The southwest (23 percent), west-central (31 percent), and central (44 percent) regions also showed significant increases. The south-central region (-2 percent) remained similar to 2014. The best opportunity for hunting appears to be in the southwest, west-central, and east-central regions, where birds are most plentiful.

Despite the improvement over last year, Minnesota’s pheasant index remains 39 percent below the 10-year average and 59 percent below the long-term average (1955–2014).

“Over the long-term, the trends for pheasants and grasslands in Minnesota are still concerning,” says Davros. “Our pheasant population is especially reliant on grasslands enrolled in the CRP program, and we have lost a significant amount of CRP since 2007 with the potential for even greater loses still to come if CRP contracts are not renewed or new lands are not enrolled in the program.”

Season Dates: October 10, 2015 through January 3, 2016

Daily Bag Limit: 2; changes to 3 on December 1, 2015 through end of season

Possession Limit: 6; changes to 9 on December 1, 2015 through end of season

Helpful Links: 

MISSOURI—PHEASANTS ARE UP, BUT STILL NOT PLENTIFUL

Forecast: Missouri’s pheasant numbers are up 34 percent compared to last year, according to the roadside survey by the state Department of Conservation. That puts the population 65 percent above the five-year average, but still 36 percent below the 10-year average. “Numbers were up, but not a lot,” says Beth Emmerich, agricultural wildlife ecologist for the department. “In areas where we have them, people have been telling me they have been seeing more pheasants and quail this year.”

Despite the upward bump, hunters won’t mistake Missouri for South Dakota anytime soon. Missouri’s pheasants have struggled for reasons mostly unknown, despite efforts to reinvigorate the population. Pheasants are largely limited to the northern tier of counties. “Pockets that support good pheasant numbers are found where there is suitable habitat for them,” says Emmerich. “Northwest Missouri is kind of the stronghold for them.”

According to Emmerich, wild birds make up as little as 16 percent of the annual pheasant harvest. The rest are pen-raised birds, released on private land.

Season Dates: November 1, 2015 through January 15, 2016

Youth Season Dates: October 24 & 25 (ages 6–15; daily bag limit 2, possession limit 4)

Daily Bag Limit: 2

Possession Limit: 4

Field Note: There was a regulation change to open all counties of the state for pheasant hunting. The previous regulation, established in 2005, included the North Zone (all counties north of Interstate 70 and the portion of St. Charles County south of Interstate 70) and the Southeast Zone which had a shorter season and more restricted bag limit in Dunklin, New Madrid, Pemiscot, and Stoddard counties. The decision to move to a statewide season was based on the desire to reduce hunter confusion and simplify the regulation.

Helpful Links: 

MONTANA—PHEASANTS HOLD STEADY FOR 2015

Forecast: Despite a loss of CRP acreage across the northern tier of the state, hunters should expect a good—not great—season this year, says John Vore, the game management bureau chief for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Region 6 in the northeast provides much of Montana’s best pheasant habitat. There, says Ryan Williamson, region 6 upland game bird biologist, “pheasant crow count numbers have declined by about 11 percent from the 2014 survey period.” But the reality of the season may be better than that lackluster assessment. “Although we did see a slight decrease in 2015 from 2014, pheasants across the region are still 14 percent above the 10-year average. We have been hearing positive reports about the number of broods observed this year on the roads as well as in the wheat fields being harvested,” says Williamson.

“The areas that generally hold the most pheasants and provide the best opportunity are the northeast corner around Plentywood and Froid and the river bottoms along the Missouri and Milk rivers. Areas with more agriculture and the river bottoms will be the better areas for pheasant hunting,” Williamson says.

Crowing counts suggest pheasant numbers in central Montana, such as the Conrad and Lewistown areas, should be average. Regions 5, 3 and 7 should be average or better than last year. Numbers in the Flathead Valley are much like last year. In northwestern Montana, brood survival appears to be good on the Ninepipe Wildlife Management Area, but drought has impacted habitat so hunting conditions could be tough.

Season Dates: October 10, 2015 through January 1, 2016

Youth Season Dates: September 26 & 27 (ages 12–17; daily bag limit 3, possession limit 9)

Daily Bag Limit: 3

Possession Limit: 9

Helpful Links: 

NEBRASKA—PHEASANTS RESPOND TO FAVORABLE RAINS

Forecast: A mild winter and timely—but not excessive—spring rains have created ideal conditions for pheasants in Nebraska. Results from the July rural mail carrier survey show that pheasant numbers are up significantly in all regions of the state compared with last year. Statewide pheasant numbers increased 55 percent, according to the survey.

Best hunting will probably be found in the southwest region, which showed an 83 percent improvement over last year. Top counties, based on the survey and staff observations, were Hitchcock, Perkins, Furnas, Hayes, and Frontier.

Also excellent will be the Panhandle, where pheasant numbers jumped by 132 percent. Best counties are Sheridan, Box Butte, Cheyenne, and Banner.

Despite hard rain and hailstorms, other regions of the state also show significant increases in pheasant numbers. The central region recorded a 52 percent increase, the northeast 23 percent, Sandhills 17 percent, and southeast 64 percent.

According to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, “CRP loss continues in the northeast, affecting overall abundance and access.”

Season Dates: October 31, 2015 through January 31, 2016

Youth Season Dates: October 24 & 25 (designated WMAs only; age 15 or younger; daily bag limit 2, possession limit 4)

Daily Bag Limit: 3

Possession Limit: 12

Helpful Links: 

NEW JERSEY—WILD BIRDS PERSIST IN LOW NUMBERS

Forecast: Up to perhaps 2,000 wild pheasants make up New Jersey’s fall harvest. “We have some self-sustaining populations in the Meadowlands area (northeastern portion of the state), and I suspect there are also wild birds along the Delaware River south of Trenton in various industrial park areas where hunter access is limited,” says Andrew Burnett, principal biologist for the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife. “As far as wild birds are concerned, I would classify the entire state as ‘poor.’

Most of New Jersey’s pheasant hunting depends on the release of pen-raised birds on state wildlife management areas in the days preceding the hunting opener. This year, the state will stock 50,000 pheasants on two dozen WMAs. Hunters can view the pheasant and quail stocking schedule on the division’s website.

Season Dates: November 7, 2015 through December 5, 2015; December 14, 15 & 17, 2015 through December 31, 2015; January 1, 2016 through February 15, 2016

Youth Season Dates: October 31 (ages 10–16; daily bag limit 2)

Daily Bag Limit: 2

Possession Limit: N/A

Helpful Links: 

NEW YORK: HARD WINTER, WET SUMMER HURT WILD BIRDS

Forecast: New York’s wild pheasants live mostly in the Lake Plains area of western New York (south of Lakes Erie and Ontario, and north of the Finger Lakes). Unfortunately, the region was hammered by winter snows and early summer rains.

“We had a tough winter going into a tough nesting season,” says Michael Schiavone, wildlife biologist for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. “Those two things combined resulted in farmers seeing fewer birds in the Lake Plains than they had the previous year.”

The number of broods observed by cooperating farmers in the area was a fraction of the number last year—0.09 broods compared with 0.4 broods in 2014 and 0.3 broods on average over the last five years.

The long-term news isn’t favorable either. “The population that we have there, like many places, is declining because of loss of habitat,” says Schiavone. “We lost a lot of habitat to row crop farming.”

To try to stem the loss, the state has established a 150,000-acre Ring-necked Pheasant Habitat Focus Area to improve habitat on private land and maintain or increase wild pheasant numbers.

To augment the wild population, the department will release 30,000 pen-raised pheasants on public land or private land open to public hunting. The list of release sites is published on the department’s website.

Season Dates: Varies by region; see link below

Daily Bag Limit: Varies by region; see link below

Possession Limit: Varies by region; see link below

Field Notes: In some areas, hens may be taken, see “Pheasant hunting seasons by region” link below.

Helpful Links:

NORTH DAKOTA—PHEASANTS RESPOND TO FAVORABLE WEATHER

Forecast: With favorable spring weather last year and a mild winter, North Dakota’s pheasants are more plentiful. Roosters were 10 percent more abundant according to spring crowing counts, says Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor. Increases ranged from about 2 to 12 percent in the primary regions holding pheasants.

“A much improved production year for pheasants in spring 2014, coupled with the mild winter, produced a healthy breeding population this spring,” Kohn said. “This spring’s weather hasn’t been ideal, but I don’t think it has been a cause for major concern yet either.”

Kohn says wildlife managers will have a better understanding of the breeding season after pheasant brood surveys, which were conducted during the late summer and have not yet been published. The brood surveys should give a clear picture of the success hunters can expect.

Long-term, Kohn shares the concern of many pheasant biologists—continued loss of CRP acres and native grassland conversion. “All of this affects the amount of nesting and brood rearing habitat on the landscape. As we lose grassland habitat we lose ground nesting bird populations,” Kohn said.

Season Dates: October 10, 2015 through January 3, 2016 (exception – delayed opener area opens October 17, see season info link below)

Youth Season Dates: October 3 & 4 (age 15 and younger)

Daily Bag Limit: 3

Possession Limit: 12

Helpful Links: 

OHIO—HEAVY RAINS MAY HAVE AFFECTED PHEASANT NESTING

Forecast: Ohio’s 2015 roadside crow count results aren’t yet finalized, so the forecast for the upcoming season remains a bit of a guessing game.

Mark Wiley, wildlife biologist at the Olentangy Wildlife Research Station isn’t entirely optimistic. “I expect to hear mixed reports from pheasant hunters during the 2015–16 season,” he says. “Regional pheasant populations may be up or down dependent on local habitat changes and reproductive success. Many areas of the state had heavy rains and flooding in June. The effect of these rains on regional pheasant reproduction is largely unknown at this point.

Not surprising, he says, “counties with high levels of CRP enrollment tend to have the strongest pheasant populations. Anecdotal brood reports suggest counties in central Ohio may have had slightly better reproduction than counties in northwest Ohio, where the effect of heavy rains might have been more severe.”

One bright spot: Ohio was recently granted an additional 15,000 acres within the Ohio Pheasant SAFE CRP program. Says Wiley, “These additional acres may help mitigate recent losses in total acres enrolled in CRP in the state.”

Season Dates: November 6, 2015 through January 10, 2016 (exceptions – closed during the seven-day deer gun season November 30, 2015 through December 6, 2015)

Youth Season Dates: October 24 & October 25; October 31 & November 1

Daily Bag Limit: 2

Possession Limit: N/A

Helpful Links:

OKLAHOMA—PHEASANTS EMERGE FROM SHADOW OF DROUGHT

Forecast: Oklahoma, like a lot of western states, is just now recovering from a multi-year drought. “Loss of CRP acres, poor agriculture due to extreme drought, and loss of habitat due to several causes have been reasons behind the pheasant decline in our state,” says Scott Cox, upland game biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “However, we have broken the drought, landowners are more conscious about habitat fragility, and our numbers are slowly improving each year.”

Biologists are seeing broods and a lot of young birds. Says Cox, “Reports I am hearing have comparable reproduction numbers from 2014 to 2015—nothing spectacular but not a total bust either. The weather has been cooperative with early spring rains, cooler temperatures, and sporadic rain events over the summer.

Our more eastern counties in the pheasant range seem to be doing better than our most western counties in the panhandle, where normally our best numbers persist. We should have better numbers this year compared to the past three years, but still not anywhere near numbers we had 10 to 15 years ago. We are still below our statewide averages, but slowly getting closer to those averages.”

Oklahoma is still processing late-summer brood surveys, which will give a clearer picture of pheasant numbers entering the hunting season.

Season Dates: December 1, 2015 through January 31, 2016 (restricted to counties Alfalfa, Beaver, Cimarron, Garfield, Grant, Harper, Kay, Major, Noble, Texas, Woods, and Woodward, also to portion of Osage County west of State Hwy 18, and portions of Blaine, Dewey, Ellis, Kingfisher, and Logan counties north of State Hwy 51)

Daily Bag Limit: 2

Possession Limit: 4

Field Notes: Oklahoma is limited to just a few state wildlife management areas along the border of Kansas that sustain pheasant populations: Kaw, Drummond Flats, Cimarron Hills, Bluff, Cooper, Beaver and Optima WMAs.

Helpful Links: 

OREGON—NUMBERS UP, EVEN IN MARGINAL AREAS

Forecast: Nearly 1,000 miles of road surveys during late July and early August turned up 4.7 pheasants per 10 miles of route—up 15 percent over the previous five-year average. And the number of chicks per hen was 28 percent higher than last year.

The increased numbers should mean better hunting than in recent years, says Dave Budeau, upland game bird coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“The eastern part of the Columbia Basin might be the best area,” Budeau says. “The Columbia Basin and northern Malheur County account for most of the pheasant harvest in Oregon.” Yet even western Oregon, including the Willamette River Valley, where few pheasants remain, showed a noticeable improvement in production.

Season Dates: October 10, 2015 through December 31, 2015

Youth Season Dates: Varies, see regulations page 26 (17 years and younger)

Daily Bag Limit: 2

Possession Limit: 8

Field Notes: Hunters may now leave a wing or head on birds they harvest as evidence of sex and species (previously, only a head was permitted).

Helpful Links:

PENNSYLVANIA—COMING SOON

Forecast: Coming soon.

Season Dates: October 24, 2015 through November 28, 2015; December 14, 2015 through December 24, 2015; December 26, 2015 through February 29, 2016

Daily Bag Limit: 2 (whether male only or both varies by region, see season link below)

Possession Limit: 6 (whether male only or both varies by region, see season link below)

Helpful Links:

SOUTH DAKOTA—MILD WINTER BOOSTS PHEASANT NUMBERS

Forecast: South Dakota’s pheasant population appears to be roaring back. Even though roadside survey results in all but two regions lag behind the state’s 10-year average, the statewide average has jumped 42 percent over last year. According to South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, the statewide index is similar to 2011 when hunters shot 1.56 million roosters.

Regions with the highest bird counts are perennial hotspots of Chamberlain, Winner, and Pierre. Yankton and Sioux Falls were the two regions that surpassed their 10-year averages. Regions lagging farthest behind the 10-year average are Watertown, Brookings, and Aberdeen.

The key to the strong recovery through most of the state was a mild winter that ensured a lot of birds entered the nesting season. Spring weather started dry but habitat perked up with moderate rains.

“Bird numbers are higher in parts of the state where quality habitat conditions still exist, primarily on grasslands including those enrolled in CRP, as well as fields of cereal crops such as winter wheat,” says GFP Secretary Kelly Hepler.

Season Dates: October 17, 2015 through January 3, 2016

Resident-Only Dates: October 10, 2015 through October 12, 2015

Youth Season Dates: October 3, 2015 through October 7, 2015 (ages 12 through 17, daily bag limit is 3, and possession limit is 15; Resident mentored hunt program exists for youth ages 10 through 15, may hunt any open small game season.

Daily Bag Limit: 3

Possession Limit: 15

Field Notes: Season dates true for all of South Dakota except the following—Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Brown County; Renziehausen Game Production Area and Game Bird Refuge in Brown and Marshall Counties: Gerken Game Bird Refuge in Faulk County and White Lake Game Bird Refuge in Marshall County—which are open December 8, 2015 through January 4, 2016

Helpful Links:

TEXAS—PHEASANTS POISED TO MAKE SLOW RECOVERY

Forecast: Texas pheasants continue to struggle through a severe drought. “Numbers in the past 3-4 years are well below the 10-year average because the severe drought led to poor nesting and brooding conditions,” says Calvin Richardson, District 2 leader of the Wildlife Division of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Will that pattern change this year? Many areas had good moisture last winter, spring, and summer. Spotting broods in much of Texas’ Panhandle leaves biologists hopeful this year’s hunting will be better than last year’s. But it’s too early to know for sure: The department won’t complete its surveys of brood survival until October and November.

“I don’t know that any areas are ‘good.’ We will need one more good rainfall year to get us back to good,” says Richardson. But areas with the greatest promise should be in the northwestern panhandle, including Dallam, Hartley, and Sherman counties. Deaf Smith and Swisher counties could be a bit better this year, as broods have been seen there as well.

“All this should be taken with a grain of salt, though, because there has been virtually no reproduction in the last handful of years. Seeing broods in these areas is promising, but in no way does that equate to a good season,” says Richardson. Nonetheless, “many of the playas are still holding water and have produced an abundance of forbs for food and cover.”

Unfortunately, other areas have fared more poorly, despite favorable nesting and brooding conditions. “For whatever reason we have not seen many pheasants in the northeast, southwest, and southeastern Panhandle,” says Richardson. “Hopefully, surveys later in the fall will show some recovery in those areas as well.”

Season Dates: December 5, 2015 through January 3, 2016 in 37-county panhandle

Daily Bag Limit: 3

Possession Limit: 6

Helpful Links: 

UTAH—BEST GUESS: BETTER HUNTING AHEAD

Forecast: Utah doesn’t conduct a late summer survey for pheasants, so a hunting forecast is a bit of a guesstimate based on last year’s harvest and this year’s weather. Utah’s pheasant harvest has increased the last two years, suggesting a growing pheasant population. And with a mild winter and wet summer providing good brood cover, hunting should improve, says Avery Cook, upland game project leader for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

“While private lands in the northern half of the state hold the best bird numbers, walk-in access properties and wildlife management areas in the northern half of the state are equally great options for hunters,” says Cook. “Anywhere that is not an agricultural area is generally pretty poor.”

In addition to wild birds, the Division of Wildlife will release more than 10,000 rooster pheasants on public hunting grounds this year, with additional birds released by various sportsman’s groups

Season Dates: November 7, 2015 through November 22, 2015

Extended Season: November 23, 2015 through December 6, 2015 – applies to all state and federal lands, including private land leased or managed by the Division, which may be subject to restrictions and closures imposed by administering agencies. All other private lands are closed. Bag limit: 2. Possession limit: 6.

Youth Season Dates: October 10, 11 & 12 (17 years of age or younger as of July 31)

Daily Bag Limit: 2

Possession Limit: 6

Field Notes: Those 14 years old and older must obtain a free WIA authorization number to hunt walk-in access areas.

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WASHINGTON—PHEASANTS REBOUND WITH FAVORABLE WEATHER

Forecast: After favorable winter and spring weather, Washington State biologists are predicting that pheasant hunters will find and shoot more birds than they did last year. Raw data from crow count surveys in portions of Whitman, Garfield, Columbia and Walla Walla counties in the southeast “suggest the population is about the same or a little above previous years,” says Sean Q. Dougherty, acting section manager of small game, private lands and furbearers for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Based on field observations there was likely increased survivorship of pheasant broods due to a mild spring and abundant insects being available throughout the spring and summer.”

Last autumn’s harvest data shows the biggest jump in hunter harvest occurred in the Snake River Basin counties of Asotin, Columbia, Garfield, Walla Walla and Whitman. Grant and Whitman counties, usually the top producers in the state, should be good bets this year as well.

Overall, the harvest and total population is down from the 10-year average. In 2013, Washington recorded an all-time low of 36,753.

Says Dougherty, “the numbers being down have a lot to do with the change in farming practices starting in the 1980s, which has led to habitat reduction and reduced habitat quality. Basically everyone is farming every inch of ground they can.”

Season Dates: Western: September 26, 2015 through November 30, 2015; Eastern: October 24, 2015 through January 18, 2016

Special Season Dates: See link below for extended season dates and youth/senior season dates

Daily Bag Limit: Western: 2 either sex; Eastern: 3 roosters only

Possession Limit: Western: 15 either sex; Eastern: 15 roosters only

Field Notes: Over the past four years, Washington has enrolled about 100,000 acres of private land in public hunting access agreements in southeast Washington. As part of these agreements, landowners commit to enhancing habitat on their property. Much of this acreage is available through WDFW’s new online reservation system. Hunters must make a reservation in advance to use these areas.

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WISCONSIN—ROADSIDE COUNTS SHOW MORE BIRDS

Forecast: Wisconsin pheasant hunting should be as good as last year or slightly better. Preliminary results from the 2015 statewide pheasant survey show an increase over last year—707 roosters seen along the routes, compared with 547 the year before. The number of roosters heard crowing during the first three minutes of each stop was also higher than the year before (0.45 compared with 0.30). Areas with the greatest estimated abundance of pheasants were along the St. Croix River Valley.

Pheasant numbers are also indexed by a rural mail carrier survey. This year mail carriers spotted 0.33 pheasants per 100 miles, the same as the year before and below the long-term average.

Weather has been mostly favorable for pheasant survival—a mild winter until subzero temperatures hit in late February and early March. Heavy rains early tapered off for the brood-rearing season from mid-June into mid-July.

But the long-term loss of grassland has caused a decline in ring-necked pheasant populations. Says Krista McGinley, assistant upland ecologist for the state Bureau of Wildlife Management, “Given the loss of grassland and wetland acres on the landscape and concurrent declines in pheasant numbers, hunters may need to scout diligently to locate birds.”

Season Dates: October 17, 2015 (noon) through December 31, 2015

Daily Bag Limit: 1 opening weekend; 2 thereafter

Possession Limit: 2 opening weekend; 4 thereafter

Field Notes: A new tool is now available for hunters—The Fields & Forest Lands Interactive Gamebird Hunting Tool (FFLIGHT) is designed to help upland gamebird hunters locate cover suitable for upland gamebirds in Wisconsin.

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WYOMING—PHEASANT NUMBERS MODEST BUT GETTING HIGHER

Forecast: Pheasant numbers appear to higher near Cody and the southern portions of the Big Horn Basin, the location of perhaps the state’s best pheasant hunting.

“Based on this summer’s observations of pheasant broods and chick numbers, I would say we are in for better hunting conditions than the last couple of years,” says Bart Kroger, biologist for Wyoming Game and Fish stationed in Worland. “Last year was likely the worst in the last decade, so we have a lot to improve from. I’ve observed several broods of pheasants ranging from four to eight chicks per brood this summer. This is likely due to better nesting and brood rearing habitat the past couple of years because of increased spring moisture. It’s amazing what rain can do for wildlife!”

The evidence is mixed in other areas of the state.

In southeast Wyoming, “crow counts on two routes were similar to past years, but the most productive route was down significantly,” says Martin Hicks, wildlife biologist stationed in Wheatland. “A late spring snowstorm coupled with severe flooding in May most likely destroyed the majority of nests. However, the above-average spring moisture did produce good brood rearing cover. I have observed numerous broods throughout the portion of our better pheasant habitat in southeast Wyoming. Same goes for sharp-tailed grouse.”

In the Sheridan area, what few wild birds exist are associated with riparian and agricultural areas, which are mostly private lands. Says Tim Thomas, wildlife biologist in Sheridan, “The majority of our public pheasant hunting in the Sheridan area is a result of birds raised at our Sheridan Bird Farm.” About 15,000 pen-raised birds are released on publicly accessible areas in Sheridan, Johnson and Campbell counties, and in the northern Bighorn Basin and Lander areas.

Season Dates: Varies by region, see link below

Daily Bag Limit: Varies by region, see link below

Possession Limit: Varies by region, see link below

Helpful Links:

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