KDWP reports bird numbers up and down across state thanks to weather


“Good to excellent.” That’s the general prognosis for pheasant, quail and prairie chicken hunting in Kansas this fall. However, there are some areas where the prospects are not so good because of weather extremes since last fall, so hunters will need to do some pre-season homework and be flexible about where they hunt.

Last year’s pheasant harvest — an estimated 887,000 roosters — was the highest since 1987. Due to a relatively mild winter, the number of pheasants going into the 2008 nesting season was 35 percent higher than in 2007. Cool, wet weather during the spring delayed development of the wheat crop, resulting in a later-than-usual harvest. Since many pheasants nest in green wheat, the delayed harvest gave hens a longer period to hatch and rear their young, which improves survival rates. However, a few localized areas in northwest and northcentral Kansas received heavy rainfall in May, along with damaging hailstorms, hurting pheasant production locally.

Extreme southwest Kansas experienced severe drought, which resulted in a poor nesting and brood rearing habitat, so pheasant numbers are down substantially in that area. The best pheasant hunting prospects are in northwest Kansas, as well as portions of southwest Kansas, east of drought-affected counties. Pheasant numbers are improved from 2007 in southcentral and northcentral Kansas.

Quail numbers going into the 2008 breeding season were similar to 2007, except in central and northeast Kansas, where an ice storm last December had a negative impact. Across much of the state, favorable weather during early spring and summer helped quail nesting and brood rearing success. The exceptions were in southwest Kansas, where drought prevailed, as well as southeast Kansas, which experienced heavy rainfall during the early part of the bobwhite nesting season. The best quail hunting prospects this fall will be in the central part of Kansas, from the eastern Red Hills north to the Nebraska border and eastward to the Flint Hills.

Lesser prairie chickens are found in the westcentral and southwest regions of the state. Nesting conditions for lesser prairie chickens were good throughout the species’ range, with the exception of drought-stricken extreme southwest Kansas. As a result, lesser prairie chicken numbers are down substantially there, while prospects are much better in the eastern portion of their range.

Greater prairie chickens are found primarily in the Flint Hills and Smoky Hills. Breeding populations were down in the southern Flint Hills this year, but bird numbers were improved farther north and west throughout the Smoky Hills. Widespread spring pasture burning in the Flint Hills left meager vegetative cover during the nesting season, and portions of the Flint Hills experienced heavy May and June rainfall, along with damaging hailstorms. The central Flint Hills and Smoky Hills should be the best locations for greater prairie chicken hunting this fall because those areas were spared severe weather affecting other parts of the region in the spring.