ANOTHER OPTIMISTIC PHEASANT OUTLOOK (October 24/97)

When I conducted a pre-season pheasant survey in Kings County last October the reports were good. Landowners told me they saw good numbers of pheasants, “good” meaning the sighting of young birds was higher or at least not noticeably lower than the previous year.

In addition, I surveyed waterfowlers and upland hunters who worked pheasant areas while hunting ducks and grouse. Reports from these hunters were also favourable, most indicating they found pheasants to be plentiful or similar in number to the previous year. These reports were based on the sighting of young birds; from these reports, I concluded that pheasant hunting, at least in Kings County, should be average to good. And, in effect, this is what I predicted in this column.

As the season progressed it appeared that the optimistic reports were justified. Three out of four Kings County hunters that I talked with halfway through the season told me hunting was good – even exceptionally good – and they were finding plenty of roosters. A few hunters reported that hunting was better that it had been in four or five years.

When the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) released their upland harvest report recently it was obvious that my surveying of landowners and hunters is far from being scientific and could be a waste of time. The DNR upland game harvest estimate indicates a drop in the pheasant kill last season. It wasn’t a drastic drop – down to 10,758 from the previous season’s kill of 11,257 – but it was a decrease never-the-less and it makes me wonder if there’s any accurate way to get a handle on the harvest potential in an upcoming season. The real stinger about the harvest decrease was that most of it came in Kings County, the area where hunters were claiming excellent results.

While I don’t question the reports I receive from landowners, especially from farmers who work their land every day year-round, I suspect some hunters either exaggerate or read too much into a few game sightings; assuming that pheasants are plentiful, for example, based on the sighting of one or two large broods. I also suspect that some hunters exaggerate about how much game they’re harvesting. A few hunters simply don’t like to admit they’re having a so-so season.

The upshot of the preamble to this year’s pheasant forecast – yes, I’m still going to make one – is that readers should realise there are too many variables to be accurate. That being said, this is another optimistic pheasant forecast. After talking with farmers from one end of Kings County to the other, I’ve concluded that pheasant numbers look good. Most farmers have told me they’ve noticed more young pheasants on their land this year than last; some farmers said that bird numbers are much higher this season than they have been in years.

Based on these reports, keeping in mind that factors other than bird numbers affect hunting success, expect a favourable pheasant season this year. While it won’t be one of those boom years, hunters should find enough roosters in the coverts to keep them happy. Some hunters may not even have to fib about how many roosters they’re bagging.

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