CPW Issues Eastern Plains Pheasant, Quail Forecast

Colorado Parks Wildlife Logo - smDENVER – Colorado Parks and Wildlife announces the 2015-16 Eastern Plains pheasant and quail forecast just in time for opening weekend Nov. 14. The two seasons for pheasant and three seasons for quail vary in duration and location around the state.

The forecast is encouraging, said Ed Gorman, CPW’s small game program manager. He reports pheasant populations across the eastern plains of Colorado continue a steady improvement after the severe drought in 2012 and 2013.

In northeast Colorado, pheasant call count surveys in 2015 were up approximately 60 percent  from 2014, averaging approximately 28.6 calls per station across all routes. While this is lower than the call counts of 2011, it is an improvement over 2014 and higher than most years over the past 20 years. The 2015 crowing count survey suggests that pheasant populations are rebuilding, which is expected considering the high precipitation totals in the core pheasant areas during the last two years.

In southeast Colorado, counts are still low, which is typical for the area, but pheasants are slowly building. Breeding populations of pheasants and habitat quality is impacted more frequently and severely from drought in the southeast, than in core pheasant ranges of the northeast. Southern pheasant populations, therefore, are prone to greater variation between survey years.

CPW officials, however, explain a complete recovery to recent modern-day high populations  will take time and is highly dependent on the weather and available habitat. The prevalence of Conservation Reserve Program fields composed of pheasant beneficial grasses and forbs is particularly important to pheasant populations, but unfortunately, the number of CRP fields is declining.

NE Colorado (Yuma, Phillips, Sedgwick, Logan, Washington, Morgan and SE Weld Counties): Populations across the Northeast have improved since 2014. During the initial stages of the nesting season, conditions ranged from poor to excellent, suggesting that hunters should scout for birds and good habitat condition. Rains in May may have had some negative impacts on early nesting, but also set the stage for a strong re-nesting period. Rains also bolstered growth of excellent brood habitat.

However, precipitation has also absent from some large portions of these Northeastern counties since  June, leaving some areas very dry through the summer brooding period.  It is important to note that total Conservation Reserve Program  acres also declined across the core pheasant range, a trend which will likely continue as many CRP  contracts are set to expire over the next year. A general CRP signup will open December 2015, but it is difficult to determine how many landowners may participate.

In the Northeast core pheasant range, fire danger is always a concern.  Hunters and outdoor recreationists should be considerate of where vehicles are parked and refrain from smoking while in the field. Similarly, road conditions can deteriorate quickly after rain or snow, making unimproved roads virtually impassable.

Also note that Walk-In Access sprinkler corners are closed to Walk-In Access  hunting when the landowner is harvesting the associated crop. This closure is in effect to allow harvesters to work efficiently, and to minimize safety concerns. Corners are posted with closure signs in addition to Walk-In Access boundary signs. As of Oct. 27,  corn harvest is progressing.  Rain or snow could delay the progress of harvest over the next two weeks, but if significant precipitation does not hamper harvest, a significant amount of corn will be harvested by the pheasant opener.

South Platte River (eastern Morgan, Washington, Logan, Sedgwick):
Bobwhite quail populations remain a question mark for 2015, due to the impacts of significant flooding during the spring runoff. Throughout the bobwhite range within the South Platte corridor, bobwhites were displaced from traditional nesting habitat, resulting in birds nesting in secondary cover where success rate and chick survival may have been lower.  Cover will be very good, but that will also impact hunting success, as some areas of cover may be too tall and dense to hunt effectively.  Landowner reports have been highly variable.  CPW staff has seensome bobwhite broods and coveys on state wildlife areas.  CPW relies on informal feedback from hunters during and after the opening weekend to gain more insight on bobwhite numbers in the South Platte corridor.

East Central Colorado (Southern Yuma, Kit Carson, Cheyenne, Kiowa Counties): East central pheasant populations should be higher than in 2012-2014.  Expect similar conditions to the northeast. Areas within southern Yuma and Kit Carson counties received predictable rainfall throughout the summer period, which should boost population recruitment.  While precipitation levels were much improved over the recent past, some areas experienced severe hail storms and populations will be lower in these areas, even though the habitat may look very good.

Expect to find drier conditions in Cheyenne County, where conditions have improved but not to the degree that Kit Carson County has. Pheasant densities will increase within the areas with sprinkler irrigation. In Kit Carson county, observant hunters will notice a relatively new habitat type on the landscape in the form of grain sorghum, or milo stubble. In terms of pheasant habitat, milo stubble is similar to wheat stubble in that the density and height of stubble after harvest dictates pheasant abundance. Tall, dense milo stubble can be fantastic habitat and hunting cover.

Hunters should note that many Walk-In Access areas in Kiowa County are enrolled because of light-goose populations and these areas may offer little cover for pheasant and quail.

Extreme southeast Colorado (Baca and Prowers Counties):
Baca and Prowers county pheasant populations were severely impacted by drought from 2010 through the spring of 2013. Conditions have improved this summer to nearly normal precipitation in some areas, but recovery of the habitat and population will require additional years of consistent precipitation. Pheasant populations are low but improved compared with last year. Populations are higher in areas with sprinkler irrigation systems.

Quail populations are very positive across much of southeast Colorado.  Where habitat exists, both bobwhite and scaled quail populations have recovered nicely and are likely at their highest population levels since 2006.

This report uses pheasant call counts, also known as crowing counts, to infer the population size in Colorado. Each May, CPW staff head back to the designated routes, used since the 1950’s, to listen for the call of male pheasants, or roosters. With decades of longitudinal data, these knowledgeable CPW biologists generate indices from the call counts, which in turn, provide representation of the larger population.

Gorman is quick to point out this year’s picture is good, but far from perfect.

“Bird nesting success and brood survival, methods used in other states like Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, are two measures that could help complete the picture,” says Gorman.

The high cost of radio-marking hundreds of hens and chicks, along with Colorado’s lack of humidity, a condition that draws broods out onto designated county road-based observation routes, means CPW staff do their best with what they have.

“Brood counts are used in Colorado occasionally, however, it provides a very unreliable index of the fall population, because of the unpredictability of moisture availability,” adds Gorman. “High humidity results in dew. The dew forces birds to the roads to dry off in the morning. In Colorado, we can’t count on humidity to ensure accurate brood counts and when there is a lot of moisture vegetation growth along roadsides often hides pheasant broods from detection.”

Learn more, read the 2015 Walk-In Access Brochure at  http://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/RulesRegs/Brochure/WalkInAtlas.pdf or the 2015 Late Cropland Walk-In Access brochure at http://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/RulesRegs/Brochure/LateCropland.pdf.

Pheasant and quail hunting requires a small game license.  Refer to http://cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/SmallGame.aspxfor resources to assist in application online, by phone at (800) 244-5613 or at CPW locations and license agents .  Read regulations that may apply at http://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/RulesRegs/Brochure/SmallGame.pdf. The CPW Communication Center at (303)297-1192 is also available to answer questions Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For tips and tactics for a successful pheasant hunt go to  http://cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/Pheasant-Hunting.aspx.

CPW reminds hunters:

✓     Hunting on private land requires permission. With the exception of land enrolled in Walk-In Access (Colorado Parks and Wildlife has leased WIA lands opening them to hunting), you must obtain permission to hunt private land, whether that land is posted or not.

✓     Landowners are very perceptive to the actions of hunters, whether on their land, WIA properties, or their neighbors’ property.  Trespassing, leaving trash, carcasses or damaging property leaves a poor image with landowners, while courteous and respectful hunting gives a good image.

✓     Fall harvest is a very stressful period for landowners. Interrupting harvest or stopping a combine to ask for hunting permission is not a good idea. Standing at the end of the field waiting for the combine to flush birds is not recommended. Both are likely to draw the ire of the landowner, and are questionable activities when considering how important landowner relations are to gaining and maintaining access.

✓     Be respectful of other hunters.


CPW is an enterprise agency, relying primarily on license sales, state parks fees and registration fees to support its operations, including: 42 state parks and more than 350 wildlife areas covering approximately 900,000 acres, management of fishing and hunting, wildlife watching, camping, motorized and non-motorized trails, boating and outdoor education. CPW’s work contributes approximately $6 billion in total economic impact annually throughout Colorado.

For more news about Colorado Parks and Wildlife go to: http://cpw.state.co.us

For more information about Colorado Parks and Wildlife go to: http://cpw.state.co.us.

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