Standing crops limit hunter success on pheasant opener

    Hunters from around the country returned to rural Nebraska Oct. 28-29 to partake in a coveted outdoor tradition—the upland bird hunting season opener. 
    Overall, hunter success on the opening weekend was slightly lower than 2016, but hunter success for pheasants was highest in the southwest and northwest regions.
    Good quail numbers were also reported throughout the southern half of Nebraska but very few hunters were targeting bobwhites.
    On opening day, most areas experienced cooler morning temperatures in the teens and low-20s, which provided good hunting conditions for those afield.
    But, hunting activity declined Saturday afternoon as warmer conditions prevailed as temperatures reached the 70s Sunday.  
    Nebraska Game and Parks Commission staff and conservation officers made contact with 1,445 hunters. These hunters harvested 523 pheasants and 143 quail.
    An additional 615 hunters were encountered on pheasant-release sites occurring on 14 wildlife management areas (WMAs). These hunters bagged 298 pheasants.
    More than 80 percent of roosters harvested on release sites were released birds.
    John Laux, Game and Parks’ upland habitat and access program manager, said it is too early to draw conclusions on what the slightly lower hunter success means.
    “Lower success could suggest we had limited production this year, but we really won’t know until the rest of the crops are out,” he said.
    Reports indicate this year’s delayed crop harvest left an abundance of cover on the landscape, which proved challenging for upland hunters on opening weekend.
    According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Nebraska’s corn harvest as of Oct. 29 was 45 percent complete, well behind the five-year average of 67 percent. In some parts of the state, high winds have caused stalk breakage and ear loss, which contributes to a slower harvest.
    Laux said unharvested crops provide excellent escape cover for pheasants and enhance their ability to elude hunters.
    “It allows the birds to spread out on the landscape and is nearly impossible to hunt,” he said. “This clearly had an impact on hunter success this past weekend.”
    Pheasant hunting opportunities and hunter success are expected to improve significantly once harvest is complete.
    In the state’s southwest area, which includes Chase County, cool temperatures and light winds provided favorable conditions on opening day but hunting activity declined on Sunday as temperatures reached the upper 70s.
    Field reports indicated that corn harvest was five to 40 percent complete. Many soybean and sorghum fields also were unharvested, which likely reduced hunter success.
    Contact was made with 795 hunters, with 305 pheasants, 95 quail and six prairie-chickens harvested.
    Conservation officers contacted an additional 200 hunters on pheasant-release sites at Pressey, Sherman Reservoir and Cornhusker WMAs, where 93 pheasants were bagged.     
Hunter success on pheasants was highly variable but was highest in the southwesternmost counties. Hunters reported seeing good numbers of quail but very few hunters were specifically targeting bobwhites.
    Pheasant, quail and prairie grouse seasons continue through Jan. 31, 2018.

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