PRATT – The wait is over for Kansas bird hunters. The 2017 Kansas Upland Bird Hunting Forecast is available online and in printed form. The report summarizes data from spring and summer surveys and predicts what pheasant, quail and prairie chicken hunters may experience across Kansas this fall. The good news is that it’s good news.
Biologists create the forecast using surveys of breeding populations and reproductive success of pheasants, quail, and prairie chickens. Breeding population data are gathered with spring whistle count surveys for quail, crow count surveys for pheasants and lek count surveys for greater prairie chickens. Last spring, pheasant crow count numbers were back to pre-drought averages and quail whistle counts were the highest recorded since the survey began 20 years ago. Lek counts for greater prairie chickens were down slightly.
The most important factors in predicting fall bird numbers include nesting success and chick survival, both of which depend on habitat conditions and spring and summer weather. Habitat conditions were good to excellent across Kansas and much of the state received adequate precipitation through spring and summer. The biggest limiting factor this year was the April 29 snowstorm that dumped as many as 20 inches of snow in areas of western Kansas. The storm caused mortality in adult quail and occurred during peak laying for pheasants. Other weather events, such as heavy rain and hail, can also impact bird populations locally.
Overall, the data indicates that pheasant hunting will be fair to good this year. While the 2016 pheasant harvest was low, the average daily bag per hunter was above average, suggesting an above-average harvest could have occurred had there been greater hunter participation.
Quail hunting in Kansas should be good to locally great in 2017. Precipitation patterns observed over the past five years have altered vegetation, increasing both the quality and quantity of habitat and allowing for a modern quail boom.
While prairie chicken lek counts were down slightly this year, hunting opportunities should be good throughout the Greater Prairie Chicken Hunting Unit. The best opportunities this fall will be in the Smoky Hills Region (northcentral), where populations have been increasing.
For more detailed information and regional breakdowns for all three species, consult the 2017 Upland Bird Hunting Forecast at www.ksoutdoors.com or pick one up at any Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Office. The full forecast will also be featured in the 2017 November/December issue of Kansas Wildlife & Parks Magazine.