Early optimism for the 2016 pheasant hunting season

It’s only June, but I already find myself daydreaming of autumn days behind my bird dogs in fields of waving prairie grass as a rooster cackles to wing and flushes into a baby blue sky. I’d love to live a year of Octobers. While the earliest pheasant seasons are still months away, my excitement is escalating as conditions continue to point toward another improved year for the birds. Here’s why:

  • Mild winter:Last winter was not “perfect” for the birds. There was localized heavy snow events and some bitter cold stretches. Overall, however, last winter falls on the milder side of the scale and likely only produced localized pheasant mortality. For most of the pheasant range, there should be good carryover of adult birds and hens should have reached nesting season in good health for reproduction.

o   Related: 2016 Winter Pheasant & Habitat Conditions Report

  • CRP Signup:On its face, it’s incongruent for me to list the recent Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) signup as a reason for optimism given its historically low acceptance rate of acres enrolling into the program considering the 20-plus million acres of habitat destroyed in the past eight years. Allow me to explain. The good news is that farmers, ranchers, and landowners came out in droves to try enrolling in CRP. Albeit an optimist’s point of view, I believe the pendulum is swinging back to an embrace of conservation. The news is filled every day with stories of degraded water quality, plummeting pollinator and monarch populations, and a desire for a higher quality of life associated with a healthier environment. In fact, most big seed sales outlets are already out of pollinator seed mixes – a great sign for pollinators, monarch, pheasants and quail alike. In the end, CRP remains America’s best tool for delivering a wide array of wildlife and natural resource benefits, as well as an increase in pheasant and quail habitat to boot.
  • Early spring:Like last winter, this spring hasn’t been “perfect.” Pheasant Country has had heavy rains, hail, cold stretches, and inclement weather events. However, warm temperatures and rain arrived earlier than normal to green up prime nesting cover habitat and start insect production which is the primary food source of young broods. At Pheasants Forever, we started receiving brood reports in early May, which is more than a month prior to the standard peak of the pheasant hatch (roughly June 10). Any early hatch is good news for potential re-nesting efforts of hens losing their egg clutches early because of a weather event or predation. While we’re not out of the woods yet, I’d estimate this current nesting season is in the “slightly better than average” category.
  • Bird dogs:With one veteran bird dog entering her tenth hunting season and another entering her third – and the prime of her hunting career – my favorite bird hunting partners are eager to taste feathers.

Come August, I’ll read the roadside counts and study the population maps. I suspect we’ll get some exciting news when those reports come out, but in the end, I’ll be jacked to enjoy the freedom and joy of a day spent afield no matter the prospectus. I’m surely not alone in that sentiment.

Bob St. Pierre is Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s vice president of marketing. Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre

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