OK: December brings pheasant season to Oklahoma

December brings holiday cheer, cold weather and the start of two
full months of hunting the colorful ring-necked pheasant in
northern Oklahoma.

According to biologists with the Wildlife Department, two main
factors determine how many pheasants will be available for hunters
to pursue each season. The first is the number of adult birds that
survive the winter and enter the breeding season.

“The second and most important factor is the number of young birds
that survived the summer,” said Doug Schoeling, upland game bird
biologist for the Wildlife Department. “What makes or breaks our
season on a bird like pheasants – and even other upland birds like
quail – is recruitment, or the number of young birds that survive
into the fall season. This year, while we have seen a slightly
higher survival rate of adult birds, the number of young pheasants
produced is down significantly after a season of drought and record
high temperatures. With this decrease in production numbers, the
2011 pheasant season harvest is expected to be lower than last
year.”

According to Schoeling, there may be exceptions, such as areas with
good habitat that received some scattered rainfall. Schoeling said
the best way to find those pockets of birds is to go hunting.

The Wildlife Department keeps tabs on the number of adult birds
that survived the winter and the number of young pheasants that
survived the spring and early summer through two different surveys.
First, biologists conduct the annual crow count survey, which
provides an idea of how many adult males survived through the
winter. In late April and early May, biologists drive county roads
and listen for crowing cock pheasants in search of mates. These
20-mile surveys are conducted in Alfalfa, Beaver, Cimarron, Ellis,
Garfield, Grant, Harper, Kay, Major, Noble, Texas, Woods, and
Woodward counties. Crow counts in recent years show good survival
rates of adult birds, with the 2011 counts up five percent from
2010. The population trend has been going up since 2007. In those
counties traditionally with the highest pheasant densities
(Alfalfa, Beaver, Cimarron, Grant and Texas), and where surveys
have been conducted since 1973, crow counts were up 7 percent from
last year, with an increasing population trend since 1996.

The survival of young birds over the spring and summer is gauged
using annual brood count surveys, which are conducted in late
August to provide a measure of how many young pheasants were
produced during the nesting season relative to previous
years.

“The brood survey is really the primary means we use to determine
the annual population status of pheasants and the outlook for the
pheasant hunting season,” Schoeling said.

The brood survey is conducted in the same counties as the crow
count survey, and observers count the number of pheasants observed
and classify the size of young birds to provide an index of
pheasant abundance (number seen per mile) and reproductive success.
This year, brood survey results were down 40 percent from 2010 due
to the unfavorable weather conditions this summer with record heat
and drought throughout the pheasant’s range.

Because pheasant hunters only harvest male birds, biologists say
hunting pressure has little effect on overall populations and that
sportsmen should not hesitate to go hunting.

The ring-necked pheasant was first introduced into Oklahoma in
1911, and the colorful birds prefer cultivated farmland habitat
mixed with weedy fencerows and overgrown pastures common across
northwestern Oklahoma and the Panhandle.

Pheasant season in Oklahoma runs Dec. 1 through Jan. 31 (only in
open areas) and offers hunters a chance at a popular game bird
that, though not native to Oklahoma, thrives in the northwestern
part of the state.

Hunters should consult the current “Oklahoma Hunting Guide” for
open counties and wildlife management areas. The daily bag limit
for pheasants is three cocks, with a possession limit of six after
the first day and nine after the second day. Evidence of sex (head
or one foot) must remain on the bird until it reaches its final
destination.

To hunt pheasants, hunters most possess a valid state hunting
license, available online at wildlifedepartment.com or at license
dealers located across the state. When the deer gun and the holiday
antlerless deer seasons overlap with pheasant season, all pheasant
hunters must wear either a hunter orange cap or upper garment. For
further regulations, including open areas, consult the current
“Oklahoma Hunting Guide.”

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