Although America’s favorite game bird, the ringneck pheasant, is not native to the USA, that doesn’t make it any less fun to hunt, great to eat or a sporting challenge to bring down. As with most wild creatures, their population relies on good habitat and good weather to prosper. That means pheasant hunters here in Indiana may need to load up their vehicles and take a road trip this fall to get their fair share of the action.
Indiana’s local populations will be depressed this year from a cold, icy winter and near record rainfall during the peak nesting season. That’s here, not elsewhere. Pheasants Forever has released its 2015 Pheasant Hunting Forecast and based on late summer surveys, improved pheasant hunting opportunities will be found in all major pheasant hunting states. Boosted by mild weather and improved nesting habitat conditions, pheasant range hunting prospects appear to be the best in at least three years.
Pheasant populations are led by South Dakota where their already substantial bird count showed a 42 percent jump over 2014. Iowa (up 37 percent), Kansas (up 51 percent), Minnesota (up 33 percent), and Nebraska (up 55 percent) also reported significant increases based on summer roadside survey counts.
When you see such a strong weather-related response, it's confirmation of a pheasant population's resiliency given the right conditions. By improving wildlife habitat in conjunction with favorable weather factors, pheasant numbers can double or triple populations in a short time frame because pheasants are so prolific and biologically receptive to responding when optimum weather occurs.
Experts remain cautiously optimistic about upland wildlife populations despite major grassland habitat losses looming in the next three years - mostly in the form of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contract expirations. The upcoming CRP general sign-up will be a big part of piecing back the habitat puzzle. The general CRP sign-up which starts December 1 is an opportunity for landowners and producers to help restore lost acres of grass, create excellent wildlife habitat, and provide significant farm and ranch income. The sign-up period will extend through February 26, 2016.
Higher pheasant numbers typically pull more pheasant hunters into the field. Hopefully that’s the case in 2015. Those who purchase licenses, pheasant stamps, firearms, and ammunition throughout the country fuel the conservation efforts of upland game birds. Just as important, it's a good year to add to our ranks and introduce the pheasant hunters and upland conservationists of tomorrow.
Budd Veverka, farmland game research biologist for the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife has this to say about Indiana prospects, “We saw a bounce back in our spring crowing counts from 2014, but they didn’t return to 2013 levels. Production is likely down this summer because of the heavy rain, which will likely lead to another season with record low harvests. Indiana’s worst declines occurred in Tippecanoe and Montgomery counties and again there were zero birds spotted along routes in St. Joseph and Porter counties. The news isn’t uniformly bad. Benton and Newton counties bounced back well, and we saw our best numbers in LaPorte County in a number of years. Indiana’s pheasant season dates are November 1, 2015 through December 15, 2015
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