By: Nick Rhodes
I have hunted all my life and I’m thankful for the wildlife resource opportunities available in the great state of Kansas. Pheasant season is by far my favorite time of the year. The bird harvests in some years have been great and in others, well, I’m just glad I get to get out of the house and enjoy nature.
As a real estate broker and habitat consultant, I get the opportunity to talk to hundreds of people from around the country who select Kansas as their destination of choice for the upland game season. Many who hunt in Kansas talk about declining populations of quail and other upland game populations in recent times compared to 20 and 30 years ago. I hear a lot of talk about how the turkey populations have increased in Kansas while the quail numbers have rapidly declined. Some hunters believe there is a correlation between declining upland bird populations and the rise in numbers of turkey which is just plain inaccurate. The following includes excerpts from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks publication titled Misconceptions About Upland Game.
1. Turkeys have become abundant while quail have declined. Turkeys must be eating quail or competing with them for resources. Populations for both species have been influenced by a large-scale landscape conversion that has occurred over several decades. Vast areas once dominated by grasslands and shrubs have shifted to woodlands. In addition, years ago the rural landscape was primarily comprised by smaller family farm operations with hedge rows and fence lines dividing counties into grids. Much of the smaller farm fields have been removed in favor of larger farming operations suited for the bigger equipment used in modern day agriculture practices. Gone are the hedge rows and field edges where quail and other upland game species thrive.
2. Why doesn’t the state stock game birds to supplement or establish populations? It was once common for state fish and game agencies to propagate and distribute pheasants and quail for stocking, but this practice largely ceased after research clearly revealed it was ineffective. Pen-raised birds lack the skills necessary to survive in the wild. The only proven method of increasing populations is to create and maintain suitable habitat allowing wild birds to re-colonize areas naturally.
3. KDWP should reduce the pheasant bag so there will be more birds in future years. Pheasants are minimally affected by hunting because only males can be legally harvested. A single rooster pheasant can mate with many hens each season with a ratio of one rooster per 10 hens being sufficient for hens to be bred and initiate nests. Weather and available habitat play the biggest roles in pheasant populations. Long term population changes are driven by land use and its effect on the quantity and quality of habitat available for nesting and brood rearing. Pheasants are short-lived birds and cannot be stockpiled by limiting hunting or imposing more restrictive seasons or bag limits.
Not all, but the key misconceptions about upland game are that increases in turkey populations and liberal bird harvest limits are reasons for the decline in bird numbers compared to 30 years ago. Research and experience with my own properties points back to the habitat issues. The decline of upland habitat and weather are the more important contributing factor to declining numbers.
Because we cannot control the weather, it is our responsibility as hunters and conservationist to do our part by investing time and resources into habitat. Programs such as CRP, CCRP and WHIP encourage landowners to create habitat for wildlife by offering annual payments and cost sharing. If you don’t own land you can still contribute your time and resources by getting involved with organizations that benefit habitat such as Quality Deer Management Association, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever.
This article includes only a few of the misconceptions about upland game. For more misconceptions and information visit the KDWP website at www.kdwp.state.ks.us. Nick Rhodes is co-owner of Wildlife Properties in Smith Center, KS and a weekly contributor on the Great American Outdoor Trails Radio program where he provides information and advice to listeners regarding wildlife habitat issues.