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Pheasant harvest falls again





Another bit of glum news has surfaced just as wildlife biologists prepare for a two-day tour aimed at qualming concerns about the status of the state's pheasant population.

Kansas hunters killed "just shy" of 200,000 birds last year, according to Jeff Prendergast, a small game biologist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

That's down almost 33,000 birds -- 14 percent -- from a year earlier.

But that's down almost 78 percent from the nearly 900,000 birds killed in the 2010-11 season.

It was the smallest harvest since 1957, when the first hunter success survey was taken for what was then a three-day season with a bag limit of three birds. Last year's season started Nov. 9 until Jan. 31.

Last year also saw the fewest number of hunters ever -- in the 56 years of record keeping -- to go afield in pursuit of pheasants.

Drought remains the driving force behind the decline, and KDW&T Secretary Robin Jennison has been feeling the heat from hunters about the dramatic decline.

That's why he suggested and helped spearhead a bus tour beginning Monday in Hays that will make several stops in between public meetings in Colby and Garden City.

Riding on the bus will be agency wildlife biologists, whose role it will be to explain how hunting has little -- if any effect -- on pheasant numbers. Also aboard will be a number of legislators.

Based in Hays, Prendergast assembled the harvest numbers in anticipation of the bus trip, and is likely to present them at both public meetings.

He also called around to area pheasant states to see how successful hunters have been elsewhere.

While he learned most still are gathering the numbers, South Dakota had an under 1-million bird harvest -- most killed by non-residents.

"They dropped under a million birds for the first time in 20 years," Prendergast said. "It's not just Kansas. This is a range wide issue that we're seeing."

Hunters in South Dakota killed either 930,012 or 979,081 birds last season. The South Dakota wildlife agency reported the larger harvest, but a breakdown between resident and non-resident hunters show the smaller number.

Still, that's a 35 percent drop from the 2012-13 harvest of 1.4 million birds.

There are slight differences, however.

In Kansas, the daily bag limit long has been four roosters a day, with a possession limit of 16.

South Dakota has a three-rooster limit, with a possession limit of 15.

A slight majority of Kansas hunters are residents, and they harvested about twice as many pheasants as non-residents.

As for the Kansas pheasant harvest, bag totals per hunter went down as well as the total kill. Hunter numbers also fell.

Last season, about 55,000 hunters went afield compared to 67,000 a year earlier.

Hunters killed an average of 3.5 birds during the season, a far cry from the 7.58 birds per hunter in 2010.

The decline in hunters is a reflection of the harvest outlook, Prendergast said.

"The law of limited returns," he said of hunters who look at harvest forecasts and habitat conditions.

While there's improved optimism, it's going to take time to rebuild pheasant numbers.

The breeding season struggled at the outset this year as a result of drought and poor wheat conditions.

But rains in recent weeks and a later-than-normal wheat harvest boosted chances for bigger numbers.

"We're optimistic we'll see at least a small increase," Prendergast said of this year.

Brood surveys are just now starting, so there's no clear indication of nesting success. Those surveys will continue through August.

The drought also hampered quail harvest.

Preliminary estimates suggest hunters might have killed 175,000 quail last season. That compares to 199,000 a year earlier.