Pheasant fortunes made by good habitat
With the start of school, summer officially begins to wind down.
But there are still plenty of opportunities for anglers, particularly in the mid-elevation lakes and streams on Grand Mesa where the end of summer also means the end of mosquito season.
However, the first of September also brings dove hunting, the first of the year’s hunting seasons and, for those particularly irked by the ubiquitous and noisome Eurasian collared dove, the start of that bird’s year-round, no bag limit season.
Many upland bird hunters pay little attention to dove hunting other than to consider it a warm-up for the real thing, which in most cases means pheasants.
Colorado’s pheasant season runs from Nov. 13 through Jan. 31 east of Interstate 25 and Nov. 13 through Jan. 2 west of I-25.
As any wildlife manager will tell you, it’s habitat that drives hunting success.
Whether you are stalking elk in the high country or pheasants on the prairies of eastern Colorado, where you find the right habitat you’ll find your quarry.
That’s been particularly true when it comes to pheasant fortunes in Colorado.
While moisture is the key to good weed and crop growth, which improves pheasant nesting success and provides cover from predators, the wrong kind of moisture can doom an entire pheasant crop.
Heavy, deep snows, hailstorms, even hard-driving rain can knock down plants and birds, and more than one pheasant season has been curtailed by spring storms that flatten the prairies.
With that in mind, this pheasant season, at least in eastern Colorado, might be one of the best in recent years.
The traditional way of counting pheasants is the crow count reported by rural mail carriers.
It is just that: While on their routes, the carriers keep track of how many pheasant roosters are heard crowing during the spring mating season and report that to biologists.
Unscientific? Well, it might not satisfy the National Science Foundation, but until something easier and more accurate comes along, it will have to do.
According to reports, this year’s crow counts were up 27 percent over 2009.
While no one can rule out the weather, as long as nothing major happens between now and November, this year’s pheasant conditions should remain promising, said Jerry Neal of the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
“We haven’t finalized our reports but every indication is this year should be very good,” he said.
As this is written, members of the division’s small-game section are busy installing signs marking the state’s roughly 220,000 acres of Walk-In Access lands.
These are private property open to public hunting and, starting this year, the division has eliminated the $20 Walk-In fee.
Most of the Walk-In areas are in eastern Colorado although a few, open mostly to waterfowl hunting only, are scattered around the Western Slope.
It’s expected that eliminating the fee will increase usage on some of the more-popular and better-known areas, especially those close to the Front Range and within a couple of hours driving time from the majority of the state’s pheasant hunters.
Meanwhile, there are many more walk-in areas farther east that may go days without seeing a hunter.
The most-popular areas are in the pheasant-rich Yuma, Kit Carson, Phillips, eastern Logan and eastern Sedgwick counties, but don’t neglect the walk-in areas in southeast Prowers County and Baca County.
This means hunters desirous of a secluded place to hunt will be reading the division’s free maps and planning their hunts more carefully.
Details and downloadable maps are available at http://www.wildlife.state.co.us and in the Small Game Regulations Brochure available at the DOW office and from license agents.
Small-game hunters are among those required to purchase a Colorado Habitat Stamp, and this year that apples to hunters from 18–64 years old.
Stamps cost $5 each and a maximum of two is required.
The Habitat Stamp was designed as way for the Division to purchase much-needed wildlife habitat.
Since its introduction in 2006, the stamp has raised more than $12 million.