Opening of pheasant season a mixed bag for hunters

Thousands of Colorado upland bird hunters taking to the field Saturday for the opener of the 2009/2010 pheasant season may find the abundant moisture of spring and late summer left a mixed blessing.

“There’s plenty of cover out there for the birds thanks to the moisture we received this spring and bird numbers have rebounded,” said Ed Gorman, the Division of Wildlife’s small game manager. “I saw well over 300 while driving around Yuma County last week and if I saw that many along the roads you can imagine how many there really are.”

Pheasants and quail rely on the heavy weed and crop growth for food and brood.

But late-summer moisture has delayed the corn and milo harvest across much of Colorado’s pheasant heartland on the eastern plains, which could plague hunters looking for a place to chase birds.

While farmers wait for standing corn to dry enough to harvest, they discourage hunters, and the wait might be days or weeks, said Gorman.

One way to avoid No Trespass signs is to hit some of the 220,000 acres the DOW has leased under its Walk-In Access program. Many of these acres are Conservation Reserve lands, which aren’t farmed.

Those Walk-In areas with standing crops may be posted temporarily until farmers can get their crops harvested, Gorman said. This not only avoids conflicts with hunters but also fosters better relations with farmers whose private land is key to habitat as well as hunting access.

“We had some incidents last year of hunters shooting near where farm activity was taking place,” Gorman said, noting the double threat of personal injury along with damage to expensive farm equipment.

But with the bounty of pheasants and accompanying access hardships should mean plenty of birds left after the opening weekend.

“Opening weekend will be hit or miss,” said Gorman of the access challenges. “You don’t have to be the first one out there.”

Use of Walk-In properties requires a $20 permit. Opening-weekend hunters generally will find their best access on those areas but Gorman suggests it might be better to wait until the crops are in.

“Come out after the corn is down in a week or two,” he said. Keep in touch with friends or farmers who can offer frequent updates on the harvest, he suggested.

Gorman suggested the best spots for hunters include the traditional areas in Yuma and Phillips counties along with eastern Sedgwick county and parts of Kit Carson County.

Also, reports from the southeast said that area has rebounded, thanks to the favorable wet spring.

With a major winter storm forecast to hit the mountains this weekend, waiting an extra week makes specially good sense for hunters heading over from the Western Slope.


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