The pheasant, like many Americans, is an immigrant to North America. The first successful introduction of pheasants to this country occurred in 1881 when Judge Owen Nickerson Denny (U.S. consul to China) shipped 30 Chinese ringnecks (26 survived the journey) to his home in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Eleven years later, Oregon opened a 75-day season and hunters bagged 50,000 pheasants. They were subsequently released in 40 of the 50 states. The pheasant thrives in a farmland landscape with ample undisturbed grassland habitat.
There are references in China as far back as 2000 B.C. Thousands of years later in Europe, the pheasant was prized for its exotic beauty and tasty meat. The right-to-hunt pheasants was reserved for the upper class. Numerous attempts to bring pheasants to the “land of the free” failed. Ben Franklin’s son-in-law, Richard Bach, released some pheasants in New Jersey. George Washington had some sent to his Mount Vernon estate during his first year of presidency, and the governors of New Hampshire and New York also attempted to introduce the “old English blackneck” pheasant.
Most of these pheasants were raised on game farms and were not hardy enough to survive. Therefore, these introductions proved unsuccessful.
Male ring-necked pheasants average 2 to 3 pounds while their female (hen) counterparts average 2 pounds.
Males measure 24 to 35 inches long with a rooster’s tail often accounting for more than 20 inches of that length. Hens are smaller with a much shorter tail.
They typically fly 38-48 mph (but can reach up to 60 mph when chased).
Information from Pheasants Forever.
Pheasant and quail hunting seasons opened this past Saturday, events that usually lure throngs of camouflage- and blaze orange-clad hunters to Great Bend seeking to bag birds.
They are also events much anticipated by local motels, restaurants and other retailers seeking to bag customers.
However, due to the lingering drought, both birder and business owners are coming up dry.
“The hunters follow the bird numbers and the bird numbers are down,” said Jake George, Pratt-based coordinator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism’s Private Lands Program. He is in the process of compiling information gleaned from field surveys he took Saturday and Sunday.
The drought in 2011 and 2012 has taken its toll on pheasant populations in Kansas. According to the KDWPT’s pre-season upland game forecast, pheasant breeding populations dropped by nearly 50 percent or more across pheasant range resulting in fewer adult hens in the population to start the 2012 nesting season.
“That projection was pretty much spot-on,” George said. The northwest and north central parts of the state are in better shape, with the southwest and south central areas taking the brunt of the dry conditions.
Additionally, winter wheat serves as a major nesting habitat for pheasants in western Kansas, and a record early wheat harvest this summer likely destroyed many nests and young broods. Then the hot, dry weather set in from May to August, the primary brood-rearing period for pheasants.
George said pheasant chicks need good grass and weed cover and robust insect populations to survive. Insufficient precipitation and lack of habitat and insects throughout the state’s primary pheasant range resulted in limited production.
In 2011, hunters in Kansas harvested 475,000 pheasants.
The outlook for quail was a little better, KDWPT reported. But, even those numbers are down.
“We are at the mercy of Mother Nature at this point,” George said. To improve the outlook for next year, the birds, as well as the human residents of the Great Plains, need moisture this spring and summer.
A different kind of bag limit
“It looks to be really off,” said Cris Collier, president of the Great Bend Convention and Visitors’s Bureau of lodging occupancy during the opening weekend. “It’s very, very slow.”
Collier said there was one full motel in Great Bend and one half full one. “Everyone else has a lot of empty rooms.”
In the lodging industry, Collier said this is known as the “shoulder season.” January and February are the slowest months, but November and December run a close second.
Many facilities rely on the hunters to help them through this period, Collier said. However, with the drought, there are fewer hunters seeking accommodations.
Collier estimates that, including lodging, food, fuel and other expenses, a hunter will spend about $150 per day. Figuring on a two-and-a-half-day opening weekend, that comes to $375.
Great Bend has 500 motel rooms, so 500 multiplied by $375 comes to $187,500. This factors only one person per room, but it gives some idea as to the economic impact. It also is based on 100-percent occupancy, which is not uncommon on opening weekend.
This year, to err on the side of optimism, Collier said motels ran about 60 percent. That brings the total to $112,500.
“Great Bend has a history of hosting hunters in November for extended stays of seven to 10 days,” Collier said. “So you can see how this could roll for the entire month.”
The Great Bend region is blessed with access to both excellent pheasant hunting and waterfowl hunting. In 2011, the dry conditions hurt the upland game numbers, but there was still water in Cheyenne Bottoms and area ponds that made for successful duck and goose seasons.
However, with the drought dragging on into 2012, even the Bottoms is low on water, Collier said. The possibility of a weak hunting experience is keeping sportsmen away.
Seasons for waterfowl, such as teal, ducks and geese, opened in September and October.