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Hunters take to the field on pheasant opener

LINCOLN, Neb. – Hunters from around the country returned to rural Nebraska on Oct. 27-28 to partake in a coveted outdoor tradition – upland bird hunting during the 2018 season opener.

Nebraska Game and Parks Commission staff contacted 1,040 hunters across the state while making bag checks. These hunters harvested 418 pheasants and 89 quail. An additional 781 hunters were encountered on pheasant-release sites on 13 wildlife management areas (WMAs). These hunters bagged 517 pheasants. More than 80 percent of roosters harvested on release sites were pen-released birds.

Based on field reports, hunter success on pheasants was highest in southwest and northeast regions of the state. Good quail numbers were reported throughout the southern half of the state but very few hunters were specifically targeting bobwhites. Compared to 2017, hunter success on the opening weekend was slightly higher for pheasants and similar for bobwhites. Hunting pressure was relatively low across the state.

According to John Laux, Game and Parks’ upland habitat and access program manager, the best is yet to come. “As harvest progresses, birds will be more concentrated in cover types that are more accessible to hunters,” he said.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture report showed that the Nebraska corn harvest was 47 percent complete on the opening weekend of the season, compared to 42 last year and the five-year average of 55. The soybean harvest was 74 percent complete, compared to 86 last year and the five-year average of 90.

Cooler weather in the coming weeks also will aid hunter success. Portions of Nebraska had daytime highs in the high 70s and low 80s on opening day, and reports indicate hunting activity decreased substantially by early afternoon both days. “Cooler temperatures typically improve scenting conditions and will allow you and your dog to spend more time afield,” Laux said.

The following is a report of hunting activity by district:

Southwest – Cool temperatures and light winds provided favorable conditions on opening morning, Saturday, Oct. 27, but hunter activity declined sharply by midday as temperatures reached the low 80s across much of the region. It was dry Sunday, with moderate winds and slightly cooler temperatures. Field reports indicated that corn harvest was between 5-40 percent complete but this was highly variable. Many soybean and sorghum fields were also unharvested. Officers observed fewer hunters than expected. Contact was made with 669 hunters, who harvested 304 pheasants and 59 quail. Law enforcement contacted an additional 290 hunters on pheasant-release sites at Pressey, Sherman Reservoir and Cornhusker WMAs. These hunters harvested 206 pheasants. Hunter success on pheasants was highly variable among parties but was highest in the extreme southwest counties. Reported quail harvest was highest in southeastern counties but very few hunters were specifically pursuing quail.

Southeast – Outside of the pheasant-release sites, hunting pressure and success were relatively low on public and private lands. Many hunters reported seeing good numbers of quail but relatively few were bagged. Several officers reported that nearly every hunter they encountered had flushed at least one covey. Contact was made with 103 hunters, who harvested 24 pheasants and 30 quail. On seven pheasant-release sites, law enforcement contacted an additional 311 hunters, who harvested 213 pheasants.

Northeast – Public lands in Antelope and Knox counties were popular and hunters reported seeing good numbers of birds. Cool morning temperatures provided good hunting conditions, but the abundance of standing crops appeared to hamper hunter success. Field reports suggest soybean and corn harvest were approximately 50-70 percent and 10-40 percent complete, respectively. Contact was made with 155 hunters, who harvested 59 pheasants. Law enforcement contacted an additional 180 hunters on pheasant-release sites at Oak Valley, George Syas and Wilkinson WMAs, where 98 pheasants were harvested. Hunters observed fewer quail compared to recent years.

Northwest – Most hunters were observed hunting public lands, including WMAs and Open Fields and Waters (OFW) properties. Law enforcement contacted 113 hunters, who harvested 31 pheasants. Hunters in the northern Panhandle reported seeing good numbers of pheasants but hunter success was highly variable. Officers estimated that only 10-20 percent of the corn in this region had been harvested. In the southern Panhandle, the corn harvest was nearly 50 percent, but hunter activity and success were both relatively low. Most hunters were observed using tall wheat stubble fields enrolled in OFW and reported seeing fewer birds than in previous years.

Pheasant, quail and prairie grouse seasons continue through Jan. 31. Permits can be purchased at OutdoorNebraska.org.

About Jerry Kane

Jerry Kane is the news manager with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. He can be contacted at jerry.kane@nebraska.gov or 402-471-5008.

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