Wolfe Publishing Group

    2020 Pheasant Forecast


    If you lived through the winter of 2019-20 in the northern strongholds of pheasant country, you got a little worried for the birds as the weeks marched on, snow really piled up, and several arctic episodes sunk down on the countryside.

    But not to fear: Across pheasant range, the birds toughed it out (a credit to our favorite gamebirds’ resiliency after more than a hundred generations of survival in America) … but it sure was a help when winter seemed to ease up and melt away just when that was most needed.


    The rains of 2019 may have challenged the birds in producing broods last spring and summer, but one positive effect of the generally moist conditions can’t be denied going into 2020: habitat was in prime shape going into winter and coming into spring, with residual cover standing strong on the landscape. And then spring and early summer came: not too cold, not too wet, fairly warm.

    You can see it in the roadside pheasant counts and surveys coming out of states like Iowa, North Dakota and Minnesota: Where there’s good habitat, there are simply more birds on the landscape to hunt after a good hatch and brood-rearing season. South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska will still be good destinations, though the Great Plains are dealing with some habitat challenges from dry conditions. In places like Michigan and Illinois, hard work by PF chapters is paying off with more habitat on the ground, and that means more birds.

    If there’s a bottom line here, you know it: It’s habitat. Good habitat. So here’s what we’ll leave you with:

    If you’re reading this forecast, you must hunt pheasants. If you hunt pheasants and don’t belong to Pheasants Forever or you need to renew, it’s time. Give back to the habitat and the birds, and show your support. Since inception, PF has impacted over 19 million acres of habitat, and created over 200,000 acres of permanently public wild places to hunt and recreate. Upland habitat, public lands and hunting heritage need you. Join, renew or extend and for a limited time get a sweet PF Field Hoodie to boot!

    Here’s to cackling roosters and happy dogs on bluebird autumn days. Have a great hunt!




    By Andy Fondrick, Digital Marketing Specialist at Pheasants Forever 

Editor’s Note: If you’re reading this forecast, you must hunt pheasants. If you hunt pheasants and don’t belong to Pheasants Forever or you need to renew, it’s time. Since inception, PF has impacted over 19 million acres of habitat, and created over 200,000 acres of permanently public wild places to hunt and recreate. Upland habitat, public lands and hunting heritage need you. Join, renew or extend and for a limited time get a sweet PF Field Hoodie to boot!

Favorable conditions combined with timely rainfall has California’s 2020 pheasant forecast trending in the right direction. While habitat areas have shrunk in recent years and wildfires have impacted much of the state, there is still reason to be positive for the upcoming season.


    While the presence of significant wildfires can be felt in California this year, weather conditions through much of the state have provided optimism for the upcoming fall.

“Winter got a good start statewide with normal rainfall through the new year, but the tap shut off in January and February,” says Matt Meshriy, environmental scientist for the Upland Game Program with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Rains in March and April blunted the sting of a below-average water year in the Central Valley and southern California while the far north remained much dryer than average. Temperatures were mild to average and survival was likely fair to good.”


    The outlook for California pheasants looks good after semi-favorable conditions and timely rainfall, even though upland birds have experienced some challenges in recent years.

“Pheasant habitat continues to shrink in California’s Central Valley as sources of ‘dirty water’ are fewer each year,” says Meshriy. “Good spring conditions turned to a hot summer but water deliveries around the Central Valley were sufficient to support a good hatch where habitat conditions allow.”

According to Meshriy, spring rains proved timely and stimulated sufficient cover and insect forage. Conditions favored early nesters as the dry summer heat came early.


    “The National Wildlife Refuges in the Sacramento and northern San Joaquin Valleys offer some of the best opportunities to hunt wild pheasants in the state,” says Meshriy. Be sure to check out the Sacramento River NWR Upland Game Hunting Page or the Kern NWR Hunting Page to learn about required licenses and season restrictions on these refuges.


    California may throw some unexpected curveballs at upland hunters this season, and it may have nothing to do with the birds themselves. 

“California has already seen its second and third largest recorded wildfires this year among three major ‘complex fires’ currently burning due to lightning strikes,” Meshriy warns. “Be sure to be aware of the lingering impacts of wildfires when planning a hunt in California this fall.”



    By Andrew Johnson

Editor’s Note: If you’re reading this forecast, you must hunt pheasants. If you hunt pheasants and don’t belong to Pheasants Forever or you need to renew, it’s time. Since inception, PF has impacted over 19 million acres of habitat, and created over 200,000 acres of permanently public wild places to hunt and recreate. Upland habitat, public lands and hunting heritage need you. Join, renew or extend and for a limited time get a sweet PF Field Hoodie to boot!

Roughly 44,000 pheasants were harvested in Colorado last year, according to Ed Gorman, small game manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“Pheasant hunting was fair last year, but it was also certainly below the long-term average,” he says. 

Heading into fall, Gorman says the defining factor for Colorado pheasant populations this year is undoubtedly severe drought, which has likely reduced nesting habitat and certainly brood survival.  


    Colorado didn’t have much of a winter, but Gorman says that presented a Catch-22 for spring nesting conditions, as the lack of snowfall and other precipitation did little to bolster the habitat base.

“Very few, if any, winter storms had the potential to impact pheasant populations across the core range, and the population experienced normal winter mortality,” Gorman reports. “However, winter was so dry that spring nesting cover was slower in development than normal.”

Throughout the summer, Gorman notes that mortality was reported after hail events swept through parts of the state, especially in the northeast corner.

“Severe hailstorms are normal in Colorado; however, the summer of 2020 was somewhat unusual in the severity of a few storms, which impacted both late nesting and adult survival,” he says. “For example, farmers reported numerous instances of hail-killed adult pheasants across a very large portion of Logan County.”


    Due to the abnormally dry winter and spring, Gorman says brood habitat was very poor across most of Colorado’s primary pheasant range. Conditions improved slightly in isolated instances when parts of the state received shots of rain here and there, but Gorman says brood habitat across the board was negatively impacted by drought conditions.

Conditions didn’t improve throughout the summer, either, and as a result, CRP and wheat stubble — the preferred habitat of pheasants in Colorado — are lacking as fall approaches.

“Wheat stubble is very short and thin for the most part, while CRP fields are also drought-impacted and/or being hayed or grazed through emergency provisions of the CRP program,” Gorman reports. “It is likely to be a difficult year for pheasant hunters in Colorado. I expect populations to be reduced from recent years, which were already impacted by loss of CRP in critical areas. In some areas, hunters may find decent numbers of adult birds but few juvenile pheasants.”


    Although this year’s weather hasn’t been kind to Colorado’s birds and habitat, the real story affecting upland populations is the substantial, continuing loss of grassland habitat, says Trent Verquer, CPW grassland habitat coordinator.

“We are experiencing significant habitat loss both in quantity and quality, and current haying and grazing allowances within CRP, which may not be a big deal in wetter states further east, are certainly going to cause an impact here,” he notes. “In some cases, it may result in the conversion of desirable, taller grasses in CRP stands to shorter vegetation that may not provide suitable nesting and roosting cover.”

Verquer also says changes in rental rates have had a negative impact in re-enrollment or new enrollment interest in CRP across Colorado’s core pheasant country in the northeastern part of the state.  

“Our habitat base is down substantially from previous years when we supported a more robust pheasant population and harvest,” he says. “We are unlikely to see harvest totals similar to what we saw as recently as five to 10 years ago, as we lost the habitat base that supported our most recent high pheasant harvest years.”



    “I would focus on the areas where center pivot irrigation is prevalent simply due to the fact that irrigated fields can mitigate the impacts of drought to some degree,” Gorman advises. “Hunters will not find populations in these areas to be on par with recent years, but these areas should be better than surrounding areas in 2020. Yuma, Phillips and Kit Carson counties have extensive irrigated areas.”

In addition, Gorman says pheasant hunters should explore the expanding opportunities associated with a Pheasants Forever-initiated program called Corners for Conservation (C4C), a habitat project agreement that targets the outlying corners of square crop fields irrigated by center-pivot irrigation. Over 400 projects totaling more than 3,300 acres have been completed through this partnership, with more planned for future seasons.

According to the CPW website, the program is designed to create excellent habitat by establishing highly diverse cover, such as tall, native grasses and flowering forbs, on sprinkler corners. All C4C projects are enrolled in the Walk-In Access Program and will provide year-round habitat for many species of wildlife. C4C properties are posted in the state’s hunting atlas, and they’re identified in the field by WIA boundary signs and C4C habitat signs.


    “Colorado can offer a fun opportunity to incorporate other species into your hunt plan,” Gorman says. “If you hunt in southeast Colorado, you can also hunt bobwhite and scaled quail in the same general area or within a short trip. In the northeast, hunters can find bobwhite quail in some areas and also greater prairie chickens close by. Hunters must pay attention to take advantage of these opportunities and to remain legal, because season dates for different upland species are not completely concurrent.”

Colorado’s pheasant season opens Nov. 14 and closes Jan. 3 west of I-25, while on the east side of I-25 the season remains open until Jan. 31. The daily limit is three roosters, with a possession limit of nine. Shooting hours are a half-hour before sunrise to sunset.

“In a year like this, you are going to find fewer birds in the fields, so the focus should be on capitalizing on those opportunities as you find them,” he advises. “Tough seasons are not to be spent wishing you had taken more time to brush up shotguning skills, or to learn that slamming vehicle doors is a bad idea when hunting wary pheasants.



    By Andrew Johnson

Editor’s Note: If you’re reading this forecast, you must hunt pheasants. If you hunt pheasants and don’t belong to Pheasants Forever or you need to renew, it’s time. Since inception, PF has impacted over 19 million acres of habitat, and created over 200,000 acres of permanently public wild places to hunt and recreate. Upland habitat, public lands and hunting heritage need you. Join, renew or extend and for a limited time get a sweet PF Field Hoodie to boot!


    Pheasant populations across Idaho’s uplands survived winter just fine, according to Jeff Knetter, upland game and migratory bird coordinator for Idaho Department of Fish and Game. 

Even better, the good news kept on coming once spring arrived, as nesting conditions kicked off with favorable temps and timely precipitation, Knetter says.

“However, temperatures were below average and precipitation was above average during the second and third weeks of June,” he reports. “This could potentially impact hatching success and early brood survival.”


    The above-average precipitation produced a bumper crop of bugs, though, and heading into summer Knetter says Idaho’s primary pheasant range had habitat and bug production that were favorable for brood rearing, just like last year. 

Since June, most of Idaho has been quite dry, but IDFG brood-survey data from this summer indicates overall population trends remained on the upswing for most upland bird species, with only a few exceptions.

“Available brood counts in our Clearwater Region of the Palouse/Lewistown area were up from last year’s numbers for pheasants, California quail and gray partridge. Chukar was unchanged from last year,” reports Randy Phelan, IDFG coordinating wildlife biologist. “The trend for the 10-year average in the Clearwater region was up for pheasants and quail, but down for partridge.”

While things are looking up for the Clearwater Region, preliminary results from the brood survey in southwest Idaho were down slightly from past years.

“Both the yearly and 10-year average trends were down for pheasants, quail, partridge and chukar in the southwest region,” Phelan says.


    The Clearwater, Southeast and Magic Valley regions are Idaho’s primary pheasant hunting destinations, and Knetter says it’s no different this year.

While pheasant hunters usually kill between 35,000-40,000 roosters each fall, Knetter believes multi-species hunts have replaced pheasant-only hunts across much of the state.

“Historically, Idaho was a destination pheasant hunting location,” he says. “Although populations have declined because of changes in farming practices and increased urbanization, there are still opportunities to harvest wild pheasants. Additionally, there are plenty of upland game bird hunting opportunities on millions of acres of public land, as Idaho offers some of the best chukar and gray partridge hunting in the West, not to mention robust populations of California quail.



    By Andrew Johnson

Editor’s Note: If you’re reading this forecast, you must hunt pheasants. If you hunt pheasants and don’t belong to Pheasants Forever or you need to renew, it’s time. Since inception, PF has impacted over 19 million acres of habitat, and created over 200,000 acres of permanently public wild places to hunt and recreate. Upland habitat, public lands and hunting heritage need you. Join, renew or extend and for a limited time get a sweet PF Field Hoodie to boot!


    “Based on cumulative data from NOAA, it appears the winter weather conditions were around average with a few exceptions,” reports Matt Broadway, small game research biologist for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. “I don’t think we had the number of severe snowfall events we’ve had in recent years in northern Indiana, which hopefully allowed for better escape cover availability.”

Broadway believes that the lack of snowfall this winter was a blessing come spring, as the reduced amount of snowmelt and runoff gave the Hoosier State’s landscape a breather from flooding it’s experienced the last few years.

“In some areas, a high water table at the beginning of spring can spell trouble if we experience heavy spring rains,” Broadway says. “In several recent years we’ve been plagued by heavy spring rains; however, this year was comparatively light and close to historical averages. We didn’t have the flooding in northern Indiana this year we have the previous two years. Hopefully, that will amount to better cover conditions for early spring adult survival, fewer flooded nests and better brood survival.”


    While there are no final reports available from IDNR, Broadways says preliminary analysis of the state’s annual pheasant crowing count suggests the numbers are at least on par with last year’s numbers. 

“They are not significantly different across the board,” he says. “But, we did see some considerable local jumps in abundance where we have more habitat.”

Although Broadway says it’s hard to lump statewide brooding conditions into one category, he believes the mild weather conditions much of the state experienced throughout late spring and summer have hopefully given upland game populations a much-needed shot in the arm heading into fall hunting seasons.

“I would say rainfall across the state has been average, with the exception of some locally extreme precipitation events,” he reports. “Quite a few biologists are seeing drier conditions, with fewer of the long-duration, heavy rainfall events that evidence suggests may result in individual chick or whole brood loss. On that note, some of us are excited about the possibility of a great bobwhite quail year and hopefully pheasants, as well. 

“I would expect at least an average year,” he continues. “If nest and brood survival is average to above average, we could have a great year. It really all depends on adult and chick survival this summer.”


    “Anecdotally, it always seems like the people who draw for the annual Game Bird Area pheasant hunt do pretty well,” Broadway says. “I think this is usually the case because all the crop cover has been harvested, forcing the birds into the few remaining tracts of managed IDNR Fish and Wildlife properties. That said, it is difficult to draw, and many hunters go years without being selected.”

If they’re not picky, Broadway says hunters should consider chasing roosters across Indiana Fish and Wildlife Areas in late November when all the put-and-take pheasant hunts are done.

“If it were me, and I didn’t care about whether the pheasant was wild or a leftover bird from a put-and-take hunt, I would go to Pigeon River, Roush Lake, Willow Slough or Tri-County Fish and Wildlife Areas to clean up after the put-and-take hunts that occurred the week of Thanksgiving,” he says.


    Indiana’s pheasant season opens Nov. 1 and closes Dec.15. The daily limit is two roosters, with a possession limit of four.

Hunters hoping to draw a permit to hunt pheasants on Indiana Game Bird Areas must purchase a license and visit in.gov/dnr/fishwild/ to register for a reserved hunt. For this year’s permit-only pheasant hunts, hunters can begin reserving spots at 6 a.m. on Sept. 5.



    Editor’s Note: If you’re reading this forecast, you must hunt pheasants. If you hunt pheasants and don’t belong to Pheasants Forever or you need to renew, it’s time. Since inception, PF has impacted over 19 million acres of habitat, and created over 200,000 acres of permanently public wild places to hunt and recreate. Upland habitat, public lands and hunting heritage need you. Join, renew or extend and for a limited time get a sweet PF Field Hoodie to boot!

By Tom Carpenter

If you’ve been thinking of traveling to Iowa for a pheasant hunt, the season is shaping up to be a good one. Here’s the scoop.


    While not up to 2018’s tally, when about 320,000 wild roosters were shot in Iowa, the Hawkeye State still saw more than 284,000 roosters harvested in 2019. “That was about an 11 percent drop, and it more or less reflected our roadside counts,” says Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“But it’s worth noting we also saw a drop in overall pheasant hunter numbers. And the lower hunter numbers may have had something to do with the lower harvest,” adds Bogenschutz. Interestingly, Iowa had about 10,000 nonresident pheasant hunters in each 2018 and 2019, but they collectively brought home 10,000 more roosters in 2019 than they did in 2018. Effort. Chew on that.

“Early effort was often fairly unproductive too,” points out Bogenschutz. Traditionally much hunting energy goes into the season’s early weeks. “Last year saw a late grain harvest, with 90 percent of the state’s crops still standing on opening day,” says Bogenschutz. “Hunting was tough. Those who braved late season, when the crops were in, brought home many a limit.”


    Good numbers of pheasants going into winter boded well. But what did that critical season of winter bring?

“Statewide, Iowa has an annual average of 25 inches of snow,” says Bogenschutz. “In winter 2019-20, we had 18 inches. Overall the temperatures, for winter, trended mild, though we did have a couple weeks of extreme cold in January.”

So how did it all pan out? “Hen survival was good,” says Bogenschutz, with few reports of perishing or overly stressed birds: Good news heading into spring.

“Spring was maybe the driest we’ve seen in a decade,” reports Bogenschutz: Good conditions for upland bird production, especially when coupled with the good residual habitat left over from a wet 2019.


    First nesting attempts are important, and Iowa had excellent conditions early on. “We essentially had April in March, and May in April,” says Bogenschutz regarding conditions, though May itself may have been a little wet to be 100 percent ideal. June was warm though.

“We had good pheasant recruitment,” cites Bogenschutz. “Brood rearing came off very well, with anecdotally strong reports from all regions of the state. Where habitat is good, birds pulled it off.”

Those numbers were reflected in the state’s pheasant roadside count report, depicted within this forecast. “Overall, 6 of 9 survey regions were at 20 to 30 birds per route … an overall level not seen since 2007,” says Bogenschutz. Thirty birds per route is about a bird per mile.


    Consider this grain of salt when looking at the roadside numbers. “We had tough roadside count conditions – very dry – in central to western Iowa,” says Bogenschutz. In other words, those survey numbers could be understated, as pheasants weren’t readily roadside escaping rain or dew.

“Not so in the east,” Says Bogenschutz, where conditions were ideal. Still, there’s no doubt bird counts are up – way up – in the East. The numbers are right there.

“You just won’t be able to go wrong in that swath of country from northwest to southeast diagonally across Iowa,” says Bogenschutz. “North central will be a real sleeper, we’re getting lots of good reports from up there. Southwest and south central could be a little tough for birds,” but counts are always lower there … as is pheasant hunting pressure though.


    It’s fashionable (and this reporter says it a lot) to say that late season hunting should be great. Bogenschutz has another take to add this year.

“As of early September here, corn is 28 percent mature compared to 12 percent on average,” says Bogenschutz, “while soybeans are 19 percent mature compared to 6 percent average. Lots if not most of the crops should be well out of the fields by opening day. It is going to be different than last year. It could be an epic opening weekend and early season.”

Here’s something else that Bogenschutz always says that hits me about Iowa. “If we had the hunters, I would bet in the good years we could kill a half million birds here,” he says. Look at the increment between that number and what they’re bagging in Iowa annually. Coupled with those excellent roadside reports for much of the state – actual numbers you can bank on -- this could be the year to pursue Hawkeye roosters.



    By Andrew Johnson

Editor’s Note: If you’re reading this forecast, you must hunt pheasants. If you hunt pheasants and don’t belong to Pheasants Forever or you need to renew, it’s time. Since inception, PF has impacted over 19 million acres of habitat, and created over 200,000 acres of permanently public wild places to hunt and recreate. Upland habitat, public lands and hunting heritage need you. Join, renew or extend and for a limited time get a sweet PF Field Hoodie to boot!

Pheasant hunters in the Land of Lincoln harvested just over 31,000 birds last year, down slightly (8%) from the 2018 season. 

“Last pheasant season was a good one, especially in counties that have been proactive with enrolling new CRP and pollinator habitat acres,” says Jason Bleich, private land biologist in Illinois for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “As always, where there's good habitat, there's good bird numbers.”


    “The winter of 2019-2020 was relatively mild, and winter mortality due to weather was likely low for pheasant and quail,” says Bob Caveny, ag and grassland wildlife program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. 

Caveny says spring brought above-average rainfall to central and northern parts of the state, which potentially impacted early nesting attempts. However, on a good note, he says weather conditions improved across much of the state from late June through most of July.

Building on those thoughts, Bleich reports that timely precipitation events bolstered the habitat and insect production during the brooding season. 

“Mid- to late-summer rains have been icing on the cake to produce a bumper crop of wildflower blooms and the associated insects that pheasant broods need for survival,” Bleich says.


    “Statewide, there is less suitable habitat available in Illinois than in years past,” Caveny says. “Localized areas of high-quality habitat can still be found across the state, but overall there are fewer areas that support good populations of upland game, providing less opportunity for hunters.”

Bleich says what habitat is available is looking really good, which leads him to believe things are looking up as fall approaches.

“Between our agency partner reports, farmer and landowner reports, and PF/QF chapter reports, I think we are in for a great fall across the Illinois pheasant range,” he says. “High-quality, large blocks of pollinator habitat are definitely places hunters will want to focus their efforts for highest success in the field, and east-central Illinois remains the hotspot for pheasants.”


    Hunters should take advantage of the Illinois Recreational Access Program (IRAP), which leases private property in Christian, Clay and Scott counties for quail and pheasant hunting. These sites can be reserved for a two-day hunt on Saturdays and Sundays in December, and they can accommodate up to four hunters and their dogs. 

IRAP upland game sites are managed for upland bird habitat and have been scouted for bird activity. No pen-raised birds are put on these properties — only wild birds. The 2020 IRAP application is now available, and more information can be found online here.  

The Illinois pheasant season is open Nov. 7 to Jan. 8 in the north zone, and from Nov. 7 to Jan. 15 in the south zone. The daily limit is 2 roosters, with a possession limit of 6 birds.



    By Marissa Jensen

Editor’s Note: If you’re reading this forecast, you must hunt pheasants. If you hunt pheasants and don’t belong to Pheasants Forever or you need to renew, it’s time. Since inception, PF has impacted over 19 million acres of habitat, and created over 200,000 acres of permanently public wild places to hunt and recreate. Upland habitat, public lands and hunting heritage need you. Join, renew or extend and for a limited time get a sweet PF Field Hoodie to boot!

Thinking about hunting Sunflower state this fall for pheasants? We’ve got the inside scoop for you.

Winter 2019 didn’t throw any significant weather events toward Kansas that would cause any concerns with Small Game Specialist, Jeff Prendergast. In fact, Prendergast indicated winter weather isn’t typically severe enough to impact pheasants in the state.

Spring 2020 brought dry weather which did cause some concern for nesting birds. However, patchy rainfall across the norther portion of Kansas during early summer may have provided some reprieve and allowed for improved cover and vegetation where rainfall amounts were sufficient.
Rain continued throughout summer, which provided moisture for fall crops and an abundance of weedy stubble fields. Prendergast provides some additional insight to consider across Kansas’ pheasant range.

“Throughout the state, 28 counties were released for emergency haying and grazing of CRP,” he says  “This, combined with expiration and managed haying for contract renewals, have reduced the amount of cover provided by CRP fields this winter.” Message: Scout and/or check ahead. Don’t expect conditions to be the same as they were last time you visited.

Brood reports provided some variation, which Prendergast provided additional insight on: “Anecdotal brood reports were looking good, however, this did not alight with survey results. This is likely an indication that densities will vary greatly following areas that received the best rainfall in June.”

Statewide, the pheasant index appears to be down, and hunters can find more information here. 

Prendergast steers hunters toward three regions this fall: the Northern High Plains, which exhibited the highest density brood survey; North Central due to the abundance of access and diversity of habitat; and the South Central Prairies, with notable increases throughout the western portion of the range.

“Pheasant hunting in Kansas often includes temperatures ranging from mid-70s to 0 degrees,” says Prendergast. “While targeting heavy cover in cold weather is productive, understanding how bird behavior will change with weather will benefit hunters.” He goes on to encourage hunters to target lighter cover, such as weedy fence lines and tall crop stubble, when temperatures are warmer.



    By Andrew Johnson

Editor’s Note: If you’re reading this forecast, you must hunt pheasants. If you hunt pheasants and don’t belong to Pheasants Forever or you need to renew, it’s time. Since inception, PF has impacted over 19 million acres of habitat, and created over 200,000 acres of permanently public wild places to hunt and recreate. Upland habitat, public lands and hunting heritage need you. Join, renew or extend and for a limited time get a sweet PF Field Hoodie to boot!

The 2019 pheasant season was an improvement over the previous year, according to Al Stewart, Michigan Department of Natural Resources upland game specialist.

“Pheasant hunters that hunted in prime habitat reported finding more birds than expected,” Stewart says about hunting last fall. “This year, numerous wildlife biologists and landowners are reporting that the pheasant numbers are equivalent or
up a little compared to last year.” 

Even though there is currently no harvest or population information available from MDNR due to the issues associated with COVID-19, Stewart believes things are lining up pretty well for pheasants and pheasant hunters this fall.

“Hunters can expect pheasant numbers to be slightly up from last year and about average compared to the past 10 years,” he notes. “While pheasant numbers are far below the historical highs from the 1950s and 1960s, pheasants are still widely distributed in southern Lower Michigan and in some areas of the Upper Peninsula.”


    “Winter was mild throughout Michigan’s pheasant range and likely had a negligible impact on survival,” says Ben Beaman, PF’s coordinating wildlife biologist in Michigan. “Anecdotally, I was on several good state game areas just prior to our COVID shutdown, and numbers of crowing roosters seemed higher than last year. Also, numbers of crowing and displaying roosters were noticeably higher this spring in my home turf of southeastern Michigan, as were hen sightings.”

Stewart echoes those thoughts and says overall winter temps and precipitation totals were normal, but he reports spring started off on the cooler side before finally warming up once April arrived. He also says precipitation in March and April was normal, but May saw above-average rainfall amounts, a trend that continued into June. 

“June experienced sporadic, heavy rain events, resulting in record precipitation in some areas of the state,” he says. “Wetter field conditions caused a delay in crop planting and hay harvest. This allowed pheasants to have a longer period of time with limited nest disturbance due to agricultural activities.”


    “In Michigan, brood-rearing cover is the piece of the habitat puzzle that we lack the most. That said, the brood-rearing cover that we do have has been in pretty good shape thanks to early spring moisture,” Beaman explains. “The additional winter wheat stubble seems to be providing some extra brood-rearing cover, as well, and the majority of broods I’ve seen have been on the fringes of wheat fields.”

Stewart reports that pheasant nesting and brood rearing have largely been on schedule across the primary pheasant regions of the state. 

“Nest timing was normal, and conditions were above average. Also, brood-rearing conditions have been good throughout the summer,” Stewart says. “There were abundant insect populations for young chicks to pursue and sufficient moisture to maintain good vegetation for cover.”


    Michigan ranks in the top tier of states in the nation for wild pheasant harvest and has many properties open for public hunting. In fact, Stewart says there are numerous state game areas that are managed specifically for pheasants.

“Funding from the Wildlife Habitat Grant Program, along with a portion of hunter dollars, has provided resources to conservation organizations such as Pheasants Forever and Michigan Association of Conservation Districts to assist the DNR’s Wildlife Division with development and improvements of quality habitat and food plots for upland game birds in prominent pheasant territory,” Stewart says. 

Beaman says the major agricultural areas of the Thumb, south-central and southeastern parts of the state are consistently the best areas to find pheasants, and he expects that to be the same this year based on habitat conditions. He advises hunters to keep the small picture in mind when afield this fall.

“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again that small pockets of cover get overlooked in favor of big tracts of habitat. But these pockets often hold a rooster or two, as long as the birds have a food source nearby. Don’t overlook these spots — or do, and leave more birds for me,” Beaman jokes.

Hunters should also be aware of leased private lands that are part of the DNR’s Hunting Access Program (HAP), which currently consists of 155 properties with over 22,000 acres open to public hunting. 

“Idle fields and warm-season grasses adjacent to agricultural lands are prime areas to look for pheasants,” advises Stewart. “Late-season hunters should concentrate their efforts in dense grasslands adjacent to cattails and shrub wetlands near picked corn and bean fields.”


Thumb Region — Tammy Giroux, DNR Wildlife Biologist
In the Thumb counties, we’ve seen maybe a half-dozen broods while driving or running tractor in the past couple months. I would say we’ve seen about the same number as last year, but with larger broods and larger birds. I’m guessing there has been more first-hatch success than last year.

We appeared to have an easy winter on pheasants and all wildlife. Spring and summer conditions appeared to have been favorable this year, with a mild spring without the cold, killing rains like last year. Generally, we had good brood-rearing conditions with warmer, slightly drier summer conditions, which should have been good for pheasant survival. Food and cover appear to be good throughout most of the Thumb, with a good year for crop production.

We predict that pheasant hunting will be about the same this fall as last fall.

South-Central Michigan (Gratiot, Clinton, Ingham Counties) — Chad Krumnauer, DNR Staff
I did a lot of turkey hunting up near Maple River this spring, and I heard roosters crowing pretty much anywhere I hunted. We also heard lots of roosters while turkey hunting back at my family’s farm in Tuscola County. I counted six separate roosters crowing the one morning, which is really good for our farm, where one or two is normal.  

Allegan County — Mike Richardson, DNR Staff
Spring and summer nesting and brood-rearing conditions were very good at the Fennville Farm Unit. A lot of the heavy spring rains missed our area, and in places that were too wet the previous few years, we again saw broods of birds. Insect abundance was very good this summer, with a lot of grasshoppers, crickets and other insects hatching well throughout the summer. Habitat conditions were good, with most of the row crops getting planted early, and timely rains provided a much better growing season for row crops and grasses across our area.

Wild pheasants were abundant throughout the summer, and many broods were observed across the majority of the Fennville Farm Unit. I would say there are equal to or slightly greater sightings this year, compared to last. I expect the pheasant hunting this fall at Fennville to be just as good, if not better than last year.

Southeast Michigan (Jackson, Hillsdale and Washtenaw Counties) — Dennis Tison, DNR Staff
We have seen one brood and hen so far. Due to COVID-19, our time and eyes in the field have been greatly reduced. Storm damage has also kept us from working in grasslands as much as we have hoped. 

We had a mild winter with no major ice storms or prolonged periods with snow on the ground, and I feel that in the area that I cover, the spring and summer nesting and brood-rearing season has been good for pheasants. We did have a late snowfall in April of about 3 inches, but it only stayed for about a day. 

We did lose some habitat this year, but that was due to the agricultural fields that sat fallow last year because they were too wet to plant were being planted this year.  
I feel this season will yield about the same results in my area as last year. 

Southwest (Eaton County) — Mark Sargent, DNR Staff
In my area of Eaton County, I thought birds over-wintered fairly well. This spring I saw hens and roosters and heard a lot of roosters up until the end of June. 

On our 50 acres I have seen two broods. The latest brood I saw was a couple of weeks ago, and the chicks were just a little bit bigger than quail, which tells me that they were either late hatching or a second brood. Based on what I have seen, I would say that bird numbers in our area are about the same as last year or slightly down.  

Kalamazoo County — Randy Heinze, DNR Staff
I haven’t really seen any pheasants this year. I have also only been to the Gordan Guyer property one time this year, so I really don’t have any gauge on the condition of this year’s population. 

Southwest (Van Buren, Cass, Kalamazoo Counties) — Nate DeVries, DNR Staff
Speaking primarily for the Cornish State Game Area in Van Buren County and surrounding areas, I have not seen any wild pheasants or broods this spring and summer. I also have not seen any surviving released pheasants on Cornish SGA.

However, this spring I did hear crowing roosters on several occasions at the Savage grassland on Crane Pond SGA in Cass County, so some released birds clearly survived there.

At Cornish SGA/Kinney WPA, I have seen fewer pheasants this year. Two hens were spotted last year on Kinney WPA prior to any releases. I have neither seen nor heard pheasants there this year, however.

I don’t believe the winter was particularly hard on pheasants. It was at best average. We had no major or prolonged cold spells or snow events. I believe the conditions have been average to good for pheasants from spring through today. It hasn’t been exceptionally hot or wet. This summer has been somewhat dry, but insects have been abundant and habitat conditions are good.
For this area (Van Buren and Kalamazoo counties near Cornish SGA), I would expect pheasant hunting conditions to be the same or worse than last year. With no stocking to occur on Cornish SGA, pheasant hunting opportunities will be slim on the game area this fall.

Southwest (Branch County) — Ken Kesson, DNR Wildlife Private Lands Specialist
Early on, it was pretty wet in the spring and then it turned dry, with periods of heavy rain. I haven’t noticed too much variation in vegetation quality or quantity, nor have I observed any insect impacts that I can directly correlate with weather. Given the wet spring, it may have been a little harder on chicks, but that’s speculation on my part.

I haven’t observed any hens with broods in the past two months. I’m seeing fewer pheasants, but I’m in the field less due to restrictions. 

On my own farm in northeast Branch County I had a few roosters and several hens that survived into the spring. However, I haven’t seen or noticed them much after breeding season. 

I think pheasant hunting will be about the same this fall. In most of my area, wild pheasants are an uncommon sight.

Saginaw Bay Area — Jeremiah Heise, DNR Staff
I have not seen much, but I cannot gauge compared to prior years due to work-from-home restrictions. I have not seen anything while I have been out completing fieldwork.

I do not think the winter was hard on pheasants in my region. It was fairly mild, and with several fields still fallow from 2019 rains that prevented crop planting, I think there was plenty of cover.  

Regionally, areas were impacted severely by May rains and subsequent dam failures in Midland County, which impacted nesting and broods. Conditions were good post-flood for re-nesting. Several turkeys re-nested based on the size of some of the poults that I am seeing.

Pheasant hunting should be about the same this year as last, maybe slightly less productive than what was experienced in 2019. While food-plot planting was delayed due to work restrictions and flooding, hunters should expect conditions similar to 2019.

Montcalm County — Dan Vogl, Chapter President
I’ve seen no broods. However, many more birds were seen this spring and over the summer. We had a good winter in our area. With a good dog, the hunting will be good. You must know where birds have been seen. They are very spotty and widespread.

Clinton County — Dave Rademacher, Chapter Youth Coordinator
I saw two separate broods, one with four chicks and the other had three. I’m seeing a few more pheasants. I think the hen numbers are up.

I don’t think the winter was hard on pheasants, but I think the wet spring in 2019 was not good for broods. I’m not sure, but if the hot and dry weather continues it might impact this year’s nesting and brood rearing.

I think this fall’s hunting opportunities will be similar to last year, but I'm getting to the point I hate to shoot a bird since the numbers are down on my acres of CRP.

Thumb Region — Dave Lamb, Chapter Volunteer
I have run my dogs in four MPRI areas in the Thumb, and I put up 25 birds. The broods are small. The habitat (grasses) is starting to have a lot of weeds in them. They may need to be mowed or burned. I expect the season to be little worse than last year.

Thumb Region — Eric Deloney, Chapter Volunteer
I recently saw a hen with one large chick (then saw a large hawk — plenty of predators around). This winter was not hard, and we’ve had good weather this spring and summer. I expect hunting to be about the same as last year. 

Eric Hillborg, Chapter Volunteer
The pheasant forecast is a lot like everything — very questionable. We came out of the winter with a good bird population. However, getting hammered with 7 inches of rain in a day and half mid-May wasn't good. I’ve seen four broods total so far. I watched a brood of seven to nine chicks fly out of our native prairie grass field into the neighbor’s corn this morning. They were three-quarters grown. Hopefully there are more broods around. 

I’ve seen a lot of turkey poults for the first time in several years, with some newly hatched in early August. I also have some bobwhite quail around. While doing some mowing, I saw the first quail in several years. Made my day! 

I was in the U.P. in mid-August, and a friend who owns a lot of ground near ours said he has seen the best numbers of young grouse in years.


    The Michigan DNR, along with many conservation partners, continues to expand the Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative (MPRI). During the last five years, the activities associated with this initiative have expanded small-game hunting opportunities on both public and private lands, increased wildlife populations, improved hunter satisfaction and helped Michigan’s economy. 

“Landowners are encouraged to get involved with the MPRI,” Stewart says. “Through this initiative, property owners can receive technical and financial assistance, plus help in forming local cooperatives to create and enhance pheasant habitat. As of 2020, 12 cooperators were actively working to expand and improve pheasant habitats. In 2019, MPRI assisted over 400 landowners to improve over 8,000 acres. Bringing back quality pheasant hunting to Michigan is one way the DNR plans to create world-class recreational opportunities with funding from hunting and trapping license sales.”

Michigan’s pheasant season is open Oct. 10-31 in the Upper Peninsula, and Oct. 20-Nov. 14 in the Lower Peninsula. The late pheasant season in part of Zone 3 will be open from Dec. 1 to Jan. 1.

The daily limit is two roosters, with a possession limit of four birds.



    Editor’s Note: If you’re reading this forecast, you must hunt pheasants. If you hunt pheasants and don’t belong to Pheasants Forever or you need to renew, it’s time. In Minnesota alone, PF enhances and restores an average of 8,000 acres of existing public lands annually, and since inception has helped make more than 55,000 acres permanently public. Upland habitat, public lands and hunting heritage need you. Join, renew or extend and for a limited time get a sweet PF Hoodie to boot!

By Tom Carpenter

Look at the historical record of Minnesota’s annual roadside pheasant survey, done every year since 1955, and the correlation is clear: More pheasants counted means more pheasants in the bag. With good winter survival from last year (these birds are always tougher than we think) and almost ideal nesting and brood-rearing conditions, thanks to good habitat where we have it, and thanks to good weather, those broods drove the roadside count this year. 

There are pheasants waiting to be hunted out there. Here’s the scoop.


    Let’s start with a look back at 2019’s hunt. 

“Our 2019 small game report has yet to be released,” says Tim Lyons, upland game research scientist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), “so I don’t have the specific number on last year’s pheasant harvest just yet. But based on what I heard from folks out hunting, it was than what they expected based on the 2019 roadside report.”

“I also heard that folks did see a lot of really young birds in the first weeks of the 2019 season,” adds Lyons. “Birds young enough that hunters couldn’t be sure whether they were hens or roosters. This is kind of what we expected given the rain and flooding last year. We likely undercounted hens and missed late-hatched broods because there were still a fair number of active nesting attempts during the time period when the roadside counts occurred in 2019.”


    Winter is always a factor in Minnesota.

“It seems like pheasants came through pretty well,” says Lyons. “A lot of folks got worried later in winter given the amount of snow, but it doesn’t seem like it was an issue. And there were no big spring snow storms this year.”

“Counts of roosters and hens were up this year in the survey,” says Lyons, “but it’s hard to herald it as a true population increase especially given we likely undercounted hens last year and it’s just luck-of-the draw as to what day a route is surveyed.”

“I am a lot more confident about our counts of broods and chicks representing a real difference,” he adds.

“Folks who live near the routes they run have reported seeing as many as two to three times the number of pheasants along the same stretch of road compared to last year, depending on the day,” says Lyons. “This includes all birds — hens, chicks, and roosters — and a lot of that variability is due to the presence or absence of broods, not just adults.  The upshot is, we really can’t say that just because we counted more hens and roosters this year, that they survived better last winter or if there are really more … just that we counted more.”

As pheasant hunter though, we’ll take it: Higher numbers on a scientific count replicated for decades.

Spring and summer conditions were good for nesting and brood rearing, and that has helped. “Yes, conditions really have been excellent,” says Lyons. “No spring or early summer flooding to speak of. And we actually had drier than normal conditions along the western edge of the state” during peak nesting and brood-rearing times. “That gave hens enough time to successfully nest or re-nest and pull off a successful brood.”


    The pheasant habitat we have in Minnesota “is looking really good,” says Lyons. “We and partners such as Pheasants Forever keep acquiring habitat.” It’s notable that the focus there is on properties, or areas of properties, that are unproductive for crops. 

“We avoided a severe drought this summer,” adds Lyons, “and that could have adversely affected chick survival, so no worries there. There will be no fall burning this year, but some WMAs may have been opened to emergency haying and grazing. Haying/grazing needed to have been included in the site’s management plan prior to the emergency order that permitted this.”

The good news is clear: “A lot more broods, larger broods, and older broods,” says Lyons. “The estimated peak hatch was slightly earlier than the long-term average and we even had folks age broods such that their estimated hatch was late April and early May.” 

June was for the most part dry and warm, which is excellent for raising chicks, given the good habitat from spring rains.

It all shows in Minnesota’s roadside survey results.

This year’s statewide pheasant index was 53.5 birds per 100 miles of roads driven. All regions of the pheasant range reported an increase in pheasant counts, with the southwest reporting the greatest increase—there, observers counted 90.5 birds per 100 miles, a 146 percent increase compared to 2019.

“Numbers on average are up 42 percent statewide and that puts us ahead of the 10-year average,” says Lyons, “although the 10-year period we are now using is 2010-2019 when pheasant numbers have been at historic lows.”

“But we are seeing more broods per 100 hens, even more than our long-term average,” he points out. “This suggests that although we’re seeing fewer hens overall, they are more successful. This is consistent with what we know/ expect about how the amount and quality of habitat out there. We have fewer birds because of less habitat overall (primarily CRP), but we’re more focused on larger blocks of habitat and higher quality vegetation, both of which we know improves nest success and chick survival.”


    Where to focus your efforts this fall?

“Southwest is a target, as always,” says Lyons. “They saw an increase of more than 100 percent in the number of birds counted this year. Also, there is lots of public land in addition to private land open through the Walk-in-Access program (requires a $3 validation in addition to the small game license and pheasant stamp).”

“Then I think anywhere west and south of Mankato area, or up along the western edge of the state and even toward just west of the cities, will be good,” says Lyons. “I guess you’d call it the the West Central and Central regions.”

“Our prospect map tends to ‘shrink’ differences between areas with large numbers of birds and those with few,” he explains. “It also ignores that our routes are set up to monitor long term trends, not sample ‘ideal’ habitat. So counties that appear to have low numbers might just have limited habitat/opportunities.” 

Translation: Don’t overthink. It has been a good year for raising pheasants. Look for good habitat. Just hunt.


    Lyons echoes that last idea.

“The weather was great for breeding this year and I think there will be good opportunities for harvesting birds across the state’s pheasant range,” he says, “and that means even in counties that ‘appear’ to have few birds.”

“If you can, scout ahead or find WMAs or other lands with a good mix of gras and native forbs,” he advises. “You’ll find good numbers of birds. Everyone goes to the Southwest. That’s fine. But those willing to venture elsewhere in the state might find the hunting to be equally good … and certainly less crowded.”

To read even more about Minnesota’s 2020 pheasant hunting prospects, visit here.
To view the full 2020 Minnesota DNR August Roadside Survey Report, visit here. 



    By Andrew Johnson

Editor’s Note: If you’re reading this forecast, you must hunt pheasants. If you hunt pheasants and don’t belong to Pheasants Forever or you need to renew, it’s time. Since inception, PF has impacted over 19 million acres of habitat, and created over 200,000 acres of permanently public wild places to hunt and recreate. Upland habitat, public lands and hunting heritage need you. Join, renew or extend and for a limited time get a sweet PF Field Hoodie to boot!


    Unlike the winter of 2018-2019, which was very cold with prolonged periods of significant snow cover, this past winter was relatively normal across Missouri’s primary pheasant range, says Dave Hoover, northwest region supervisor for the Department of Conservation.

Although pheasant populations came out of winter in better shape than last year, Hoover says spring nesting conditions were below average and potentially impacted production.

“Spring was wet through May in Missouri’s primary pheasant range, likely delaying or interrupting pheasant nesting,” he reports. “Weather during the brood-rearing season has been good; however, available habitat is highly localized.”


    “Based on MDC’s August roadside survey, pheasant production was down approximately 25%,” Hoover states. “That’s likely due to the spring nesting conditions mentioned earlier.”

In an average year, Missouri hunters bag upwards of 15,000 roosters. This year, however, Hoover says the results from the roadside survey indicate it could be a tough hunt in the Show Me State, meaning hunters should target prime areas of habitat such as CRP plantings near crop fields.

“Hunters should expect pheasant numbers to be lower than the 2019-20 season,” he says. “However, in areas of good habitat on a large enough scale quality hunts are still possible.”


    Missouri’s northern tier of counties historically provides hunters with the best chance at harvesting a ringneck, and Hoover says this year is no different. He points hunters toward northeastern Missouri — more specifically, the northernmost three-county tier —where roadside survey data indicated pheasant numbers were highest.

“Missouri’s pheasant range is very limited, so look for areas with an abundance of diverse conservation reserve program plantings intermixed with cropland,” Hoover advises. “Be sure to acquire permission from landowners prior to hunting private lands.”


    Missouri’s pheasant season opens Nov. 1 and closes Jan. 15. The daily limit is two cocks, with a possession limit of four.



    By Tom Carpenter

Editor’s Note: If you’re reading this forecast, you must hunt pheasants. If you hunt pheasants and don’t belong to Pheasants Forever or you need to renew, it’s time. Since inception, PF has impacted over 19 million acres of habitat, and created over 200,000 acres of permanently public wild places to hunt and recreate. Upland habitat, public lands and hunting heritage need you. Join, renew or extend and for a limited time get a sweet PF Field Hoodie to boot!

Montana is one huge place, and there’s no way to do a pheasant hunting forecast justice in one broad sweep. So as per usual, let’s dive into each region, talking to the upland game bird biologists that work to keep Montana’s Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program (UGBEP) going strong.


    “Based on our telephone harvest surveys, pheasant harvest was down a bit last fall in Region 6,” says Ken Plourde / upland game bird habitat specialist with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP). “That was despite bird numbers appearing to improve both last spring and this spring, so the issue seems like it was related to challenges hunting birds more than them not being there.”

“Lat fall was very wet, so many crops were never harvested which provided birds much more cover than usual,” Plourde continues. “While some hunters did report having good success, the challenge for most was that birds were more spread out with many holed up out in the standing grain fields, so it was harder to locate good numbers of birds in many areas. This was backed up in the harvest effort data, which indicated hunters harvested slightly fewer birds per day than usual.”


    “The winter of 2019-2020 was relatively mild for our area and as a result most birds came through winter in good shape,” reports Plourde. “As mentioned, due to fall precipitation many fields were unharvested, so there was a lot of food available in many spots that helped birds through the brief tough weather periods we did have. Spring crow count surveys showed populations near average to above average in the eastern portions of the region, and improving but still below average in the westernmost portion of the region.”
“Overall, weather conditions have been good since the fall of 2019 for producing game birds in Northeast Montana,” says Plourde. “Above average fall moisture left a lot of residual cover for nesting this spring. Early parts of nesting season were dry, but June and July had plenty of precipitation to produce insects for chicks. August has been dry, but there was a significant hatch of grasshoppers throughout the region, which also likely benefited broods.” 


    “Rainfall earlier in summer was sufficient for growing lots of cover, and much of it looked very good,” says Plourde. “August was very dry, so most of the cover in northeastern Montana has dried out by now and we may see less growth this fall unless things cool off and precipitation increases again.”

“Overall the amount and quality of cover for pheasants is about average this fall in much of the region,” he continues. “The last two years have had some weather that delayed crop harvest, and the previous year we had the severe drought, all of which created some challenges for hunters. It is worth mentioning that crop harvest is proceeding on an average pace this year. Hunters will encounter more normal habitat and crop conditions this season than they have in several years.”
“Bottom line, there were good numbers of broods observed and reports received this summer,” says Plourde, “especially in the eastern half of the region. 
“Some informal brood routes run by a few of the biologists indicated an increase in broods observed compared to the previous few years in northeast Montana,” says Plourde. “It appears the number of pheasant broods were a bit above average, and the brood sizes were about average. Overall it appears pheasant hunting this fall will be about average in the region, and slightly better than average in the best habitats.”


    “The eastern two-thirds of Region 6 looks to be a bit more productive for pheasants this fall, with birds in the westernmost portions of the region still recovering from the drought and hard winter experienced in 2017,” says Plourde. “Based on brood reports and biologist observations, pheasant numbers in the eastern parts of the region are roughly average for the first time since 2017. The hunting should be fair to good in any areas on that side of the region where there is good pheasant habitat.”

“For hunters unfamiliar with pheasant hunting in Montana or this Region, the Hunt Planner map available on our website is a very good resource for planning trips. There are layers that show pheasant distribution and all the access opportunities available to hunters.


    “The ability to identify high quality grass cover is crucial to pheasant hunting success here, especially earlier in the season when many pheasants may not leave those covers all day if there are enough weed seeds and forbs to eat,” advises Plourde. “All grass cover is not created equal, but many hunters spend a lot of time hunting older, monotypic grass stands that do not provide the height, density, or diversity of cover that pheasants prefer.”

“Often, spots that were great 10 to 20 years ago can be unproductive now,” says Plourde. “Hunters that take the time to locate habitats with taller, diverse grass species and a mixture of forbs are more likely to find pheasants. If everything in the grass stand looks about the same, and it is fairly easy to walk through, you're not in a great right spot for pheasants in Montana. Taking the time to drive a bit further and locate better cover can be well worth it.”


    “Pheasant hunting was tough last year across Southeast Montana” says Justin Hughes, upland game bird habitat specialist Montana FWP Region 7. “Many folks struggled throughout the season to consistently find pheasants across the region. While bird numbers were up, there were many things working against hunters such as the large amount of cover on the landscape and thousands of acres of standing crops that remained in the field for much of the winter.”

But that’s all behind us: “Although it made for tough hunting in the fall of 2019, the conditions have led to an increase in bird numbers for 2020.”


    “The winter last year was relatively mild, and the region experienced much less extreme cold and snow than we typically see,” says Hughes. “This, paired with the tremendous amount of habitat that was produced by spring and summer moisture, really set birds up very nicely for winter. Large amounts of standing grain across eastern Montana were the icing on the cake for pheasant populations. Not only do standing crops provide food but also high-quality thermal cover.”

“The spring started out fairly dry for many parts of the region, which aided early nesting birds,” reports Hughes. “Habitat growth wasn’t hindered too much because of the large amounts of moisture that remained from 2019. Overall, the nesting season conditions were good for pheasants.”

“There were some large hail events in the western part of the region but for the most part these storms were pretty isolated,” he adds. “The brood rearing conditions have been good thanks to large numbers of grasshoppers. In some areas however, these grasshoppers have had a detrimental effect on habitat conditions.”


    “Habitat conditions in Southeast Montana are fair to good across most of the region,” says Hughes. “Large amounts of moisture in 2019 helped to kick-off spring growth and many areas received regular rainfall up until mid-July. Residual cover from 2019 and growth from 2020 will make for lots of cover this fall.”

“Large swarms of grasshoppers have left some areas in the south east part of Region 7 lacking habitat though,” he warns. “Also, Region 7 had multiple fires burning that were each around 50,000 acres in size and has many smaller fires that have burnt farmland, river bottoms and prairie across southeast Montana.”
“While broods have been spread out on the landscape thanks to good habitat conditions,” says Hughes, “it appears that pheasants have had a decent hatch this year. There is strong anecdotal evidence from across the region that birds had a good initial nesting attempt.”


    “Major waterways across the region are always good spots to start when looking for roosters in southeastern Montana,” says Hughes. “The large amounts of habitat and adjacent farmland can make for great conditions to produce a bag of roosters.”


    “Hunters should do as much research as possible prior to their arrival in the state to ensure habitat conditions at their favorite hunting spot are what they expect them to be,” says Hughes. “Ground cover in eastern Montana can change quickly due to weather conditions, insects and wildfire. Hunters that put in the time researching their hunting areas and creating a ‘plan of attack’ will see success. Coming to a place like Southeast Montana can be overwhelming due to its vast area.” Call ahead, make some preparations, put together a plan.

“And no matter how many birds you bag, do not forget to thank landowners who allow public hunting, participate in FWP access programs such as Block Management and Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program, and help maintain the habitats and working landscapes that make Montana great,” adds Hughes. 


    “Starting in September 2019 there were a couple of snow events that had the potential to reduce the numbers of birds that didn’t have the proper habitat needs,” says Evan Rodgers, UGBEP habitat specialist with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. “The heart of the winter was mild though, with above average temperatures and below average precipitation. Considering both the early fall and late winter weather, over-winter survival looked fair.”
“Spring conditions were above average for precipitation, which led to good brood rearing cover and insect production,” says Rodgers. “We had a few snow events in the middle of April and May, with continued periodic precipitation into June and July. August was hot and dry and has led to extreme fire danger in the region. Hunters need to be cautious when in the field and should avoid driving through tall grasses.”


    “Habitat going into the fall season looks good,” says Rodgers. “After the early spring moisture, things started to dry out which has led to high fire danger throughout the region. Much of the CRP fields around the area look to have great height and composition going into the hunting season.”

“Some landowners have been seeing good numbers of pheasants,” Rodgers adds, “but others aren’t seeing any pheasants when harvesting areas where they used to see good numbers of pheasants. Similar to what the brood routs have shown, pheasant numbers are good in areas that have high quality habitat, while other areas with low quality habitat have low pheasant numbers.” 

“Based on the crow count surveys throughout region pheasant numbers are generally lower than average, but higher than average spring precipitation has led to greater brood rearing cover and insect production,” says Rodgers. “With the higher quality habitat throughout the region, we expect the brood survival to be good and there should be pheasants in the field where habitat is right.”


    “I recommend hunters look at the new Hunt Planner on our website,” says Rodgers. “There you can find publicly accessible private lands, some of which are enrolled in our Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program and are open specifically for upland bird hunters. The Block Management Program also provides excellent upland bird hunting opportunity in certain areas.


    “Learn how to spot quality upland bird habitat,” says Rodgers. “Since the bird numbers are lower this year, hunters who can identify the key components that make quality pheasant habitat will have greater success in the field.



    By Marissa Jensen

Editor’s Note: If you’re reading this forecast, you must hunt pheasants. If you hunt pheasants and don’t belong to Pheasants Forever or you need to renew, it’s time. Since inception, PF has impacted over 19 million acres of habitat, and created over 200,000 acres of permanently public wild places to hunt and recreate. Upland habitat, public lands and hunting heritage need you. Join, renew or extend and for a limited time get a sweet PF Field Hoodie to boot!

One of Nebraska’s more recent and infamous mottos, “Honestly, it’s not for everyone,”, doesn’t necessarily ring true for pheasant hunters, and the upcoming 2020-21 season seems to provide more reassurance that Nebraska should be a state that upland hunters consider.

 “Anecdotally, pheasant production this summer appears to be better this year (compared to 2019), at least within our core pheasant areas,” says John Laux, Nebraska Game and Parks Upland Habitat and Access Program Manager. But to start let’s take a closer look at how the past year has played out for weather in Nebraska.


    Like other midwestern states, pheasant populations aren’t necessarily impacted by mild winters like they are in the further north of pheasant range. This proved to be the case throughout the 2019-20 winter in Nebraska, with no mass mortality events noted.
“Pheasant counts during this year’s April Rural Mail Carrier Survey (RMCS) were up 20 percent statewide,” says Laux.
Conditions throughout spring and summer continued to be favorable for pheasant production. Total precipitation noted throughout primary nesting season was above normal in the north-central and southeastern portions of the state. Additionally, these numbers were slightly below average in other regions. However, the abundant moisture from 2019 provided a helpful head start for nesting habitat this year.

During peak hatch time, Nebraska experienced heatwaves, but many regions received rainfall during these extreme temperatures, providing a much-needed reprieve and improved habitat for brood-rearing. Most recently, portions of western and northeastern Nebraska have experienced moderate to severe drought conditions to take into consideration.


    “Habitat appears to be sufficient in most areas, but hunters should keep an eye on future weather patterns as habitat conditions may change between now and the season opener,” cautions Laux. “Dry conditions during late summer triggered emergency haying and grazing. Consequently, some publicly accessible, Open Fields and Waters (OFW) lands in these counties will likely be impacted this fall, so pre-season scouting is highly recommended.”

Relatively good numbers of broods were reported by biologists throughout the state, where suitable habitat exists. Broods were variable in size and age, which Laux shares is indicative of nest success occurring both early and late throughout the nesting season.


    Nebraska continues to utilize RMCS to evaluate populations, with surveys being conducted in April, July and October of each year.
“Statewide, pheasant counts increased slightly (+5 percent) during this year’s July RMCS compared to 2019 but remain below the 5- and 10-year averages,” shares Laux. “Regionally, increases were observed in Southwest, Panhandle, and Northeast regions. The most notable increases occurred in the Southwest (+47 percent) and Panhandle (+36 percent) — which are considered the core pheasant range — and this year’s pheasant indices (within these regions) were equal to or slightly above their respective 20-year averages.”

    Readers can find more information on survey results and summaries online at Nebraska’s Upland Page and Upland Gamebird Hunting Outlook.


    When asked where hunters should target their efforts this year, Laux points to three distinct regions: Southwest, the Panhandle and Northeast Nebraska.

“The Southwest is known for its diverse agricultural landscape, abundant habitat and good bird numbers,” says Laux. “There are also plenty of publicly accessible lands as roughly a third of all CRP acres found in this region are open to public, walk-in hunting through OFW. Tall wheat and milo stubble fields also provide excellent pheasant hunting opportunities and biologists expect to enroll more than 40,000 acres throughout the region this fall.”

“The expansive patchwork of CRP and winter wheat fields in the Panhandle is also known to support good numbers of pheasants and should provide good opportunities this fall according to survey results,” he adds. “Public access is more limited compared to the Southwest but OFW tracts in both the southern (Cheyenne, Deuel, Morrill, and eastern Kimball) and northern (Box Butte and Sheridan) Panhandle provide plenty of opportunity.” 

Don’t rule out the Northeastern portion of the state; “In the mid-90’s, Northeast Nebraska was known as a premier pheasant hunting destination,” says Laux.  “Although this landscape has changed considerably since then, good hunting opportunities do still exist where suitable habitat (primarily CRP) is abundant.  Portions of Knox, Antelope, Cedar and Dixon Counties will provide some of the better pheasant hunting and public access opportunities this year. Birds in eastern Nebraska are heavily reliant on CRP and some isolated tracts supporting good pheasant numbers are often overlooked by most hunters.” 
Laux reminds readers that although drought is a term that upland hunters never want to hear, the overall weather conditions and habitat for Nebraska during nesting season were favorable. However, if drier conditions persist long into fall and winter, hunters will need to be flexible and change their approach to increase success they find in the field.


    Laux provides four insider tips to help you be successful this upcoming season:

1. Pre-Hunt Scouting
“This is especially important in counties impacted by CRP emergency haying and grazing. Although cover will be reduced on some (not all) CRP fields in certain areas of the state — including portions of the southwest and panhandle — this may concentrate birds in some of the remaining cover so hunters that do their homework and take a quick drive will likely have the upper hand.”

2. Hunt Early (or Late) Season
With drier conditions persisting in some areas of the state, hunters may find a higher percentage of corn and soybean fields harvested by the season opener (October 31) this year, which may enhance hunting opportunities and harvest success during the early season. For those seeking more seclusion, hunting during the late season is a good option” Hunting pressure generally tapers off as the season progresses and snow cover can often give you the advantage over some of the more educated roosters.”

3. Target Other Productive Habitat Types
“Biologists expect to enroll over 40,000 acres of tall wheat and milo stubble into OFW this fall throughout portions of western Nebraska. Many of these fields include unfarmed pockets and weedy fencelines that should not be overlooked. Tall stubble is generally underutilized by hunters compared to CRP fields, but some folks are starting to catch on to the opportunities. If you hunt out west, make sure to pick up the 2020-21 Stubble Access Guide (published in mid-October) that displays the publicly accessible tall stubble fields along with other lands open to public access.” 
4. Key in on Water Sources
“If conditions remain dry, water sources will likely become increasingly important in certain areas. Most obvious to hunters are the free-standing water sources (stock ponds, ditches, wetlands) but birds will also shift their diets to increase water intake during dry spells. High water content is typically found in most insects as well as some of the more succulent broadleaf plants, which are generally more abundant in weed patches and other recently disturbed areas. Although irrigation typically ceases well before the pheasant opener, birds produced in some areas may have fared better or concentrated near crop fields that were irrigated. Pivot corners are easy to pick out on aerial imagery and may be worth walking if birds seem thin elsewhere.”



    By Tom Carpenter

Editor’s Note: If you’re reading this forecast, you must hunt pheasants. If you hunt pheasants and don’t belong to Pheasants Forever or you need to renew, it’s time. Since inception, PF has impacted over 19 million acres of habitat, and created over 200,000 acres of permanently public wild places to hunt and recreate. Upland habitat, public lands and hunting heritage need you. Join, renew or extend and for a limited time get a sweet PF Field Hoodie to boot!

North Dakota’s annual roadside survey of upland gamebirds shows a good jump in the number of pheasants counted – 38 percent, to be exact. That’s good news, though the state’s birds are still working to come back from the drought of 2017. Still, the trend is good and the bottom line is clear: Overall, there will be more roosters to hunt in North Dakota this fall.


    “Hunting was difficult last year,” says Rodney J. Gross, upland game management biologist with North Dakota Game and Fish. “Spring and summer were very wet, and many gravel roads were impassable, harvest was severely delayed, and then fall itself was abnormally wet.” To top it off, a blizzard hammered much of the state for the resident opener.

“Overall, fewer hunters went out, and there was plenty of cover for the birds to hide in,” says Gross.


    “Three-quarters of the state had a very mild winter, with the Southeast being the only area with a true North Dakota winter,” says Gross. “We lost some birds in the Southeast, but birds in the rest of the state came through just fine.”

“Conditions for nesting and brood-rearing were above average in most of the state,” adds Gross. “We had plenty of residual cover and moisture from last fall’s wet period. Some parts of the state did experience abnormally dry periods this spring and summer, but nesting was still successful.” That bodes well for a good hunt this fall.


“Habitat and crops look to be setting up well for the fall,” says Gross. “The crops should be off in time for hunters to get out and chase roosters in North Dakota,” and that is always good news.

“The hatch did seem to be slightly earlier this year,” says Gross. “We observed more broods and chicks on our annual late summer roadside count in 2020 compared to 2019.”


    Total pheasants observed per 100 miles in late summer’s survey are up 38 percent from 2019, but 14 percent below the 10-year average. Broods per 100 miles are up 30 percent from 2019, but 16% below the 10-year average. Average brood size is up 10 percent from 2019 and 5 percent below the 10-year average. The final summary was based on 275 survey runs made along 100 brood routes across North Dakota.

“Local populations are building back up,” says Gross. “But they are not at the point yet of spreading out into new territories. Hunters will need to work to find localized hotspots of pheasants.” Still, the increase in numbers bodes well if you have been looking to get back to North Dakota, or take a jaunt there. Where to go?

Observers in the Northwest counted 12 broods and 91 pheasants per 100 miles, up from 5 broods and 39 pheasants in 2019. Average brood size was 6.

Statistics from southwestern North Dakota indicated 8 broods and 70 pheasants per 100 miles, up from 6 broods and 41 pheasants in 2019. Average brood size was 6 chicks.
Results from the Southeast showed 5 broods and 41 pheasants per 100 miles, down from 6 broods and 51 pheasants in 2019. Average brood size was 5. Expect bird numbers to be close to last year.

The northeast district, generally containing secondary pheasant habitat with lower pheasant numbers compared to the rest of the state, showed 3 broods and 22 pheasants per 100 miles, compared to 3 broods and 15 pheasants last year. Average brood size was 6.


    “The northwestern and southwestern parts of the state will have the most roosters for hunters to pursue,” says Gross succinctly.


    “Scouting is key,” advises Gross. “Drive. Look for the good habitat. And don’t be afraid to ask permission to hunt private land,” especially after the opening week or two. North Dakota folks are a friendly lot and might share a few birds once the relatives and other guests have hunted. “Then just walk and hunt.”

Jesse Kolar, North Dakota’s upland game supervisor, echoes that thought: “Get out and walk some grass! People spend more time virtual scouting on their computers and phones than they do hunting. Use all that time to mow lawns, paint the house or work overtime, so you can spend a few more hours in the field finding birds. Most birds can’t be seen from a computer or sometimes even the windshield, so getting out and walking more miles is the only consistent way to put up more birds in the fall.”



    By Andy Fondrick, Digital Marketing Specialist at Pheasants Forever 

Editor’s Note: If you’re reading this forecast, you must hunt pheasants. If you hunt pheasants and don’t belong to Pheasants Forever or you need to renew, it’s time. Since inception, PF has impacted over 19 million acres of habitat, and created over 200,000 acres of permanently public wild places to hunt and recreate. Upland habitat, public lands and hunting heritage need you. Join, renew or extend and for a limited time get a sweet PF Field Hoodie to boot!

After a very wet 2019 that saw flooding throughout much of pheasant country, 2020 has provided much friendlier nesting and brood rearing conditions. Combine the favorable weather trends with the state’s most successful conservation program allowing for reenrollment, and pheasant hunters in Ohio have plenty of reason for excitement heading into fall.


    “The winter of 2019-20 was relatively mild,” says Joseph Lautenbach, wildlife biologist for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “There were a few weather events that brought extreme cold and snow; however, those events were relatively short in duration and likely had little impact on bird survival and they were likely in good condition going into the breeding season.”

Ohio’s spring conditions weren’t quite as mild, but they were drastically better than the year before.

“Spring brought some cold, winter-like weather events and even a little snow into May,” says Lautenbach. “This may have reduced nest survival; however, the cold weather occurred early enough in the nesting season that hens with failed nests likely attempted a second nest.”

Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s Senior Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist in Ohio, Cody Grasser, was excited about this year’s nesting season after the struggles of 2019.

“Thankfully, the relentless rainfall of spring and summer 2019 did not return”, Grasser says. “Conditions were better for nesting and brooding in Ohio.”

“It was a nice change of pace from the past few years where Ohio has experienced flooding throughout much of the pheasant range,” Lautenbach adds. “Pheasant brood survival is likely up due to the drier conditions.”


    With upland habitat excelling and pheasant numbers holding strong, there is a buzz around the 2020 hunting season.

“Upland habitat on public wildlife areas looks excellent going into fall,” says Lautenbach. “Ohio Division of Wildlife staff members tasked with managing these areas have done an excellent job and reports from staff seem to indicate those areas experienced good reproduction.”

“In general, Ohio has seen a decrease in land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). However, Ohio's most successful conservation program, the Scioto River Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), was allowed to reenroll and sign new landowners up. This is great news for pheasants and pheasant hunters in Ohio.”

Grasser echoes the importance of the Scioto River CREP and the impact it has on roosters in the Buckeye State.

“Ohio's pheasant stronghold is in the central and southern parts of the state along the Scioto River watershed,” says Grasser. “The Scioto CREP plays a large part in supporting pheasants in this area through enrollment of private lands into the program to establish and maintain native grassland habitat. Management requirements in this program help ensure the habitat is of good quality to benefit wildlife.”

Grasser reports that Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever biologists have reported flushing adult birds and hearing cackling roosters while afield, while Lautenbach has the state survey reports to back up the field sightings. 

“Ohio's spring crow counts indicated that the pheasant population is similar to last year,” says Lautenbach. “There have been reports of broods from our wildlife areas with wild pheasants and I have heard some nice reports of broods from landowners enrolled in the Scioto River CREP.”

He adds that while populations are down from peaks in past decades, there are still some pockets of excellent habitat that can yield a high-quality hunt.


    Both Lautenbach and Grasser recommend hitting the Scioto River corridor and checking out Ross, Pickaway, Madison and Fayette counties as good starting sports this fall. These counties should offer a combination of strong public land being managed by the Ohio Division of Wildlife and private land opportunities (be sure to obtain written permission from landowners). 

Lautenbach also has a few specific wildlife areas you may want to drop a pin on. 

“Visiting Deer Creek Wildlife Area and nearby Wildlife Production Areas in south-central Ohio can be very productive,” he says. “Big Island Wildlife Area in Marion County and Lake La Su An Wildlife Area in Williams County are both popular destinations for pheasant hunters in Ohio. Both wildlife areas provide large blocks of grass interspersed with wetlands and crops.”

Visit the Ohio Division of Wildlife website to find public land hunting opportunities.


    So how would these two go about hunting longtails in Ohio this fall? 

“Native grasses and early successional habitat attract a lot of birds, especially with a good food source within or nearby,” says Grasser. “Look to brushy fence rows and heavier cover when snow and colder temps arrive.  Take your time and be thorough working through thick cover and you will find some birds.”

“Going during the week results in fewer hunters and can improve the quality of the hunt on public land,” says Lautenbach. “With a little bit of effort, folks can find less visited portions of the wildlife areas, even during the busy weekends. Another strategy to avoid crowds would be securing permission to hunt on private lands with CRP or CREP in central Ohio. While there are excellent opportunities on our wildlife areas and wildlife production areas, the private ground gets a lot less pressure.”

As a reminder, Ohio’s pheasant season runs from November 6 - January 10 and starting this fall the pheasant season no longer closes during the deer gun season, although hunters are required to wear orange during that season.



    By Andrew Johnson

Editor’s Note: If you’re reading this forecast, you must hunt pheasants. If you hunt pheasants and don’t belong to Pheasants Forever or you need to renew, it’s time. Since inception, PF has impacted over 19 million acres of habitat, and created over 200,000 acres of permanently public wild places to hunt and recreate. Upland habitat, public lands and hunting heritage need you. Join, renew or extend and for a limited time get a sweet PF Field Hoodie to boot!


    For the most part, Oklahoma had a relatively mild and dry winter, according to Tanner Swank, PF/QF farm bill biologist based out of Woodward, Okla. 

“There were a handful of real cold snaps and snow events sprinkled throughout winter,” he says. “Those events were relatively short-lived however, which in theory would’ve allowed for better survival going into nesting season.”

Tell Judkins, upland game biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC), says spring surveys indicate the state’s pheasant population came through winter just fine.

“ODWC conducts annual roadside surveys for spring crow counts and August brood counts,” he says. “The 2020 numbers show an improvement over 2019 in our spring counts, and the August surveys are still in progress.”


    Across the board, nesting conditions were decent for both pheasant and quail this spring, Swank reports. 

“It was relatively dry when needed, and we got critical moisture at the right times,” he states. “Nesting was on time this year, if not slightly early.”

Judkins also believes nesting potential was decent for quail and pheasants and says plant and insect communities have fared well.

“I have received reports of broods of varying ages throughout the summer,” Judkins says. “There were several isolated hail events that I expect had an impact on broods, but given the nesting potential and insect crop, a secondary or tertiary attempt (at nesting) would have been possible.”
Swank says brood-rearing season started dry and hot, especially in northwest Oklahoma and the Panhandle. 

“However, conditions improved rapidly in July when it cooled off and started raining,” he reports. “Since then, habitats have provided excellent potential for a successful crop of pheasants this year.”


    “Most of Oklahoma’s pheasant habitat is in need of management, whether it being prescribed fire, eastern red cedar removal or things of that nature,” Swank says. “However, in general, habitats are looking productive for pheasants this season.”

Oklahoma is on the edge of pheasant range, and while Swank says hunters could expect better pheasant numbers than 2018 and 2019, they will still prove elusive and challenging. 

“The variety of terrain pheasants inhabit mixed with dense vegetation could prove tricky to get flushes within range,” he says.


    Pheasant hunting is limited to the northwestern part of Oklahoma, Judkins says, and he advises anyone wanting to chase roosters on public land to check out the ODWC’s online maps (https://www.wildlifedepartment.com/hunting/where-to-hunt).
Judkins says Wildlife Management Areas such as Cooper, Ft. Supply and Beaver River are good places to start. He also says Oklahoma Land Access Program (OLAP) properties near Buffalo and Freedom, as well as the Great Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, are a few additional locations that provide pheasant hunting opportunities. 

“The main tip I would provide is to enjoy yourself,” Judkins says. “Oklahoma is full of unique landscapes and history. Pheasants can be pretty sneaky, especially late in the season, so work some ground, trust your dog, and make a memory.”


    Oklahoma’s pheasant season opens Dec. 1 and runs through the end of January. The quail season, which begins Nov. 14 and ends mid-February, overlaps the entire pheasant season, giving upland hunters a large window of time where they have the chance at a mixed bag.

“Hunters in Oklahoma are primarily after quail and bag pheasants as a happy bonus,” concludes Swank. “In fact, many hunters wait to hunt quail until after pheasant season opens so they can bag a rooster, should one flush.”

The state’s daily limit is two cock pheasants, with a possession of four. Pheasant (and quail) hunters must wear blaze orange when any big-game hunting season is also open in the area they are bird hunting. Shooting hours are from sunrise to sunset.


    By Andy Fondrick, Digital Marketing Specialist at Pheasants Forever 

Editor’s Note: If you’re reading this forecast, you must hunt pheasants. If you hunt pheasants and don’t belong to Pheasants Forever or you need to renew, it’s time. Since inception, PF has impacted over 19 million acres of habitat, and created over 200,000 acres of permanently public wild places to hunt and recreate. Upland habitat, public lands and hunting heritage need you. Join, renew or extend and for a limited time get a sweet PF Field Hoodie to boot!

While pheasants didn’t go without challenges over the past year in Oregon, it was a pretty good year overall. Decent weather conditions and carryover cover plants from 2019 have provided some positive results for pheasant broods and the fall ahead. Initial reports show that longtails should be trending in the right direction heading into the hunting season.


    A relatively mild should have allowed for a high survival rate, according to Mikal Cline, upland game bird coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“There were some unusually long and cold precipitation events in eastern Oregon this spring,” says Cline, “but this seems to have missed the majority of our pheasant strongholds across the northern counties of the Columbia Basin. The Malheur County flocks were likely somewhat impacted at hatch. Summer was quite dry, though there was an abundance of arthropods that should have benefited young pheasant broods.”

Luckily, the recent forest fires haven’t affected the state’s core pheasant areas, but Cline does recommend checking on closures and air quality before hitting the field as fire conditions can change rapidly.


    Dry conditions did have an impact on pheasant habitat and cover over the summer, but a strong 2019 helped to safeguard some returning cover crops. 

“Upland habitat is fairly dry and desiccated going fall,” says Cline. “There was a decent carryover in cover after a wet year in 2019, so despite the dry conditions, there is cover to be found.”

This carryover cover may have proved critical to the survival of broods this summer, because all indications are that pheasants are heading into the fall in strong numbers.

“There appears to be a nice improvement in pheasant flocks from 2019, with more birds detected on routes, and more chicks per hen,” Cline says.

According to Cline, some eastern Oregon districts conduct summer production surveys. The Umatilla and Heppner Districts turned in the best counts, followed by the Mid-Columbia and Malheur Districts. Click here to view Oregon’s the full forecast results.


    With Oregon pheasant numbers on the rise, Cline has a few hot spots she would recommend checking out this fall. 

“The Heppner area offers the best combination of hunter access and pheasant numbers,” she says. “Sherman County is also a good bet, with the best pheasant numbers in the Mid-Columbia district and numerous landowners enrolled in the Upland Cooperative Access Program. Access is more difficult in the other pheasant strongholds south of Pendleton (Umatilla County), but check out the pheasant hunting opportunities on the Mid-Columbia River complex of National Wildlife Refuges.”


    “Birds will gather on denser, more permanent cover once crops are harvested,” says Cline. “This can include emergent wetland edges, fencerows, irrigation ditches, and CRP fields.  Pheasants will be tied to available water, so don’t stray too far from wetlands, creeks, or ditches.”

You can also utilize Oregon’s access programs to find pheasants on private land in the Columbia Basin with their online access map.



    By Andy Fondrick, Digital Marketing Specialist at Pheasants Forever 

Editor’s Note: If you’re reading this forecast, you must hunt pheasants. If you hunt pheasants and don’t belong to Pheasants Forever or you need to renew, it’s time. Since inception, PF has impacted over 19 million acres of habitat, and created over 200,000 acres of permanently public wild places to hunt and recreate. Upland habitat, public lands and hunting heritage need you. Join, renew or extend and for a limited time get a sweet PF Field Hoodie to boot!

Decent winter and spring months combined with significant work to the pheasant landscape in Pennsylvania has helped upland birds get through a hot, dry summer. While private lands have seen habitat decrease in recent years, Pheasants Forever farm bill biologists are continuing to work hard at reversing these trends and establish more acres of grasslands within the states two wild pheasant recovery areas. 

All indications point towards a strong late season habitat which should allow for younger birds to put on some growth, providing for some fun this fall before the winter months hit.


    “This winter proved to be another fairly mild one in Pennsylvania, which always helps to ease winter-related mortality of pheasants,” says Thomas Keller, wildlife research biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC). “We conduct flushing surveys in February to assist with population estimates and without the snowpack, birds were fairly spread out and able to utilize a lot of cover that typically is not available during the winter months.” 

Steady rains during a fairly typical spring shouldn’t have negatively impacted brood production, but summer provided some challenges for nesting and brood rearing. 

“Unfortunately, summer was hot and dry in most parts of the state,” says Keller. “It began in June and only recently abating in late August. This pushed back the growing season for many of the warm season grasses that Pennsylvania pheasants depend on for cover and some nesting. Thankfully with their late growing season and the oncoming rains, we think the birds will be able to put some growth on for the coming winter.”

While upland habitat has continued to decrease on private lands, the PGC has been developing excellent habitat on State Game Lands, which make up over 1.5 million acres in Pennsylvania. 

“This habitat will be stocked with over 220,000 pen-reared birds in 2020-21 and upland hunters will enjoy a mix of forbs and warm season grasses found in reverting field complexes,” Keller says. “This management not only benefits pheasants, but many other game and non-game species through solid food and cover going into the fall and winter months.  To find this fantastic cover and stocking locations check out the PGC pheasant page.


    According to Keller, Pennsylvania doesn’t conduct brood surveys of the states wild pheasant areas, but several private landowners have reported good brood numbers throughout the spring and early summer. 

“Biologists conducted crowing count surveys this past spring within the two wild pheasant recovery areas,” Keller says. “The Franklin County area showed an marked increase in population compared to last year. Unfortunately, the Central Susquehanna area showed a decline in population in comparison to 2019. This decline is likely a direct result of continued habitat loss within private lands in the area.”

But work is being done to help correct these issues. 

“Pheasants Forever farm bill biologists are continuing to work hard at reversing the trend and establish more acres of grasslands within both of these areas,” says Keller. Check out the PGC annual wildlife management report for a full summary of monitoring and results from the 2019-20 field season.


    For hunters looking to chase longtails in Pennsylvania this fall, Keller has a handful of spots to get you started in the right direction.

“Pheasants are stocked well throughout the state but there are some places that hunters should focus on because of the expansive habitat available,” Keller says. “The first place I would recommend would be Blue Marsh Lake in Berks County. This is a combination of State Game Lands and Army Corps of Engineers lands managed by the PGC. This area is being managed specifically for small game and along with pheasants, hunters will find managed dove fields, good rabbit cover, woodlots with squirrels and even woodcock in mid- to late October.”

Keller also recommends focusing on York/Adams Counties. “Both of these counties have quite a few state game lands, many broken into compartments, and almost all are located within agricultural communities which provide good surrounding habitat,” he says. “There are plenty of good parking areas, and for hunters wishing to travel from Maryland, it’s only a hop, skip, and jump away.”

“The third area I would recommend would be Cumberland County,” says Keller. “This county has two game lands that receive a good number of birds, and have been managed specifically for grasslands, with large mixed grass/forb stands to hold birds long into the season. With both the Turnpike and Route 81 being nearby, hunters willing to hit the road can find access fairly easily whether from in state or out.”

Finally, the PGC offers a great opportunity for youth to hunt wild pheasants within the Central Susquehanna Wild Pheasant Recovery Area in Northumberland County. “This is an excellent opportunity for families to experience the “good old days” as the last several years hunt days have yielded hundreds of flushes in golden fields of grass,” says Keller. 

If you have a junior hunter and are interested in this youth hunt, head to the PGA youth page for more information and to apply.


    As the states season opener approaches on October 24th, Keller recommends hunters pay close attention to stocking locations, allocations and schedules which will be posted on the PGC pheasant page by mid-September.

“Get out as close to the stocking day as you can to take advantage of the birds,” says Keller, “but don’t worry if you miss the opener, stockings will occur all the way from mid-October up until Christmas.”

The PGC interactive map will help hunters to find the best pheasant cover where they can expect birds to be holding.

If you aren’t finding success in the fields, Keller suggests thinking like a grouse hunter and heading for the surrounding shrubby cover or woodlands.

“After the few first pushes of the day, pheasants get wise and head into the thick stuff to find refuge and avoid pesky dogs snuffling around behind them,” he says. “Hunt fence rows and woods edges, even well into the trees looking for holding cover such as brambles, thick shrubs, or blowdowns and you might put up some of those sly ring-necks who would otherwise let you walk right by.”

“No matter how you decide to hunt them, Pennsylvania welcomes you to another awesome year of upland hunting in the Keystone State,” Keller says. “Stay safe and have a wonderful time in the field.”



    Editor’s Note: If you’re reading this forecast, you must hunt pheasants. If you hunt pheasants and don’t belong to Pheasants Forever or you need to renew, it’s time. Since inception, PF has impacted over 19 million acres of habitat, and created over 200,000 acres of permanently public wild places to hunt and recreate. Upland habitat, public lands and hunting heritage need you. Join, renew or extend and for a limited time get a sweet PF Field Hoodie to boot!

South Dakota suspended its longstanding and much-anticipated annual roadside pheasant count survey this past summer. Even without hard data, we’ll take some looks into South Dakota’s pheasant prospects for this fall and early winter.


    “Due to a wet summer and fall, standing crops were present for most of the hunting season in 2019, which provided vast refuges for roosters,” says Travis Runia, senior upland game biologist for South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. “In addition to unharvested crops, many fields were too wet to plant and grew to weeds. While this provided great habitat, the vast amount of this new habitat made it challenging to hunt.”

“As crops finally got harvested late in the year,” Runia continues, “many late season pheasant hunters were rewarded with spectacular hunting. Overall, most hunters that chased roosters in 2019 are looking forward to a more ‘normal’ year for hunting in 2020.” Indeed: agricultural reports are that corn and soybeans are maturing nicely thus far this early fall, and hunters should not be dealing with as many crops in the field this fall.


    In general across the Northern Plains, a sometimes-rough winter did not take a heavy toll on wildlife. Pheasants are just that tough. It appears that last year’s wet conditions put habitat there is on the landscape in good shape for potential brood production.

A silver lining for 2020, at least as far as early season hunting goes: Agricultural reports are that corn and soybeans are maturing nicely thus far this early fall, and hunters should not be dealing with as many crops in the field this fall across the state.


    Usually this space would focus on roadside counts, but none were done this year. “The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks is not providing a pheasant abundance forecast this year,” advises Runia.

Still, we can look at conditions and make some educated insights.

“Most of the primary pheasant range was drought free this year and grassland habitat looks great across the state going into early fall,” says Runia. “With the wet weather last year, cattail abundance has skyrocketed across the landscape, especially in the entire James River Valley. Cattails are a favorite habitat for pheasants, especially as winter sets in. In addition to providing a place to hunt, the abundance of cattail sloughs could positively influence pheasant survival this winter.”


    Its hard to find a place in South Dakota’s pheasant range that won’t offer good hunting. That’s one of the beauties of going to the Pheasant Capital of the World. It’s really all about the kind of terrain you’d like to see. Places to consider include the Northeast and its farmlands and prairie potholes (think Redfield, Watertown and Huron), the Missouri River and James River runs (think Aberdeen, Pierre and Chamberlain), and the classics such as Winner, Mitchell, Plankinton-White Lake and Murdo. Check some of them out here. << 

Check out South Dakota GFP’s Ringneck Outlook here. << 

Finally, a copy of South Dakota’s 2019 Pheasant Harvest Per Square Mile County-by-County Map (displayed below and interactively available here) may be of help in planning a hunt.


    “Although pheasant opener draws a lot of attention for good reason,” says Runia, “hunting is often better weeks later as crop harvest progresses. We encourage hunters to enjoy the rich traditions associated with the opener, but hunters should look for excellent hunting weeks later as ‘pheasant refuge’ cropfields are harvested and birds are pushed into more huntable habitats.”

Don’t worry about all the pheasants being “all shot out.” They may be educated, but there will still be plenty to hunt there late in the season.


    South Dakota expanded its pheasant hunting season this year: Hunting will remain open until January 31 as opposed to the usual early January, offering hardy hunters and their dogs some extra weeks in the field.



    By Andy Fondrick, Digital Marketing Specialist at Pheasants Forever 

Editor’s Note: If you’re reading this forecast, you must hunt pheasants. If you hunt pheasants and don’t belong to Pheasants Forever or you need to renew, it’s time. Since inception, PF has impacted over 19 million acres of habitat, and created over 200,000 acres of permanently public wild places to hunt and recreate. Upland habitat, public lands and hunting heritage need you. Join, renew or extend and for a limited time get a sweet PF Field Hoodie to boot!

Inconsistent weather conditions and scattered pockets of pheasant populations will make for a challenging, but huntable season in Texas this year. Doing your homework and scouting areas with better habitat, irrigation runoff and isolated areas of higher rainfall may be necessary to find longtails across the Panhandle.


    “We had a relatively mild winter with no extended periods of extreme cold or snow, the birds made it through the winter fine,” says Robert Perez, upland game bird program supervisor with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Much like other regions of pheasant country, the winter months weren’t the problem in terms of challenging upland conditions effecting bird populations.

“There was optimism heading into spring for a good nesting season because of good soil moisture and decent cover,” says Perez. “However, the Panhandle experienced consistent high temps and winds in late spring and summer months. The drought conditions continued throughout the summer for most areas.”

Derek Wiley, coordinating wildlife biologist with Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever, noted there were also some dramatic differences in conditions and weather across the state. 

“Spring and Summer conditions for pheasants have been a little all over the map for Texas with some areas receiving decent moisture and some areas being incredibly dry,” Wiley added.


    Differences in weather conditions naturally created some vast inconsistencies when it comes to habitat and bird populations in the state as well.

“Upland habitat is in fair to poor condition currently, with CRP and managed corners being the best available habitat areas,” says Perez. “Playas were in good shape from moisture received last fall and winter, and if they were not grazed should still be good habitat leading into the fall.”

“There should be good quality habitat in areas that received rainfall,” says Wiley. “There are portions of the panhandle that have not had much moisture at all this summer so habitat quality varies drastically.”

According to Perez, the drought conditions resulted in a poor hatch and brooding year. The trends of the state’s roadside survey history is shown below, but it seems as though Texas is still trying to recover from the drought of 2011-12.

    Year    2010    2011    2012    2013    2014    2015    2016    2017    2018    2019

    No. of Routes    44    44    44    41    44    44    44    44    44    44

    Birds Sighted    1,208    126    25    15    43    210    276    176    62    129

    Birds/route    27.45    2.86    0.57    0.37    0.98    4.77    6.27    4.00    1.41    2.93

    Miles Surveyed    880    880    880    820    880    880    880    880    880    880

    Birds/Mile    1.37    0.14    0.03    0.02    0.05    0.24    0.31    0.20    0.07    0.15

“Among folks in the luckier areas, I’m hearing average reports,” says Wiley. “But based on visiting with folks across the panhandle, our pheasant numbers will be average to below average.”


    While it will take some work to find the hidden habitat, Perez and Wiley both have a few places to start your search this season.

Perez recommends Dallam, Hartley and Deaf Smith counties in the western Panhandle for your best bet at finding roosters this fall. 

Wiley would start with the northern Panhandle before moving on to the central and southern regions of the Panhandle, in that order.


    With limited habitats and crops, there are a few tips that can be offered up for the 2020 season. 

“Come early in the season to the areas mentioned above,” says Perez.  “A good dog will be essential as birds will be hard to find.  It sounds like a lot of folks are in cotton this year so seek out landowners with weedy playas or CRP close to cut milo fields.”

Wiley also notes Milo fields as a key component to success.

“Pheasant country in Texas is all high plains cropland,” he says. “Finding corners that are planted to grass around a milo field would be the best bet.  Public land is limited so be sure to ask for permission.”



    By Andrew Johnson

Editor’s Note: If you’re reading this forecast, you must hunt phwasants. If you hunt pheasants and don’t belong to Pheasants Forever or you need to renew, it’s time. Since inception, PF has impacted over 19 million acres of habitat, and created over 200,000 acres of permanently public wild places to hunt and recreate. Upland habitat, public lands and hunting heritage need you. Join, renew or extend and for a limited time get a sweet PF Field Hoodie to boot!

Pheasant hunters in Utah saw increased success last year, and wildlife officials are cautiously optimistic that trend continues this fall.

In 2018 Utah hunters dropped 46,000 roosters, but that number bubbled over the 50,000-bird mark last year, according to Heather Talley, upland game coordinator for Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. 

Last year’s total harvest undoubtedly includes some of the 11,000 birds that were stocked across public lands, but hopes are high that harvest totals keep trending upward.

“Last year's harvest is comparable to the overall harvest the past five years,” she reports. “More importantly, we are still displaying an increasing harvest trend over the past 10 years, and the state's biologists predict hunting to be comparable to last year.”


    The past winter was mild by Utah’s standards, and the spring was relatively dry. As a result, Talley doesn’t believe the winter or spring had a negative impact on pheasant populations, adding that nesting should have occurred at the usual time across the state’s primary pheasant regions.

Along the same lines, Talley notes Utah hasn’t experienced the summertime monsoons that have usually occurred by this time of year. 

“There hasn't been as much water as previous years, but in areas where water and vegetation persist, there has been an increase of insects, which should have been beneficial to broods this year,” she says. 

Heading into fall, Talley says most of the state’s habitat is a bit drier than usual, but any of the riparian corridors and wetland areas should remain prime pheasant hunting areas.


    Talley says the best places to find wild pheasant populations are in the northern and central regions of the state, primarily around the Great Salt Lake, Cache Valley and Utah Valley, and she also advises there’s a small wild population of birds that call the Richfield area home.

“We will also be releasing pen-reared birds on many of our wildlife management areas, which will be on our hunt planner on the wildlife.utah.gov website,” she says. “The best places to reference can be found on the hunt planner map, because we choose the best habitats in each region to release birds, so wild populations may exist in many of the areas we supplement with pen-reared birds.”


    The state’s regular pheasant season opens Nov. 7 and closes Dec. 6. The bag limit is 2 roosters, with a possession of 6. 

New for this year, the youth pheasant hunt will be held statewide from Oct. 31-Nov. 5. By extending the youth season and moving it closer to the general pheasant opener, wildlife officials hope more youth take advantage of having first crack at the state’s pheasant population. The extended youth season will have the same daily and possession limits as the regular pheasant season.

Before entering or hunting private land, hunters are reminded they need written permission from landowners. If hunters choose to hunt WIA areas, they should view the individual property rules online and register at the registration boxes, if required. 

In closing, Talley reminds hunters to wear hunter orange, even though it’s not required for upland hunts in Utah. She also encourages hunters to read through Utah’s Upland Guidebook so they’re aware that nontoxic shot is required in certain areas of the state.



    By Andy Fondrick, Digital Marketing Specialist at Pheasants Forever 

Editor’s Note: If you’re reading this forecast, you must hunt pheasants. If you hunt pheasants and don’t belong to Pheasants Forever or you need to renew, it’s time. Since inception, PF has impacted over 19 million acres of habitat, and created over 200,000 acres of permanently public wild places to hunt and recreate. Upland habitat, public lands and hunting heritage need you. Join, renew or extend and for a limited time get a sweet PF Field Hoodie to boot!

Favorable conditions through much of the winter and summer months should have helped upland birds make it through a wet spring. Washington will provide some potential hot spots for hunters looking to chase pheasants in the Pacific Northwest this season.


    Washington’s pheasants and other upland birds should have benefitted from a relatively mild and short winter. Once the wet spring conditions subsided, a much more manageable summer should have helped broods prepare for the fall ahead.

“We had a fair amount of spring precipitation,” says Sarah Garrison, small game and furbearer specialist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “This could have resulted in higher brood failure due to hypothermia if precipitation was poorly timed with the hatch. However, the spring rains resulted in good plant growth and insect production, so forage conditions were good for broods this summer.”


    Generally forgiving weather conditions have led to a positive outlook for the upcoming season, although there aren’t any counts to provide a more concrete outlook.

According to Garrison, Washington is participating in a multistate collaborative research project with Iowa State University and Pheasants Forever to improve brood survey methodology. Results from these surveys will be available once the project is completed.


    There are a few typical hotspots Garrison would steer an upland hunter looking to chase flushing roosters this fall, especially in the eastern part of the state.

“Grant and Whitman counties see some of our highest pheasant harvest,” Garrison says, “Lincoln, Adams, Franklin, and Walla Walla counties are also among the most productive as well.”

“Western Washington doesn’t have naturally sustaining wild pheasant populations,” Garrison adds. “But our pheasant release program will be operating at normal capacity this year to provide opportunity to western Washington hunters.” 

Click here for more information on the Western Washington Pheasant Release Program.


    Garrison recommends reaching out to landowners and securing access to private lands. You can also click here to check out some additional options for hunting on private lands in Washington.

Putting some extra miles on the boot treads in search of wily roosters will always go along way in the Pacific Northwest.



    By Andy Fondrick, Digital Marketing Specialist at Pheasants Forever 

Editor’s Note: If you’re reading this forecast, you must hunt pheasants. If you hunt pheasants and don’t belong to Pheasants Forever or you need to renew, it’s time. Since inception, PF has impacted over 19 million acres of habitat, and created over 200,000 acres of permanently public wild places to hunt and recreate. Upland habitat, public lands and hunting heritage need you. Join, renew or extend and for a limited time get a sweet PF Field Hoodie to boot!

Pheasants didn’t take much of a hit during the winter months, but the unusually dry summer has led to a less than promising outlook for upland birds during the 2020 season. Martin Hicks, wildlife biologist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, indicates hunters may need to pay close attention to stocking plans to find success this fall. 


    While birds may have escaped from potentially harsh winter months, they may not have been so lucky as temperatures began to rise.

“It was another average winter and with average survival,” Hicks says. “But Wyoming has been experiencing a terrible drought and anticipate a sharp decline in brood production and survival.”


    According to Hicks, upland habitat was already in poor condition and the current drought conditions have made for below-average habitat conditions. “We conduct roadside crow count surveys in the extreme southeast portion of Wyoming,” says Hicks. “This year’s survey numbers, while similar to past years, were far lower than they we’re 15-20 years ago.”


    When it comes to hunting pheasants in Wyoming this year, Hicks suggests hitting areas where birds have been stocked. “The best hunting spots are areas where the WGFD stocks pheasants,” says Hicks. “These areas include: Springer Wildlife Habitat Management Area (WHMA), Glendo State Park, Platte County Walk-In Areas (WIA), Goshen County, Laramie County, Table Mountain WHMA, Ocean Lake WHMA and Yellowtail WHMA to name a few.”


    Hicks suggests logging on to the Wyoming Game and Fish Website to check out follow the WGFD stocking plans if you’re interested in a few planted birds.

    Wolfe Publishing Group