Following a down year in 2018, Texas pheasant hunters hope a strong nesting and brooding season can help to rebound upland numbers in 2019
By Andy Fondrick, Digital Marketing Specialist at Pheasants Forever
Conditions in parts of the Texas panhandle should help provide better upland game numbers compared to recent years. Even after a hot summer that limited the amount of cover crop growth, a strong start to the year should have given pheasants a head-start during nesting season.
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic that this Texas upland hunting season will be more fruitful than last, but some timely rain is still needed to rejuvenate forb and cover grass growth heading into fall.
Weather and Conditions
“Texas had a relatively mild winter with no long-term ice events,” says Robert Perez, upland game bird program leader with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “Birds did well through the winter, unfortunately there just were not a lot of them around from previous years of relatively low production.”
Favorable conditions from spring into mid-summer brought on high hopes of a bounce-back year after a few down reproduction seasons.
“Conditions were excellent for nesting and brooding,” says Perez. “We had a high number of staff members reporting brood observations from April through June.”
Derek Wiley, coordinating wildlife biologist for Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever reported that as summer continued, high heat may have made for more difficult conditions. Perez and his staff noticed similar trends.
“Late June into July conditions were extremely dry throughout most of the state’s pheasant country and birds weren’t seen as often,” says Perez. “They were likely in heavier cover to escape the heat.”
Habitat, Broods and Counts
The summer heat played a role in diminishing upland habitat, but some areas were able to escape with solid cover and food sources available.
“The habitat around playas remained good, even into late summer since those areas retain more moisture and grass cover,” Perez says. Even after the hot summer, Perez has his fingers crossed that typical trends will provide a boost in habitat heading into the hunting season.
“Uplands still hold food, but grass and forb cover had declined with the hot conditions. September usually comes with rainfall and that generally improves the fall conditions.”
Although there were signs of a strong nesting and brooding season in most areas, Perez is more concerned that low numbers in previous years will be too much to recover from in just one season’s time.
“Production was likely good enough to result in more birds this year than last,” he says, “but we will likely be under the long-term average and ten-year average of our roadside surveys.”
Texas conducts approximately 44, 20-mile roadside surveys in late November each year. Here are the results from recent years.
Perez is hopeful that numbers will climb this year after a below-average 2018 that saw a dramatic drop in the pheasant population.
When it comes to some possible hot spots for chasing pheasants, Perez recommends areas that have been blessed with a little more rain this summer.
“The area around Dalahart should be good, so should Hale and Swisher counties,” Perez says. “Everything north of I-40 looks a lot better, they caught more rain.”
When it comes to things to look for when hunting Panhandle pheasants, both Perez and Wiley agree that CRP is the ticket.
“Patches of good, grassy cover near small grain cropland,” recommends Perez.
“I would typically look for CRP or cropland with vegetated turn rows for pheasants,” Wiley adds.