Favorable conditions have Lone Star State pheasants trending upward again
By Andy Fondrick
In general, conditions in the panhandle of Texas were favorable for pheasants this year. After a few years of damaging droughts, there is hope that this year has started to reverse those trends. Even if numbers haven’t made a drastic jump, pheasant populations may be trending upward again in the Lone Star State.
Weather and Conditions
The winter of 2020-21 was generally a good one for longtails in Texas, with only one prolonged stretch of really challenging temperatures.
“The winter was mild until we had a seven-day stretch of single digit and subzero temps that included ice and snow,” says Todd Montandon, wildlife biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “I think that had an effect on survival, but it's hard to tell exactly because our numbers were already low going into winter.”
Dustin McNabb, regional rep in Texas for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, felt birds may have escaped serious damage during the cold stretch.
“The deep freeze didn’t appear to do much damage to the pheasant population last year,” says McNabb. “We still saw many birds across the south plains and panhandle after things thawed out.”
Both Montandon and McNabb had very positive outlooks on nesting and brood-rearing success this year.
“Our summer has been mild compared to recent years and we’ve had great rainfall at the right times,” says McNabb. “We’ve seen good but not great numbers of young birds, so all in all it looks to be a decent year ahead.”
“Spring and summer conditions have been really good,” says Montandon. “I was pretty hopeful with good rains and cool temps in April and June. We really didn't have very many really hot days throughout the summer.”
While much of the pheasant range nationwide experienced a drought in 2021, Texas finally escaped the drought of past years.
“This year the drought has not been quite as severe in Texas,” McNabb says. “With pheasant typically being restricted to the south plains and panhandle regions, where there are considerable acres of grass, grain and irrigated fields, the birds should have fared better this year than last.”
Habitat, Broods and Counts
McNabb noted that CRP numbers are down, but that hasn’t dampened the outlook for habitat in the state.
“There are considerable acres of sorghum and corn to hold birds for feed,” McNabb says. “We also have a good number of grassy corners near those fields to help with cover requirements.”
“The habitat is in really pretty good shape right now,” says Montandon. “We have had above average rainfall across much of the panhandle. Lots of good cover in CRP and weedy growth around fields and Playas.”
Even with favorable conditions and strong habitat, counts were not as high as expected after such a good spring and summer.
“It has been pretty spotty this year despite favorable conditions,” says Montandon. “The population is struggling to recover from recent droughts. There have been pockets with a decent hatch. Cover is so abundant right now, I’m hopeful there are more birds that just can’t be seen.”
Even with favorable conditions this year, hunters will have to be persistent as the populations rebound from a few tough years in Texas.
“The south plains area is setting up nicely, and I am hearing good reports from the upper panhandle as well,” says McNabb. “I think you’re going to have to be a road warrior wherever you go and be ready to walk some trashy fields, but it you do you should be happily rewarded.”
Montandon also recommends hitting the northwest panhandle in Dallam, northern Hartley and western Moore counties. The western panhandle in Deaf Smith and Parmer counties could be a good area as well.
McNabb and Montandon are both big believers that doing your research and connecting with landowners will provide the best opportunity for success in Texas.
“Do your research before you come,” says Montandon. “Texas is 95 pet private land, so make contact with landowners for permission, or look into a guide service. Playa lakes with adjacent feeding and loafing areas are the best bet to find birds. Good dogs will be a plus this year with the abundant cover.”
“Feed fields bordered by grass will be your best bet,” adds McNabb. “Make friends with landowners and farmers and you’ll be rewarded.”
Montandon also mentioned there are fundraising hunts in some of the communities that are popular opportunities to chase birds.
Opening weekend is December 4, and the season runs through January 2.