Pheasant Hunting Roundup

Pheasant Hunting Roundup

Access to good land. Hunting pressure. Number of roosters. We look at all these factors and more, in this state-by-state roundup of wingshooting action. (November 2007)

Photo courtesy of Chuck Robbins.

Looking to shoot pheasant in the Rocky Mountain states? We've wrapped up your options for you.

MONTANA

In terms of access, number of birds, hunting pressure, you name it, Montana wins. It's best of show, hands down, no contest.

Adding to substantial public acreage harboring wild ringnecks, the Block Management Program -- which provides free public-hunting access to private lands -- enrolled about 9 million acres last year. No other state is in same ballpark.

While most major river drainages harbor wild pheasant, access is by far the best in the eastern two-thirds of the state. The northeast, Region 6, gets my vote for Numero Uno, with Region 4 running a close second, followed by regions 5 and 7.

Access is decent-to-great in all but Region 7, where increasingly, large parcels are tied up in leases with outfitters and others.

Barring unforeseen weather-related disasters, all four regions normally boast decent population figures. But overall, Region 6 contains more and better habitat.

Keys to successful end-to-end pheasant hunting:

'¢ Plan early and contact various regional offices of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. Request current Block Management information and ask to speak to the appropriate biologist.

'¢ Contact national wildlife refuges, the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, and the Bureau of Land Management. Each could provide valuable tidbits in the course of casual conversations.

'¢ Most urgent: Call or better yet, visit a few landowners within each region, and do so well before opening day -- before the deluge starts.

The season runs from early October through Jan. 1. Check for the exact dates and any changes at fwp.mt.gov.

A non-resident bird license costs $110. Daily bag is three cocks, with nine in possession.

If you're seeking a preserve hunt or to book an outfitter, check out:

'¢ Van Voast's Farm, at (406) 883-2000;

'¢ Eagle's Nest Lodge, at 1-866-258-3474,

'¢ Montana Bird Hunts, at (406) 587-5923;

'¢ Powder River Outfitters, at (406) 427-5721;

'¢ Tom's Bird Hunts, at (406) 723-4753;

'¢ Two Leggins Outfitters, at (406) 665-2825; and

'¢ Yellowstone River Hunts, at (406) 356-2511.

IDAHO

Idaho's "Access Yes!" Program currently includes more than 1 million acres and counting. To be sure, that's not all prime pheasant habitat, but there's enough that John Q. Average's rooster-chasing prospects have taken a decided upturn.

Most areas appear to have a decent carry-over of adult birds, so barring disaster, the upcoming season looks good. Pheasants occur statewide, but the keys are agriculture and good habitat and of course, access. Lacking access, even a boom in pheasant numbers becomes a moot point.

You'll likely find the best hunting in the Clearwater (Lewiston), the Southwest (Boise) regions and in the Southeast, especially the Bear River country, which is the heart of the Idaho lands enrolled in Conservation Reserve Program -- a boon to upland bird hunting wherever it occurs.

Other good bets are the nine wildlife management areas that have semi-weekly releases: Fort Boise, Market Lake, Payette River, Mud Lake, Montour, Cartier Slough, C.J. Strike, Niagara Springs and Sterling.

In addition to a state license, a $21.50 permit ($81.25 for non-residents) is required, which allows a total take of six ringnecks, with no more than two birds taken per day.

Hunters may purchase additional permits, but the daily limit of two still applies.

Idaho's pheasant-hunting season opens in October and runs through December in management areas 1 and 3. Management Area 2 closes about a month earlier. Check the current regs for exact dates. Generally, the bag limit is three cocks per day, six in possession. Check the state Web site, www.iowadnr.com/wildlife/files/hunting.html, for exceptions.

Preserve/guided hunts are available. Contact:

'¢ Flying B Ranch, at 1-800-472-1945;

'¢ Hyer and Sons Ranch, (208) 337-4443;

'¢ Malad Valley Upland Hunts, (208) 766-4208;

'¢ Teton Ridge Guest Ranch, (208) 456-2650; and

'¢ Western Wings, (208) 228-2581.

COLORADO

Pheasant hunting is big in the northeast portion of the state. Yuma County traditionally leads the state in harvest and hunting pressure. Phillips and Logan counties are contenders in both categories.

Their proximity to the large population centers is a big reason. A little extra travel time puts you in the relatively unheralded southeast where -- in addition to decent pheasant hunting and less competition -- scaled and bobwhite quail are a bonus.

Look for riparian zones with good habitat. Knock on doors or check out lands enrolled in the Walk-In Access program. About 160,000 acres were enrolled last season.

Be aware that you need a permit --and that opening dates vary.

Again, planning is everything. Contact biologists. If possible, avoid opening weekend. Hunters willing to work a little can expect decent hunting throughout the season.

East of Interstate 25, pheasant-hunting season runs Nov. 20 through Jan. 16. West of I-25, the season closes Jan. 2.

A non-resident license costs $11 daily, and $56 for the season.

Some of Colorado's best pheasant hunting occurs on outfitter-leased lands and preserves. Check out:

'¢ Atkinson Expeditions, at (970) 568-9667;

'¢ Buffalo Horn Ranch, (970) 878-5450;

'¢ High Lonesome Lodge, (970) 283-9420;

'¢ Rocky Mountain Roosters, (719) 635-3257; and

'¢ Scenic Mesa Ranch, (970) 872-3078.

UTAH

In its 1950s and '60s heyday, Utah ranked high as a pheasant-hunting destination. Pheasant hunting remains a popular activity among diehard wingshooters. But huge declines in habitat means the large majority of today's hunting takes place on opening weekend.

That said, however, hunters with access to good habitat can expect fa

ir-to-decent hunting throughout the season. Overall populations are expected to mimic last season's, which in general were considered "fair at best," according to Dean Mitchell, upland game coordinator for state Division of Wildlife Resources.

For many Beehive State hunters, preserves have become the option of choice. Check out:

'¢ Avalon Hunting Preserve, at (435) 748-5700;

'¢ Falcon's Ledge, (801) 454-3737;

'¢ Hicken's Pleasant Valley Preserve, (435) 646-3194;

'¢ Pheasant Grove Hunting Preserve, (435) 471-2245;

'¢ Rendezvous Bend, (435) 563-5304; and

'¢ Sun Down Ranch, (435) 471-7107.

NEW MEXICO

For the diehard hunter, the four-day general pheasant-hunting season, plus the several single-day permit-only hunts, amount to little more than a tease. Add in tough-to-impossible access to the best cover and -- well, as you can see, the Land of Enchantment is disenchanting for rooster addicts.

As in the other states, there is always the option of paying to play. Here are a few:

'¢ Gavilan Game Preserve, (505) 774-6500; and

'¢ Tinnen Hunt Club, (505) 242-2871.

These all offer preserve-style hunts. Capt. Michael Guerin at (505) 532-5178, and Grouse and Quail Guides at (505) 466-7964, offer guided hunts on private lands.

NEVADA

The official word is that "Interest and participation in pheasant hunting continue to decline."

One biologist, who asked not to be named, said, "Nevada has very little pheasant hunting and does not release birds. Thus hunting opportunities are so inconsequential they really don't merit a mention."

That said, pheasant hunting is open statewide. Hunters who do take to the field this fall in Humboldt, Pershing and Lyon counties should be able to locate some birds, especially early on.

Worst is the Southern Region where at present, the pheasant population is "barely viable." A grimly painted picture indeed!

Of course, preserves are a viable alternative. Even so, there are not a lot of choices. I could find just four:

'¢ Red Hills Hunting Preserve, at (702) 266-3856;

'¢ Fowl Play Inc., (702) 565-4499; and

'¢ Humboldt Hunting Club, (775) 859-0303.

WYOMING

A recent call to Wyoming Game and Fish brought this response:

"Wyoming just isn't the pheasant state it once was. What with the drought, increasingly difficult access to prime pheasant covers and overall lack of public-land opportunities, we just don't encourage hunters to travel here in search of roosters."

That said, a friend of mine enjoys fine hunting on private land and enjoys access via his never-ending courtship of various landowners. (That involves year-round contact, gifts, trades of fishing for hunting, you name it.)

Another acquaintance makes annual treks to the Cowboy State where he hunts privately leased lands through various outfitters. Bottom line: Wyoming is a fine place to hunt pheasants -- if you have access.

These birds are found in most major river drainages and are most numerous on private agricultural lands. Sheridan, Laramie, Goshen, Johnson and Campbell counties lead the state in harvest, and also receive the bulk of pheasant releases from the state's two pheasant farms. (To hunt release sites, a $10.50 Special Management Pheasant Stamp is required.)

The season generally runs from late October through December. Non-residents pay $61 per season, or $16 daily.

The flip side: Wyoming is blessed with many outfitters and preserves that cater to pheasant hunters:

'¢ Canyon Ranch Gun Club, at (307) 674-6239;

'¢ Fly Shop of the Big Horns, (800) 253-5866,

'¢ Milliron 2 Outfitting, (307) 347-2574;

'¢ Redneck Guide Service, (307) 262-4933;

'¢ Wild Wings Cast and Blast, (307) 413-BIRD; and

'¢ Wyoming Edge Outfitters, (307) 467-5663; to name just a few of the larger operations.

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