Hunters planning to pursue ring-necked pheasants when Oklahoma's season opens Dec. 1 should find some birds to hunt this year, based on the annual field surveys conducted by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
"Pheasant numbers will likely be similar to slightly higher than last year in the Panhandle, and slightly better in the north-central counties," said Scott Cox, upland game bird biologist for the Wildlife Department.
Cox attributed the slight improvement to the better nesting conditions found in 2014 in most of the state's pheasant range, thanks to some timely precipitation from April to August and mild temperatures during the summer.
The Wildlife Department conducts two pheasant surveys: a count of the number of crowing male birds heard in fields during April and May, and a count of the number of broods seen per mile along 20-mile routes during late August. The surveys are conducted in Alfalfa, Beaver, Cimarron, Ellis, Garfield, Grant, Harper, Kay, Major, Noble, Texas, Woods and Woodward counties.
Results are reported as an index for all the counties combined, but also for a subset of counties that traditionally has the highest pheasant densities: Alfalfa, Beaver, Cimarron, Grant and Texas counties. The indexes provide insight into the pheasant population over entire regions, and not necessarily for localized areas.
Cox said the brood counts help biologists determine how many young pheasants survived the summer, and it allows estimates to be made about pheasant production during the breeding season. "These brood count surveys are the primary means we use to help us understand the annual population status of pheasant and to give us an idea of what the hunting season may be like."
For this year, the brood count index stayed level with 2013 in the high-density counties, but declined slightly for all counties combined, compared with 2013's index. Cox said the nesting season during early summer was favorable in most of the pheasant range, but the number of nesting hens this season remained low.
However, the crowing count index increased 9 percent in the entire range from 2013's result. During these surveys, biologists drive county roads and listen for crowing cock pheasants in search of mates. The number of crowing pheasants heard yields an idea of how many adult males will enter the breeding season.
Cox said the higher crowing count index in 2014 was expected because of the mild winter. But the index still remains well below the 20-year average due to the effects of drought and heat experienced during 2011 and 2012.
"There will still be a fair number of adult birds to hunt this year in the areas that usually hold good pheasant numbers," Cox said. But birds will remain scarce in other areas where habitat has suffered. For example, most of Texas County remains in extreme drought conditions, and some observers report seeing very few pheasants on the ground there.
Pheasant hunting season will run through Jan. 31, and the daily bag limit is two cock pheasants only. Hunters must wear daylight fluorescent orange clothing when required. Residents and nonresidents are required to have an appropriate hunting license, available online at wildlifedepartment.com.
Areas open to pheasant hunting are Alfalfa, Beaver, Cimarron, Garfield, Grant, Harper, Kay, Major, Noble, Texas, Woods and Woodward counties, as well as that portion of Osage County west of State Highway 18, and the portions of Blaine, Dewey, Ellis, Kingfisher and Logan counties north of State Highway 51. Seasons on public lands may vary from the statewide season. For other information and regulations, consult the "Oklahoma Hunting" guide online at wildlifedepartment.com or in print where hunting and fishing licenses are sold.