Hunters take to the field on pheasant opener
LINCOLN, Neb. – Hunters from around the country returned to rural Nebraska on the weekend of Oct. 26-27 for the pheasant and quail season opener.
Hunter activity was highest on opening day and most effort subsided by midday on both Saturday and Sunday. Across the state, hunters were greeted with pleasant conditions and temperatures in the 70s on opening day. That all changed Saturday night with the passage of a cold front, which brought low wind chills and some ice.
Nebraska Game and Parks Commission staff contacted 840 upland hunters while making bag checks. These hunters harvested 471 pheasants, 25 quail, two greater prairie-chickens, and a sharp-tailed grouse. Pheasant-release sites on 14 select WMAs continue to be popular in eastern Nebraska, with an additional 721 hunters encountered there. They bagged 438 pheasants and six quail. More than 85 percent of roosters harvested on release sites were pen-released birds.
Based on field reports, hunter success for pheasants on the opener was highest in the Panhandle (0.73 birds/hunter). Hunters also found good pheasant numbers in the southwest and portions of the northeast where Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) fields were abundant.
Public lands were popular, including WMAs and private lands enrolled in the Commission’s Open Fields and Waters (OFW) Program. Overall, hunter activity on the opening weekend was slightly lower compared to previous years but harvest success on wild pheasants (0.56 birds/hunter) was higher compared to 2018 (0.40 birds/hunter).
Across the state, hunters observed fewer quail compared to previous years but relatively few hunters were targeting bobwhites. According to recent surveys, Nebraska’s bobwhite population was impacted negatively by severe winter weather this past spring. Although this year’s production may have offset some of these apparent losses, hunters should expect to find lower densities compared to past years.
Upland hunting opportunities should continue to improve as the season progresses, according to John Laux, the Commission’s upland game program manager.
“Early season hunting can be challenging; birds are typically spread out due to the abundance of cover, and warmer daytime temperatures limit hunter effort,” Laux said. “As corn harvest progresses and temperatures cool, birds will be more concentrated and accessible to hunters.”
Field reports indicate that the corn and soybean harvests were highly variable across the state. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Nebraska’s corn harvest was 44 percent complete, slightly below the five-year average of 50 percent. Soybean harvest was right on schedule at 85 percent complete.
The following is a report of hunting activity by Commission district:
Southwest – Calm winds provided good hunting conditions on opening morning, but hunter activity declined by midday as temperatures reached the high 70s. Temperatures hovered just above freezing on Sunday. Field reports indicated that corn harvest was between 10-40 percent complete but this was highly variable. Officers observed fewer hunters than expected in most areas. Hunter success on pheasants was highly variable among parties and was generally highest in Hayes, Perkins, Hitchcock, Chase and Furnas counties. A number of parties bagged quail in the southeastern portion of the district but hunters observed fewer coveys compared to recent years.
Southeast – Most hunter activity was observed at pheasant-release sites on select WMAs. Hunting pressure and success elsewhere was relatively low and few hunters were observed on private lands. Quail observations were highly variable (ranging from 0-4 coveys/day) with higher numbers observed in core areas with abundant suitable habitat. Soybean harvest was nearly complete and corn harvested ranged from 10-45 percent.
Northeast – Public lands in Antelope, Cedar, Dixon and Knox counties were popular and hunters reported seeing relatively good numbers of birds where CRP was abundant. Hunting elsewhere in the district and on private lands was relatively lower. Cooler temperatures and light winds provided good hunting conditions on the opener but hunter activity tapered off by noon each day as the weather deteriorated. Field reports suggest soybean and corn harvest were approximately 80-90 percent and 10-20 percent complete, respectively.
Northwest – Most hunters were observed hunting public lands, including WMAs and OFW sites. Hunting pressure was relatively low in most areas and declined as the weather deteriorated late Saturday afternoon. Icy road conditions and single-digit wind chills limited hunting Sunday. Hunters reported seeing good numbers of pheasants and hunter success averaged nearly one bird per hunter in Box Butte, Sheridan, Cheyenne, Deuel, Kimball, Banner counties. Staff estimated that only 10-20 percent of the corn had been harvested.
Pheasant, quail and prairie grouse seasons continue through Jan. 31. Purchase permits at OutdoorNebraska.org.