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Good Pheasant Numbers, Fewer Hunters in the Field on Opening Day

Lincoln, Neb. - Nebraska's 2005 pheasant hunting season opened October 29 and reports from most parts of the state indicate bird numbers were as good or better than last year, with many hunters taking their limits.

However, conservation officers across Nebraska reported fewer hunters in the field than in previous years.

Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
Reports indicate Nebraska's pheasant population is good in most areas.

An early Nebraska-Oklahoma televised football game and windy, hot, dry conditions in some areas of the state may have kept hunters out of the field on Saturday, but what about Sunday? Sunday was a pretty good day.

Some hunters say they don't like to hunt this early in the year. They and their dogs are more comfortable and are able to walk the fields longer and better when it's not so warm, so they wait for cooler weather.

Kirk Nelson, assistant director of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, says "You never know about the weather, some years it gets cold early and we have snow by now. You can't predict the weather, but by setting the opening date in late October rather than early November, we provide a longer overall season. Some hunters, especially those who take young hunters in the field with them appreciate the opportunity to hunt when it isn't so cold."

"Some people also believe there are more birds available to hunters if the season opens early in the year because predators, such as owls and coyotes have less of a chance to take pheasants before the hunters have a shot at them," he said. "On the other hand, by waiting to open the season a couple of weeks later in the year, hunters have fewer crops still in the field to contend with. Usually, about 70 percent of the crops are harvested by the last week of October and about 80 percent are harvested by the first week in November."

Some hunters assume the drought of the past few years has decimated pheasant numbers to the point that there is not much reason to go hunting, but Nelson says that's not the case.

"The dry weather we are having now is more normal than extreme," he said. "The conditions we had early in the year were very favorable for pheasant nesting success. We have received reports from landowners, conservation officers and hunters of lots of pheasants throughout the state."

"There are plenty of pheasants out there, but a hunter has to be in the field to have a chance of harvesting one," Nelson said.

"This may not turn out to be one of the very best years Nebraska has ever had for pheasant hunting, but I'll guarantee you there are more than enough roosters out there to provide enjoyable hunting," he said. "I can't promise that everyone will get their limit - I couldn't do that if we were having the best year we've ever had - but I can guarantee that the hunters who do go out will have a lot better chance of getting a bird than someone who stays at home and doesn't go out at all. And, those who do go will enjoy the time they spend hunting."

Hunters shouldn't assume that because they missed the season's opening weekend that their chances of success are low. Historically, most of Nebraska's pheasant hunting activity has occurred during the first two weeks of the season. After that, hunting activity drops off and the serious pheasant hunters who pursue birds throughout the season pretty much have the fields to themselves.

"Older hunters have known for years that it pays to wait the couple of weeks it takes for the crowds to lose interest in hunting pheasants," Nelson said. "Then they begin hunting. By doing that they find access to private land is usually easier to obtain, hunting pressure on Nebraska's Conservation Reserve Program-Management Access Program (CRP- MAP) and public areas is substantially reduced, the birds have a chance to settle down, and overall hunting conditions are better -- especially as the weather gets cooler."

So, where's a good spot to hunt this year? "From what we're hearing, about anywhere in eastern Nebraska has good numbers of pheasants," Nelson said. "We've also received good reports from most other areas across the state. Of course, some local areas are better than others. You just have to get out, be willing to walk the fields, concentrate on working spots where there is good habitat, and you will probably be rewarded with a bird or two. The hunter who expects to park his truck, walk thirty yards across a picked field and come back with a limit of roosters will probably be disappointed."

Hunters who haven't lined up a hunting spot on private land should consider hunting CRP-MAP lands or public hunting areas.

There are about 800,000 acres of public hunting land on some 300 state and federal areas scattered across the state. Included in those areas are 215 wildlife management areas owned and managed by the Game and Parks Commission and about half of them hold pheasants. Hunting is allowed in season on all state wildlife management areas and federal waterfowl production areas unless otherwise posted. Special regulations apply on federal refuges and on national forest lands.

A complete listing of all of Nebraska's public hunting areas is included in the 2005 Nebraska Guide to Hunting and Public Lands booklet, available free from any Game and Parks Commission office or any of 900 permit agents across the state. The same information is also available on the Commission's internet web site at www.outdoornebraska.org

Nebraska's CRP-MAP is a hunting access program in which landowners enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program are paid for allowing public walk-in only access for hunting and trapping.

The program opens some 180,000 acres of privately owned CRP land across the state to public hunting. The land is plainly marked so hunters and trappers can easily identify it. Each CRP-MAP tract is listed in the free 2005 CRP-Management Access Program Atlas, available free at Game and Parks Commission offices and at permit agents across the state. This information is also available on the Commission's Internet web site at www.outdoornebraska.org

"The key to hunting pheasants is being out in the field actively pursuing them," Nelson said. "A rooster isn't going to come to you."
 
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