By OSU Extension Service
Hunters in Oklahoma are in the middle of their first month of the two-month pheasant season, and some may have noticed a decline in population numbers.
Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension wildlife specialist, Dwayne Elmore, said the numbers are down this year due to the drought and excessive heat that much of the state experienced throughout the summer.
“There was little chick production, but we do have some carry over adult birds available for hunting,” he said.
With the decrease in population size, should hunting be halted to allow the birds to recover?
“Only male pheasants can be legally shot, and males breed with many females,” Elmore said. “Thus, only a few males are required for breeding each year.”
Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) biologists said there are two main factors that determine how many pheasants will be available to hunt each season. The first of which is how many adult birds survive the winter and enter the breeding season.
“The second and most important factor is the number of young birds that survived the summer,” said Doug Schoeling, ODWC upland game bird biologist. “This year, while we have seen a slightly higher survival rate of adult birds, the number of young pheasants produced is down significantly after a season of drought and record high temperatures.”
This factor is expected to be the cause of a lower 2011 pheasant season harvest than yearspast. Introduced to the state 100 years ago, the ring-necked pheasants have become accustomed to the habitat in northwestern Oklahoma.
“Despite multiple translocations, pheasants have been unable to persist in the hot and humid southern regions of the U.S., including southern Oklahoma,” Elmore said. “Thus, it is unlikely that pheasant populations will ever expand beyond their current distribution in the state.”
The season opened on Dec. 1 and runs through Jan. 31, 2012. Hunters should consult the current “Oklahoma Hunting Guide” for open counties and wildlife management areas. The daily bag limit for pheasants is three cocks, with a possession limit of six after the first day and nine after the second day. Evidence of sex (head or one foot) must remain on the bird until it reaches its final destination.