Every Fall as upland hunters get prepped to head out into the field they dream of fields full of pheasants, quail and grouse. For that to happen, right now is the most important time of the year for these birds. Depending on where you are in the country upland game birds nest from late April through early June. With the higher you go in latitude the later they seem to nest. This is the most vulnerable time for hens and what could make or break the upcoming hunting season.
Going into this spring across most of the core pheasant range we had a mild to average Winter with a few snow storms and not very long prolonged cold spells. This was key going into this Spring as the drought the last year and half has really stunted good quality winter habitat for pheasants. If a cold, snowy Winter had taken place, we would have lost a good percentage of the pheasants. Again, because of the prolonged drought the nesting habitat going into spring was less than ideal as hen’s pheasants need good quality grass for nesting, tall enough for them to hide from predators and to hide their brood once hatched. But as the calendar turned to April we have started to see precipitation come back in a big way.
Most of the northern plains saw above average precipitation and colder than normal temperatures during the month of April and the first part of May, as a series of Pacific lows formed over the Rockies and dumped moisture across the prairies. This has helped the native vegetation green up quicker than normal and in turn grow, creating suitable habitat for pheasants to nest. If this weather continues to stay cool and wet through the rest of May and June we should see the broods and nests have great success. The limiting factor going into this last month of course being predators. Coyotes, fox, raccoons and skunks will also sniff out and either kill the hen or destroy the nest. While turkey hunting this spring I have seen more raccoons than ever before which is concerning but with the habitat coming up just in time I remain optimistic.
With the continued cool and rainier weather forecasted for at least the first part of June I believe we should see a good hatch and survival of pheasants. The cooler weather conditions will also help keep bugs out which are key to young peasant’s survival during the first few weeks of life as that is all they eat. We also should see the cover and habitat really take off as the cool season grasses will do great without the heat and stress of the last Summer. As we get later into Summer and we get a better idea of the conditions available, I will do an update to this article with the final outlook for the Fall of 2022. Also be sure to reach out to your regional biologist and the Pheasants Forever website as they give great information on how the fall may look.