FINNEY COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) – Pheasant season begins November 11, but estimates show lower bird populations in southwest Kansas compared to other years.
Building up the population is year-round work for a two-month season.
“What we’re trying to do through the off season is create a habitat that fosters the upland game population,” said H.J. Swender, a hunting guide in Finney County. “We’ve created food plots. We make sure there’s abundant water out there.”
That’s been pretty easy in recent years, compared to years earlier when Swender dealt with a severe drought.
“It started back in 2010,” he said. “It kind of hurt the bird population. The last two or three years, it’s really building back up. Last year was excellent, and we’ve kind of got hunters excited again.”
The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism put out a 2017 Upland Bird Forecast in September. It says that while pheasant populations are good in southwest Kansas, they’re not as high as in recent years.
“[I was a] little surprised,” said Swender. “We’ve had a great year of rain, but not disappointed. 2016 was an excellent year. We had great birds and 2017 is going to be great as well.”
That makes a big impact. Hunting adds more than half a million dollars to Finney County at a time of the year when tourism is low.
“Mid-October to mid-November is a slow time for us,” said Roxanne Morgan with the Finney County Convention and Visitors Bureau, “but hunting helps facilitate that time frame.”
New this year to help attract more tourism dollars are special birds that will be banded and come with prizes. One banded pheasant has a big reward attached.
“You have a chance at a million dollars,” said Morgan. “We’ll have a wheel of fortune wheel, and a million dollars will be one of the slots on that wheel.”
Even with the relatively low pheasant population, Swender is looking at his most-booked season yet.
“[I’ve] had record people call and people coming,” he said. “We’re excited to host people. So far we’ve got people from eight different states.”
Wildlife experts say the pheasant population in southwest Kansas probably would have been even better if it wasn’t for the blizzard that hit at the end of April.