Pheasants, hunters back to Southwest Nebraska

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

After being decimated by the drought, Southwest Nebraska is rising to prominence again as a pheasant hunting destination for sportsmen from throughout the United States.

"The pheasant hunting outlook is the best it's been in 12 years," says Kevin Townsend, a leading advocate for the bird hunting advantages of this region. "The other day, I counted 200 pheasants in a corn field close to cover. It's shaping up as a good year for hunters."

For Townsend, that will make the good life even better. He first came to Southwest Nebraska to hunt 18 years ago, and -- liking the experience -- settled in. The result has been an uplift for both Southwest Nebraska and Townsend's career as a hunting and fishing guide and television commentator.

He hosts "KT Diaries," a TV series which appears on the Outdoor Life television network, and also operates a hunting destination, called Flying Lab Farms, in Hayes County. With the aid of local guides, including Randy McKillip and Terry Doyle of McCook and Mark Leitner of Atwood, he hosts hunting enthusiasts from Texas to South Carolina.

"The area between North Platte and McCook is ideal for bird hunting," Townsend said. "It's between two river valleys with deep canyons next to corn fields. This provides excellent nesting cover, winter cover and escape cover," he pointed out.

Despite the advantages, hunting numbers in Southwest Nebraska have plunged in recent years due to the severe drought. But this year's more timely rains, combined with an increase in Conservation Reserve acreage, have spurred a pheasant comeback.

It is not only Townsend who is noticing the pheasant resurgence. Virgil Gosch, the state conservation officer for the Southwest Reservoir region, says he also has been seeing more of the ring-necked birds. "I saw an awful lot of young birds in July and August and I've spotted a number of birds in the roads and road ditches in recent weeks," he said.

Greg Hepp, operator of Outdoor Sports in McCook, is also hearing favorable reports about the pheasant population, saying that farmers are reporting many more birds than in recent years. Already, the improved prospects for hunting is having an effect on out-of-state interest. "We're had an increase in reservations for pheasant season," said Carol Schlegel at the Chief Motel. "We always have the regulars, but this year we're hearing new names and seeing new faces."

Part of the success stems from Townsend's promotion. He has advertised this area's hunting prospects nationally on Shotgun Journal and Suzuki's Great Outdoors. Townsend also showcases this region through KT Diaries, which will begin a 13-week run on Outdoor Life Network near the first of the year.

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