Elusive ringneck offers economic opportunities
Nebraska Game and Parks Commissioner officials said there were fewer hunters than normal out for opening day of pheasant season, but one a look at the out-of-area vehicles in town Saturday and hunters stopping by convenience stores seems to contradict the assessment.
But if there were fewer hunters in the field, that made for more birds for each, with officials reporting nearly one bird per hunter in Southwest Nebraska and lower rates elsewhere around the state, interspersed with pockets of great hunting.
Hunters may be covering more ground looking for the elusive ring-neck, thanks to increasing numbers of acres enrolled in conservation programs that convert cropland into wildlife habitat.
That habitat is increasing as a draw to Southwest Nebraska, and a property's hunting potential is becoming more and more important in the real estate market. Several hunting-guide services are finding success in our area as well.
Obviously, hunting deserves increasing attention in plans related to economic development.
That's the idea Rawlins County has, anyway.
For the past two years, 500 tagged rooster pheasants have been released throughout the county in time for Kansas' opening day.
This year, 50 birds will be released the evening before opening day to increase the number of winners.
Each of the birds carries a purple, gold or red band on its leg, along with the Rawlins County Economic Development organization's telephone number.
Hunter who turn in tags receive prizes from participating Rawlins County business, and have their names entered into a drawing for a Benelli Nova 12-gauge pump shotgun.
Last year, Chuck Doleziak of Denver won the shotgun. In addition, a European-style pheasant shoot from Beaver Creek Gamebirds will be given to the hunter who turns in the first bird in November and January.
As Southwest Nebraska struggles to deal with new economic realities, we can take a tip from our friends in Northwest Kansas.