Opening day for a great hunting season

Friday, November 5, 2004

As hunters return to Southwest Nebraska for the start of the 2004 pheasant season, there's more reason for hunters to be optimistic than there has been for a number of years.

Bringing back memories of the glory days for ringneck hunting in the late 1950s and 1960s, a summer roadside survey by the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission estimated a 28 percent jump in pheasant numbers this year.

According to a report by Robert Pore in the Grand Island Independent, the major factors in the upturn in pheasant numbers are good nesting and brooding weather and a dramatic increase in wildlife habitat.

Efforts by the Pheasants Forever organization have also helped greatly. They have joined with the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission for a partnership called "Focus on Pheasants." As a result of that effort, one million acres of habitat have been restored, including 253,000 additional acres this year.

In the article in the Grand Island Independent, Pore also points to the increasing number of acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program. Another 60,000 acres were accepted in the 29th sign-up period in September, boosting the total now enrolled in CRP to more than 1.2 million acres.

As a result of the increased habitat and the good weather, Nebraska was the only state in the Midwest with an increase in pheasant numbers this year.

This reminds us of the days of the Soil Bank, more than 40 years ago, when pheasant hunting reached its all-time peak in Nebraska. Between 1958 and 1966, the annual harvest by pheasants by Nebraska residents ranged between 1.15 million and 1.67 million birds. The pheasant numbers have dropped dramatically since that time, falling to an average of 580,000 birds in the last 10 years.

The pheasant harvest may never again get back to those peak years, but it's encouraging to hear that numbers are rising again. Pheasant hunting is a major tourist attraction, bringing hunters to Nebraska from many parts of the United States.

A number of hunters return year after year, renewing acquaintances with the landowners who make hunting places available. The hunters' annual visits are also a boost to motels, restaurants and gas stations, who make it a special point of welcoming those in pursuit of ringnecks.

Welcome, hunters! We are pleased to report more pheasants are in the field. We hope you have a sporting hunt and a pleasant stay in the Golden Plains of America.

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