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Cool, rainy spring dampened pheasant hatch, but birds rallied

Once a common sight along the region’s rural roadways, ring-necked pheasants are becoming more scarce largely because of habitat decline.
Once a common sight along the region’s rural roadways, ring-necked pheasants are becoming more scarce largely because of habitat decline.

UPLAND BIRD HUNTING -- Hunters chilled at the thought of what the cool, rainy spring was doing to nesting pheasants and quail in June.

Indeed, the hatch isn't anything to crow about, but it's not as bad as hunters may have feared, at least in the Snake River region.

Surveys by Idaho Fish and Game biologists indicate quail and Hungarian partridge had modest reproductive success and pheasants did better than the did last year, although last year's hatch was pitiful.

Idaho partridge populations of both are down slightly from 2010 and long-term averages. Pheasant numbers are up from last year, but still be low the averages.

Read on for details in a story by Eric Barker of the Lewiston Tribune:

The number of ringnecks is up 440 percent this year in the Lewiston Region but still 66 percent below the 10-year average.

"We are seeing more total pheasants and we saw more total broods than we’ve seen in the last two years and that is good," said biologist Dave Koehler at Lewiston. "When compared to the long-term average, it is not a good year by any stretch."

Each year, during the early-morning hours of late summer, department biologists drive fixed routes through upland habitat and count the number of birds they see. It gives them an idea of trends and provides hunters a hint about the type of year they might have.

In 2009, biologists counted just one pheasant. Last year they counted five. So this year’s tally of 27 is a vast improvement. But it’s still meager compared to the 10-year average of 80 and the high of 199 set in 2005. It also marks the sixth subpar fall in a row for pheasants and the fourth-lowest population in the past 20 years.

Even if pheasant hunting proves tough, hunters ought to be able to find both quail and Huns. Biologists counted 94 Hungarian partridge, down 44 percent from the 167 counted last year and 21 percent from the 10-year average of 119. But it is more than were counted in four of the past five years.

Surveyors recorded 196 quail, a drop of 8 percent from the 213 counted last year and 13 percent from the 10-year average of 224.

The department did not conduct aerial chukar surveys along the Snake and Salmon rivers this year and won’t in the future. The department decided to end the practice following an assessment of both the risk and cost of its various aerial activities. The assessment was conducted in response to last year’s helicopter crash at Kamiah that killed two biologists and a pilot.

The chukar surveys are used primarily as a forecast to hunting seasons and not as a tool to make biological decisions. Because of that, department officials determined it was not worth the risk or the cost, said Jeff Knetter, upland game biologist for the department at Boise.

"It provided a forecast for hunters and a lot of hunters used that to gauge how often they would go but we didn’t use that date for setting seasons," Knetter said. "It was purely a forecast."

There are several changes in store for upland hunters in Idaho this year, including a later-than-normal starting date and reduced bag limits for some species. The season for quail and partridge opens Oct. 1 instead of the third Saturday in September as it had for years. The daily bag limit for chukar and Hungarian partridge is six each this year instead of eight, and hunters will no longer be allowed to shoot from any type of watercraft, even those that are not under power of a motor.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission adopted the new start date over concern that chukars in particular are often congregated in huge numbers along rivers during hot and dry years. They said the delayed start will also give young birds more time to put on growth.

Pheasant season opens Oct. 8 in northern Idaho and Oct. 22 in eastern Washington. Quail and partridge season opens Oct. 1 in eastern Washington.

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Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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