2020 Colorado Pheasant & Quail Forecast

Quality and quantity of CRP land, weather conditions, nest success, and chick recruitment combine to produce what looks like a challenging year for Colorado hunters.
2020 Small Game and Waterfowl Brochure

2020-21 COLORADO PHEASANT HUNTING SEASON DATES
SEASON 1: Nov. 14–Jan. 31, 2021
AREA: East of I-25
SEASON 2: Nov. 14–Jan. 3, 2021
AREA: West of I-25
For more information, please see the Colorado Small Game & Waterfowl Brochure.

Colorado Pheasant Forecast

Pheasant populations across the eastern plains of Colorado will be lower than in 2019. In 2020 in northeast Colorado, pheasant call count surveys showed an average decrease of 20% from 2019, suggesting that pheasant populations declined over winter, although the crowing count data was still significantly higher than average. Crowing Counts are an index only and make no prediction about nest success and chick recruitment, which is expected to be poor to fair in 2020, considering the severe drought that enveloped the core and secondary pheasant range in the spring and summer of 2020. In Southeast Colorado, counts are lower than the northeast, which is very typical for the area. Weather conditions in Southeast Colorado were severely dry in 2020, which is likely to have impacted pheasant production.

Shaded area of map represents ring-necked pheasant overall range in Colorado.

Hunters harvested an estimated 44,000 pheasants in Colorado in 2019-20. The stark truth of the matter is that the quality and amount of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands have drastically declined over the last several years, roughly since 2011, which also coincides with Colorado’s highest harvest estimate since the turn of the century. While a single SAFE CRP signup and stripper head harvested wheat stubble has helped mitigate a declining bird population, neither have alleviated the impacts of the general loss of CRP completely.

It is important for hunters to note that crowing counts are simply an index of the rooster pheasant population, and represent an incomplete picture of the population. They provide a look at the population trend between years and over the life of the survey. Pheasant crow counts provide no information detailing or predicting nesting success or brood survival, both of which are critically vital to fall hunting populations.

Measuring nesting success and chick survival is an imprecise estimate at best, when done without radio-marking hundreds of hens and chicks, which would be much too costly to accomplish. Instead, some states conduct summer brood counts, in which the surveyor drives a predetermined route, counting and classifying all pheasants seen by age and sex. This method is used in Colorado occasionally, however, it provides a very unreliable index of the fall population, due to the fact that the method requires multiple replications during very specific weather conditions (high humidity resulting in dew, which forces birds to the roads to dry off in the morning).

In Colorado’s core pheasant range, the technique generally doesn’t provide much value, because in seasons with high humidity, vegetation growth along roadsides often hides pheasant broods from detection. Conversely, in dry years with little humidity, there is little reason for pheasant broods to congregate along a road. That being said, it is a safe assessment that weather conditions were much too dry in most locations on the eastern plains, for pheasants to thrive in Colorado in 2020.

We expect some locations to be similar to last year, overall, the forecast is for a below-average year. As in most years, populations will be spotty particularly in or near the hailstorm tracks that fell in late August and into September.

Northeast Colorado (Yuma, Phillips, Sedgwick, Logan, Washington, Morgan and SE Weld Counties)

Northeast Colorado

Spotty is the theme for the northeast portion of Colorado. Populations across the region will be lower than in 2019 due to extreme drought. Conditions were drier than optimum last winter, which slowed nesting cover development and early brood habitat this spring.  Conditions did not improve until after the nesting effort had concluded. Some rain did fall in August and September, providing a slight boost to habitat growth. CPW receives several reports from landowners during the wheat harvest, and the overwhelming reports from landowners in July were observations of few or no broods during wheat harvest. This trend has continued into autumn, with relatively few observations of pheasant broods into October.  Most pheasants observed have been adults. As the fall has progressed, it seems that the population of pheasants is very spotty in 2020, with little observable rhyme or reason. It is probably as simple as small areas may have gotten a bit more rainfall over the course of the season than a nearly identical area a few miles away.

Habitat is less than average due to the lack of precipitation that encompassed the area. Also, it is important to note that total CRP acres have greatly declined across the core pheasant range. While some new fields have been established, the relatively low numbers of new fields versus the loss of thousands of acres significantly tilt in the direction of lost acres. 

Walk-In hunting areas are closed to hunting when the landowner is harvesting the associated crop.
Walk-In hunting areas are closed to hunting when the landowner is harvesting the associated crop.

Road conditions can deteriorate quickly when precipitation falls, making unimproved roads virtually impassable. Fire danger is high, requiring hunters to pay special attention to where they park vehicles. Also, note that WIA sprinkler corners are closed to WIA hunting when the landowner is harvesting the associated crop. Harvest is ongoing and dry weather will progress greatly in the next couple of weeks.  This closure is in effect to allow harvesters to work efficiently and to minimize safety concerns for hunters and harvesters. Corners are posted with closure signs in addition to WIA boundary signs. As of November 3, 2020, corn harvest is estimated to be at most 90% complete, which is much higher than normal Expect little corn standing by the opener.

South Platte River (eastern Morgan, Washington, Logan, Sedgwick)

Map - South Platte River (eastern Morgan, Washington, Logan, Sedgwick):
South Platte River

Bobwhite quail populations remain a question mark for 2020. Whistle counts were down slightly across the northeast. In many areas on the South Platte, cover can be too tall and dense to effectively hunt. Landowner reports have been highly variable in 2019, while CPW staff has reported some bobwhite broods and coveys on State Wildlife Areas. In past drought years, significant impacts have been seen with bobwhite populations on the South Platte corridor, so it is very possible that populations are reduced from last year.

East Central Colorado (Southern Yuma, Kit Carson, Cheyenne, Kiowa Counties)

East Central Colorado
East Central Colorado

Pheasant populations should be lower than in 2019. Expect similar conditions to the NE portion of Colorado with very site-specific conditions in terms of habitat and pheasant population recovery. Some areas experienced severe hailstorms and populations will be lower in these areas. Pheasant densities will increase within the areas that provide sprinkler irrigation fields. In Kit Carson County, hunters will note a significant loss of CRP acres, which has impacted populations to some degree as well as the amount of land available to hunt.   

Hunters should note that many areas in WIA in Kiowa County are enrolled primarily for their value for light goose hunting, including some fields that will offer little cover for pheasants and quail. 

Extreme Southeast Colorado (Baca & Prowers Counties)

Extreme Southeast Colorado
Extreme Southeast Colorado

Pheasants continue to suffer from a general lack of good habitat and drought conditions in southeast Colorado. Some good habitat does exist in the general area around Walsh and Stonington, however, drought most likely reduced pheasant production and recruitment in 2020. Expect to find smaller numbers of primarily adult pheasants where good habitat exists.

Quail populations are expected to be lower than in 2019 and significantly lower than in 2016 in southeast Colorado. The southeast portion of Colorado was subject to a couple of good precipitation years consecutively, however, that changed in 2020. Bobwhite quail are coming off the effects of those good years in 2020, so populations are a bit higher than this summer’s weather would normally result in. Luckily, the weather moderated to some degree in August, possibly cueing a few late nests. Reports on scaled quail are mostly poor or questionable in 2020. Regardless, scaled quail should be a bit similar to or a bit less in 2020.  

Hunter Notes

hunter with dog
Hunting on private land requires permission.
  • Hunting on private land requires permission. With the exception of land enrolled in Walk-In Access (Colorado Parks and Wildlife has leased WIA lands opening them to hunting), you must obtain permission to hunt private land, whether that land is posted or not.
  • Landowners are very perceptive of the actions of hunters, whether on their land, WIA properties, or their neighbor’s property.  Trespassing, leaving trash, carcasses or damaging property leaves a poor image with landowners, while courteous and respectful hunting gives a good image.
  • Fall harvest is a very stressful period for landowners. Interrupting harvest or stopping a combine to ask for hunting permission is not a good idea.  Standing at the end of the field waiting for the combine to flush birds is not recommended. Both are likely to draw the ire of the landowner, and are questionable activities at best when considering how important landowner relations are to gaining and maintaining access. 
  • Be respectful of other hunters.

Finding Bobwhite and Scaled Quail in Colorado

There are two types of quail that can be found in eastern Colorado; the scaled quail and the northern bobwhite. Learn how to identify them and where they can be found.

Video: Eastern Colorado Quail Quick Tips
Bobwhite Quail Overall Range
Bobwhite Quail Overall Range
Scaled Quail Overall Range
Scaled Quail Overall Range

Additional Resources

New to or interested in Hunting?

How to Field Dress a Pheasant

Learn a few easy ways to field dress a pheasant.

Video: How to Field Dress a Pheasant

Brochures


2020 Pheasant Forecast by Ed Gorman. Gorman is the Small-Game Manager for CPW. 

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