Category Archives: Small-Game Hunting

2018 Pheasant & Quail Forecast

Pheasant Hunting Conditions

In comparison to last year, Colorado’s forecast for the 2018 pheasant hunting season is going to be right around the average mark. Conditions for nesting and brood-rearing weren’t optimal this year, but the conditions weren’t bad either. Last winter was dry, which means that there wasn’t a lot of soil moisture early this year. So green wheat and early brood-rearing habitat didn’t get an early start. Wet weather did arrive in May, which was good, and then June dried out, with warmer than normal temperatures for several days. In late July and early August, a series of pretty significant hailstorms came through the core pheasant region. And those storms definitely had an impact on habitat, as well as birds with some being killed by hailstones. Read more

Grouse Hunt Reveals Elk Hunting Strategies

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Even the best-laid plans sometimes go wrong. As hunters, when heading into the field, we attempt to control as many variables as possible. Exploring Colorado’s backcountry requires knowledge of the terrain, proper nutrition and hydration, functional equipment and an appetite for adventure. And while we can control most of these variables, there’s one factor that is always out of our control – weather. This doesn’t mean hunting should be tabled until the weather is ideal; it simply means we need to adjust our strategies and approaches to work around what we cannot change. Read more

Quick Tips: Hunting Quail in Eastern Colorado

Quick Tips: Hunting Quail in Eastern Colorado. Video by © Crystal Egli/CPW

With very good quail populations in Colorado and hunting seasons extending into January, it’s a great time to get out and go quail hunting. Trent Verquer, Grasslands Habitat Coordinator for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, shows how to identify and locate scaled and northern bobwhite quail in eastern Colorado.

Some helpful resources for your next quail hunt:

Field Dressing Pheasants

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Yuma County Pheasant. Photo by © Mike DelliVeneri/CPW

December and January offer ideal pheasant hunting conditions in Colorado. The opening day crowds have thinned, crops have been cut and harvested and the cooler air is just right for walking the draws, sloughs and grassy fields in search of roosters. For those lucky hunters that are able to get some time in the field, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has some field dressing advice that will help protect your harvest and keep you legal. Watch Trent Verquer, Grasslands Habitat Coordinator, and Josh Melby, District Wildlife Manager, for some tips that will get you on the right path to field dressing your next pheasant. Read more

2017 Colorado Pheasant and Quail Hunting Forecast

2017 Colorado Pheasant and Quail Hunting Forecast. Video by © Jerry Neal/CPW

Colorado pheasant and quail hunters have plenty to be excited about this year when the season opens statewide on November 11. Pheasant and quail populations have increased dramatically, setting the stage for what could be a very good season for upland hunters. Check out this year’s Colorado pheasant and quail forecast video to see what’s in store for upland hunters. Pheasant hunting tips are also available right here on Colorado Outdoors Online.

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10 Tips for Hunting Doves in Colorado

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A harvested mourning dove. Photo by Jerry Neal (CPW)

When it comes to small-game hunting, doves are arguably the greatest challenge for wingshooters. Although these fast flyers are Colorado’s most plentiful game bird, you’ll need to bring your “A” game to fill the daily limit.  The following tips and information will help you have more fun and put more doves in your game-bag.

1. Take the Lead

Maintaining a lead is important when shooting doves. Photo by Jerry Neal (CPW)

Maintaining a lead is important when shooting doves. Photo composite by Jerry Neal (CPW)

By far, the biggest mistake novice dove hunters make is shooting behind birds. Doves are strong fliers, capable of reaching speeds in excess of 55 MPH. Add a tailwind to the equation, and it’s easy to see why the only things many dove hunters bring home after a long day in the field are empty shell boxes and bruised shoulders and egos. The photo above illustrates a typical crossing shot and provides a visual reference for leading a dove. Obviously, how much you lead will depend on how fast the bird is moving and the distance of your shot. Additionally, it’s important to swing the shotgun barrel past the bird and maintain your lead AFTER you’ve pulled the trigger. In shooting terminology, this is known as “following through” on the shot. One of the best ways to prepare for dove season is to spend some time on a Sporting Clays range. Shooting fast-moving clay targets in simulated hunting scenarios will help you dust off your shotgun and fine-tune your shooting skills before entering the field.

2. Don’t Choke

Using proper chokes improves shooting accuracy. Photo by Jerry Neal (CPW)

Using proper chokes improves shooting accuracy. Photo by Jerry Neal (CPW)

Selecting the right choke for your shotgun is key for shooting accurately in the field. I prefer an improved cylinder and modified choke combination for my 12-gauge over/under. For the first shot, I use the barrel fitted with the improved cylinder. If necessary, I will follow-up with a second shot using the more restrictive, modified choke.  The tighter pattern of the modified choke is more effective at taking doves at longer distances. Similarly, some hunters prefer a full choke on the second barrel. However, in my experience, a full choke is overkill for doves. Not only does the extremely narrow shot pattern make it more difficult to hit birds, but the condensed birdshot typically results in badly damaged doves and breast meat. If you’re using a shotgun without interchangeable chokes, don’t worry. Most shotguns come standard with either improved cylinder or modified barrels, which are ideal for most applications. Grab a box of target or skeet loads (size 7 1/2  or 8 shot) and you’re ready to go.

3. Use Decoys

A DIY dove decoy. Photo by Jerry Neal (CPW).

A DIY dove decoy. Photo by Jerry Neal (CPW).

Although dove hunting primarily involves pass-shooting birds that are flying to and from roosting and feeding sites, doves respond well to decoys. A spinning-wing Mojo decoy, along with three or four stationary decoys placed in a dead tree or on a fence row, can entice doves within shotgun range. Decoys become even more valuable as the hunting season progresses and birds become increasingly wary of hunters. For decoys on the cheap, be sure to check out “DIY Dove Decoys” posted here on Colorado Outdoors Online.

4. View the World Through Rose-Colored Glasses 

Shooting glasses can improve performance in the field. Photo by Jerry Neal (CPW)

Wearing shooting-glasses can improve your performance in the field. Photo by Jerry Neal (CPW)

Last year, for the first time, I shot a round of sporting clays wearing a pair of colored shooting glasses. I was amazed at how the colored lenses improved my vision and my ability to identify targets. Unlike standard sunglasses, which tend to make everything appear darker, rose or amber-tinted lenses make your surroundings more vibrant by reducing harsh shadows. In addition, colored lenses restrict your pupils, improving your depth perception and making it easier to separate targets from the background. As an added benefit, shooting glasses also protect your eyes from UV rays and errant birdshot. When I’m hunting, I prefer to wear amber lenses but vermilion (rose) and orange are also popular choices among wingshooters. Experiment with different colors and see which ones work best for you.  Wearing rose-colored glasses probably won’t turn you into a perpetual optimist, but bagging a few more doves will certainly improve your overall disposition.

5. Stay Concealed in the Field

Kevin Lansing takes cover behind trees while dove hunting at Banner Lakes SWA. Photo by Jerry Neal (CPW)

Kevin Lansing takes cover behind trees while dove hunting at Banner Lakes SWA.  Photo by Jerry Neal (CPW)

Standing out in the open is a bad idea if you’re trying to bag a limit of doves. Sure, you might get away with this tactic on opening morning when naive birds are flying low and slow (for doves). But by mid-afternoon, doves wise up and quickly learn how to avoid shotgun-wielding hunters. I’ve seen doves dive and dodge simply reacting to a raised shotgun barrel. Therefore, it’s important to keep a low profile by crouching under trees or concealing yourself in tall grass. Use shaded areas and vegetation to break up your silhouette. Doves sense movement more than they sense color, so keep perfectly still until you’re ready to shoot.

Unlike turkey or waterfowl hunting, you don’t need to wear full camo when hunting doves. Lightweight plaid or drab-colored (brown or green) clothing works just fine. In fact, I prefer to wear a shooting vest or a lightweight hunting shirt that has some blaze-orange trim. Although not required for small-game hunting in Colorado, the blaze-orange is highly visible to other hunters — a great safety feature for when I’m hunting public land. Obviously, this is a personal choice, but I like other hunters to know exactly where I am at all times. This establishes safe shooting-zones and helps prevent someone from getting peppered by birdshot. If you insist on wearing full camo, save it for when you’re on private property. Even then, consider adding a little blaze orange to your ensemble. Landowners will appreciate knowing your exact location, and as long as you stay concealed, you’ll still shoot plenty of doves — I promise.

6. Hunt Early

A mourning dove. Photo by © Wayne D. Lewis/CPW

A mourning dove. Photo by © Wayne D. Lewis/CPW

Hunting doves in Colorado is an early season endeavor. Although Colorado’s dove season opens Sept. 1 and continues into November, the window of opportunity for hunters is small. Since mourning doves migrate, most of the fair-weather birds flee the state after the first cold snap, which can happen as early as August in some years. For the best chance of success, you should hit the fields in the first days and weeks after the season opens. Depending on fall weather conditions, localized populations of doves can be found in southeast Colorado into the late season, but hunting is sporadic at best. According to harvest surveys, hunters in Weld, Morgan, Adams, Arapahoe, Logan, Larimer, Yuma, Pueblo, Otero and Prowers counties harvest the greatest numbers of doves each year. And most of these birds are harvested in the early part of September.

7. Take Advantage of the Eurasion Invasion

The non-native Eurasion collared-dove is larger than a mounting dove and remains in Colorado year-round. Photo by © Wayne D. Lewis/CPW

The non-native Eurasion collared-dove is larger than a mounting dove and remains in Colorado year-round. Photo by © Wayne D. Lewis/CPW

In addition to native mourning and white-winged doves, Colorado is now home to non-native Eurasion collared-doves (ECDs). ECDs were inadvertently introduced to the United States in the 1970s when several of the birds escaped from a pet shop in the Bahamas. The birds soon made their way to Florida and, over the last four decades, have rapidly expanded across the Western United States and Canada. Unlike native doves, ECDs do not migrate and remain here throughout the winter. Because the birds are prolific breeders, wildlife managers are concerned that ECDs may out-compete native species for food and habitat. To manage populations, Colorado has classified ECDs as an invasive species and has implemented a year-round hunting season, coupled with unlimited bag/possession limits. Although ECDs are extremely abundant, locating the birds in areas where hunting is allowed can be challenging. ECDs are primarily urban dwellers that congregate at suburban bird feeders or near busy agricultural centers like feedlots and farms. However, with a little scouting, you can find localized populations of the doves in more rural settings. In fact, I typically harvest two or three ECDs every year while hunting Walk-In-Access properties. The good news is that the birds are larger in size, yield more breast meat and they don’t count toward the regular limit of mourning doves. And if you can locate them in the winter, ECDs provide a fun, year-round wingshooting opportunity long after the regular dove season is just a memory.

8. Hunt Walk-In-Access Properties

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More than 170,000 acres are open to dove hunting through Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Walk-In-Access program.  Although not all properties support the habitat necessary to hold doves, many areas offer good hunting opportunities. For doves, you should do some preseason scouting and search for areas supporting food crops like wheat stubble, proso-millet stubble and sunflower fields. Areas located near water and roosting sites (dead trees) should also hold good numbers of birds. The Walk-In-Access brochure features detailed maps and GPS coordinates of enrolled properties and also includes additional information and tips for small-game hunters. Keep in mind that all WIA properties are privately owned land that CPW has leased for public hunting. Please help maintain these areas by picking up empty shell casings and properly disposing of harvested birds.

9. Read The Small Game& Waterfowl Brochure

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The Colorado Small Game & Waterfowl brochure features a wealth of information for hunters. In addition to providing season dates and bag/possession limits, the brochure includes species profiles and general hunting tips. The online brochure also features video tutorials to help you get the most out of your experience this fall. It’s a must-read before entering the field.

10. Don’t Forget Your HIP 

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One of the most common items that small-game hunters forget about every year is the Harvest Information Program (HIP) number. Yet, registering for an HIP number is fast and easy. Simply go to the Colorado HIP website or call 1-866-COLOHIP to obtain a number. Be sure to write the HIP number in the space provided on your small-game license. The HIP helps wildlife managers establish harvest estimates for doves and other migratory birds. A small-game license AND an HIP Number are required to hunt doves and other small-game species in Colorado.

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This article was written by Jerry Neal. Neal is editor of Colorado Outdoors online and works as a public information specialist at CPW’s Denver Headquarters. 

Field To The Table: A Must-Try Pheasant Recipe

Colorado’s pheasant season is now a month old. Hopefully, with some luck and good marksmanship, you’ve bagged a few roosters by now. But unless you’re as skilled with a skillet as you are with a shotgun, you may be wondering what to do with those birds in the freezer.

Phear not! This pheasant pheast is sure to please the entire family. This simple and delicious recipe has been a favorite of mine for years. The medley of fresh mushrooms, cream of mushroom soup and white wine is a superb way to cook wild pheasant — a bird that can be drier than a 007 martini if not prepared properly.

Check out the video below and give this easy recipe a try. Serve with mashed potatoes or wild rice for the perfect ensemble. Pheasant is also a great alternative to that tired Butterball centerpiece on the holiday dinner table.


Written and produced by Jerry Neal. Neal is the editor for Colorado Outdoors Online and is a media specialist for CPW.

Women Afield: My first pheasant hunt

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The author holds a shotgun for the first time at a Women Afield hunt. Photo by Crystal Egli/CPW.

The first time in my life I’ve held a shotgun is also the first time I’ve hunted. On a cold and clear morning in November, I joined thirteen other women for a Women Afield pheasant hunt organized by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The number of hunting licenses sold to women has grown slowly but steadily over the past few years in Colorado, according to CPW data. In 2015, 9.4 percent of the total licenses sold were to female hunters, an increase from 7.8 percent in 2011. Recent articles in Denver’s 5280 Magazine and The Washington Times show interest among women in hunting, and CPW has identified a need for increased outreach to this population.

“Our main focus right now is getting youth and women into the field and trying to promote our hunting tradition,” said Crystal Chick, the statewide hunter outreach coordinator for CPW. “A lot of people don’t have a family member or friend who hunts and it’s really hard to get into hunting without that mentor.”
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Set Your Sights on Sighting In

The Chaffee County Shooting Range

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A shooter takes aim at the Chaffee County Shooting Range. All photos by © Wayne D. Lewis/CPW

“Don’t tell anyone about this place,” said the target shooter as the smell from the rifle rounds he just shot hung in the air. “This place is great and I don’t want it to get too crowded.”

“Sorry, but telling people about this place is why I’m here,” I replied, smiling.

“This place” is the Chaffee County Shooting Range, or “the best, nonfee, public range in the state,” as Jim Aragon, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) area wildlife manager for Area 13, proudly stated. And from my tour of the range, I would enthusiastically agree. While I understand the shooter’s worry, with the range covering more than 55 acres, I think there is room for more visitors. Read more

The 2016 Colorado Outdoors Hunting Guide is Available Now!

 

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Get the most out of your time in the field this fall by purchasing the 2016 Colorado Outdoors Hunting Guide. This special edition of Colorado Outdoors magazine features a big-game hunting forecast with statewide population estimates for elk, deer, pronghorn, moose and bear, as well as the inside scoop on all things big-game hunting from CPW wildlife managers and biologists. In addition, this issue provides strategies for pulling off the perfect pheasant hunt and offers tips on processing your own game meat. To view an entire contents page for this issue, click HERE. Purchase your copy or an annual subscription today.

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