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Upland Update: Spring Rains Gives Pheasant Numbers Slight Bump

pheasant in grass
This year’s pheasant numbers enjoyed a slight bump according to annual surveys conducted by the Wildlife Department. Pheasant hunting season will open Dec. 1.




By Tell Judkins, Upland Game Biologist

Ring-necked pheasants remain a popular upland game species among Oklahoma hunters. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation monitors the pheasant population by conducting two annual surveys: spring crow counts (Figure 2) and summer brood surveys (Figure 3).  

Because these roadside surveys produce low observation numbers, they can have a wide degree of variability. But the consistency of the survey methodology over time allows us to interpret the information on a historical scale. Data collected provide an index of the spring breeding population (crow counts) and recruitment success for that year (brood surveys).  

Traditionally Alfalfa, Beaver, Cimarron, Grant, and Texas counties have held the highest pheasant numbers. These five counties have been included in spring crow counts since 1973, and brood surveys since 1980. In 1998, surveys were expanded to 13 counties including Ellis, Garfield, Harper, Kay, Major, Noble, Woods, and Woodward (Figure 1). 

The spring 2023 crow count survey returned a smaller number of calls heard per point than in 2022 (Figure 2).  

Numbers from 1973 to 2023 indicate an overall positive trend in the number of calls heard during the spring crow call count surveys, however index numbers for both crow and brood surveys remain well below the long-term average. 

The August brood surveys have shown a slow steady increase over the past four years in both the traditional survey counties and the statewide average (Figure 3). Results from the five traditional counties were up from 0.01 broods/route in 2022 to 0.015 in 2023. The total number of pheasants observed was also slightly up from 27 in 2022 to 30 in 2023. 

Habitat and weather conditions this past year have generally improved over the previous couple of years. In November 2022, more than 97% of the state was in severe drought (D2) or worse. In October 2023, 34% of the state was in severe drought (D2) or worse (Figure 4). 

Last year’s drought conditions and the overall La Nina weather pattern gave way to a moist spring fueled by a switch to El Nino conditions. Spring brought some reprieve from drought for most of the state, but some of those storms and systems brought large swaths of hail that might have limited local nesting success.

Intermittent summer rains allowed decent crops of forbs and insects in much of the state. But into fall, pockets of extreme drought persisted in the northcentral and southern regions of the state. Much of northwestern Oklahoma enjoyed above-average rainfall through summer and early fall (Figure 5). 

SUMMARY: Pheasant hunters this season will likely find pockets of pheasants in fair numbers in areas where habitat and conditions are most favorable, insects are plentiful, forbs are abundant, and drought has not had a severe impact. 

Oklahoma’s ring-necked pheasant hunting season will open Dec. 1, 2023, and run through Jan. 31, 2024. Hunters are allowed to harvest two cock pheasants daily. Seasons and bag limits on public lands may vary from the statewide season. Open areas include Alfalfa, Beaver, Cimarron, Garfield, Grant, Harper, Kay, Major, Noble, Osage, Texas, Woods, and Woodward counties, and the portions of Blaine, Dewey, Ellis, Kingfisher, and Logan counties north of State Highway 51. 

Looking to learn more about pheasant hunting? Click on the button below for the Wildlife Department's Pheasant Hunting Resources webpage.

Ultimately, remember the outdoors are always open! Work some ground, trust your dog, and make a memory! And enjoy time spent in Outdoor Oklahoma.

For additional rules and other information, consult the Oklahoma Fishing and Hunting Regulations online at, on the Go Outdoors Oklahoma mobile app, or in print wherever hunting and fishing licenses are sold.


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