COLORADO – There are few birds in the San Luis Valley, but for hunters planning to travel for pheasants and quail, the Colorado Division of Wildlife has announced some changes.
The 2019 Colorado pheasant and quail seasons opened Nov. 9. For the 2019-20 Colorado pheasant hunting season, hunters can expect a year similar to, but probably somewhat better than last season, which was a decent year. This season, we had relatively good moisture conditions over the summer, so we can expect more birds in the fields. In terms of quail hunting, the outlook is a little different. Bobwhite quail numbers in the southeast region looked pretty good, while scaled quail are a bit down from the heyday of a few years ago. In the Northeast, bobwhite quail have mixed results – some properties have good coveys and good size to the coveys, while other properties, not so much. It’s looking like a spotty hit or miss quail hunting this season.
Hail Impacts Hunting Strategies
Compared to last year, the Eastern Plains had fewer big hailstorms, certainly in some counties. Kit Carson County, for example, had some severe hail damage in late summer, but not to the extent of 2018 where the entire range had big hailstorms. As a result, scouting for pheasants or quail is really important. And just locating good cover does not guarantee a successful hunt. It’s not unusual for a group of hunters to get into an area where the cover looks pretty good, but they’re not seeing the birds. Oftentimes, that’s due to a hailstorm earlier in the season that hurt the birds. Then the rain came, the habitat grew back so it looks really good, but the fields are empty of birds. When you get in those situations, it’s time to move to a new location. You really never know the conditions until you’ve talked to the locals and the landowners to see how big the footprint of the hailstorm was. And good hunting might be a short drive away, maybe just 5-10 miles and you’re outside of the hail-impacted area.
Big and Small Game Walk-in Access
The Walk-In Access Program as a whole, entails 173,000 acres for the 2019-20 season, which is an increase of about 15,000 acres from last year. That’s a significant amount of land with a lot of opportunities. Again, we don’t count numbers of parcels, but there are well over 1,200 parcels of private land that are now open to the public for small game hunting and/or big game hunting, depending on what the property is classified as in the booklet.
Note: Big game/small game combo properties are marked yellow in the book and the properties have yellow signs in the field. You can find the properties in the Walk-In Access brochures and on the online Colorado Hunting Atlas. White properties or white polygons indicate small game only properties where the landowner did not allow big game hunting access.
Hunters should recognize that there are some additional Walk-In Access opportunities in 2019-20. Earlier last year, CPW decided to offer a big game expansion into the Walk-In Access Program, signing up about 86,000 acres of land that allow big game hunting. Of course, to hunt a Walk-In Access big game property, you need to have drawn a limited license in the correct GMU.
For licensed hunters, there is quite a bit of opportunity out there. We didn’t count the number of parcels, but again, 86,000 acres and a lot of it somewhat good Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land, which is really integral to deer habitat on the Eastern Plains. There are some properties for pronghorn hunting, but not as many as for deer hunting. So, if you do some scouting and you have one of the appropriate licenses, you’ll find some good hunting access. Keep in mind that Walk-In Access properties are first come first served – select permission is not conveyed to either small-game hunters or big-game hunters.
Corners for Conservation
The 2019-20 small game season marks the fourth year of the Corners for Conservation initiative in conjunction with Pheasants Forever. Together, we have now combined efforts to create habitat on 400 sprinkler corners that range from Northern Sedgwick County to Kit Carson County and as far West as the edge of Washington County – about 3,300 acres in total. So, not only do you get the benefit of improved habitat on the landscape for wildlife, but hunters also have access to every one of those corners. We don’t depict those specifically in the Walk-In Atlas brochure; however, the properties are signed in the field as Corners for Conservation properties.
The Walk-In Access Program is heavily dependent on landlord relations. And for the most part, we’re doing really well in that regard. However, hunters can help us maintain relationships by doing simple things like not leaving trash or picking up trash left by others. Every year, I get about a dozen properties that are pulled from the program because of trashing concerns – bird cleaning or other types of things that landowners don’t really like to see on their property. It’s really simple. Just pick up your trash and if you see something that somebody else left, go ahead, grab it and take it with you. Your efforts will help us keep properties enrolled in the Walk-In Access Program