There hasn't been much good news to come out of Utah's pheasant hunt for several years, and it's unlikely much worth repeating will come out of this year's hunt.
Aside from a few isolated areas, pheasant hunting will not be good. At best, Utah pheasant hunters, an estimated 50,000, can expect to claim no more than one bird each on Saturday, the opening of the 1988 season.According to Jay Roberson, upland game biologist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, the outlook this year is a little dimmer than last year, "and last year overall success on opening day was less than one bird per hunter. It doesn't look good this year."
The hunt will open at 8 a.m. Saturday and will continue, statewide, for 14 days. This includes Utah County, where originally the hunt was set for three days but later changed to coincide with the rest of the state. The limit remains two roosters daily, with no more than four in possession after opening day.
Pheasant numbers in Utah have, for years, been on the way down. The birds have lost ground to urbanization and modern agricultural practices. Lands once vital to pheasant living are now home sites, roads and pastures with grazing cattle.
The flooding of both Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake also caused considerable damage to Utah's birds. Pushed back to the shorelines by new developments, the water came from behind and destroyed thousands more acres of pheasant country.
This year even more problems befell the birds. First, what little wet weather the state had came at the peak of the pheasants' breeding season - May. Midsummer counts showed the cool, wet weather hurt the hatch. In some northern areas more adult birds than chicks were counted. Normally, the opposite would be true.
Also, the summer drought did not help the birds. Limited moisture resulted in poor feed conditions.
The good weather forecasted this weekend won't help, either.
"What this means is that hunters will have to work for their birds. Once spooked, the birds will start running. With a little rain or snow, the birds would stick more, sit down for hunters," he said.
Roberson believes success this year will be half what it was just seven years ago, which means instead of the 230,000 birds hunters harvested in 1981, this year's count is expected to be around 114,000. The number of hunters is also expected to be down from a high of 85,000 in 1982 to around 50,000 this year.
Charted, both the number of birds shot and the number of hunters hunting has dropped steadily since 1981. Overall success went from 230,000 in 1981, to 208,000 in 1982, 202,000 in 1983, 192,000 in 1984, 147,000 in 1985, 114,000 in 1986, and 119,000 in 1987.
Looking at hunter count, it dropped from 85,000 in 1982, to 78,000 in 1983, 77,000 in 1984, 70,000 in 1985, 60,000 in 1986 and 57,000 in 1987.
Some of the best hunting is, again, expected to be in Utah County. Roberson pointed out that farming practices in the county - grain and hay fields - offer the best situation for pheasants. Last year hunters averaged more than one bird each. Farmers, angry at the Utah Wildlife Board for reversing its decision for a three-day hunt, as they had requested, back to 14 days, may close more lands in the county, however.
In some other counties, hunting is not expected to be as good. In Sevier, Millard and Emery counties, where hunters moved to get away from the flooding lakes, production was down this year and therefore hunting is expected to be slower.
In northern areas, hunting is not expected to be much better despite the lowering of the Great Salt Lake. Much needed cover was destroyed by the flooding salt water. Barren land left by the receding waters will not hold pheasants.
Summing it up, Roberson said the birds have not only lost critical breeding and summer habitat, but critical winter cover, all signs that future hunts may not be much better.
Currently, the DWR is working with farmers in an attempt to regain habitat and winter cover.
"To show any results, however, is going to take a few years. We're moving in the right direction, but we need more. We need to get our winter cover back," he added.
About 10,000 areas of posted pheasant hunting property will be opened for the first two days of the hunt - Saturday and Sunday - in Delta. Cost of permit is $10, with all proceeds from the sale going to the Delta Acappella Club towards a trip to France. Signs in downtown Delta will direct hunters to where the permits will be sold. There will also be a breakfast in Delta from 6 to 9 a.m. and a "soup kitchen" set up in town between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
There is also a list of trespass areas on posted hunting units available at DWR offices. The list gives location of units, number and cost of permits, sale location and shooting times.