No matter where the report came from, the story on the opening of the Utah pheasant hunt was the same: Fewer hunters and even fewer birds.
It was, as predicted, a very slow hunt. In some areas, it was even worse than expected. Some of the best hunting was in Utah County and in the Uinta Basin area.Game managers took into consideration shrinking habitat and the wet spring that was a hardship on nesting birds and the summer drought that was equally as hard, but they weren't too sure what impact predation would have. In many areas, they feel it seriously impacted the birds.
In the past few years, there has been a steady increase in the number of skunks, raccoons and foxes, all of which feed on pheasants and pheasant eggs. With all the other problems, and now an increase on natural enemies, pheasants are suffering.
In checks around the state, hunters and officers echoed the feeling that pressure was down. In most cases, they also agreed that bird numbers were way down.
James Ekins, conservation officer for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources in Tooele, said hunting was fair. "I didn't check anyone with a limit (2 birds), but I did check a lot of groups and all had one or two birds, and most said they got a shot or two."
Dave Olsen, a wildlife biologist in Vernal, said that while hunting in the Uinta Basin wasn't as good as it once was, "we're optimistic things are improving. They did fairly well around the grain fields. I guess you could say it was spotty."
The hunt opened at 8 a.m., and in most areas hunters waited, in some cases forced to do so more by conditions than choice. Several officers reported seeing hunters walking ditch banks 30 minutes before the hunt.
"Had they seen a bird, I'm sure they would have shot, but they didn't see one," said one.
Most areas reported poor hunting. In an area near the South Marina of Willard Bay, where birds have been planted and habitat enhanced, Gene Smith of South Ogden reported hunting was the worst he's seen in several years.
Between 30 hunters and a dozen dogs working one field, only two birds got up. Kim Crofts of Sandy arrived 10 minutes late, but in time to shoot one of the birds that got behind the main party.
According to Drew Peterson, conservation officer, pressure and success were down in Cache County. He cited predation as one of the reasons for poor hunting.
Norm Bowden, regional game manager, said there were fewer hunters and far fewer birds in Sevier Valley. He said one problem was the number of unharvested corn patches.
In Delta, where lands were opened to help raise funds for the Delta Acappella to travel to France, hunting wasn't much better, said Dave Smith, area conservation officer.
Around Beaver, Kevan Penrose of Smithfield, said he checked about 45 hunters after the first few hours and counted only three birds.