Hutchinson — After a disappointing season last year, hunters arriving in Kansas for Saturday's start of the pheasant season should find a plentiful supply of the birds, a state biologist said.
That's good news for folks like James Mothes, who owns a small gun supply shop in Moscow. Last year, he said, the pheasant hunting was lousy, causing a drop in his business. But he is smiling about this year's pheasant crop.
"You can drive up and down these country roads and see pheasants," he said. "I think it will be a good season."
Although drought still lingers across much of Kansas, rain and cooler temperatures from March through June provided ideal nesting conditions, said Randy Rodgers, a biologist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks at Hays.
The state's pheasant population more than doubled this year, according to a survey conducted by the wildlife department.
With a downturn in the farm economy caused by the drought, hunters arriving from across the country for pheasant hunting will help the economy of rural Kansas towns, Rodgers said.
In Kansas, hunters who stay in motels, buy fuel and eat at diners generate $121.4 million in retail sales, $54.5 million in salaries and wages and jobs that employ about 3,000 people, according to the 2001 International Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies report. That report ranks Kansas as No. 1 for pheasant hunting.
Motels are almost full at Liberal, said Sally Fuller, director of the town's convention and tourism bureau. And at Garden City, WenDee LaPlant, the Finney County Convention & Tourism Bureau director, has been fielding calls from hunters across the country who want information about Kansas hunting.
"We'll get hunters throughout the season," LaPlant said. "And all that money adds up and has an impact on this community."
But long-term trends show the state's flocks are a fraction of the size they were 20 years ago. According to the Kansas Rural Mail Carriers Survey, southwest Kansas pheasant sightings averaged around 10 birds per 100 miles in the 1960s. Today, the average is around two birds.
Besides drought, changes in cropping systems and less habitat aid in the decline, Rodgers said.
Rodgers, however, said even those who didn't bag many birds last year probably will come to the nation's top pheasant state.
"People realize there are good years and bad years," he said. "And hunters are hearing that this year is going to be better."