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Nebraska Pheasant Hunting and the Changing Face of Agriculture


The success of the ring-necked pheasant parallels the ups and downs of Nebraska agriculture, with the years between 1958 and 1966 being the heyday of Nebraska pheasant hunting. During those years, pheasant hunting seasons were the longest in the country, bag limits were ample, and, for a time, it was possible to shoot hens in some areas. The years of plentiful pheasants were also the years of the Soil Bank, a land-idling program designed to decrease huge grain surpluses by cutting production. Some lost and disappearing forms of habitat, a result of the post-war changes in farming practices that were meant to increase production, were rapidly restored--and Nebraska pheasant hunting entered a boom era. By the early 1960s, the Soil Bank in Nebraska had created 876,000 acres of the kind of prime pheasant habitat often absent on cultivated land, and many non-resident hunters came to Nebraska for the spectacular hunting opportunities, boosting the local economies.

However, the boom was short-lived, and in 1966 the retired Soil Bank acres began to be returned to cultivation, and then in 969 all the contracts had ended. In addition, by this time, not only were the Soil Bank acres gone, along with their ideal habitat, but the farming practices on the farmed acres had undergone yet another change. Larger fields, old farmsteads eliminated—all to create more farmland, and, most importantly, the center pivot, which required the removal of shelter belts and brushy thickets, combined to destroy pheasant habitat. Once again, pheasant numbers fell. During the Soil Bank years from 1960 to 1967, an average of 12.5 pheasants were counted every 100 miles; twenty years later the number was down to 2.2. Nebraska pheasant hunting, following the trend of agricultural practices, declined.

The 1985 Farm Bill created another version of the Soil Bank program, the Conservation Reserve Program, which was designed to shrink grain surpluses brought about by former farming policies and aid conservation. Counties with a high degree of participation in the CRP showed significant increases in pheasant numbers. Rural Mail Carrier surveys indicated a doubling of pheasant numbers, but the increase in the pheasant population and other wildlife was less than expected. In areas where the CRP had increased the number of pheasants, Nebraska pheasant hunting underwent something of a revival, but it has not returned to the heights of the glory days. Pheasant hunting is still an important economic factor in the state, but with fewer pheasants, fewer hunters visit Nebraska. In 1996 about 131,000 hunters, both in and out-of state, spent 54 million dollars. Five years later hunter numbers were down to 100,000, a decrease of 24%, with 36 million dollars spent.

It’s clear Nebraska pheasant hunting will continue to depend on farm programs such as the CRP to maintain pheasant habitat and ensure the future of the sport. Private efforts by groups such as Pheasants Forever can help enormously, but farming methods are the key to what happens with the vast majority of acres. Ultimately the future of wildlife habitat and the Nebraska pheasant hunting will depend, as always, on what happens in Washington.

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John C. Mackey - Corvallis Gazette Times

Corvallis Gazette Times

John C. Mackey
Corvallis Gazette Times
He enjoyed many years of deer and elk hunting, which usually included using the packhorses and mules and staying in the mountains for several weeks at a time. In later years, he continued pheasant hunting and added some great chukar hunts. ... He is ...


Outdoors notebook: Study of stocked pheasants set for fall - Tribune-Review

Outdoors notebook: Study of stocked pheasants set for fall
The commission plans to do a pheasant harvest rate study this fall. It will band 5,450 pheasants — with some bands worth $100 — and ask hunters to report when and where they took them via a toll-free phone number, said wildlife biometrician Josh Johnson.


Outdoors notices: Feb. 22, 2015 - Tribune-Review

Outdoors notices: Feb. 22, 2015
Proceeds benefits projects in Pennsylvania. Since 1985, the Foundation and its partners have completed 341 conservation and hunting outreach projects in Pennsylvania with a combined value of more than $22.8 million. For tickets or information, contact ...


A vast endeavor Maintenance crew stays busy year long - Wilkes Barre Times-Leader

A vast endeavor Maintenance crew stays busy year long
Wilkes Barre Times-Leader
That work carries into the fall, along with stocking pheasants, erecting signs for hunting season and planting stands of winter wheat and clover. During the major hunting seasons, Roberts and his crew stay out of the woods and spend their days ...


A mix of ideas for a common goal - Wilkes Barre Times-Leader

A mix of ideas for a common goal
Wilkes Barre Times-Leader
More than a dozen groups will be attending, representing a variety of interests including ruffed grouse, pheasants, waterfowl, deer, turkeys, elk and trout fishing. There will also be organizations devoted to land preservation and another that takes ...