What may be the most unique upland bird hunting opportunity in North America begins on the third Saturday in November. The 2013 regular prairie chicken season opens Nov. 16 and runs through Jan. 31, 2014 in the Northwest and East units. It ends Dec. 31, 2013 in the Southwest Unit. Kansas is home to lesser and greater prairie chickens, both iconic prairie grouse species of our Midwest grasslands.
In Kansas, the more numerous greater prairie chicken inhabits the tallgrass prairie of the Flint Hills, in east-central Kansas, and mixed grass prairies of the Smoky Hills, in northcentral and northwest Kansas. Less than 4 percent of the 400,000 square miles of tallgrass prairie that once covered North America still remain, and two-thirds of that is in the Kansas region known as the Flint Hills. This region in east-central Kansas still provides large, unbroken expanses of tallgrass prairie, thanks to the stewardship of private cattle ranchers, and a shallow layer of chert, or flint, that protects it from the plow.
The more rare lesser prairie chicken inhabits the shortgrass prairies of southwest Kansas. Because of habitat loss and population declines in four other states where lesser prairie chickens exist (Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas), Kansas is the only state where lesser prairie chickens can be hunted. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) will announce next spring whether or not the lesser prairie chicken will be added to the Threatened and Endangered Species List. To address habitat losses, wildlife agencies in the five states formed a working group that collaborated with the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies to develop a comprehensive management plan. State biologists hope the plan will dissuade the USFWS from listing the lesser prairie chicken, allowing state agencies to implement a variety of private land habitat enhancement programs designed to benefit lesser chickens.
Hunting lesser prairie chickens in Kansas has no impact on the population, and provides a truly unique upland bird hunting opportunity. The daily bag limit in the Southwest Unit is one prairie chicken per day with a possession limit of four.
Daily bag limit in the Northwest and East units is two prairie chickens per day, and the possession limit is eight. Most prairie chickens taken during the regular season are taken by pass shooting. Hunters position themselves along the edges of feed fields in the early morning or late evening hours and wait for chickens to fly in from the grasslands. Success depends on prior scouting, patience and luck. It also requires shooting skill because prairie chickens fly deceptively fast, especially with any type of tailwind.
In addition to a hunting license, unless exempt, prairie chicken hunters are required to have a $2.50 Prairie Chicken Permit. The special permit allows KDWPT to gain valuable management information from hunters who pursue prairie chickens.
The Smoky Hills region is expected to hold some of the highest densities and greatest hunting opportunities in the state for greater prairie chickens. Hunters may also find success in the Flint Hills, where reduced burning allowed for more residual grass cover for nesting compared to most years. For more details, view the 2013 Upland Bird Forecast at ksoutdoors.com.
Image courtesy Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism