By AMY RICKER
Great Bend Post
Cheyenne Bottoms was busier than ever this year with duck and deer hunters. In fact, the refuge averaged an unusually high 106 hunters per day. During the weekdays, it typically slows down, but that has not been the case this year. Compared to last year, Cheyenne Bottoms has recorded 856 more check-ins from hunters.
Cheyenne Bottoms Area Wildlife Manager Jason Wagner says that the number of birds is also in record numbers.
"I've been updating the waterfowl count, and when you go through the refuge, it's been almost impossible to guess how many ducks are out there. There are just so many of them, and they really aren't leaving at all. Then it doesn't help with all the warmer temperatures for a long period of time. Just minor cold fronts, and that doesn't help change the bird numbers, so they are just sticking to the refuge and staying put there."
Wagner says that warmer temperatures have kept the ducks here because the water isn't frozen solid yet.
Surprisingly, Wagner said they aren't seeing the high numbers of sportsmen hunting pheasants, which had its season open last weekend.
"Pheasant hunters were down this year. The general consensus was that the pheasant hunters were disappointed in the number of pheasants they were seeing and harvesting this year. They were happy with the number of quail," explained Wagner.
According to Wagner, you don't see large groups of families hunting pheasant like in past years on opening day, and instead, it's smaller groups and hunters from out-of-state. Due to the lower number of pheasants, hunters are more likely to go to South Dakota, where they see a higher number of birds.
Wagner says it's been more challenging for the pheasant numbers to recover due to habitat conditions, the high number of predators, and it will most likely take a few years before the numbers bounce back.