MITCHELL COUNTY, Kan. -- In the midst of one of the most dismal Kansas pheasant seasons in years, Tyson Seirer still sees rays of sun cutting through the gloom.
He was looking at it now. As Seirer, a wildlife biologist for Pheasants Forever, waded into a patch of waist-high grass on a remote farm in north-central Kansas, he temporarily forgot the problems the popular gamebirds were experiencing.
The habitat of old stretched in front of him. And there were pheasants and quail hiding in that cover.
"Even in a bad year, areas with good habitat will hold birds," Seirer said as he followed his bird dogs through the grass. "Maybe there won't be as many as in a good year, but there will be birds."
It's no secret that pheasant numbers are down sharply after three years of extreme drought and poor nesting. Hunters have complained about seeing far fewer birds and firing far fewer shots than in a normal year.
But there are islands of hope out there. And Seirer and the hunters he was guiding were standing in the middle of it.
Seirer had helped the landowner do extensive habitat work on his Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land, planting filter strips, quail borders and native grasses. Now he was reaping the benefits.
As he and three other hunters approached a big plum thicket in the middle of grass, the bird dogs slammed on point. The hunters cautiously approached and watched a covey of quail burst into the air. Shotguns boomed, and two of the birds fell.
Later, they flushed five cackling pheasants and also downed one of those birds. Combined with the three pheasants they had taken earlier, they had seen enough action to get them enthused about the upland gamebird hunting and what Kansas can offer, even in a down year.
"We saw quite a few birds today," Seirer said. "But this area is usually good.
"A few years ago, this whole bottom was underwater, and we lost a lot of habitat. But the quail bounced back very quickly after we did some habitat work.
"If you provide them good cover, food and a place for them to nest, they'll usually respond."
For Seirer, 26, upland gamebird hunting is a passion.
He grew up with it in the Milford Lake area, and quickly took to watching the dogs work and the challenge of finding birds.
"I didn't get in on the glory days, but there were still enough birds around to make me want to get out," Seirer said.
Now that he lives in the Glen Elder area, he has combined his passions: working with landowners to create good habitat, working with bird dogs and hunting upland gamebirds.
He owns three bird dogs himself -- a pointer named Waconda Little Dot, a Boykin spaniel named Tip and a Llewellen named Max. He also hunts with his fiancee's pointer, Cocoa.
In addition, he runs a kennel, where he trains gun dogs and provides a boarding service.
At a time when other hunters are getting out of the upland hunting game and selling their dogs, Seirer remains as enthusiastic about the sport as ever.
"Habitat is the key," he said. "I had a group out the other day and we flushed 55 pheasants (a combination of roosters and hens). We didn't get a lot of shooting because most of them flushed wild.
"But still, it was encouraging. If there's quality habitat, the birds are still out there."
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