Aimee Ryel, District Wildlife Manager - Phillips County Colorado
Phillips County has approximately 218 wildlife species. Nine of these are amphibians, 24 are reptiles, 39 are mammals and 146 are birds which either migrate to the Phillips county area each year or are year-round residents. Phillips County's habitat diversity is home to a variety of wildlife species. One hundred seventy-three of the wildlife species in Phillips County are non-game (non-hunted) wildlife. Nine of these are state threatened, endangered or species of special concern. The remaining 45 residents or migrant animals are considered game species in Colorado: one amphibian, two reptiles, 17 mammals and 26 birds.
Phillips County's 688 square miles contain several different habitat types. Dry and irrigated cropland covers just over 583 square miles. The landowners are great conservationists - almost 39,000 acres of their property is enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Phillips County also has about 52 square miles of sandsage sandhills, almost half of which is used as cropland. Phillips County has no flowing streams today, but there are still remnants of riparian habitat along miles of flatland and sandhill drainages.
Although Phillips County will host a harvest of almost all of the 45 game species, it is concentrated on less than a dozen animals. Summer rain showers can turn usually dry fields into shallow lakes that may cover hundreds of acres. While ranchers may discuss the gift of water against the poor timing and placement of it, all agree that the water is a great attractant to migrating waterfowl during the fall. Waterfowl hunters use the early September teal season as their ďhunting openerĒ. With good numbers of Teal moving south early, and a good population of hunters covering as many shallow ponds as possible in an area, the county offers a great hunt of these small ducks.
Dove season starts in early September as well. As summer temperatures cool off in late August and September, the plentiful doves in the area bunch up into large flocks designed for traveling south on their annual migration. Two words describe how to obtain a daily bag limit in Phillips County: Hunt early!! During a typical year, the dove population quickly dwindles and the large flocks will be out of the area by mid-month. Although dove season may be short in Phillips County, in 2012, hunters harvested over 6,600 birds. There are isolated Chukar Partridge populations that are occasionally harvested when the birds wander off of commercial hunting areas. Their season starts in September and closes in late November.
Phillips County shines when Ring-necked Pheasant and Bobwhite Quail are the center of attraction. In 2012, the county hosted the second largest number of upland game bird hunters in the state and the second largest pheasant harvest as well. The opening weekend and following week are the busiest, followed by the weekends around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Harvest is highest during the first week and when bad weather bunches the birds. By December, the birds become well educated in the ways of the hunter. These birds can out-fox the average pheasant hunter, even those with bird dogs. This past season I had the opportunity to watch a group of hunters in a corn field. As the hunters entered the field and moved down the rows, the pheasants were already heading to the far end where the blockers were waiting. Before the pheasants got there, they must have heard the blockers or saw them moving. They either took flight well out of range or they ran to the edge of the field where nobody was standing and flew away. Whether youíre hunting alone or in a group, a change in your hunting techniques may help the birds flush. Change your pace as you walk through a field: walk fast, stop, stomp your feet, donít move, etc. For easier walking, most hunters walk with the rows of grain. Try changing your direction of travel: walk with the rows, after 100 yards turn 45 degrees to your left and continue walking, after another 100 yards turn 90 degrees to your right, etc. The change in pace and you may end up with more birds in your bag. A hunter can also place their dogs on the edge of the field to help prevent birds from slipping out between the blockers and the walkers. Blockers should remain quiet and may need to kneel down after the walkers have seen them. This may allow the birds to get closer to them before they flush. The Colorado Parks & Wildlifeís Walk-in Access Program has been a great success for hunters in Northeast Colorado. This program allows hunters to enter onto enrolled private property to hunt for small game. In 2012, Phillips County enrolled 25,000+ acres into the program - almost 38 square miles of pheasant habitat! The Phillips County chapter of Pheasants Forever has played a large part in the program's success through their large monetary donations each year. In past years, the High Plains Land Conservancy in Phillips County has also donated its land to the program. By mid-December and early January, some of the pheasants have learned to avoid the hunters altogether by moving to areas where they wonít be disturbed. These areas are usually private property that isnít in the Walk-in Access program. Hunters must obtain permission from the landowners before pursuing these birds. There are several commercial upland game bird outfitters in Phillips County. For a fee, these businesses meet the individual needs of the hunter, whether itís a fully guided hunt with dogs or only directions to the businessís bird enriched fields.
Rabbit hunting should be really good in Phillips County for the next several years as these furry animals have been seen everywhere in the county. Their large relatives, the jackrabbits, are also experiencing higher numbers. Cottontail season starts in October and is over at the end of February. Rabbit hunters are cautioned to wait until after the first hard freeze before harvesting cottontails.
Coyote hunting is very popular throughout Colorado. In 2012, Phillips County ranked 37th in the state for the number of coyotes harvested. In 2012 hunters harvested nearly 339 coyotes. Landowner permission is needed before hunting on private property. Hunters need a license if they plan to sell the furs. Some hunters stalk coyotes, while others call them in with predator calls. Other hunters have dogs trained to chase coyotes. After seeing a coyote, a houndsman will release the dogs (usually greyhounds). The houndsman will then follow the dogs as they chase the coyote. When the dogs finally stop the coyote, the houndman harvests the coyote. It is illegal in Colorado for the houndman to allow the chase dogs to kill the coyote or to use a vehicle to pursue the coyote before releasing the dogs.
Phillips County takes part in four different deer seasons: archery, muzzleloading, regular rifle and late rifle season. Game Management Units (GMU's) 93 and 98 support a healthy population of both Mule and White-tailed deer. Each year, many Mule Deer bucks are harvested that are wide-antlered and score over 180 Boone and Crocket points. White-tailed Bucks have been taken above 130 Boone and Crocket points. Because of the demand by sportsmen for large-antlered deer, a hunter will have to apply for two to five years before drawing a limited buck tag for either GMU 93 or 98.
Phillips County has a lengthy archery season for deer. These licenses also are limited in number. The season runs from the first of October to the end of December, except when the rifle seasons are open. Archery hunters donít rely on treestands in the county, although if they do find an adequate tree, they usually find adequate deer. Most archers either stalk their deer or use ground blinds.
The Plains Muzzleloading season takes place in mid to late October. Since the majority of corn is still standing and the deer like to live near these corn fields, hunters should plan on locating deer in the mornings and evenings around these fields. Locating corn fields close to the sandhills can increase your chances. As with all deer hunting a successful conclusion is preceded by pre-season scouting.
Regular season rifle (late October-early November) hunters almost always have to deal with standing corn as well. Hunting around the edges of standing corn will find you in deer habitat, especially the fields that are adjacent to the sandhills. Late season (first two weeks of December) deer hunters are usually not hindered by standing corn. By this time of year the deer have left the flatlands and migrated into the sandhills that border Phillips County on the south. With only the cover of the sandhills, a deer hunter might think that these deer are vulnerable to the hunter. But, after entering the hills, a hunter soon realizes that he is the one at a disadvantage. Pre- season scouting is the key to locating the deer of your dreams! Phillips County has several big game outfitters to meet individual hunters' needs. For a fee, the outfitter will provide his client with a fully guided deer hunt. For more information on wildlife, visit Colorado Parks & Wildlife website: www.wildlife.state.co.us.
Phillips County is blessed with abundant wildlife. Three quarters of which are non-game and vary from what some would consider the lowly field sparrow, deer mouse and Great Plains toad to the soaring Mississippi Kite, beautifully colored Milk Snake and secretive Long-tailed Weasel. No matter what type of wildlife you are in search of, Phillips County offers something that will be of interest to you. Come see for yourself.
For detailed information on Phillips County and its communities, please visit the following web sites:
Northeast Colorado Region www.nctr.info
Phillips County www.colorado.gov/phillipscounty
Phillips County Economic Development www.phillipscountyco.org
Holyoke Chamber of Commerce www.holyokechamber.org
Haxtun Chamber of Commerce www.haxtunchamber.org