Pheasant roadside count declines for 2009Minnesota pheasant hunters, who in recent years have experienced some of the best hunting since the mid-1950s and early 1960s, are expected to harvest fewer birds this autumn.
Minnesota pheasant hunters, who in recent years have experienced some of the best hunting since the mid-1950s and early 1960s, are expected to harvest fewer birds this autumn.
That according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources whose wildlife staff report the state’s pheasant index is down 27 percent from last year and 27 percent below the 10-year average. The index had been above average for the past four years.
Dennis Simon, DNR Wildlife section chief, said three factors influenced this year’s bird numbers.
First, last winter’s weather was moderately severe throughout much of the pheasant range for the first time since 2001. This resulted in hen counts 22 percent below the 10-year average. Second, 72,000 acres of private land was removed from the Conservation Reserve Program, thereby reducing nesting opportunities. And third, a period of cool and wet weather at the normal peak of pheasant hatch appeared to reduce early brood survival.
“As a result, a decrease in the range-wide pheasant index is not surprising. South Dakota experienced a similar decline,” said Simon.
Pheasant hunters should find birds in about the same abundance as 2004, when 420,000 roosters were harvested. This compares with harvests that have exceeded 500,000 roosters five of the past six years. The half-million bird harvests correspond with a string of mild winters and high CRP enrollment.
“Habitat is what drives populations and harvest rates,” said Simon, noting that in 1958 - the height of the Soil Bank conservation days - the pheasant harvest peaked at 1.6 million. During 1965-86, the years between Soil Bank and CRP, harvest averaged only 270,000 birds.
Kurt Haroldson, DNR wildlife biologist and chief author of this year’s pheasant survey report, said best opportunities for harvesting pheasants will likely be in the southwest, where observers reported 116 birds per 100 miles of survey driven.
Simon said the most important habitat for pheasants is grassland that remains undisturbed during the nesting season. Protected grasslands account for about 6 percent of the state’s pheasant range. Farmland retirement programs make up the largest portion of protected grasslands in the state. The effectiveness of farmland conservation programs remains under threat due to continued high land rental rates and competing economic opportunities. This year’s 72,000-acre loss of CRP in Minnesota’s pheasant range followed a 38,000-acre loss last year. Another 63,000 acres of CRP contracts are scheduled to expire in Minnesota on Sept. 30.
Simon said if Minnesota is to avoid a drastic decline in pheasant and other farmland wildlife populations, hunters, landowners, wildlife watchers and conservationists must make the case for farm conservation programs.
The 2009 August Roadside Report and pheasant hunting prospects map can be viewed and downloaded from http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/pheasant/index.html.
Minnesota’s pheasant season is Oct. 10 - Jan. 3. The daily bag limit is two roosters (three roosters from Dec. 1 - Jan. 3), with a possession limit of six (nine from Dec. 1 - Jan. 3). Shooting hours are 9 a.m. to sunset.