Pheasant numbers rise in MinnesotaA mild winter followed by a warm spring contributed to a significant increase in Minnesota’s pheasant count, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
A mild winter followed by a warm spring contributed to a significant increase in Minnesota’s pheasant count, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The pheasant population index increased 68 percent from 2011. Pheasant hunters are expected to harvest about 290,000 roosters this fall. That’s up from last year’s estimated harvest of 204,000 but roughly half the number taken during the 2005-2008 seasons when hunting was exceptionally good.
“While the 2012 increase reflects movement in a positive direction, the counts still remain 51 percent below the 10-year average,” said Kurt Haroldson, the DNR biologist who compiled the survey.
“The state’s pheasant population is linked more closely to quantity and quality of habitat than annual differences in weather,” Haroldson added.
The pheasant population estimate is part of the DNR’s annual roadside wildlife survey. The survey summarizes roadside counts of pheasants, gray (Hungarian) partridge, cottontail rabbits, white-tailed jackrabbits and other wildlife observed in the early morning hours during the first half of August throughout the farmland region of Minnesota.
The highest pheasant counts were in the west central region, where observers reported 58 birds per 100 miles of survey driven. Hunters will find good harvest opportunities in portions of west central, east central and southwest Minnesota.
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 such as Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, Reinvest in Minnesota and Wetlands Reserve Program make up the largest portion of protected grasslands in the state.
High land rental rates and competing uses for farmland diminish the economic attractiveness of farmland conservation programs. During the next three years, contracts for 620,000 acres of CRP lands are scheduled to expire. If not re-enrolled, this would reduce CRP acres in Minnesota by 42 percent.
Minnesota’s pheasant population largely has mirrored what’s happened on the land.
“Pheasant numbers were higher during the small, diversified farming days from roughly 1931 to 1964 when habitat was more abundant,” Haroldson said. “Pheasant numbers declined during the intensive farming boom from 1965-1986 as field sizes grew and habitat shrank. Then, pheasant numbers rebounded when CRP began in 1987. However, enrollment in that program peaked several years ago.”
Youths can hunt with a mentor
Interested youths and women can apply by Sept. 10 for a chance to step into the field with an experienced guide this fall and step out carrying pheasants. The Pheasants Forever special mentored hunt is co-sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and takes place on Oct. 20.
Mentors from Pheasants Forever chapters throughout Minnesota will be paired with youth hunters and their guardians. After scouting places to hunt and securing landowner permission when necessary, mentors will take participants into the field.
“This great opportunity will put rookie youth or inexperienced women on the fast track into the hunting world and show them with a hands-on approach about hunting techniques, outdoor skills, safety and how wildlife habitat plays a big part in upland bird management,” said Mike Kurre, DNR Mentoring Program Coordinator.
To participate in the lottery, youths must be 12-17 years old as of Oct. 20; have earned a valid firearms safety certificate; possess a small game license; and have a parentguardian accompany them as a non-firearms carrying mentor to join the youth at a pre-hunt orientation as well as the hunt. Free small game licenses are available to those younger than 16 at any licensing agent. Reduced-fee licenses also are available for youth 16 and 17.
Applications are available online www.dnr.state.mn.us or by contacting the DNR Information Center at 651-296-6157 or 888-646-6367. Successful applicants will be notified via mail or email by the end of September.