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Minnesota Pheasant roadside count declines for 2009

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Pheasant roadside count declines for 2009

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’

(DNR), 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. Good harvest

opportunities might also be found in the west-central, central and

south-central regions, where observers reported 65, 59, and 53 birds per

100 miles driven, respectively. This year’s statewide pheasant index

was 59 birds per 100 miles 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. Although CRP was reauthorized in the current farm bill, its

success will depend on the rules for implementation. Conservation

organizations such as Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited and many others

can help hunters and wildlife enthusiasts stay informed of the latest


The DNR is a major partner in the Farm Bill Assistance Partnership to

expand the habitat base through marketing of farm bill conservation

programs in partnership with Minnesota Board of Water and Soil

Resources, Pheasants Forever, and county Soil and Water Conservation

Districts. In addition, the DNR is continuing a focused habitat effort

to develop large grassland wetland complexes through a "Working Lands

Initiative" with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other partners.

New funding from the constitutionally dedicated Outdoor Heritage Fund

is expected to accelerate acquisition of Wildlife Management Areas and

Waterfowl Production Areas beginning in 2010.

The August roadside survey, which began in the late 1940s, was

standardized in 1955. DNR conservation officers and wildlife managers in

Minnesota’s farmland region conduct the survey during the first two

weeks in August. This year's survey consisted of 170 routes, each 25

miles long, with 152 routes located in the ring-necked pheasant range.

Observers drive each route in early morning and record the number and

species of wildlife they see. The data provide an index of relative

abundance and are used to monitor annual changes and long-term trends in

populations of ring-necked pheasants, gray partridge, eastern cottontail

rabbits, white tailed jackrabbits and selected other wildlife species.

The gray partridge index was similar to last year, but 71 percent below

the 10-year average. Cottontail rabbit indices also declined about 40

percent from 2008, the 10-year average and the long-term average.

Jackrabbit indices were similar to last year, but 86 percent below the

long-term average. In contrast, the mourning dove index was up 26

percent from last year.

The 2009 August Roadside Report and pheasant hunting prospects map can

be viewed and downloaded from

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


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Similar to the PERCENTAGE decline in SoDak pheasant numbers. The full report is on the DNR HSOforum.

Burried in the data are a couple of interesting points ...

chicks per brood were similar to 2008

broods per hens counted were higher than 2008

The article in the paper said cool/wet spring slowed early nest success, but atleast reproduction appears to be OK - about same or even a little better than last year.

Not that I hunt Washington County, but I agree the counts there way down. Heard far fewer roosters crowing this spring while out and have seen no broods this year.

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I spent the weekend out near Morris and we were out in the field dove hunting and we only saw a handful all weekend. I have also talked to a couple farmers in areas that we hunt near Madison and Starbuck and it sounds like there are far fewer than last year in those areas and the one farmer told me he found frozen ones in the snowbank last year. I think the last few years we have been real fortunate. It sounds like the future is not real good with all the crp loss. Some of the spots that we hunt have been plowed up in the last couple years. Hopefully winter is a little less brutal this year.

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That decline pretty much matches what I see on my 23 mile trip to work every morning and many walks with the dog. That cold and wet first weekend of June notched those first broods pretty good in my opinion. One thing that I've seen that differs from the survey is the amount of huns that I have seen. I definitely have seen more broods of huns than last year. Big broods that are full grown. Maybe it's just a local thing I don't know. I'm not a deer hunter but I see the survey shows the biggest increase in deer sightings was here in the southwest. Apparently the new management plan of no doe permits in our area is working already even before the season has started. I have seen plenty of does and fawns as has everybody else that I have talked to. The deer hunters in my area are scratching their heads over this year's regs for sure.

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I'm not a deer hunter but I see the survey shows the biggest increase in deer sightings was here in the southwest. Apparently the new management plan of no doe permits in our area is working already even before the season has started. I have seen plenty of does and fawns as has everybody else that I have talked to. The deer hunters in my area are scratching their heads over this year's regs for sure.

That's funny, it's kind of the same in my "doe-less" area too. Perhaps I'm not really seeing them......LOL

I've seen a few birds around. Not as many as some years past,but it should be alright.

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