“We don’t have our official harvest numbers for last season yet,” reports Nicole Davros, Wildlife Research Scientist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Farmland Wildlife Group in Madelia, Minnesota. “We sold just over 77,000 pheasant stamps, which was similar to the 2015-16 hunting season. It’s hard to know what our harvest estimate will be. But our hunters were generally happy with the season in terms of weather and the number of birds they saw. Yet, reported success rates were quite mixed.”
“We had yet another fairly mild winter by Minnesota standards,” adds Davros. “Pheasant survival was good, so we had had lots of hens available for nesting this year.”
“Our general outlook for this reproductive season is looking very good so far,” says Davros, “mostly due to the weather. Many of our wildlife managers are reporting seeing more adults this early summer than they have in the past several years, thanks to the mild winter. We have had enough rain in most areas early on to produce lush vegetation and lots of bugs for chicks to feed on.”
“Air temperatures have fluctuated quite a bit but,” she adds, “but luckily, we didn’t have cold weather mixed with rain at the same time. That combination (cold and rain) can really hurt chick survival so it’s something we worry about but things have been good so far.”
“One important note” Davros says, “is that some areas have had hail storms which may have impacted nesting or early brood rearing. But these types of storms tend to be very localized and aren’t concerning from an overall population standpoint.”
Spring and summer reproduction drives fall hunting success. “So far, so good,” says Davros in this respect, “but everything so far is just based on anecdotal observations. There’s still plenty of time left in the nesting season too, so hopefully the weather continues to cooperate. Our annual August roadside surveys will give us a better idea of the timing of our hatch and overall reproduction this year.” Watch for that news in Pheasants Forever’s Fall Hunt Forecast.
“On a larger scale,” says Davros, “our number one issue in Minnesota’s farmland region remains the availability of quality nesting habitat. Grassland habitat loss in the form of reduced CRP acres is the leading contributor to this issue over the last decade, but the loss of prairie has been occurring for even longer due to agriculture and development.”
Where to go? “Our western and southwestern regions are traditional destinations simply because that is where the core of our grassland habitat is based,” says Davros, “and where you have grass, you have pheasants. However, other regions should not be overlooked. Opportunities to chase roosters often exist in the central, south central, and even the metro area. Many people are often surprised by the opportunities they can find closer to home – especially in a good weather year like this one, when nesting and brood-rearing success tends to be higher.” The Minnesota DNR has many good maps and resources available online to find public hunting lands
“Our primary concern remains the availability of grassland habitat,” says Davros. “Pheasants and other grassland birds need undisturbed nesting cover to reproduce successfully. In Minnesota, Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres are the number one source of undisturbed nesting cover for our birds, and those acres have been declining steadily over the past several years. Our trend of habitat loss over the past decade has reduced our pheasant population overall, and we need more habitat on the landscape to help our pheasant and other grassland wildlife populations. A renewed Farm Bill with more funding for CRP is needed."
Tom Carenter is Digital Content Manager at Pheasants Forever.