By Tom Carpenter, Editor - Pheasants Forever
No matter how you measure summer, it starts to wane somewhere, sometime, in July.
Maybe the weather doesn’t quite say autumn is on the way, but the upland hunter’s mind begins to turn just a bit toward autumn – getting the dog out more, shooting a few rounds, patching up those boots and brush pants, placing that ammo order … and dreaming about splendid roosters erupting into a blue autumn sky.
It’s never too early to dream. Or to start planning autumn’s excursions and adventures. That’s why I surveyed key wildlife managers in the ten of the top pheasant states to see what was going on with the birds right now. While the biologists are careful to hold predictions close to their vests until official roadside surveys and the like are in, it’s also far enough along to take an early look.
Read on. Dream on. Start getting ready. Here's your Minnesota report.
“Mother Nature is not doing us any favors so far this year,” reports Nicole Davros, Wildlife Research Scientist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Farmland Wildlife Group. “Above-normal precipitation has occurred across a large portion of the pheasant range, starting with April snowstorms and continuing with heavy rains in June that coincided with what is typically the peak hatch.”
“Many parts of the pheasant range, especially southern Minnesota, have had precipitation amounts well above normal up to mid-July,” she adds. “Despite all the rain, temperatures have been warm (including a July-like heat wave in May) which may be helping young chicks survive the rain.”
“The good news,” she says, “is that reports of pheasant broods are starting to trickle in from the field. Some broods have fewer chicks than expected, but some large broods have been seen as well. The other good news is that we aren’t seeing too many solo hens at this point, which likely means that hens are still on nests. There’s still time to turn things around and have a decent hatch. Time will tell what the fall will look like.”
“From a big picture perspective, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is by far the most important tool we have to protect grassland habitat for pheasants and other birds in Minnesota,” says Davros. “Minnesota has lost more than 675,000 acres of CRP since 2007, and we are set to lose at least another 200,000 acres in fall 2018 due to contract expirations.”
Pheasants Forever members have been active in pushing for a strong conservation element to the 2018 Farm Bill, and that advocacy needs to continue to put habitat and pheasants back on the ground.
“From a more immediate perspective, the 2018 nesting season has been tough so far,” says Davros. “On-the-ground habitat conditions are pretty wet, particularly in the southwestern and south-central regions. Low-lying areas in some regions have standing water and the habitat has been flattened in these areas. Other more upland areas are looking excellent and food is plentiful.”
“Minnesota’s Prairie Conservation Plan and Minnesota’s Wildlife Action Plan, two partnership-based conservation plans, were each recently revised and updated,” says Davros. “Both plans focus on maximizing strategic investments in grassland habitat development and management to benefit pheasants and other grassland-dependent species.”
“Additionally, Minnesota’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (MN CREP) continues to be implemented with a goal of permanently protecting 60,000 acres across a 54-county area,” says Davros. “MN CREP is a voluntary, private-lands retirement program that uses a science-based approach to target environmentally sensitive land (e.g., riparian areas and marginal croplands). These lands are enrolled into a perpetual conservation easement that will benefit water quality and wildlife habitat for the long-term.”
“Finally, Minnesota’s Walk-In Access (WIA) program continues to provide additional public hunting opportunities on nearly 27,000 acres of private land across 46 south-central and western Minnesota counties,” concludes Davros. “Outside of the hunting season, these acres also provide additional high-quality natural cover for breeding birds and other wildlife.”
Minnesota’s and highly-anticipated roadside pheasant survey in August will begin to tell more of the tale for 2018’s pheasant hunt prospects. Right now it’s a mixed bag across the state.
There are going to be birds, there is no doubt, for hunters and dogs willing to work. Quite likely, though, nesting success will be localized. Try some late summer scouting to start locating birds to hunt come fall.
Also, never count out pheasant hens for pulling off a smaller but successful late brood if all that rain produces some spare corners of habitat here in late summer.
Stay tuned for Pheasants Forever’s Fall Hunt Forecast, due out after Labor Day.