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Reports suggest pheasant count may increase slightly from 2011

Posted on August 23, 2012

Slayton, Minn. — Based on comments and anecdotal reports from the recent DNR roadside counts, it appears officials are optimistic – but probably not overly so – regarding the upcoming fall hunt.

Wendy Krueger, DNR area wildlife manager in Slayton, said pheasant counts this year were better than last year, but not as good as 2010.

During the past few months, the birds have been aided by a mild winter, and, for the most part, a dry spring – over-winter survival was good, as was production this year.

Following a second consecutive harsh winter, last year’s count was down 82 percent from 2010, Krueger said.

“It’s hard to get any lower than that, and it didn’t (in 2012),” she said.

Tabor Hoek, private lands specialist for the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, reports the same.

“Anecdotally, I hear things have improved from last year,” he said.

The state’s conservation officers, some of whom participate in the roadside counts, also have weighed in on the topic, both good and bad.

From CO Greg Abraham, of New Ulm: “Pheasant numbers are better than last year, but still below average.”

CO Bob Geving, of Mankato, conducted two roadside counts in Blue Earth County and found the pheasant count “was way down, with only a handful of birds” observed.

CO Brett Oberg found results similar to last year in the Hutchinson area, while CO Scott Fritz, of La Crescent, reported finishing a pheasant survey in which he “didn’t count a single pheasant.”

South Dakota situation

Like Minnesota, it’s likely South Dakota will have fewer places to hunt pheasants this fall, even though bird numbers appear to have rebounded.

Emergency haying and grazing, as offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in July, appear to be favorable options for many landowners.

Tim McCurdy, a conservation officer with the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, said he recently traveled from his station to Chamberlain in southeastern South Dakota and saw those activities on CRP lands, and on that state’s own public-access acres, known as “walk-in areas.”

“It seemed like every section of CRP has been touched in some way,” he said. “It’s a sad sight to see, but it is what it is.”

He said most residents understand the dire situation in which the drought has left livestock producers.

But, McCurdy said, in conducting recent counts of pheasants in the area, it appears the population has increased over last year. The official statewide estimate was due out this week.

In South Dakota, most walk-in areas aren’t also enrolled in federal or state conservation programs – only about 10 percent, according to Mark Norton, GFP’s hunting access and Farm Bill coordinator.

And, he said, “If we’re paying (landowners) for undisturbed habitat, the payment is reduced if it’s hayed or grazed.”

With 1.3 million acres in the public access program in the state, Norton said it will be difficult for hunters – pheasant hunters, most of them – to find out prior to their journeys which areas have been hayed or grazed.

However, he hopes information from the Farm Service Agency will enable the state department to issue a press release prior to the hunting season, announcing what percentage of conservation land monitored by the FSA (federal conservation acres) has been hayed or grazed.