Rooster opener: good, but not great
St. Paul — Whenever the population of a game animal is estimated to be up nearly 70 percent from the previous hunting season, hunter expectations will elevate. Minnesota pheasant hunters this season needed to remember, however, how far the population of those birds had plunged the previous two years.
So it was, according to a number of accounts, that hunters in the pheasant range of southern Minnesota found hunting, on average, to be better than last year, but not what they might remember from a few years ago.
“Compared to last year, there are lots of birds,” said Bill Schuna, the DNR’s acting wildlife manager in Marshall.
“Last year, it was about an hour between flushes at times. This year, it was more like 15 minutes between flushes,” Schuna said, adding that he hunted on public land west of Marshall this year, and last year’s hunting primarily was on public land, too.
Participation appeared to be good, too, Schuna said.
“We drove past numerous (state wildlife management areas) in Yellow Medicine County, and there were vehicles at every one of them,” he said.
Overall, conditions were good when the season opened this past Saturday. The temperature in southwest Minnesota was in the 50-degree range, breezes were light, and the sky was mostly clouded during the morning hunt.
There were other factors, though, that challenged the dogs employed to roust the birds. Dry grass and other cover served to make scenting birds difficult for canines, according to Chad Bloom, a Pheasants Forever regional field representative based in Mayer.
As a participant of the Governor’s Pheasant Opener, Bloom hunted in the Walnut Grove area, south of Marshall. His group of six hunters shot four roosters on private land during a two-hour hike that included kicking up two fine bucks.
Elsewhere, he said, pheasant hunters did well.
“Throughout the region, I heard good reports,” Bloom said.
Wendy Krueger, the DNR’s wildlife manager in Slayton (Murray County), worked at the Talcot Wildlife Management Area on Saturday morning. Officials there do “car counts” on opener morning, and counted 43 this year compared with 32 last year.
Krueger also did bag checks of hunters there, and saw an uptick in success from 2011: The average this year, she said, was about one bird per hunter. Last year, the average was just .3 per hunter. The fact that nearly all the ag crop was harvested aided hunters and likely concentrated birds, she said.
Krueger said she drove by several WMAs on her way home from Talcot. “There were (hunters) everywhere,” she said.
She then hunted one of those WMAs and harvested a bag limit of two pheasants before sunset.
License sales and harvest
According to Rick Norby, of the DNR’s License Bureau in St. Paul, after the opening weekend of the pheasant season, 67,340 pheasant stamps had been sold, compared with 66,741 at the same time last year.
Last year’s stamp total sold was about 87,000, ending a streak of nine years above 100,000, including a high of 129,500 during the 2006-07 season, the year that 590,000 roosters were killed.
The 2012 Minnesota August Roadside Survey estimated the pheasant population was up 68 percent across the species’ range this year. “Projecting from the roadside index, an estimated 291,000 roosters may be harvested this fall, similar to 2001,” the survey report said.
The harvest last year was 204,400 pheasants, down from about 359,000 during the 2010-11 season, on the heals of which came the first of successive winters featuring conditions (snow and cold) that resulted in the deaths of many of the region’s pheasants.