2005 pheasant harvest the highest since 1964
By Joe Albert Staff Writer
St. Paul — The DNR this week confirmed what pheasant hunters
knew last fall: the 2005 season was a stellar one.
With a kill of nearly 586,000 roosters, the fall harvest was the
highest since 1964, and more than 200,000 birds above the average
during the past 20 years.
It’s also the fourth time harvest has topped 500,000 birds since
1964, and the second time in the last three years (the 2004 harvest
was 420,000; 511,000 in 2003).
“It’s amazingly high,” said Kurt Haroldson, DNR research
biologist at Madelia. “We forecast that we would exceed 500,000
birds, and, by golly, it happened.”
Habitat and weather are the two reasons behind the number of
pheasants in the state, he said.
In the pheasant range, there are 1 million acres of Conservation
Reserve Program and other farm program lands, as well as about
650,000 acres of land in public ownership, including state wildlife
management areas and federal waterfowl production areas.
The last severe winter was in 2000-’01, and pheasant harvest
that fall was 267,000 birds. There has been a string of mild
winters since then.
“If we didn’t have the consecutive mild winters, we wouldn’t
have these numbers, either, so it’s a combination of weather and
Dave Schad, director of the DNR’s Fish and Wildlife Division,
addressed the habitat component in an agency news release:
“Landowners and conservationists have put together all the habitat
elements for excellent pheasant production and in the last few
years it has all come together.
“Severe winters in the mid-1990s and cool, wet springs more
recently have limited pheasant production in the past 15 years, But
in the last several years, the weather has been favorable and
grassland habitat is abundant,” according to Schad.
While the pheasant harvest is high by modern standards, it’s
about half of the average harvest between 1931 and 1964, when the
average yearly harvest was more than 1 million birds.
However, the state’s landscape was far different at that time,
with grass on every farm.
Much of the high harvest was attributed to land that was retired
under the Soil Bank program, which expired in 1964. That year, the
pheasant harvest was about 758,000 birds.
Between 1965 and 1986, after Soil Bank and before CRP, the
harvest averaged just less than 270,000 pheasants.
The average harvest during the “CRP era,” which began in 1987
(the program began before that, but enrolled lands didn’t produce
pheasants for a couple years), is about 378,000 birds, Haroldson
“This really isn’t normal for Minnesota,” Haroldson said. “These
are good times for pheasant hunters and we should take advantage of
Last year, the number of pheasant hunters in the state increased
by 7,000 to 111,000. Hunters in 2005 averaged 5.3 birds apiece, and
averaged about four birds apiece in 2004.
Dove harvest down
Mourning dove hunters last fall – just the second time they’ve
been able to hunt doves in about 60 years – harvested about 78,000
birds. In 2004, the harvest was 107,000 doves.
Hunter numbers also slipped by about 5,000 in the second year of
DNR officials say that wasn’t unexpected, and that they expect
hunter numbers to increase in coming years.