Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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DNR: Pheasant numbers high for hunting season

DNR Reports

St. Paul – Favorable pheasant nesting and brood-rearing
conditions should mean another quality fall for Minnesota’s
hunters.

The DNR’s pheasant index remained near its highest level in 20
years, thanks to pheasant-friendly weather and habitat conditions
in portions of southwest Minnesota, the state’s pheasant range.

The pheasant index (107 birds per 100 miles of survey driven)
topped 100 for the third consecutive year. In each of the past two
years, hunters harvested nearly 600,000 roosters, the most since
1964. Last year’s index of 115 birds per 100 miles driven was the
highest in 20 years.

‘Strong pheasant populations are the result of favorable weather
and abundant habitat, said Dennis Simon, DNR Wildlife Management
Section chief.

The best opportunities for harvesting pheasants likely will be
in the southwest, where observers reported 223 birds per 100 miles
of survey driven. Good harvest opportunities might also be found in
the west central and south central regions, where observers
reported 118 and 121 birds per 100 miles driven, respectively.

Mild winter weather boosted hen counts to 56 percent above the
10-year average this year. The number of broods also was well above
average, but the number of chicks per brood was below average,
despite apparently favorable spring weather, according to Kurt
Haroldson, DNR wildlife research biologist. ‘The combination of
high hen and brood numbers compensated for small brood size. The
result is a high pheasant population in Minnesota,’ he said.

Furthermore, a cock index 57 percent above the 10-year average
will contribute additional birds to the fall population.

Small game

Gray partridge, cottontail rabbit, and white-tailed jackrabbit
indices were also similar to 2006, whereas mourning dove indices
decreased from last year, but remained similar to the 10-year
average and the long-term average.

Grassland habitat

One key to increased pheasant populations is grassland habitat,
Haroldson said. Within the state’s pheasant range, protected
grasslands account for about 6 percent of the landscape, the
highest number since the mid 1990s. Farm programs make up the
largest portion of protected grasslands in the state.

Signups for the Minnesota CREP II, targeting enrollment of up to
120,000 new acres of environmentally sensitive cropland in the Red
River, Lower Mississippi, Missouri, and Des Moines River
watersheds, have been lower than hoped. Although progress continues
on CRP and CREP II, the potential expiration of a large proportion
of existing CRP contracts beginning this fall is still a big
concern for future wildlife numbers.

‘If Minnesota is to avoid a drastic decline in pheasant and
other farmland wildlife populations, hunters, landowners, wildlife
watchers, and conservationists must make the case for farm
programs,’ Simon said. ‘CRP is being debated by Congress right now
and could be decided by the end of the year. Conservation
organizations like Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, and many
others can help hunters and wildlife enthusiasts stay informed of
the latest developments.’

The annual roadside survey, which began in the late 1940s, was
standardized in 1955. DNR conservation officers and wildlife
managers in the farmland region of Minnesota conduct the survey
during the first two weeks in August.

This year’s survey consisted of 170 routes, each 25 miles long,
with 151 routes located in the ring-necked pheasant range.
Observers drive each route in the early morning and record the
number and species of wildlife they see. The data provide an index
of relative abundance and are used to monitor annual changes and
long-term trends in populations of ringnecks, partridge,
cottontails, jack rabbits, and other species.

Minnesota’s pheasant season is Oct. 13 through Jan. 1. The daily
bag limit is two roosters, with a possession limit of six. Shooting
hours are 9 a.m. to sunset.

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