Madelia, Minn. — It’s widely known that after the early portions of hunting seasons for things like ducks and pheasants, hunter participation can decline significantly.
Pheasant hunters may want to not yet lay down their guns.
DNR officials this year were hopeful August counts didn’t truly reflect the number of pheasants on the landscape; turns out they may have gotten their wish, and hunters now and later in the season could be the benefactors.
“The August roadside (survey) counts were down (29 percent from last year), but we were holding out hope that (pheasant numbers) were underestimated due to a late hatch (caused by a late, wet spring), and that definitely seems to be the case,” said Nicole Davros, DNR upland game project leader in Madelia. “It could be setting up for a good late-season hunt.”
In surveying DNR wildlife managers throughout the pheasant range, Davros said, one theme became clear: Hunters were seeing young birds – in many cases being unable to identify roosters on the wing.
“One report on opening weekend was that people saw birds that were only about three weeks old,” she said. The pheasant-hunting opener was Oct. 12.
Those particular pheasants might even be difficult to ID before the season ends Jan. 1. Other young birds, however, will be more recognizable – hen or rooster – before that.
It usually takes at least three months before roosters began to don the colors for which they’re famous, and allow hunters to know what they’re shooting.
In the meantime, “Hopefully people are being cautious,” Davros said.
“The moral of the story is,” she said, “there are birds out there. They’re just a little young.”
There’s another factor working in favor of Minnesota pheasant hunters. Following a year during which crops in the south were harvested in near-record time, this year has been more typical, if not a bit behind schedule. With corn harvest progressing rapidly now, more pheasants will be retreating to the cover more accessible to hunters.
“They definitely seem to be getting (the crop) out quickly,” Davros said late last week. “That should make finding birds easier.”
In the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s last “Crop and Weather” report in October, it was estimated that more than soybean harvest was nearly complete. Corn harvest, on the other hand, hovered around 50 percent, and was below the five-year average of about 60 percent for the end of October. (Last year, the harvest at that point was 98 percent.) Sugar beet harvest was around 85 percent.
The immediate forecast called for conditions mostly favorable to continued crop harvest.
On the waterfowling front, DNR waterfowl specialist Steve Cordts said late last week it appeared the number of ducks varied from one part of the state to another.
“Most reports weren’t that great, but it’s just so variable right now,” Cordts said. Overall, he said duck numbers would be considered “fair.”
Weather reports indicated that no major fronts were in store in the near future, so he expected no major duck movement.
“We’ll probably continue to see ducks trickle in and out of the state for the next week or so, which isn’t bad,” he said.
Cordts added that duck-hunting reports were limited in some parts of the state where some hunters had turned their attention elsewhere. He expects the deer-hunting season to further reduce participation.
During the deer season, he added, “is usually a fantastic time to duck hunt.”
Cordts also expects goose hunting to improve later this month. As witnessed in favored goose locations like the Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area, it’s been more the rule than the exception the past few years for a later migration of Canada geese throughout the state, he said.
Some notes from the Oct. 31 waterfowl migration and hunting report, compiled by the DNR:
• Waterfowl surveys conducted this week showed both increases and decreases in duck abundance depending on the area.
• Wetland habitat conditions remain good across the state. More corn harvest, Cordts said, could increase duck-hunting opportunities for field hunters.
• Some lakes and ponds in the North Duck Zone froze, but with possible mild weather in the forecast, could reopen, according to Cordts.
• In Fergus Falls, the report was “few hunters out with success fair to poor.
• In Willmar: Some hunters have done extremely well, while other have had little success; depends on the day and location. Seems to be more duck hunters out there this year than have been over the last several years.