Between hunter and rooster: corn


Madelia, Minn. — Those hunters of pheasants in Minnesota got some good news early in September when the results of the DNR’s August roadside survey were announced. Pheasant numbers had risen, based on the survey, and not just by a little.

In fact, the DNR said at that time that the index that measures the pheasant population across southern Minnesota was up a healthy 29 percent, thanks to, a DNR press release stated, “another mild winter, good nesting season conditions, and a slight increase in grassland habitat in the pheasant range …”

The winter and spring weather was celebrated by the state’s pheasant hunters, but it likely will be summer and early fall weather that potentially chucks a wrench into the best-laid plans of those hunters when the opener arrives at 9 a.m. Saturday. Wet conditions have limited area farmers’ ability to harvest corn (and to an extent, soybeans), thereby giving pheasants plenty of hard-to-reach places in which to hide.

Pheasant numbers “should be up from last year, and the weather should be good (for the opener),” said Nicole Davros, upland game project leader for the DNR in Madelia. “But the one factor is there’s still a lot of standing corn.”

Just last week, the Marshall area received in the neighborhood of 2 inches of rain, according to Amber Knutson, DNR assistant wildlife manager in that Lyon County city.

“There’s still a lot of corn out there,” Knutson said Tuesday, adding that soybeans were about 70 percent harvested at that time.

And though some of those pheasants might be hanging out in cornfields for much of the day on Oct. 15, both Davros and Knutson maintain that numbers appear to be up this year.

“I’ve been seeing a lot,” Davros said. “In my travels from Madelia to Talcot (Lake Wildlife Management Area) to Worthington and Lamberton, I’ve been seeing a lot of birds.”

Davros said there’s some evidence that renesting occurred in some areas this spring, meaning younger birds in those locales. In some cases, those young birds aren’t counted during the August survey.

“We’re always going to be missing birds on the survey because of a late hatch,” she said.

Overall, however, spring nesting weather was favorable, and few renesting attempts were required this spring.

Officially the Minnesota Crop Progress and Condition Report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture dated Oct. 2 (the latest report wasn’t available due to the Columbus Day holiday), less than 10 percent of “corn for grain” had been harvested. On the other hand, soybean harvest was about 40 percent then, but likely much higher more than a week later.

Beans aside, it’s likely corn that will hinder hunters. When that’s the case, some of the greatest success can be found by those who hit the grasslands just as the sun begins to set, and pheasants return to those areas to roost.

Davros said that overall, grassland habitat in the state continues in decline, through there have been some recent gains. Likely those gains were lost this fall when more Conservation Reserve Programs acres expired.

According to the DNR’s press release from September, the 2016 pheasant index is still 14 percent below the 10-year average, and 48 percent below the long-term average. The release also said the state could lose about 393,000 acres of CRP land by 2018 because of reduced spending on the program at the federal level.

According to that DNR release: “Although CRP acreage continues to shrink in the long term, these losses have been partially offset by acquisitions of land for wildlife management areas and waterfowl production areas, and through more land being put into easement by landowners. Many of these acres were permanently protected through funds provided by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. The acres show the importance of the public investment in permanent conservation compared to temporary programs. However, grasslands are still in short supply overall in the pheasant range.”

Categories: Hunting News

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