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Sunday, July 14th, 2024

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Sunday, July 14th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Minnesota’s 2023 roadside survey: Pheasant numbers up big in the southwest

Statewide, pheasants averaged a 10% increase from 2022 and are 26% above the 10-year average. This year’s statewide pheasant index in Minnesota was 53 birds per 100 miles of roads driven, compared with 48 per 100 miles in 2022. (Stock photo by Joshua Baklund)

St. Paul — Southwest region pheasant numbers saw significant, triple-digit increases in the Minnesota DNR’s annual roadside pheasant survey. 

“Pheasant hunters certainly have reason to cheer in the southwest region this year, and we also saw increases in the west-central portions of the state,” said Tim Lyons, DNR upland game research scientist. “Other regions saw declines in pheasant numbers, possibly because of more severe winter weather and more severe drought during the breeding season.”

The pheasant index increased 101% in the southwest region and 38% in the west-central region. Other areas saw decreases in pheasant numbers, with numbers dropping 39% in the central, 63% in the east-central, 11% in the south-central, and 50% in the southeast regions. 

While the far southwestern counties of Minnesota mostly provided surveyors plenty of pheasants to count, numbers were down in other parts of the south. (Map courtesy of Minnesota DNR)

Statewide, pheasants averaged a 10% increase from 2022 and are 26% above the 10-year average. This year’s statewide pheasant index was 53 birds per 100 miles of roads driven, compared with 48 per 100 miles in 2022. 

RELATED STORIES: Read more coverage on upland birds from Minnesota Outdoor News

Weather and habitat are the main influences on Minnesota’s pheasant population trends. Weather causes annual fluctuations in pheasant numbers, while habitat drives long-term population trends.

Per a DNR report, here are some of the top-ranking counties during the 2023 survey: 

Pheasants counted in Chippewa County totaled 184 per 100 miles (two routes). The 10-year average is 85 per 100 miles. But that count was trumped by two other  counties: The Lyon County count was 214 per 100 miles, and the Lincoln County count was 190. Others topping 100 counted per 100 miles of survey routes included Murray County, at 183 per 100 miles; Yellow Medicine, at 171; Watonwan, at 167; Rock, at 162; Brown, at 149; Cottonwood, at 116; and Nobles, at 101.

The Minnesota pheasant-hunting season opens 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 14.

Partridge numbers also increase

The gray (Hungarian) partridge is a less frequently encountered game bird, but partridge numbers increased in this year’s roadside survey. Partridge numbers ticked up in the southwest region, from 2.7 in 2022 to 7.6 birds per 100 miles driven in 2023. The northwest saw the largest boom, with an increase from 2.2 to 14.9 birds per 100 miles driven. 

“While some of the increase in partridge numbers could be due to expected, year-to-year fluctuations in the survey, we are hearing from area (DNR Wildlife) offices that they’re also seeing more partridge in those areas than they have recent memory,” Lyons said. “So hunters could have some excellent partridge-hunting opportunities this season.” 

Habitat factors

Federal Conservation Reserve Program acres in particular play a large role in providing habitat for pheasants in Minnesota. The program, authorized under the federal Farm Bill, pays farmers to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and restore vegetation that will reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, and provide habitat for wildlife and pollinators.

The long-term downward trend in CRP enrollment persisted in 2023, with a loss of 18,000 acres in the pheasant range. However, there was a net loss of approximately 9,000 acres of protected habitat compared with 2022 because of increases in land enrolled in easement programs such as the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and Reinvest in Minnesota as well and acquisitions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and by the DNR, which offset some of the losses of CRP acres.

How the DNR conducts the annual survey

Monitoring pheasant population trends is part of the DNR’s annual roadside wildlife survey, which began in 1955. Wildlife managers and conservation officers in the farmland regions conduct the survey during the first half of August. This year’s survey consisted of 167 routes that were 25 miles in length, with 148 routes located in the pheasant range.

Observers drive each route early in the morning and record the number of farmland wildlife game species they see. The data provide an index of species abundance and are used to monitor annual fluctuations and long-term population trends of pheasants, gray (Hungarian) partridge, eastern cottontail rabbits, white-tailed jackrabbits, mourning doves, sandhill cranes, and white-tailed deer.

Pheasant hunting areas

Many publicly-owned lands are open to hunting, as are private lands enrolled in the state’s Walk-in-Access program. 

Hunters may use the DNR’s online mapping tools to find WMAs by accessing the WMA finder, and the DNR Recreation Compass to help locate state hunting grounds and private lands enrolled in the Walk-In Access program, including updates on the condition of specific properties.

Additional resources

The 2023 August Roadside Survey report, a map of pheasant-hunting prospects, data for other surveyed species, and information on hunting regulations and bag limits are available on the DNR pheasant-hunting page.

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