MONTEVIDEO, Minn. — Wildlife managers are predicting decent hunting for Minnesota’s pheasant season, though the late harvest means the birds will have ample cover.
Corn and soybean harvests across the state’s pheasant range are running about a week behind their normal pace to due wet conditions, which means late-season hunters may have better luck at finding and flushing ringnecks than those who go out when the season opens Saturday.
The state’s pheasant index — an imperfect measure of population trends — is up an estimated 29 percent from last year thanks to another mild winter and good nesting conditions this spring, the Department of Natural Resources said. It’s the second year of improvement after the harsh winter of 2013-14 cut the population.
“We’re hearing good reports. It’s certainly not a banner recovery year,” said Fred Bengtson, the DNR’s Sauk Rapids-based area wildlife manager.
The state has seen a long-term decline in its pheasant population due to the loss of grassland habitat, which is “critically important” to pheasants, said DNR researcher Nicole Davos, who oversees the August roadside survey that’s used to calculate the index. The population is about 14 percent below the 10-year average and 48 percent below the long-term average.
The western Minnesota city of Montevideo is hosting the sixth annual Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener. The community 130 miles west of the Twin Cities hosted Gov. Mark Dayton’s inaugural pheasant opener in 2011, and is using this year’s event to brag that it has nearly 55,000 acres of land within 25 miles that are open to public hunting.
Dayton was scheduled to attend a community banquet Friday evening. He’ll hunt Saturday with U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson.
Kevin Lines, the DNR’s pheasant plan coordinator, said 63,000 hunters shot about 243,000 pheasants last year.
The season runs through Jan. 1. The daily bag limit is two roosters through November, increasing to three on Dec. 1, with a possession limit starting at six roosters and increasing to nine Dec. 1.