Marshall, Minn. — For those well informed and with a little experience in the field of pheasant hunting, the results of this year’s opening weekend not only weren’t surprising, but they were highly predictable.
When the sun set Sunday, those who partook in the hunt likely were cursing the corn and cheering on any activity that resembled crop harvest in the state’s southern pheasant range – an activity delayed by wet conditions. Dry weather had changed much of that by Tuesday.
“This upcoming weekend you should see a big difference in crop harvest, and the pheasant harvest. It’s definitely go-time now,” said Troy Dale, DNR assistant wildlife manager at the agency’s Marshall office.
Dale was among the masses that gathered to hunt in the southwest corner of the state – a day that saw windy conditions to start, and warmth and calm later on opening day. And in Lincoln County, he said, “There were trucks on every piece of land (open to hunting).”
“I did hear about people getting limits, but you had to hunt all day long,” he said.
Or get lucky. Dale said he and a friend so happened to be hunting public land and saw plenty of pheasants. They were aided by good timing in the form of corn harvest just occurring where they hunted.
“If you were away from corn, you saw a lot of birds,” he said.
That was, as is said, a pretty big if.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Minnesota Crop Progress & Condition” report, dated Oct. 16, says corn for grain harvested was about 31 percent. Soybeans, meanwhile, were at about 87 percent.
Still, certain locations did have soybeans awaiting harvest, and those places didn’t help hunters much, either. Typically, unharvested soybeans aren’t an issue come the pheasant opener, but this year, they likely hid some birds, too.
“With beans drying down now, they’ll provide some overhead cover,” Dale said, adding that the crop also provides excellent, unimpeded runways for the speedy birds to escape.
In the rural Dovray area, a group of three hunters and two black Labs were able to scrape but a single bird from Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program land during a brief Saturday morning hunt. A group of about 10 hunters near the Talcot Lake Wildlife Management Area in Cottonwood County managed four roosters in the same time frame.
Others said success came later in the day, when pheasants left those crop fields to roost in grasslands.
The Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener was held in the Montevideo area this year (see Page 8 for more). According to the DNR, more than 350 people took part in the Friday night community banquet at the American Legion in that town. On Saturday morning, 38 local hunter hosts led 81 hunting guests onto grassland parcels in the area. A total of 52 roosters were harvested, and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith shot her first pheasant at the event.
The state’s conservation officers likely get the best view of pheasant hunting and hunter success. Here’s a sampling from around the state.
• In the Sauk Centre area, CO Caleb Silgjord reports he worked the pheasant opener, “with few hunters being seen.”
• CO Phil Mohs, of Center City, said “pheasant hunters reported harvesting a fair (number) of pheasants for eastern Minnesota.”
• CO Andrew Dirks, of Redwood Falls, reports “hunter success varied throughout opening weekend of pheasant season. Overall, hunters reported limited success.”
• CO Matt Loftness, of Marshall, said pheasant hunting pressure appeared high, but the “pheasant hunters struggled to find birds with a lot of the crops still in.”
• Around Fairmont, waterfowlers and pheasant hunters had the same question, according to CO Eric Schettler: “Where are the birds?”
• CO Luke Belgard, of Faribault, said the warm weather was hard on dogs, but that hunters in the area were able to find some pheasants.
More pheasant hunters?
Information from the DNR indicates the number of pheasant hunters might be up this year, perhaps the result of an August survey that showed an increase in the number of pheasants in the state.
Through Sunday, it was estimated that about 55,600 people had purchased pheasant stamps in Minnesota. That compares with about 52,400 last year, and about 54,200 in 2014. A recent high-water mark was hit in 2007, when about 91,800 pheasant stamps had been purchased through the Sunday after the opener. It’s been trending downward since then.