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Pheasant numbers down 25% in Minn.

DNR, Pheasants Forever officials still have ‘positive outlook’ for hunting

File photo Hunters walked through land near the Redwood River Sportsmen’s Club during the governor’s pheasant opener in 2017. The Minnesota DNR said this week that the statewide pheasant index this year is down from 2020, but there should still be plenty of birds.

MARSHALL — Pheasant numbers in Minnesota are down from last year, but that doesn’t necessarily mean poor hunting this fall.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ annual roadside wildlife survey says pheasant numbers declined by 25% from 2020, but are still close to the state’s 10-year average.

“While the decline from last year sounds significant, pheasant numbers are actually fairly good and hunters will likely still see plenty of birds when the season opens October 16,” said Tim Lyons, a DNR upland game research scientist.

Southwest Minnesota is still one of the regions of the state with the best pheasant hunting prospects, the DNR said.

In the Marshall area, Ron Prorok said he had “a positive outlook” about this year’s pheasant season. Prorok is a member of Lyon County Pheasants Forever and works with Hunt Southwest Minnesota.

“I’ve seen kind of a mix” of pheasant numbers around the area, Prorok said. While he said his observations were just anecdotal, he thought there would be some good pockets of birds. Hunters have definitely been interested in southwest Minnesota as a destination, he said.

“I’ve already had calls from people as far away as Colorado,” Prorok said. “I think we’re going to have pretty good hunter numbers.”

The DNR annual roadside survey, conducted during the first half of August, helps track population changes for several different game species, including pheasants, gray partridge, cottontail rabbits and white-tailed deer. Observers counted all the different species they saw as they drove along a total of 163 25-mile-long routes.

This year’s statewide pheasant index was 41 birds per 100 miles of roads driven. That’s down 25% from last year, but still a little above the 10-year average of about 38.

In southwest Minnesota, there were about 63 pheasants per 100 miles of road, the survey report said. That number was down 30% from 2020, but still above the region’s 10-year average 0f 59.

“This year, smoke from wildfires and drier-than-average conditions during the survey may have made birds less detectable, possibly skewing the index lower,” Lyons said.

He said pheasants are less likely to be out near the roadsides in overcast or smoky conditions, which would affect the survey count. It’s also possible that this year’s dry conditions could have had a negative affect on pheasant nesting, although that’s not known for certain, he said.

There’s another way that drought could affect pheasant hunting prospects, Prorok said. If the drought leads farmers to harvest crops earlier, it may make pheasants easier to find, especially early in the season, he said.

Prorok said this year’s pheasant season could be a busy one in southwest Minnesota. Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic had an effect on the number of hunters coming to the Marshall area and staying in local hotels.

People were more interested in huntingwhile COVID restrictions were in place on gatherings and indoor entertainment.

“Hunting is something you can do on your own,” and people wanted to get outdoors, he said.

With ongoing concerns about the pandemic, Prorok said, “I think we’re going to run into that again this year.”

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