Pheasants will have more hiding places than usual when hunters take to the fields at 9 a.m. Saturday for opening day of the Minnesota ringneck season.

As of late Tuesday afternoon, USDA's Crop Progress and Condition Report said about 8 percent of Minnesota's corn grain crop was harvested, about a week behind average. The soybean harvest also was slightly behind.

"The fields are still wet and I haven't seen many combines running," said Nicole Davros, pheasant biologist and researcher for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Davros commutes 40 miles a day through farm country to the DNR's offices in Madelia. Fields in the area are so wet that some equipment is getting stuck, she said.

"In my little neck of the woods ... corn [harvest] was quite a bit behind," she said.

Still, Davros predicted a good opener based on significant pheasant population gains. The 2016 range-wide pheasant index of 52 birds per 100 miles of roadside increased 29 percent from 2015.

She and Kevin Lines, the DNR's pheasant plan coordinator, both said a slow start to this year's season because of an abundance of standing crops and wet fields could bode well for wing-shooters who hunt later in the season. Last year, Lines said, 63,000 hunters in Minnesota shot about 243,000 roosters.

During the 2016 pheasant season that runs to Jan. 1, the daily bag limit is two roosters through November, increasing to three roosters on Dec. 1. The possession limit is six roosters, increasing to nine Dec. 1.

Antlerless hunt

Citing significant crop damage caused by dense deer herds in parts of southeastern Minnesota, the DNR this week announced a special season to shoot antlerless deer. For four days starting Oct. 20, hunters may take up to five early antlerless deer in permit areas 346 and 349 in Winona, Houston and Fillmore counties. Permits are required at a cost of $7.50 each, but the special harvest won't count against a hunter's statewide limit during the regular season.

The DNR also said it plans to test for chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer harvested during this year's firearms season. The CWD surveillance sampling, optional for hunters, applies to nearly all the 300 series permit areas south and east of the metro area.