Pheasant hunters will find plenty of corn and soybeans in southern and western Minnesota fields when the state’s 2018 ringneck season begins at 9 a.m. Saturday.

The vast, standing crops often prove nearly impenetrable by hunters and their dogs, thus providing safe havens for rooster pheasants, which many wing shooters consider the most beautiful of game birds.

According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, the Minnesota harvest of corn for grain was 15 percent complete as of Sunday. Remarkably, that figure is more than two weeks ahead of the same harvest on the same date a year ago, and five days ahead of average.

“Remarkably,’’ because federal agriculture officials say fewer than three days last week accommodated field work. The reason(s)? Rain, rain and more rain.

The harvest of corn for silage, meanwhile, was 96 percent complete Sunday, 10 days ahead of average. Officials rated the state’s corn 77 percent good to excellent.

As usual, soybeans are leaving fields ahead of corn. By Sunday, 37 percent of the state’s soybeans were harvested, six days ahead of last year, but three days behind average. Minnesota soybeans are 72 percent good to excellent, officials said.

Ringneck survey showed increase

The annual Department of Natural Resources roadside survey concluded in August showed Minnesota pheasants up 19 percent from 2017. Statewide, the survey’s population index was 45.5 birds per 100 miles of roads driven, similar to the 10-year average but 52 percent below the long term.

Only the state’s south-central region showed a decrease, falling off 36 percent from 2017, according to the survey. The southwest, central and west-central regions revealed the index’s highest tallies. For each 100 miles driven in those areas, counts ranged from 48 to 65 birds.

The pheasant limit through November is two roosters a day, six in possession. From Dec. 1 until season’s end Jan. 1, three roosters are allowed daily, nine in possession. Hunting is from 9 a.m. to sunset.