Just 62,000 Minnesota pheasant hunters went afield last fall, and they bagged only 169,000 roosters. That's the fewest hunters and lowest harvest in 27 years. Hunter numbers declined 19 percent and the harvest was down 32 percent from 2012.
Hunters likely were responding to a huge loss of habitat, poor nesting weather and a corresponding large drop in the ringneck population in recent years. Last year, the pheasant population dropped 29 percent, and the state has recently lost more than 100 square miles of grassland habitat in the pheasant range.
"It's likely the result of people seeing poor reports…and they just don't bother buying a license,'' said Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager. "It's not like deer hunting, where regardless of density, most hunters buy a license.''
Cornicelli said the reduction in pheasant harvest was primarily due to the decline in hunter numbers.
"The average number of birds killed per person (2.7) wasn't that far off from 2012 (3.3),'' he said. "Maybe they (the 15,000 hunters who skipped the season) should have bought a license.''
The number of other small game hunters also was down, according to the DNR's annual small game survey, released Monday:
*An estimated 77,900 people hunted ducks, a decrease of 5 percent from 2012. They harvested 782,800 ducks, nearly the same as last year.
*An estimated 81,100 people hunted ruffed grouse, a decrease of 11 percent from 2012. They killed 288,000 grouse, a 16 percent decline from 2012.
*Small game license sales fell by about 5,500, to 258,581.
Pheasant hunters will learn more about prospects this fall when the DNR releases its August roadside counts on Sept. 8.
Meanwhile, North Dakota also saw some disturbing trends last year.
The number of pheasant hunters (76,000) was down 11 percent and the ringneck harvest (447,000) was down 27 percent.
Birds bagged per hunter decreased from 7.2 to 5.8, and each hunter spent an average of 4.8 days afield.
Counties with the highest percentage of pheasants taken by resident hunters in 2013 were Hettinger, 9.6; Burleigh, 7.9; McLean, 7.9; Morton, 6.8; and Stark, 5.5.
Top counties for nonresident hunters were Hettinger, 24.8 percent; Bowman, 12.2; Divide, 5.7; Emmons, 4.8; and Adams, 4.
South Dakota's annual pheasant survey showed a 76 percent increase in the ringneck index.
The 2014 statewide pheasants-per-mile index of 2.68 is up from 1.52 in 2013. The statewide pheasant-per-mile index is similar to 2002 when hunters harvested 1.26 million roosters.
“With favorable weather conditions this past winter and spring, along with the availability of quality nesting habitat across the state, we are going to see an increase in this year’s pheasant population,” stated Jeff Vonk, Game Fish and Parks secretary.
“Survey results show pheasant numbers rebounded the strongest in central South Dakota; especially in the Pierre, Chamberlain, Mobridge and Winner areas. Results also indicate that pheasant numbers are substantially higher than 2013 throughout much of eastern South Dakota.”