The number of Minnesota pheasant hunters afield so far this fall is the lowest in the past five years and is down 27,000 — or 29 percent — from 2009.
Through Sunday, the Department of Natural Resources has sold about 67,000 state pheasant stamps, down about 12,000 (or 15 percent) from the same time last year.
In 2012, the DNR sold 90,541 pheasant stamps, about 20,000 fewer than in 2009. The 29 percent decline in Minnesota’s pheasant index this year likely is at least partly to blame for the decline in hunters. That and a drop in the ruffed grouse population also appears to have hurt small game license sales.
The DNR has sold 247,000 small game licenses, down 34,000 — or 12 percent — from last year, and it is the lowest figure in the past five years.
Birds are there
There definitely appears to be fewer pheasants this year, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth getting out. On Saturday I bagged a rooster on public land in Brown County southwest of New Ulm, after walking only about 100 yards from my vehicle. Five hours, and many miles of walking later, I shot a second bird, also on public land. In all, my dog and I flushed four hens and three roosters. I also saw many other hunters enjoying the fine autumn day.
More waterfowl hunters
The DNR has sold 89,477 state waterfowl stamps, up almost 2,900 — or about 3 percent — from last year. That’s been an encouraging sign for wildlife officials, who have watched duck hunter numbers plunge from 122,000 in 1999 to 73,000 in 2010.
Camp Ripley deer hunt
Archery hunters killed 181 deer in the first two-day bow hunt at Camp Ripley near Little Falls last weekend. That’s down about 13 percent from last year, but near the long-term average for the first hunt. Wind and cold drove hunters from their deer stands on Sunday, officials said.
Nearly 2,200 hunters participated, and hunter success was 8 percent; the long-term average is 10 percent. Thirty-two percent of the deer taken were bucks. The largest weighed 223 pounds and was killed by Nicholas Witte of St. Peter, Minn. The second two-day hunt is Saturday and Sunday.
Bear harvest at 25-year low
Minnesota bear hunters shot 1,856 bears this fall — a 29 percent drop from last year, and the lowest harvest in 25 years. But the decline was intended: The DNR issued fewer permits to try to boost bear numbers.