Minnesota pheasant hunters — hampered by a sea of standing corn and below-average pheasant numbers — struggled to find birds on opening weekend despite optimistic forecasts.

“Worse than expected, that’s how I would sum it up,” said Curt Vacek, Department of Natural Resources wildlife manager for Big Stone, Swift and Lac qui Parle counties in western Minnesota. “I think the [ringneck] numbers are up, but very little corn is harvested.”

As of Tuesday, only 7 percent of the corn crop had been harvested, 2½ weeks behind average. “This is the most corn I believe I’ve ever seen on the pheasant opener,” said Dick Kimmel of New Ulm, a retired DNR wildlife biologist and avid bird hunter who flushed two roosters Saturday but didn’t get a shot.

Conservation officers generally gave a thumbs-down for the opener.

“Pheasant hunters really struggled to find birds,” reported officer Matt Loftness of Marshall. However, Doug Lage, another officer based in Marshall, reported some groups did very well.

Officers described action as “slow” near Montevideo, “fair” near Jackson, “limited” near Willmar and “OK but not good” near Fairmont. Hunting pressure was high in the Glenwood area, but officer Daniel Baumbarger saw only five bagged birds all weekend. Near Morris, officer Tony Anderson said hunter success was “very poor” and only saw a couple of harvested birds.

Near Ortonville, officer Craig Miska saw many hunters, but said success was low.

“I saw a lot of pheasants while I was on patrol,” he said. But those birds apparently found refuge in cornfields.

Near Evansville, north of Alexandria, officer Shane Osborne didn’t see a bagged rooster.

Many hunters saw very young, late-hatched birds, which should be identifiable later in the season.

Vacek said hunting should get better. “I think those who keep on hunting will be pleasantly surprised, once corn comes out,” he said.

Ducks show up

Pheasant hunters perhaps should have gone duck hunting last weekend. The duck season reopened in the central and south zone, and some hunters found hot action, especially in the southeast.

Near Red Wing, officer Tyler Quandt checked 25 hunters who all had their six-duck limits. Near La Crescent, hunters averaged four birds apiece. And near Wabasha, hunters averaged three to four birds each — mostly teal, wood duck, mallards and canvasbacks.