Read it and weep.
Minnesota’s pheasant hunters might be in for a tough fall.
Not only is the pheasant population expected to be down, possibly significantly, in Minnesota, but the numbers don’t look good in South Dakota, a destination for many Minnesota ringneck lovers. The South Dakota pheasant index was down 46 percent from last year, and 41 percent below the 10-year average.
Still, the counts in the main pheasant range are similar to or higher than the counts in 2002 when hunters bagged 1.2 million pheasants. Last year hunters harvested 1.8 million pheasants.
Blame a nasty winter and poor nesting weather for the declines in both South Dakota and Minnesota.
“We observed abnormally high mortality of hen pheasants during the brutal winter of 2010-11,” explained Jeff Vonk, Secretary of the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department, “The loss of that reproductive potential inhibited the ability of our pheasant population to rebound to the record levels that we have enjoyed in recent years.”
Declines in the counts were consistent across the state and most pronounced in eastern South Dakota, where winter’s grip was tightest and grassland nesting habitat is diminished.
“We knew this day was coming when important pheasant habitats provided by the cover in Conservation Reserve Program fields were lost,” Vonk said.
CRP enrollments in the state are currently at 1.17 million acres, down from 1.56 million acres in 2007. The reduction equates to over 600 square miles of grassland habitat.
“On the other hand, we were pleasantly surprised how well pheasants responded in central South Dakota, where abundant moisture from winter snow and spring rain allowed grasslands to flourish and provide the essential habitat for excellent pheasant production,” Vonk said.
“All things considered, pheasant numbers in much of the traditional pheasant range of the state are still good despite the declines in the counts,” Vonk said. “Much of South Dakota will continue to provide a premier opportunity to hunt pheasants.”
Minnesota’s August roadside pheasant count is expected to be released soon. Early reports signal a significant decline in pheasant numbers.