Bill Schuna is hopeful there will be more pheasants for Minnesota hunters this fall than last year.
"I'm excited about the pheasant season,'' said Schuna, Department of Natural Resources assistant area wildlife manger in Marshall. "You had to walk a long time last year to flush a bird.''
No kidding. Hunters bagged just 204,000 roosters last season, the lowest harvest in 25 years and a 43 percent drop from 2010.
But Schuna said officials saw more ringnecks in the Marshall area during the DNR's annual August roadside pheasant survey. Results won't be available until after Labor Day, but wildlife managers in the southwest -- usually the state's prime pheasant range -- are generally upbeat.
"The counts in Big Stone, Lac qui Parle and Swift counties were all up from last year,'' said Dave Trauba, DNR area wildlife manager at Lac qui Parle. "The bottom line is I would expect pheasant hunters to flush more birds this fall. I think we had a very good nesting season.''
But farther south near Windom, the roadside survey may not show much improvement from last year, said Randy Markl, DNR area wildlife manager there. However, the survey offers just a snapshot.
"We seem to be seeing more birds now than we saw on the routes,'' he said. "I think it [pheasant population] will be OK, though it may not be reflected in the survey.''
The early spring caused pheasants to nest earlier, and some young birds already are showing color, Markl said.
Last year, ringnecks were battered by a brutal winter and a cold, wet spring and the population declined 64 percent to the second-lowest ever. While the winter and spring were more cooperative this year, pheasants face the loss of habitat as thousands of acres of grasslands are removed from the federal Conservation Reserve Program and planted to crops.
Hunter numbers fluctuate
The DNR sold about 291,000 small game licenses last year, down about 10,000 from 2010. But the estimated number of state duck hunters climbed for the first time in three years, rising about 10,000 to just over 83,000.
Meanwhile the number of pheasant hunters fell by 11,000 to 78,000, while ruffed grouse hunters climbed about 1,400 to 93,840. Ruffed grouse harvest fell from 465,000 in 2010 to 401,000 last fall.
Wolf hunt interest
More than 6,500 people have applied for wolf hunting or trapping licenses for the state's first regulated wolf season. The DNR has 6,000 licenses available but expects far more than that to apply. Winners will be determined in a lottery. The deadline to apply is Sept. 6, and officials say hunters often wait until the last minute, so they expect a rush of applications as the deadline nears. Meanwhile, more than 14,000 hunters have applied for Wisconsin wolf hunting licenses.
Wildlife chief retiring
Dennis Simon, the DNR's wildlife chief for the past six years and a 30-year-plus agency employee, is retiring Sept. 4. Simon, 60, of New Prague, spent 13 years as wildlife manager at Swan Lake in Nicollet County. He has a duck shack there and plans to spend more time hunting and fishing.
"It's the right time to step aside,'' he said. "I'm ready.'' The DNR has posted the position and likely will name a temporary replacement soon.
South Dakota ringnecks
South Dakota also will soon release results from its August roadside pheasant survey, but regardless of what it shows, the thousands of Minnesota hunters to head there will find significant changes to habitat.
Because of the ongoing drought, farmers have been allowed to hay up to 50 percent of their CRP acres.
"A lot of people are taking advantage of that,'' said Ravis Runia, upland specialist with the state Game, Fish and Parks Department. Among the lands being mowed are those enrolled in the state's popular walk-in access program and Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, both of which allow public hunting on private lands.
"It might concentrate hunters and birds,'' said Runia. "There's nothing we can do about it.''
Deer Classic sold
The Minnesota Deer Classic, an iconic 30-year-old event that celebrates whitetail deer and deer hunting, has been sold. The National Sports Center in Blaine bought the Deer Classic from Hugh Price, its founder, and will hold it next March at its facilities in Blaine. The show has long been at the State Fair Coliseum.
Price, 76, of Elk River, started the show in 1982 and has contemplated selling it in recent years. He'll stay on for a few years as a consultant.
"I feel real happy about it,'' he said. "I'm delivering it to competent people with superb facilities at a time I'm still able to be helpful in the transition. I think it will do really well there.''
Did you know?
• State officials in Wisconsin have filed a motion asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit seeking to halt a planned wolf hunt there this fall. A hearing on the motion will be held Wednesdayin Madison.
• The panfish bite has been hot near Pequot Lakes. Too hot, for some. "One individual issued a ticket for an overlimit of sunfish was found a few days later bringing three other people back to the same spot,'' reported conservation officer Tim Collette. "When checked again, the four anglers had a total of 194 sunfish, 114 over their limit. All received citations.''