A group of my friends were recently debating the weekend’s hunting itinerary. Although Saturday is the pheasant opener in Minnesota, North Dakota & South Dakota (resident only on public land), these lost souls were contemplating the merits of spending the morning in a duck slough followed by a walk through the grouse woods. One guy even mentioned the possibility of attending a college football match instead. My jaw dropped as these avid bird hunters seriously contemplated skipping what is likely to be an awesome opening weekend of pheasant hunting.
I took a deep breath and began the process of convincing them to lace up their boots and hit the pheasant fields for the opener. Here are the five reasons for my enthusiasm around this year’s pheasant opener.
1) Mild Winter Weather. Pheasant country was blessed with less-than-average snowfall which resulted in excellent carryover of adult birds into spring. These favorable conditions were particularly beneficial to hens entering the reproductive cycle in healthy, strong shape. The equation is simple; the healthier the hen population, the higher the rate of nesting success.
2) An Early Spring. The spring of 2012 featured good nesting conditions for pheasants with warm weather and enough moisture to green things up to produce nesting habitat and insect production (chick’s primary food). Cold snaps and heavy rains are the concerns, which were relatively minimal during the spring of 2012. While the summer’s severe drought certainly hurt what could have been a big boost in pheasant numbers, most states have forecasted modest jumps in pheasant populations and these inclines are largely due to gains in spring reproduction.
3) Crops. Traditionally, pheasants on the opener find safe haven from hunters in standing rows of corn and soybeans. This year, due in large part to the drought across most of America’s heartland, more than half the corn and bean crops were already harvested by the beginning of October. With the crops out, the birds will be more concentrated in the grass.
4) Gathering Storm of Habitat Loss. It’s no secret that quality habitat is the primary ingredient to producing pheasants. Unfortunately, there have been a string of worst case scenarios in the last few months for our nation’s wildlife habitat. First of all, Washington, D.C.’s politicians failed to produce a new Farm Bill, which has led to America’s most successful conservation programs being left in limbo. Secondly, more than 6.5 million acres expired from CRP enrollment on September 30th. The demands on our lands to produce food, fiber, feed stock and energy have never been higher. The loser in this struggle continues to be habitat, and ultimately wildlife. The road ahead includes a crusade for habitat that Pheasants Forever will wage from Washington, D.C. to Pierre, South Dakota; however, our road is likely to be long and our battles arduous. So, all that bad news leads me to one point: The pheasant opener is a time for celebration and carrying on our traditions before our habitat crusade ahead.
5) Pheasant Fun. Bird dogs bounding through waste high grass waving in an autumn breeze. A rooster explodes toward a robin’s egg blue sky with a cackle of color and commotion. Great grandpa’s over/under slides into your shoulder as you touch the trigger with a BANG! There is laughter and blaze orange at the end of a tailgate, followed by a pheasant feast next to a roaring fire.
The pheasant opener is truly a celebration of family, friends, food and tradition. You wouldn’t ever consider skipping Christmas morning and you shouldn’t consider skipping the pheasant opener.
Will you be hunting the Minnesota pheasant opener this weekend?