Pheasant hunters who before last Saturday's opening day interpreted literally Department of Natural Resources (DNR) August roadside counts and avoided southwest Minnesota, believing as the surveys suggested that bird numbers were depressed in parts of that region, might have been mistaken.
"On a scale of 1 to 10 in the Worthington area, I'd give the opener a 9,'' said Scott Rall, president of the Nobles County Pheasants Forever Chapter and an organizer of the Governor's Pheasant Opener that was headquartered in Worthington.
The two-day governor's event featured habitat tours and a state wildlife management area dedication on Friday. Saturday morning, Gov. Walz and a group that included high school trapshooting competitor Nicholas Griffith were guided by Pheasants Forever volunteers on 122 acres of private land, with Walz and Griffith each bagging two birds and two other members of the party harvesting one apiece.
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan also hunted on private land and was accompanied by three other women, including former Worthington High School trapshooting team member Kessey Aljets. The group bagged one rooster.
After the morning hunt, Walz announced that Owatonna will host the 2023 Governor's Pheasant Opener. The site was chosen from among a number of southern and western Minnesota communities that vied for the event, according to an Explore Minnesota official.
Elsewhere, opening weekend results were mixed.
In his weekly report, DNR conservation officer (CO) Jim Robinson of Slayton reported that hunters "flooded'' his area, with most groups bagging "only a few birds.'' Not far away, near Marshall, CO Matt Loftness said dry and windy conditions affected ringneck hunting in that popular area for uplanders. "Hunters had to work to get a few birds but plenty were seen flying,'' he said.
Near Lake Benton, public hunting lands were packed, said CO Derek Daniels, while in the Willmar area, CO Cassie Block "saw some success'' by pheasant hunters.
Farther east, near Litchfield, CO Nick Klehr said, "The weather did not hold back pheasant hunters on opening weekend. Most pheasant- and duck-hunting groups had a couple birds in the bag.''
CO Thor Nelson of New Ulm said pheasant hunting activity in his area "remained high during the opener. Hunters experienced some success.''
Closer to the pheasant range's northern edge, CO Stephen Westby of Little Falls checked several ringneck hunters, "with very few roosters taken.''
This weekend, pheasant hunting should improve, as Minnesota's corn and soybean harvests continue. The U.S. Agriculture Department reported earlier this week that 83% of Minnesota soybeans had been harvested, with 36% of corn for grain out of the fields and 98% of corn for silage harvested.
With fewer crops on the landscape, pheasants will retreat to state and federal wildlife areas and similar habitats, where they will be somewhat more vulnerable to hunters.