Minnesota's pheasant population flourished this year amid favorable weather conditions and increased habitat, a breakthrough that should be noticeable to ringneck hunters when the season opens Oct. 10.

The state's wildlife populations and research group in Madelia reported Tuesday that the 2020 range-wide pheasant index grew 42 percent from a year ago. Researchers completed the roadside survey during the first couple of weeks in August, driving 153 25-mile routes. Collectively they counted 53.5 birds per 100 miles of road. The same survey last year yielded a range-wide count of 37.6 birds per 100 miles.

"Hunting opportunities should be excellent throughout the farmland region in 2020,'' the Department of Natural Resources said in a news release.

The DNR said a mild winter and nesting-friendly conditions this spring led to greater numbers of broods, which drove the increase. Researchers have documented improved, long-term breeding success of hens even though overall pheasant numbers in the state have greatly declined in the long-term.

Also contributing to the 2020 population surge were increases in acres of pheasant habitat on private and public lands. Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres grew in farm country by 10,000 acres while various government entities added a combined 20,000 acres of habitat since last year, the DNR said.

Annual changes in roadside counts among regions generally mirrored statewide trends, the DNR said. Pheasant numbers increased the most in the southwest region and the DNR's updated map of 2020 hunting prospects gives its highest rating to all or parts of the following counties: Big Stone, Chippewa, Yellow Medicine, Lac Qui Parle, Kandiyohi, Brown, Murray, Rock, Lyon, Watonwan, Nicollet, Redwood, Cottonwood, Jackson, Blue Earth, Stevens, Lincoln, Pipestone and Todd.