If you’re a pheasant hunter, the snow that keeps falling in southern and western Minnesota is painful to watch. It has inundated much pheasant habitat, including cattail sloughs. And the snow just keeps coming, exposing pheasants to more severe weather and predators.
“I would say the birds are already stressed,’’ said Kurt Haroldson, DNR pheasant biologist. “Pheasants that don’t have access to food plots already are standing on the roads; that’s a clear sign of distress. It’s a bad start to winter.’’
Haroldson said predators will do the actual killing of pheasants. “Not many will starve to death,’’ he said.
It’s too early to tell what impact the heavy snow will have on the pheasant population. But it’s a tough way to start the season.
Here are some snowfall numbers: New Ulm, 19; Montevideo, 16; Willmar, 28; Hutchinson, 30; Owatonna, 32. Among the bright spots: Wheaton, 9 inches; Brown’s Valley, 8 inches.
Haroldson, of New Ulm, is an avid pheasant hunter. He was out recently, slugging through knee-deep snow — and waist-deep drifts. The snow has insulated sloughs, leaving ice too thin to support a person. “I’ve fallen through three times,’’ Haroldson said.
“I’ve been seeing good numbers of birds where there’s good habitat — usually woody cover,’’ he said. And birds are concentrated near food.
Undoubtedly some groups will try to feed pheasants this winter. Haroldson said there has been no research on whether that’s beneficial for the long-term survival, but he offered several recommendations: “You don’t want to feed near bad habitat, because then you encourage birds to stay there. Feed near winter cover.’’
Bob St. Pierre of Pheasants Forever says his organization discourages it, for these reasons:
  • The biggest reason to shy away from feeding pheasants is that feeders attract predators and expose pheasants to death by predation. Feeders give predators a focus point similar to a bait pile.
  • In fact, it is rare for a pheasant to starve, but death by freezing can be common. Poorly-placed feeders may draw the pheasants out and away from their protective winter cover and cause birds to congregate and expend energy competing for food. Instead of saving birds, this actually adds to freezing deaths.
Pierre said the key to carrying pheasants through the winter is quality thermal habitat.
While heavy snow has hampered ice production — and ice fishing — in the Twin Cities area, cold temperatures in the far north have launched the season into high gear. At Lake of the woods, trucks have been hauling permanent ice houses onto the lake. Tourism officials report 9-12 inches in the Northwest Angle area, with 18 to 20 inches on the south shore.
“Ice fishing has been fair to good,’’ reported conservation officer Larry Milbridge. “Small saugers seemed to be the most active.’’
But elsewhere in northern Minnesota, ice thickness varies. At Detroit Lakes, it’s 4 to 11 inches, and officials urged drivers to refrain from taking trucks or cars onto the ice yet. Ditto for the Park Rapids area. However, more vehicles are venturing out onto ice in the Cass Lake area. And ice was nearly 10 inches on many lakes in the Crosslake area, and was 12 to 15 inches near McGregor. At Mille Lacs, anglers are driving on the lake and permanent fish houses are out. Walleye fishing reportedly has been pretty good.

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