Pheasant hunting begins Saturday in Minnesota — sort of.
As was the case last year on the season’s first day, and as has been the case on too many recent openers, hunting won’t be very productive Saturday. Not only because pheasant numbers are down 17% across the state’s ringneck range and 60% below the bird’s long-term population average, but because too few corn and soybean fields will have been harvested by Saturday’s 9 a.m. opening bell.
With so many crop fields in which to hide, pheasants will be out of reach for most hunters, save perhaps those wingshooters who have access to private grounds specifically cultivated for wildlife.
But even they likely will struggle Saturday to overcome the bugaboo that has plagued farmers and pheasants alike much of the summer: too much water, resulting now, in October, in delayed harvests.
• As of last week, only 22% of Minnesota’s corn crop was mature, 18 days behind last year and two weeks behind normal, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.
• Soybean maturation was 13 days behind last year and eight days behind average. Five percent of the state’s soybeans has been harvested, 15 days behind last year and 11 days behind average.
For farmers, finding ground dry enough to plant last spring was a challenge, while for pheasants, persistent rains in May and June wiped out some nests, forcing affected hens to try and try again to bring off broods.
The DNR’s August roadside surveyors counted 43 to 49 pheasants per 100 miles driven in the state’s west-central and south-central regions, the highest numbers recorded this year. The statewide population index was 37.4 pheasants per 100 miles driven.
Hunters looking for refuge won’t find much in South Dakota. That state’s pheasant population index also dropped 17% from a year ago and is 43% below the 10-year average. Fewer hens and broods were counted in the survey this year than last, but the rooster count was nearly unchanged.
In Minnesota, meanwhile, uplanders who are serious about harvesting birds might consider conserving their boot leather until, say, Saturday, Nov. 2.
Most crops should be in by then, increasing the chance that hunting will be more productive than frustrating, as opening days should be.