The predicted decline in Minnesota's pheasant population this season has caused some hunters to skip ringneck hunting.

The Department of Natural Resources sold 66,747 pheasant stamps through Monday, 10,300 fewer than the same time last year. That's a 13 percent drop.

But they might have missed some decent hunting, depending on where they go. Based on various reports, it appears hunter harvest was down, though there were reports of hunters shooting their two-bird limits, too.

"I got two e-mails from hunters who got their birds in short order Saturday, and they were happy,'' said Dave Trauba, DNR area wildlife manager at Lac qui Parle.

An annual check of hunters in his area showed they averaged about .5 birds apiece -- the same as last year. (During peak years, they averaged .8 to .9 birds per hunter.)

Elsewhere, conservation officers noticed both the decline in hunters, and the drop in the pheasant harvest.

Near Wheaton, officer Daniel Baumbarger said the ringneck harvest was down dramatically from last year. At Morris, success was down, too.

"Most groups report only flushing a bird or two during an all-day hunt,'' reported officer Tony Anderson.

Near Benson, some public lands had no hunter activity, reported officer Neil Henriksen. And near Marshall, despite the soybean harvest being completed and 75 percent of the corn down, hunters still struggled to find birds.

The report was better near Willmar was better, where hunters reported seeing pheasants and having opportunities. But at New Ulm, officer Greg Abraham called it the worst opener in recent memory.

Young birds

After covering the Governor's Pheasant Opener near Montevideo on Saturday, I hunted public lands Sunday. I shot a nice rooster in the first 40 minutes, and saw one other. By the time I quit late afternoon, I had also flushed four very young pheasants -- obviously a late hatch.

Trauba said wildlife officials had encountered very young birds too, earlier this fall. He questions whether those youngsters will survive the winter.

Ducks stamps increase

Reports indicate the strong northwest winds of late have pushed ducks into the state, and generally good hunting apparently has improved the sale of state duck stamps, which had been down. The DNR had sold 82,542 stamps through Monday, about 1,800 -- or 2 percent -- more than the same time last year. Meanwhile, good duck hunting has been reported in several areas, including Pelican Rapids, Fergus Falls, Alexandria, McGregor and the Montevideo-Ortonville area.

Controlled goose hunt

The controlled Canada goose hunt at Lac qui Parle wildlife refuge opens Thursday. Trauba said there are at least 10,000 geese on the refuge. Officials plan a count on Wednesday. There should be plenty of state blinds available for hunters this weekend. For more information, call the refuge at 320-734-4451.