Pheasant numbers up from 2015, but still low

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Pheasants like to escape the wet grass in the early morning hours.

Hunters going out for Minnesota’s pheasant season opener Saturday could get wet based on the current National Weather Service forecast for a rainy day. But it will also be warm, with a high forecast in the mid-60s.

And while the Department of Natural Resources says pheasant numbers are up in western Minnesota, they still are nowhere near what they were in the mid-2000s and far below what they were in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  

According DNR figures, roadside counts between 1955 and 1963 ranged between 275 to 400 birds per 100 miles driven during their annual survey. Those were years when hunters would flock to western Minnesota filling up motel rooms, packing local restaurants and bars, and shopping at local stores.

The DNR’s 2016 August roadside survey for pheasants showed a 29 percent increase in the overall pheasant index from 2015 with 52.1 birds per 100 miles in the state’s pheasant range.
All regions in the state had increases in the pheasant index compared to last year except the southeast region which declined 31 percent.

West Central Minnesota saw an increase of from 46.3 pheasants per 100 miles driven to 50.8. The highest pheasant counts were in the southwest, east-central and south central regions, where observers reported 53 to 96 birds per 100 miles driven.

Pheasant numbers fell precipitously in the late 1960s and 1970s, ranging from just 60 to 100 – excellent numbers by today’s standards.  Numbers spiked in 1983 at about 140 birds per 100 miles before dropping again. Numbers were dismal in the 1980s and 1990s averaging between 30 birds per 100 miles to 75 birds.

Around 2003 pheasant numbers began to recover due to favorable winters and an increase in Conservation Reserve Program land. By 2006, the pheasant population was at a 25-year high at 115 birds per 100 miles driven and for the third time in four years, hunters were expected to shoot more than a half-million pheasants in Minnesota...

 

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