Challenging pheasant season expected in Minnesota, ND, SD

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DULUTH, Minn. — Minnesota. Down.

South Dakota. Down.

North Dakota. Down.

Iowa. Down.

The numbers don't lie. By the numbers, hunters are looking at a challenging pheasant season this fall, no matter where they hunt. Preseason counts were down in Minnesota and virtually every nearby state.

Minnesota's pheasant season opens Saturday, Oct. 14, and despite the gloomy forecast, thousands of pheasant hunters are expected to be tromping through grasslands hoping a mature ringneck vaults into the sky in front of them.

For the record, here are the numbers this fall, according to states' reports, some of them compiled by Pheasants Forever:

• Minnesota's pheasant index, based on August roadside counts by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, is down 26 percent from last year (38 birds seen per 100 miles driven). It's 32 percent below the 10-year average and 62 percent below the long-term average.

• North Dakota's pheasant counts are down 61 percent from last year, according to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Brood observations were down 63 percent.

• South Dakota, long the pheasant gold standard, saw its brood survey numbers drop 45 percent from last year. That's 65 percent lower than the 10-year average, according to the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department.

• In Iowa, counts were down 13 percent overall.

• Montana's brood survey in the northeastern part of the state showed numbers were "down significantly."

What all of that means is that hunters will need to adjust their expectations. They'll need to walk farther between flushes. They'll need to concentrate on better cover. They'll need to make the most of the opportunities they have.

"Definitely discouraging," said Jared Wiklund, public relations manager for Pheasants Forever. "By all means, in Minnesota, you'll still be able to go out and find birds. You'll have to focus on the good habitat."

Last year in Minnesota an estimated 60,000 pheasant hunters went afield. That's about half the number that went out in 2006, when pheasant numbers were much higher in the state.

If that trend holds this fall, you know what it means: You'll likely find less competition in the field for the lands you want to hunt.

"People see the roadside counts, and we won't sell as many licenses as usual," Wiklund said. "We hope when the counts go up, the hunters will return."

As usual, early in the season a lot of corn will still be standing. Hunters won't be able to get at those birds.

"We didn't have the heat to make the corn grow (as fast)," said Wiklund, who grew up in Duluth. "It could be a late harvest. Hunters may have issues early on because the birds are sitting in the corn. People will find more success later in the season."

Here's another way to look at it, if you want to dissect the numbers a bit. In 2007, when Minnesota's pheasant population was still high, the average harvest per "active hunter" was 5.5 roosters, according to the DNR. Last fall, with a much lower pheasant population, the average "active hunter" shot 3.3 roosters. There you have it: Over a season, only about a two-bird difference in total harvest per hunter.

Might as well go get your birds.