Published September 08, 2010, 12:00 AM

Minnesota pheasant count up slightly from last year

In what probably will be a surprise to most hunters, Minnesota’s annual pheasant roadside counts were virtually identical to last year’s. They remain 22 percent below the 10-year average.

By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune

In what probably will be a surprise to most hunters, Minnesota’s annual pheasant roadside counts were virtually identical to last year’s. They remain 22 percent below the 10-year average.

The statewide pheasant index is 63 birds per 100 miles of road traveled, which is up slightly from last year’s average of 59 per 100 miles.

After a harsh winter in the pheasant range, Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologists had expected a drop in pheasant numbers.

“We were surprised,” said DNR pheasant research biologist Kurt Haroldson of Madelia, Minn. “As hard as the winter was, we were expecting it to go down further.”

Haroldson said the winter was the hardest in Minnesota’s farmland region since 2001, although it ended early.

DNR biologists are expecting a pheasant harvest of 400,000, the same as last year. The harvest has been 500,000 or more in five of the past seven years, a result of mild winters and lots of acres in Conservation Reserve Program grasslands.

Pheasant numbers remain best in the southwest (104 birds per 100 miles driven) and in the central (76 per 100 miles) and west-central regions (70 per 100 miles).

Haroldson said several years of very good pheasant populations and good pheasant harvests that preceded last year have raised the recent 10-year average. Against a longer perspective, this year’s numbers look better, Haroldson said.

“If you look at the average pheasant harvest from 1987 to 2009 — the CRP era — we are right at that average,” Haroldson said.

He suspects that because this past winter ended early, hens were in better shape for nesting season. Although June was cool and wet in pheasant range, it wasn’t a devastating spring.

“It made for decent, not outstanding, chick recruitment,” Haroldson said.

Minnesota already has lost 100,000 acres of CRP grasslands as farmers’ CRP 10-year contracts expire. From now through 2012, another 500,000 acres of CRP contracts will expire.

Habitat is key to good pheasant hunting in Minnesota, Haroldson said. He urged pheasant hunters to encourage their legislators to support CRP provisions, part of the federal farm bill.

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