Despite Mother Nature promising rain, snow and other nasty things, the 2019 Minnesota pheasant hunting season is poised to take wing on Saturday.
For pheasants, the severity of the weekend weather could be a test of life and death. Their main adversaries this weekend are not as likely to be the hunting crowd – it will be freezing rain which can lead to suffocation and hypothermia (the loss of body heat) for birds caught without cover.
“It’s tough for them if they don’t have good cover,” Fergus Falls DNR Wildlife Manager Mike Oehler said. “They didn’t evolve here like grouse or sharptail.”
Oehler still expects hunters to be out chasing the colorful ringnecks. The opening weekend of the season typically sees the most intense hunting pressure of the year.
“They’re still going to be enthusiastic and they’re still going to be out there,” Oehler said.
Oehler’s area covers Otter Tail, Wilkin and Clay counties on the northern end of Minnesota’s pheasant range. Owing to a late spring the DNR’s prediction for pheasant numbers in the three counties is very poor. Most of Grant County and Douglas County is also in the “very poor” area of the state. Pheasant hunters seeking stronger numbers in Minnesota may want to head to southwest and south-central Minnesota this year. Travel 100 miles south of Fergus Falls to Yellow Medicine County and you will find yourself the best Minnesota has to offer.
The August roadside count recorded a 17% dip in pheasant numbers but Oehler is not discouraged.
“There are birds, I’ve seen a lot of birds through the summer,” Oehler said.
Clay County hunters are coming off one of the best pheasant hunting seasons they have ever seen.
“Folks in Clay County say last year was the best hunting they’ve ever had,” Oehler said.
Kevin Kotts, the DNR area wildlife manager in Glenwood, looks for a tough opener but sees hunters doing better when normal fall weather returns. Like Oehler, he is looking for pheasant hunters to turn out this weekend. Kotts manages wildlife in Grant, Stevens, Douglas, Pope and Traverse counties. Despite the difficult winter of 2018-19, he saw a lot of pheasants last spring on his daily commute between Morris and Glenwood.
Kotts believes that what led to the decline in August roadside counts was a wetter-than-normal period in June when pheasant broods were hatching out. The amount of moisture the area received since that time has delayed the harvest and will delay the best pheasant hunting too.
“It’ll probably be a tough opener because a lot of the crops are still in down here,” said Kotts. Much of the soybean crop and practically all of the corn are still sitting in the fields.
Once the corn is harvested Kotts expects pheasant hunting to pick up significantly.
According to DNR numbers, hunters harvested 205,395 roosters in the 2018 pheasant season, up 19% compared to 171,883 the previous year. The larger harvest also reflects a larger number of pheasant hunters.
An average of 37.4 pheasants were observed per 100 miles across Minnesota’s pheasant range which ran from July 30 to Aug. 18.
Aside from a good shotgun, a good dog, some blaze-orange clothing, a few shells and a pheasant stamp, Oehler suggests the well-turned-out pheasant hunter this fall will need a good pair of rubber boots.
“There are birds out there but there is a lot of water too,” Oehler said.
Another tip Oehler offered was to hunt the edge of fields where pheasants are bound to be feeding.
The pheasant hunting season runs Oct. 12 to Jan. 1. The daily limit from the opener to Nov. 30 is two per day with six in possession. From Dec. 1 through the end of the season on New Year’s Day the limit will be three birds per day and nine in possession. Daily shooting hours are 9 a.m. to sunset.