Pheasant Population in Minnesota Remains at 10-year Average Despite Drop in Index
“The southwest likely will provide the best opportunities for pheasant hunters,” said Kurt Haroldson, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wildlife research biologist. “Minnesota’s west central, south central and east central regions also are likely to provide good pheasant harvest opportunities.”
The annual August roadside count of wildlife showed a pheasant index of 81 birds per 100 miles driven. The index exceeded 100 birds in 2005, 2006 and 2007. The 2007 index of 106 birds resulted in a harvest of 655,000 roosters, the highest pheasant harvest since 1964.
“Moderate winter weather throughout much of Minnesota’s pheasant range increased hen counts above the 10-year average,” Haroldson said. “But cool, wet weather from April to June resulted in only an average number of broods and fewer chicks per brood.”
This fall’s pheasant population could be higher than the 10-year average if nesting efforts were delayed and hens remained on nests – or were caring for young broods – during the first two weeks of August. That’s when DNR wildlife managers and conservation officers drove designated routes and counted animals for the survey.
“If that’s the case, this year’s survey may have undercounted pheasants,” Haroldson said. “If not, hunters can expect an average-sized pheasant population but with relatively more adults and fewer juveniles.”
The gray partridge index was similar to last year, but 55 percent below the 10-year average. Mourning dove indices also declined from 2007, the 10-year average, and the long-term average. Cottontail rabbit and jackrabbit indices were similar to last year, but jackrabbit indices are well below 10-year and long-term averages.
The most important habitat for pheasants is grassland that remains undisturbed during the nesting season. Protected grasslands account for about 6 percent of the state’s pheasant range. Farmland retirement programs make up the largest portion of protected grasslands in the state.
“Hunters, landowners, wildlife watchers and others interested in maintaining and enhancing habitat need to support federal and state programs that provide economic incentives for habitat,” Haroldson said. “Without those programs Minnesota would see a drastic decline in pheasant and other farmland wildlife populations. Another practice that would be a great help to farmland wildlife would be to delay mowing of roadsides until after Aug. 1.”
The August roadside survey began in the late 1940s and was standardized in 1955. DNR conservation officers and wildlife managers in the farmland regions of Minnesota conduct the survey annually during the first two weeks in August. This year’s survey consisted of 171 routes, each 25 miles long, with 152 routes located in the ring-necked pheasant range.
Observers drive each route in early morning and record the number and species of wildlife they see. The data provide an index of relative abundance and are used to monitor annual changes and long term trends in populations of ring necked pheasants, gray partridge, eastern cottontail rabbits, white tailed jackrabbits and selected other wildlife species.
The 2008 August Roadside Report and pheasant hunting prospects map can be viewed and downloaded from http://mndnr.gov/roadsidesurvey.
Minnesota’s pheasant season begins Oct. 11 and runs through Jan. 4, 2009. The daily bag limit is two roosters, with three roosters allowed from Dec. 1 to Jan. 4. The possession limit is six, with nine allowed from Dec. 1 to Jan. 4. Shooting hours are 9 a.m. to sunset.