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Posted on Sun, Jul. 04, 2004

Longer Minnesota pheasant season has its skeptics


Outdoors editor

Minnesota's hen pheasant population won't be hurt by the state's newly extended rooster season, but not all the state's hunters and experts agree with the longer season.

The Department of Natural Resources announced last week that the pheasant season would be permanently extended to Dec. 31. For this season, that means 12 extra days of hunting because the season would have ended Dec. 19 under the previous season framework.

The move adds Minnesota to a list of states that end their pheasant season after the Christmas holidays. It also suggests that wildlife managers are becoming less conservative in their approach to pheasant management.

It's the first time in history that the state's pheasant season will run to the end of December, despite concerns that hens would die because they would be pushed out of heavy cover by hunters during severe weather.

Kurt Haroldson, DNR wildlife researcher, said some additional hens will die of exposure because the extra days afield by hunters will force hens out of winter protective cover, thus making them vulnerable to cold weather and predators.

Those concerns, in fact, have been the underlying reason for not extending the season.

"We do expect a slight increase in hen mortality due to the extension," Haroldson said. "But studies indicate that the additional mortality will not be enough to negatively impact future fall populations."

Even though hens are illegal to kill, Haroldson said estimates from the 1960s suggest that 11 percent of the state's hens die from accidental or intentional shooting. Studies from the 1940s suggest that when the hunting of hens was legal, the recruitment of hens into the population didn't suffer when 20 percent of the hens were harvested.

"Using these studies, we expect that a moderate increase in Minnesota's pheasant season length will be sustainable,'' he said. "We think there seems to be a fair cushion in the population."

He added, though, that there are DNR managers who worry about the longer season's impact on hens and that not all hunters agree with the move. At recent meetings about the season lengths, 70 percent of hunters supported the longer season.

The longer season was promoted by Pheasants Forever and approved overwhelmingly at the group's annual meeting. Hunters apparently want to be able to hunt through the Christmas holidays, when family hunts are popular.

The Dec. 31 closing will result in the longest Minnesota pheasant season ever. Some seasons even ended in November, but "we started very conservatively moving the season farther back,'' Haroldson said.

In the event the longer season endangers birds, the DNR has the authority to close or reduce the season if necessary.

Here are the 2003 pheasant season end dates for nearby states that are popular for pheasant hunting: South Dakota, Dec. 31; North Dakota, Jan. 4; Iowa, Jan. 10; Nebraska, Jan. 31.

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