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06
Pheasants respond to weather, habitat (2005-09-15)
Only three times since the early 1960s has the Minnesota pheasant harvest topped the 500,000 mark. This year could mark the fourth time.

"Our August roadside counts this year indicate an approximate 75 percent increase more than last year and is very close to the 2003 index when we took 511,000 roosters," said Sharon Goetz, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wildlife research biologist at Madelia. "It could be a banner year."

In 1981, 573,000 roosters were bagged in Minnesota. In 1991, hunters took 565,000 birds.

Minnesota's pheasant season opens Oct. 15 and runs through Sunday, Jan. 1, 2006. It was extended by two weeks last year and Goetz said hunters took advantage of the extra hunting time. About 1,100 pheasant stamps were sold after the normal mid-December closing date of previous years.

"Fairly good habitat conditions" during the past several years in the form of farm conservation program lands such as Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), along with state wildlife management areas (WMAs) and federal waterfowl productions areas (WPAs), have been producing good populations of wildlife, Goetz said.

In Minnesota's pheasant range, more than one million acres are currently enrolled in farm conservation programs and an additional 600,000 acres are permanently protected in WMA and WPA programs.

"Add favorable winter and spring weather conditions to the good available habitat we now have and you have a recipe for impressive pheasant numbers," Goetz said.

A fourth consecutive mild winter last year made for good over-winter survival of hens and moderate weather this past spring and summer allowed for average nest success and brood survival, Goetz said. "When you have lots of hens producing average broods, the end result is a lot of chicks."

By comparison, last year there were slightly fewer hens but poorer nest success and brood survival, which resulted in a lower fall pheasant population. "It certainly wasn't a bad year but it was definitely down from the 2003 season and from what we expect this fall to be like," Goetz said.

Although pheasant numbers are encouraging at this time, Goetz said the longer-term outlook is more bleak. "This period of stability could take a major hit in 2007-2009 when most CRP contracts are set to expire," Goetz added. "If those lands come out of CRP and go into row crop production, you can rest assured that pheasant numbers are going to go into a downward spiral."

For now, however, Minnesota pheasant hunters can look forward to a productive fall harvest.

For a complete summary of the August roadside count findings, visit the DNR Web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us.

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