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Posted on Sun, Oct. 17, 2004

Hunters counting on pheasant population to rebound

Associated Press

MORRIS, Minn. - The ring-necked pheasant hunting season got underway for 90,000 Minnesota hunters, and those on the state's western edge hope the scarce bird's population will continue its gradual climb.

After blizzards in 1997, biologists were lucky to count one bird in 100 miles of survey area here in Stevens County. But the pheasants have bounced back dramatically since then, only to suffer another setback this spring when cold rains erased a significant amount of the region's chick production.

Gary Knochenmus, who was hunting with his 16-year-old son, Craig, said he wasn't sure how Saturday's opener would unfold.

"I'm not too confident," the part-time real estate agent and social worker said as he got ready for the 9 a.m. hunt. "We'll see some roosters and hopefully shoot a couple."

Knochenmus and his son saw their first pheasants while following two Gordon setters through a state-owned Wildlife Management Area. After the brown-and-black setters, Duke and Jazz, went on point in a grove of small trees, a pair of pheasants, including one rooster, rocketed away, out of range, on the northwest wind.

Not a shot was fired.

"They're pretty spooky in this wind," Knochenmus said.

Several other parties had staked out land in the Wildlife Management Area, and the groups hoped to avoid each other as they converged. "Let's make sure we don't cut those other guys off," Craig told his father as another pair of hunters angled in their direction.

As the wind roared, the Knochenmus hunting party worked the edges of the native-grass fields. The hunters worked in concert across the fields, with Knochenmus walking the edges of the grass while Craig and Art Boger of Asheville, N.C., tramped the center.

They followed the lead of the Gordon setters, who bounded ahead with heads held high, sniffing for bird scent. When one setter went on point on the edge of a cornfield, a nervous rooster broke into flight, and three shots downed it on the edge of the grass where Knochenmus found it dead.

Knochenmus said public lands like his party was using are the bedrock of pheasant hunting and conservation in Stevens County because they provide critical nesting and winter cover for the birds.

After the tough 1997 winter, conservationists in Stevens County decided it was time to provide pheasants more winter cover in the form of tree and shrub plantings to help mitigate another winterkill.

Knochenmus and his fellow members of the local chapter of Pheasants Forever set a goal of providing more public lands for pheasants and hunters. Working with local, state and federal agencies and other conservation groups, the local Pheasants Forever chapter purchased three new Wildlife Management Areas in the past two years.

The chapter raises between $15,000 and $17,000 at its annual banquets, and the money is matched by other organizations. The three new areas comprise nearly 500 acres, which will be converted from marginal cropland into wildlife habitat during the next few years.

"We do as much as we can afford," Knochenmus said of the Pheasants Forever branch.


Information from: Star Tribune, http:// WWW.STARTRIBUNE.COM

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