Anderson: Ahead of Saturday’s opener, ringneck hunters have pheasants in mind

The rooster pheasant hunt has bewitched hunters since at least the Stone Age, and those many millennia later, wing shooters in Minnesota remain just as enthralled. Saturday is opening day for these flowering birds, and ahead of time, highlanders reflect on surveys of beetle populations, corn and soybean crops, dogs by their side and, ultimately, their perspectives Five priority areas:

Have a good hunt

Start with a quiz: The most important for successful pheasant hunting in the state’s pheasant range when Minnesota ringneck season opens at 9 am on Saturday is (A) a good dog; (B) good marksmanship with a shotgun; (C) pre-hunt scouting; or (D) none of the above. Answer: While the success of individual or group pheasant hunting often depends on the help of a good dog, skill with a cluster rifle, and knowing where to hunt, the answer is D. Most importantly the Opening day in Minnesota is the percentage of corn and soybeans that have been harvested. To this end, recent statistics from the US Department of Agriculture should encourage the highlanders: 36% of the corn harvest was completed at the start of the week, compared to 31% at the same time last year and 14% for the five-year average. Meanwhile, 83% of soybeans are in place, the same level as last year and well above the five-year average of 46%. As a result, the fact that this year’s opening is October 16 while last year’s opening was October 10 is a harvest benefit for hunters.

Talking dogs

Pheasant hunters often argue over which breed of dog is best for chasing ringnecks. There’s no answer. Many hunters have personal preferences based on factors other than a dog’s bird-finding abilities. Long or short hair can be a deciding factor, especially if the dog lives indoors. Large or small farms can also be considered. Many Labrador owners, for example, lack the familiarity and confidence in the large-scale pointers to be trusted to find birds at significant distances from their handlers and to keep colorful fowl in position up to so that a photo can be taken. This is one of the reasons Labrador retrievers are more commonly used for Minnesota pheasant hunting than pointers, setters, or springer spaniels, which can also be great choices. Also in favor of Labradors: they can be used for waterfowl hunting, thus expanding their utility; they make excellent pets; and the habitat of the Minnesota pheasant often consists of thick swamps most efficiently sought with a large hunting dog working up close. Still . . . on any given day, a good pointing dog will often find more birds than a Labrador or other hunting breed.

Which habitat is the best?

Here’s another quiz: if you had to pick a particular habitat that would produce pheasants more than any other, would it be (A) windbreaks and other blankets that protect ringnecks from harsh Minnesota winters; (B) maize and similar plots to provide food for pheasants in winter; (C) grass for pheasants to build nests and hatch their young; or (D) none of these. Answer: C. Nothing is more vital to increasing pheasant numbers than nesting habitat, especially the large areas of grass that allow pheasant hens to incubate their eggs and hatch their young without being killed. by foxes, skunks, raccoons, hawks and other predators. That’s why Minnesota’s decrease in Federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres has done so much harm to pheasants and other upland wildlife. CRP registration peaked in Minnesota in 2007, with 1.8 million acres listed, about half of which has since been returned to cropland. Effect on pheasants? In 2007, the statewide pheasant index determined by the Natural Resources Department’s August roadside annual counts was 107 spotted birds per 100 miles. This year’s index? Forty-one birds per 100 miles.

Where are the birds

The number of Minnesota pheasants is highest in the west-central and southwestern areas of the state. The 100-mile-spotted ringnecks recorded in August in the west-central have dropped from 64 a year ago to 43 (-33%) this year. In the southwest, birds have dropped from 91 in 2020 to 63 this year (-30%). These regions vary in size and have different amounts of acres of set-aside farmland (like CRP) and state and federal wildlife land, such as state wildlife management areas (WMAs) and zones. Federal Waterfowl Production (WPA). Examples: In the center-west, these lands total 700,826 acres, or 9.5% of the landscape. In the southwest, the same properties total 273,323 acres, or 7.2% of the area. The second highest percentages of fallow acres and public wildlife land in the landscape are found in the central and south-central at 5.8% and 5.4% respectively. Statewide, meanwhile, CRP acres have decreased by 5,000 acres this year from 2020, but Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program – CREP acres – have increased by 10,000 acres and RIM land ( (Reinvest in Minnesota) increased by 2,000 acres. An additional 24,000 acres in the pheasant range were acquired in federal lands for wildlife and state wildlife management areas.

A prognosis for the opening day?

If “opening day” means Saturday, the hunters are likely to be at least as successful as last year, and maybe a little more. The relatively later date for this year’s opening, combined with fairly advanced corn and soybean harvests, means that some birds that would otherwise remain in the state’s vast cultivated lands will be forced to join the WMAs and other habitats that hunters can access. Yet Minnesota pheasant hunting has changed over the past few decades. landscape to provide reasonable action on opening day, even when most crops have not been harvested. As the CRP losses accelerated and the number of birds decreased, this changed. Now, in years when the season starts earlier in October and most of the crops remain in the field, some hunters have a hard time finding pheasants in the early days of the season. The Silver Lining: In recent years, late-season Minnesota pheasant hunting has generally remained good to very good for hunters w It’s hard to resist the whims of early winter – better, even, in some cases , than in South Dakota (whose pheasant season also opens on Saturday), due to Minnesota’s relatively large tracts of public land in its pheasant range.

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