Pheasant hunters can expect an easier time of things this season, with the Minnesota DNR reporting that pheasant numbers are up 42% from last year.
It's also a 37% increase over the 10-year average, the DNR's annual roadside pheasant survey found. Southwestern Minnesota saw the greatest increase, with pheasants up by 146%, thanks to more favorable weather and an increase in habitat availability, which are the two main factors influencing the Minnesota pheasant population trends.
This year's statewide pheasant index is 53.5 birds per 100 miles of road driven. In the southwest, observers counted 90.5 birds per 100 miles. Once the pheasant hunting season begins Oct. 10, the DNR says hunters can expect to see the most birds in the southwest, west-central, central and south-central regions, which all reported more than 50 birds per 100 miles.
A lack of heavy rainfalls or spring snow storms — like in 2019 and 2018 — led to more favorable conditions for hens to raise chicks, according to Tim Lyons, DNR upland game research scientist.
In addition, the early success of nests allowed chicks more time to develop for the fall and winter, increasing their odds of survival. Pheasant hatches peaked about four days earlier than average this year.
The pheasants were also aided by humans who signed up for the Conservation Reserve Program in 2019. As part of the federal Farm Bill, the program pays farmers to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and restore the vegetation that serves as wildlife habitat and can aid with reducing soil erosion and improving water quality. When general sign-ups opened last year, 10,000 more acres were added to the program, the DNR says.