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Scott Rall: The measure of a season completed

SCOTT RALL

The Globe sports columnist

Tomorrow is the last day of the 2017 pheasant hunting season. It certainly is not going down in history as one of the better years I’ve had in the past 25.

There are a whole series of reasons, or excuses, why this season was less than stellar.  The first of those is weather. In the first month of the season we had more days with winds over 25 mph than I can ever remember.

Pheasants can hear a hunter more than a mile away.  Then the winds are calm the birds can hear you well and have a good idea where you are at. It is the ability to hear you coming and going with some level of certainty that allows them to sit tight.

On days with high winds they can still hear you, but they have a much harder time pinpointing your exact location.  

The muffling of the sounds due to the winds makes birds uneasy. Because they cannot hear you in the grass as well, they tend to flush far out ahead of the gun.

Hunting pheasants on windy days is a low probability exercise. Take into account that if you can get close to one, shooting it while it’s banking with a 30 mph wind makes the shots almost impossible to make for the average hunter. Tons of windy days made this season more challenging.

The next item in my challenging season was rain. I used to hunt in any kind of weather. I was younger and more motivated.  I have never had much success in the rain, and so I have stopped trying when it is really coming down.  We had at least 10 days in the first month of the season when it rained.

Additionally, with a warmer than normal fall/early winter, we had very little ice. This had a good and bad outcome if you are a pheasant hunter. It made it easy for both dogs and man, but with little ice it made getting to the birds more difficult in the last half of the year.  

Pheasants are smart.  If they get pushed around by hunters they go to places hunters are not.  This can mean spending their days in the center of a cattail slough even if it’s not frozen over.

In a normal year, the slough areas would freeze up and the hunters and dogs could pursue them into those spots. This year it did not happen until just about a week ago.

With all the rain we had this year, all of the creeks and streams were running at a very fast clip.  Running water does not freeze until it gets really cold.  Moving water through the wetlands made them stay open for a very long time as well.  I just could not bring myself to don a pair of hip waders to wander around in the middle of a wetland chasing roosters.

The last reason this season was far more challenging than most (and you can see it is farther down on the list) is the fact that there just fewer roosters to chase.

It is scientifically proven that hunting roosters does not impact their overall populations.  You only need one rooster for every 24 hens to grow a population of pheasants. That means that harvesting roosters even when there are less of them has no effect on the next year’s bird numbers.

My readings indicate that there is one rooster for every four hens at the end of the Minnesota season.  There are still plenty of roosters to get the job done next spring.

Minnesota DNR predicted a decline of pheasant populations of about 24 percent in 2017.  I think in Nobles and surrounding counties this was more like a 50 percent decline.

There were as many outings that I got skunked as there were nights I harvested birds. One of my friends even went so far as to calling his attempts wildlife walks and not pheasants hunts so he was not so disappointed at the end of the day. I was certainly not the only one who had fewer birds in the vest this season.

I visited with many DNR researchers and other wildlife professionals and they had no really good reason for the decline.  

I came up with my own idea.  If you remember we had six inches of snow on May 5 and the snow lasted for 5-6 days.  I think the eggs that were in the nest died of exposure, and the professionals say the hen will just keep incubating these eggs indefinitely or until the nest is destroyed.

Hens will re-nest if the eggs are destroyed, but they can just plain run out of energy if their nest is undisturbed and they incubate for three months or more. No energy left means no re-nesting attempts, and that is what I think happened this year. Average incubation lasts about 25 days for a pheasant.

The flush of the rooster is the rush.  I still got to experience that rush this season. My dogs did great. Only one skunk, one encounter with a barb wire fence with no major injuries to hunter or hounds.

Even with fewer roosters I would call the season of 2017 a quality outing. After tomorrow the wait begins again for pheasant opener 2018.

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