I am heading up to Slayton today over the lunch hour to meet up with Bill Schuna. He is the DNR area Wildlife Manager for our area.

The purpose of my trip is to drop off my data sheets from my recently completed DNR roadside count routes I drove at sunrise on August 7, 8 and 9.

These counts have been done for many decades in order to guesstimate the nesting spring success of the pheasants in our state. The route driver counts pheasants, deer, cottontail rabbits, jackrabbits, Hungarian partridge, doves and sandhill cranes. I waited for over 10 years to be able to do the routes in Nobles County.

The data is compiled from all over the pheasant range and a map is made showing the different population densities of pheasants in Minnesota.

Hunters wait for this data on the edge of their seats. Almost everyone will use this data to see what locales they might like to plan a hunting trip to or how good the hunting might be right around home.

Pheasants in Minnesota have been suffering as of late. Our populations as of last year were way below the 10-year average.

Harsher than normal winters are a factor but are not the main factor for pheasant declines in Minnesota, in my opinion. I used to hope for mild winters to help out the birds, and they do help. The single biggest factor for pheasants in Minnesota, however, in the past five years has been spring rains.

This was the first year in the last five years that we did not receive over 10 inches of rain in the first 10 days of June.

The first two weeks of June is the peak of the pheasant hatch in our state. If a pheasant chick gets soaked by rain in its first week of life it will most likely die. They don’t have enough feathers to keep warm. A mild winter and a very wet May-June will result in not many chicks surviving. A hard winter and a normal spring will net more birds in the fall counts, in my opinion.

Another factor for pheasant declines all over the entire pheasant range is loss of habitat. There has been pheasant research done for the past 100 years, and in the end my conclusion is very elementary. Where there is grass there is pheasants.

Minnesota lost a little more than 1 million acres of grassland CRP in the past 10 years. Less grass means less pheasants and no amount of great weather can make up for that.

Pheasant hunters can be a fickle bunch. If counts are up, many will buy a pheasant license for that fall season. If counts are down, they will just skip the season altogether. This is not something that conservation can afford. License sales fund wildlife agency budgets. Fewer hunters means less revenue and less management of the habitats and the animals that live there.

I tried a Google search to find it and couldn’t find it, but the last number I heard was that the average hunter in Minnesota harvests about 2.7 birds per season. An average hunter doesn’t kill much. It is the hunt and the outdoor experience that makes the difference, not how much meat you collect. Yet as bird numbers go down, the number of licenses sold also goes down.

There is nothing more satisfying than walking with three well-trained labradors 15 minutes before sunset, with a slight breeze in your face and the cackle of a wild rooster as it flushes just feet from the closest dog’s nose.

There are fancy guns and specialty ammo and all kinds of gear that add to some peoples’ experience. Good for them. Pheasant hunting can be a common man or woman’s pastime with little monetary expenditures necessary.

You can hunt without a dog or even a dog that is not very good and still have a good time. I hunted the first 15 year of my life without a dog. Me and my hunting buddies were the dog. We lost birds, no doubt, but we still had a great time.

We have a citizen-owned land base in southwest Minnesota that will allow anyone who wants to hunt the ability to do so. Sure, there might be other hunters there, too, but if everyone is considerate there can be room for all.

If you already hunt pheasants, the counts will be out soon. If you don’t hunt, or don’t hunt anymore, consider jumping back into the game even if in a casual way. That walk in the grass will soothe your soul regardless how many roosters live there.