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Scott Rall: Challenging times are ahead for pheasant hunters

BY SCOTT RALL The Globe outdoors columnist So, today (Saturday, Oct. 13) is the 2018 Pheasant Opener. It will be an interesting day and an unusual one for this pheasant hunter. I will be at the Governor's Pheasant Hunting Opener in Luverne on ope...

BY SCOTT RALL

The Globe outdoors columnist

So, today (Saturday, Oct. 13) is the 2018 Pheasant Opener.

It will be an interesting day and an unusual one for this pheasant hunter.  I will be at the Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener in Luverne on opening day. It’s a big deal for Luverne, and they have done it up right.

A Brewster native by the name of Rick Petersen is the event chairman and a very good friend of mine.  He has led his group to a big finale. About 85 hunters and guests were expected for the big banquet taking place on Friday night.

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I have been asked about a hundred times in the past weeks what I think the results will be at the end of the day in terms of rooster harvest. My early indications in May-June would have been awful. My roadside count routes were down big time, but in the end when all of the routes were compiled across the entire pheasant range in Minnesota the data showed that pheasants were up 19 percent over last year.

Up 19 percent is good, but if you were down 45 percent last year you still have a long way to go. Early indications by roadside counts done by me told of a poor season.

The last few times I changed the oil in my truck it was about 6-7 weeks between oil changes.  This factors out to be driving about 500 miles per week. When I am out and about, whether it be for work or play, my routes always try to pass through good wildlife habitat country.

I saw more birds in Kandyohi County near Willmar in one day then I had seen in Nobles County in two months. Lots of miles turned up very few bird sightings even during the early morning and late evening hours. So personal observations indicated a poor season. Reports from others making the same trips in other parts of southwest Minnesota mirrored my feelings.

So it was kind of a downer.  We had so much rain in June that chick mortality was very high.

Turn the page to the past two weeks and now the picture is looking different.  I have been working on a deer stand in the evenings the past few weeks, and each night I could hear lots of roosters crowing. I cannot say for sure if it was the same rooster that crowed 25 times or 25 roosters that each crowed one time, but there was lots of crowing.  This makes me scratch my head but also puts just a little more skip in my step that there might be more pheasants than I thought.

Les Johnson, my good friend, has been exercising his dog the past few weeks with walks in the tall grass. It is legal to walk dogs on citizen-owned lands (Wildlife Management Areas) after August 15. In the past three outings, two on private land and one on public land, he has flushed 15 birds.

This experience also goes against the grain of everything I thought was going to happen. Other reports were coming the last week that reflect the Les Johnson experience and not the Scott Rall expectations. Nobody is happier than me that the outlook is better than expected.

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The opener will be very full of challenges even if the bird numbers are better than expectations.  First off, the fact that it will just not stop raining will leave lots of crop in the field and lots of places for pheasants to be where a hunter cannot pursue them. It is also forecast to be raining.

I hate hunting in the rain. Some folks can still have good luck in the rain but my experience is that the birds find a place to hide in the rain that I cannot find. I, for the most part, just don’t hunt in the rain.

With only slightly better pheasant numbers in the DNR forecast, it is likely that between the weather and bird numbers competition from other hunters might be lighter than normal. Pheasant hunters, for the most part, are opportunists. For the great majority of them, they will go upland bird hunting when bird numbers are high and skip the season in favor of fall fishing or deer hunting if bird numbers are low.

There were 118,000 pheasant hunters in Minnesota in 2008.  Last year with the loss of habitat due to expiring CRP contracts and the resulting low pheasant numbers, that fell all the way down to 54,300. You will need knee-high rubber boots to hunt this season and, in some cases, you will need hip waders to cross the streams necessary to hunt the other side.

So there is an unusual season shaping up for hunters in southwest Minnesota. I will go often and enjoy the outings with the dogs. Birds in the bag is a bonus. I will give you an update in a few weeks as to what the early returns are showing.

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