Minnesota Pheasant Opener, As Predicted

I spent the opening weekend of Minnesota’s pheasant season near Madison, Minn., at a farm owned by the family of Duluth’s Gary Larson. Steve Harrington of Duluth was with us, too. The three of us have been hunting pheasants at Larson’s Prairie Marsh Farm for nearly 30 years.

A yellow Lab holds a rooster pheasant taken on a 2012 hunt near Madison, Minn.

With Minnesota’s pheasant counts down this fall, we went into the weekend with tempered expectations. Saturday’s 25-mph winds didn’t help matters. While most of the soybeans are harvested, little of the corn has been picked, so a lot of pheasants are still in the corn.

The upshot: Five of us (including Gary’s brother, Ken, and a friend, Bruce Bonde) shot five roosters on Saturday. Three of us shot no birds on Sunday. Our results could have been a couple of birds better if I hadn’t had a safety malfunction on my old Browning 12-gauge.

Our farm friend, Stan Patzer, had predicted we’d be unlikely to shoot more than one bird apiece. He was right. We only missed one opportunity on Saturday, and still we were scraping for a bird apiece. We found them in light cover, cattails, native prairie — all of the usual places. Conditions are dry in western Minnesota, at least on this farm, making tracking more difficult for the dogs.

We were holed up here all weekend and didn’t talk to other hunters, so I can’t say if others shared our experience. It’s going to be a challenging year, but we’ll be headed back to the farm in a couple of weeks for a more extended trip. Perhaps more of the corn will be out by then and we’ll have better luck.

While the hunting was more difficult, everything else about being at the farm was as good as ever. The big bluestem looked just as lovely in the last rays of the setting sun. The old Franklin stove in the living room still kicked out plenty of heat on the cool evenings. It’s always good to connect with our farm friends, Stan and Tim Patzer, and catch up with life on the prairies. And when we go out before bedtime to let the dogs out one more time, all of the constellations are still there looking down on us. Man, there are a lot of stars out here.

I’m off to North Dakota today to spend a couple of days with Duluth’s Mike Marturano and Bill Millars for a pheasant hunting story.