Minnesota Pheasant Counts Up 29 Percent

A yellow Lab retrieves a rooster pheasant. (News Tribune file photo)
A yellow Lab retrieves a rooster pheasant. (News Tribune file photo)

Another mild winter and good nesting season in Minnesota’s pheasant range combined to increase Minnesota’s roadside pheasant index by 29 percent compared to last year, according to the Department of Natural Resources. In addition, grassland habitat increased slightly in the state.

While the index was up, Minnesota’s pheasant numbers remain 14 percent below the 10-year average and 48 percent below the long-term average.

“Grassland habitat is critically important to pheasant populations,” said Nicole Davros, a DNR research scientist who oversees the August roadside survey. “Over the past two years we have had weather that benefited pheasant numbers, but in the long term we’re still looking at a downward trend in habitat and that drives the population trends.”

Loss of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres statewide remains a concern, as Minnesota may lose about 393,000 acres of CRP land by 2018 because of reduced spending on the program at the national level.

Through the federally administered CRP, farmers are paid to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant species that will improve environmental health and quality.

The highest pheasant counts were in the southwest, east-central and south central regions, where observers reported 53 to 96 birds per 100 miles driven.

Compared to 2015, the largest percentage increases were in the central, south central and east-central regions with increases of 72 percent, 70 percent and 27 percent, respectively.

Minnesota’s 2016 pheasant season begins Oct. 15 and ends Jan. 1.

South Dakota’s Pheasants Per Mile (PPM) index for 2016 decreased 20 percent compared to the 2015 statewide index, according to the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department. In comparison to the 10-year average, this year’s index is 41 percent lower.