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home : columns : ron kuecker
September 22, 2017

9/13/2017 8:29:00 AM
Hen pheasants down dramatically in 2017 count

Ron Kuecker
Outdoors Columnist

It was several years ago that I started noticing the decrease in the number of hens per pheasant rooster in the spring. It could/should be three hens per rooster for best nesting. This spring it was worse as I noticed mostly one hen per rooster. From a high of three hens with one rooster it occasionally dipped to an occasional rooster that was very lonesome as it displayed its beauty and crowed to no one.
I choose, for that reason, to focus on hen numbers because as any rancher or livestock farmer knows, one cow per bull won't work very well, very long.
This year, for the first time in my memory, the recently released August roadside count of pheasants showed a ratio of less than one hen per rooster statewide. That is down from 1.35 hens/cock bird in 2016.
Add to that a drop in brood size of 17% and it's not surprising the total population of pheasants is down 26% statewide from 2016 to 2017. It is also down 32% from the 10-year average and 62% from the long-term average.
This year only 38 pheasants were seen per 100 miles on those 151, 25-mile routes in the pheasant range.
Well, what about the nine county area of southwest Minnesota we call home. It has always been considered the place to go to hunt pheasants in Minnesota. In fact, I have said on occasion, "pheasant hunting season is the only time southwest Minnesota gets the respect it deserves from the rest of the state."
These data, taken from the Minnesota DNR charts on the internet, show pheasants seen in southwest Minnesota in 2017 were 51.7 per 100 miles. Last year it was 96. If you like percentages better than numbers (which I don't) that's a 46% drop.
You will hear over and over again it is about the habitat (a home so to speak) and the weather. Well of course it is, but that usually is not an in depth look at the year a round needs of a viable pheasant population. It is usually grassland acres they talk about.
What pheasants need even more is a winter food supply, protection from the cold, blowing snow of winter and a place to evade predators. To the smaller hen pheasant, who frequently has had her nutrients drained by second and third nesting tries, it is even more essential.
Grassland acres
Actually, looking at grassland acres, there has been little change over the last three years from 2015-2017. But big changes could happen after 2018 if large acres of CRP contracts expire, aren't renewed and revert back to corn and soybeans.
Taber Hock, raised in Cottonwood County near Comfrey, now working for Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources put out a very nice chart showing both state and regional grassland acres. Here in our southwest region this year we still have 27,000 acres of CRP, 24,700 of CREP, 20,600 of RIM, 23,400 acres of USFWS land and 71,500 of MNDNR land.
Add that to a few other programs and you have a total of a bit over 240,000 acres of grassland habitat or 6% of the total land.
I guess we all have our own thoughts on that 6% figure and will have to work towards more or less depending on our own thinking. You can probably, easily, guess that I would like to see a bit more.
But bottom line on pheasant population; we just "gotta" be thinking more about hen pheasant survival and the other weak links in their habitat needs. Not just grassland!
Old Winchester 73 found
It's kinda old news by now but in the winter of 2015 an old Winchester Model 73 was found in Nevada's Great Basin National Park. It was propped up against an old juniper, rusted and rotting. A survey crew looking for important artifacts to rescue prior to a controlled burn stumbled onto it in a stroke of luck.
For sure they weren't expecting a find such as that.
The rifle had been made in 1882 about the time of Jesse James demise. There was nothing else found to connect it to a red man or white. It was one of 25,000 made that year, of the rifle that came to be known as the gun that won the west.
A mystery evolved surrounding who had left it there. An extensive search of the time period has now revealed; nothing. It was cleaned up and preserved carefully at the Cody Museum in Wyoming. It is now on display at Great Basin National Park.
Most theorists having fun with the search for reasons to leave a gun in the woods think it was set up against the tree by a forgetful hunter. He may have done it while field dressing a deer or elk and forgot where he put it. He may have taken a nap and sleepily walked away. There was no empty glass bottle of the time with a cork in it found nearby.
My thoughts are, a wife, tired of her husband coming home with another new rifle, figured if she hid it in the woods he would discontinue his disgusting habit of bringing home more guns. My wife always threatened to sell my guns on the courthouse lawn at 50-cents apiece if I misbehaved.

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