Pheasant numbers increased 101% in the southwest corner of the state, leading an index that also marked a sizable pheasant increase in west-central Minnesota but declines elsewhere, according to the latest annual roadside survey by the Department of Natural Resources.
In the nine-county corner of Minnesota that is south and west of Redwood Falls, the survey counted 117 pheasants for every 100 miles driven, double the count from a year earlier. The next best result was in west-central Minnesota, where the count was 63 birds per 100 miles, up 38% from 2022. Together, the DNR said, the two regions account for nearly 50% of all protected hunting land in the pheasant range.
According to the DNR, all other areas saw decreases in pheasant numbers: down 11% in the south-central area; down 39% in the central; down 50% in the southeast, and down 63% in the east-central area of the state. The August roadside survey, first conducted in 1955, covers 148 driving routes in the pheasant range, providing an index of relative abundance that shows long-term trends.
"Pheasant hunters certainly have reason to cheer in the southwest region this year,'' said Tim Lyons, a DNR upland game research scientist. The season opens Oct. 14 and runs through Jan. 1, 2024.
A DNR summary of this year's survey said pheasant indices remain well below their long-term averages in all regions except the southwest. They are near or above their 10-year averages elsewhere, except for the east-central area and in the southeast.
According to the DNR, thenumber of pheasants, hens, roosters, and broods per 100 miles all exceeded their 10-year averages in this year's survey. But the index of broods per 100 hens (92 this year) was slightly below the 10-year average. Collectively, the data "suggests good nesting and brood-rearing success in 2023,'' the DNR said in a news release.
In regions where pheasant numbers declined this year, Lyons said the downturns were possibly linked to more severe winter weather and more severe drought during the breeding season.