This rooster pheasant was photographed near Ortonville, Minn., in June 2012. Minnesota’s 2019 pheasant hunting season kicks off this Saturday. (Ramendan/Creative Commons via Flickr 2012)

Minnesota’s pheasant hunting season started Oct. 11 weekend, but the outlook isn’t so bright for hunters this year. Record-amount snow and rain delayed pheasant nesting by 10 days later than average, and the longterm trend of pheasant population decrease continues this year in Minnesota, the state Department of Natural Resources says.

According to the department’s annual roadside survey report in August, the DNR estimates Minnesota’s pheasant population is down by 17 percent this year compared to 2018. This year’s statewide pheasant index was 37.4 birds per 100 miles driven — 60 percent below the longterm average of 1955 through 2018.

While the steady loss of habitat still plays a major role in the population decrease, this year’s number particularly has been affected by the extremely wet weather, said DNR’s south region director Scott Roemhildt.

“Lots of snow ice and very, very cold weather conditions, and so we lost some thousands during the winter,” Roemhildt said. “We had heavy rains ... so many pheasant nests were destroyed and dozens are really good at renesting. But each time they renest, they have a potential for fewer chicks than they would their first nest.”

Before heading out to the field this fall, Roemhildt said hunters are encouraged to check their hunting ground’s condition — because a lot of the bird’s habitat may still be underwater due to the record-breaking rain this year. Southern Minnesota in particular, where the pheasant population is high, has had one of the wettest years in 2019.

“People are going to want to wear a good pair of boots because they’re going to get wet,” said Jared Wiklund with the nonprofit Pheasants Forever in St. Paul, who’s been hunting pheasants for 10 years.

While Mother Nature has thrown Minnesota’s hunters a curve this year, there has been some positive change on the state’s pheasant habitat recently. An increased interested in the bee-friendly environment is contributing to restoring pheasant numbers across the state, said Roemhildt.

“Good pollinator habitat makes good nesting habitat for pheasants because pheasant chicks eat bugs,” he said. “So, where there’s lots of bugs we can have lots of baby pheasants.”

And in some parts of southern Minnesota, Roemhildt said, numbers are up from last year, despite the downward trend in state-wide pheasant population. He said the east-central area had 13 percent increase and the south-central area had 24 percent increase in 2019.

“To me, it indicates that there’s going to be some areas in the state that have pretty good pheasant hunting,” said Roemhildt.

The upcoming pheasant hunting season runs from Saturday through New Year’s Day. The opener event takes place on Saturday in Austin in southeastern Minnesota. Gov. Tim Walz will attend the ninth annual celebration of the new hunting season.

According to the DNR, hunters spend about $121 million each year in Minnesota in retail sales related to hunting upland birds, including pheasant, grouse and quail, and the birds hunting industry generates about $210 million total economic impact in the state.

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