The Pipestone County chapter of Pheasants Forever hosted its 15th annual Youth Mentor Hunt on Saturday, Oct. 28, with 11 area youth participating in the events and activities of a gun safety presentation, trap shooting, a lunch provided by the chapter, and an afternoon upland pheasant hunt.
The hunt was open to area youth ranging in ages from 11-17 who possessed a DNR Hunters Safety Card, and the chapter provided guns and ammo for the day, orange vests, hats, ear protection and transportation to and from the meeting point in Pipestone. Additionally, a 1-1 ratio of mentors and youth hunters was available for the activity.
Marty Wallin, the president of Pipestone County Pheasants Forever, said that a total of nine birds were taken during the afternoon hunt. Ten of the youth hunters were returning participants, and one was a first time participant, Wallin said. The annual youth hunt and the work that Pheasants Forever does to engage youth in the area, has important future consequences for natural resources used by all community members.
“This really matches up with Pheasant Forever’s “Leave No Child Indoors” initiative which introduces kids to the outdoors and hunting heritage,” Wallin said. “You also have the DNR which needs to continue to sell licenses. License sales have been typically down for awhile. Just like any organization, you know you need to reach out to the youth to keep traditions going. Ultimately, these kids that we are reaching out to and creating this experience with, we are passing the baton on to them to be future leaders of our conservation organization, future outdoors men and women who will carry on and preserve the hunting heritage which in turn sells hunting licenses, funding the DNR and our natural resources for everyone to use.”
Wallin pointed out that the DNR uses hunting license fees to not only fund resources that benefit hunters, but also benefits other community members who utilize parks and recreational areas, and water resources like lakes and rivers and more. It is a circle of success, Wallin said, to ensure that the ball is not dropped by any generation, and that each following generation in brought into the cause of continued preservation.
Further illustrating the impact of the youth hunt and the local Pheasants Forever chapter’s efforts, Wallin said that some of the mentors in the program were once first time youth participants with the chapters hunt.
“That’s the whole why is it important?” Wallin said. “That’s the success story when you have an example of what good is coming out of the cycle of life.”
On a broader scale, the Minnesota DNR’s 2023 Minnesota August Roadside Survey indicates that ring-neck pheasant hunters in Southwest Minnesota should be in for a good season. The survey, which was conducted July 28 – August 15, is taken throughout Minnesota’s farmland regions.
According to the report, throughout surveyed regions in Minnesota, the total pheasant index increased by 10% in 2023, compared to 2022. Indices of hens, roosters, and broods also increased (20%, 22% and 23% respectively), compared to 2022. Chicks per brood, and broods per 100 hens declined slightly compared to 2022, and the total number of pheasants, hens, roosters and broods per 100 miles all exceeded the 10-year average. However, the index of broods per 100 hens was slightly below the 10-year average. The number of chicks per brood, the survey concluded, was slightly greater than the 10-year average.
The report further states that, though most indices of pheasants remain below the long-term average, the number of broods per 100 hens in 2023 (92.1) is near the long-term average (89.7). The index of chicks per brood is 2023 (5.0) is slightly less than the long term average (5.6). Collectively, this suggests good nesting and brood-rearing success in 2023.
Despite the state-wide increase, the survey observed that trends in the pheasant index varied greatly among regions, with the pheasant index seeing a triple-digit increase in the Southwest region, where it grew 101%. A more modest increase was observed in the West Central region and a decrease was noted in the Central, East Central, South Central and Southeast regions Additionally, the report stated that pheasant indices remain well below their long term averages in all regions except for the Southwest, but they are near or above their 10-year averages except for the East Central and Southeast regions. Currently, the Southwest and West Central regions had the highest indices.
A variety of information gathered in the report may illustrate why the Southwest region of the state is labeled as both good and fair for pheasant this year. According to the report, the Southwest and West Central regions of the state have the highest proportion of protected lands, both public and private, in their regions, and these lands account for nearly 50% of all protected land in the pheasant range of the state.
“If we were forced to draw a hard line in the sand about what we think of as our traditional pheasant range, it’s essentially a line south of the I-94 corridor,” said Nicole Davros, a wildlife research supervisor with the Minnesota DNR. “But you know, pheasants don’t respect boundaries and they go where the habitat is.”
Aside from the good weather and habitat conditions available to pheasants in the Southwest, Davros said that pheasants are an agriculturally adapted species. Further north, different native ground species like sharp tail grouse and prairie chickens can be found that have slightly different habitat requirements. Conditions in the Southwest are ideal for the ring-neck pheasant, Davros said.
“Your part of the state is just kind of perfect conditions,” she said. “One, you have that agriculture which they definitely use. Two, you have a lot of conservation and habitat being restored on the landscape. In terms of winter, our wetlands and our shrubby wetlands like cattail shrub swamp type stuff provides a little thermal cover for them. In really rough winters you will see them start to move into farmsteads and go up into the trees and areas like that.”