WILLMAR -- Seeing pheasants can be a good thing and a bad thing. It just depends what time of year they are spotted.
If it's in the fall or spring, it's great. If a great number are noticed, pheasant hunters will have a lot of success.
But when it's winter, that's not good at all. That means the pheasants are having a hard time finding food and shelter. They're trying to survive the best they can, but that means extra exposure to hard climates and predators to find food.
"You watch the birds out there in the middle of the day scraping in that snow trying to get at the food," said Jeff Miller from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' wildlife office at Sibley State Park. "They're out there exposed to predation, getting hit by vehicles because they're too close to the roads.
"You look at cattail marshes, places that they would root, there's hard crusty snow that they can't get at. There's a lot of things you look at."
So when the going gets tough, humans -- especially those who want to keep the pheasant population strong for years to come -- want to step in and help.
"We were getting a lot of people calling us (about feeding pheasants)," said Jim Tetzlaff of the Kandiyohi chapter of Pheasants Forever.
But even well-meaning humans don't always get it right and can even do more harm.
"If you are going to feed, do it the right way. Not by throwing it on the roads and making pheasants targets," Tetzlaff noted. "The biggest problem is people are just dumping on field approaches. And they are not using any kind of feeder. If pheasants don't know its there, they're never going to find it. The feeders keep the feed from being covered by snow. Then you need to keep filling it until (the ground) thaws."
The Kandiyohi chapter has been helping people in their quest to assist pheasants for years. They've given out tons of feed and now are helping people get the feeders, too.
The feed is a 50-pound bag of corn, which Tetzlaff said has become more difficult to supply because the price of corn has skyrocketed.
"We've been selling it for $5 per bag and we haven't had any pushback," he said. "The people who are doing it are the ones that are truly concerned."
The feeders are 30-gallon drums on pallets with holes cut near the bottom and wire-mesh screens to allow the pheasants to pull the corn from the feeder. The design makes it easy for pheasants to feed from it, but difficult for deer to monopolize.
Which is why the feeder location is also important.
"If you do put it up, put it in the right location," Miller said. "Don't park it right by a tree or by a roadside."
And then, people have to continue stocking the feeder.
"That's something that we stress. It's great that people want to help, but they had to stick with it," said Tetzlaff. "It can be a bear with all of this snow. It's tough to carry a 50-pound bag of feed to where they have cover."
Feeding does help pheasants survive, but only temporarily. Being excellent foragers, pheasants can find enough food to make it through the winter. It's when they don't have shelter to wait out the storms that is the biggest problem.
"Feeding is not the answer," Tetzlaff said. "Ultimately, if they don't have the cover, they'll die. Pheasants won't starve to death, but they will freeze to death."
Feed is available from Kandiyohi chapter members, at Brad's 71 Bait and Sports north of Willmar, or by calling Brad Hanson at 320-212-4983. For more information on feeders visit the chapter's website at www.kandipf.com.