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Pheasant opener proved predictably tough

Pheasant hunters move through a grassland in Lac qui Parle County on Oct. 14, 2017, the opening day of Minnesota's pheasant season. Sam Cook / Forum News Service

DULUTH — How tough was Minnesota pheasant hunting for last weekend's season opener? Here's a sampling of reports.

From a Marshall-area hunter: Total bust. Six hunters, six dogs, two days, one bird. Private land.

From a Madison-area hunter: Four hunters, four dogs, one missed rooster. Public land or walk-in areas.

From a Sauk Center hunter: Two hunters, good dogs, two days, one rooster shot, one rooster missed.

"It's a corn conundrum," said Anthony Hauck, director of public relations for Pheasants Forever, and a Minnesota native.

As of Oct. 15, just 7 percent of the state's corn had been harvested, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and until much of the corn is down, that's where many of the birds will be, Hauck said.

The corn harvest was two weeks behind the 2016 pace and 22 days behind the average harvest pace, according to the USDA.

For starters, the state's pheasant population index was down 26 percent from last year, 32 percent below the 10-year average and 62 percent below the long-term average. Throw in the corn conundrum, and it made for a tough opener.

"I haven't heard too many great reports," Hauck said.

He knew of a hunter in the Pipestone area who hunted only the "golden hour" — the last hour before sunset, "and really laid into them," Hauck said.

That's the best strategy, he said, when so many birds are in the corn.

"Roosters are tough to chase down except for that last hour of the day," Hauck said. "They're grass-nesting birds. They're going to return to roost in the grass or the edge of cattails. They may be feeding in the corn during the day, but they're on a tight schedule that last hour of the day."

Trouble is, it's hard for most hunters to restrict themselves to that little hunting, especially on opening weekend.

Of course, the golden-hour strategy works throughout pheasant season as well.

Weather was expected to be good over the past several days, and farmers likely have made progress harvesting both soybeans and corn.

"I wouldn't let an opening weekend without seeing a lot sour it just yet," Hauck said.

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