Fields of promise

WILLMAR -- Pheasant hunters are a very determined lot. Take Steve Boraas of Appleton, who remembers his first try at the sport 35 years ago. He walked for hours without seeing so much as a bird. Dog tired and ready for a break, he was just about ...

WILLMAR -- Pheasant hunters are a very determined lot.

Take Steve Boraas of Appleton, who remembers his first try at the sport 35 years ago. He walked for hours without seeing so much as a bird. Dog tired and ready for a break, he was just about to take out his sandwich when the rooster flushed.

"I never even had a shot at it,'' said Boraas, laughing about the experience.

Boraas will be back in the field again on the pheasant season opener this coming Saturday. He and thousands of other Minnesota pheasant hunters will go into the field with reason to be optimistic about their prospects for the opportunity to shoot.

Roadside counts by wildlife staff with the Department of Natural Resources found that the state's pheasant numbers are at their highest levels in 20 years.


"Very good numbers,'' said Leroy Dahlke, wildlife manager with the DNR in Willmar, about the pheasants in Kandiyohi County. Pheasant hunters need not travel far to find excitement. Pheasant numbers in Kandiyohi, Swift and Chippewa counties are as good as they were last year.

Statewide, the west central and southwest regions of the state will offer the best prospects for hunting success. Kandiyohi County is on the western end of the west central region, and had pheasant numbers well above the average count of 113 birds per 100 miles reported in the roadside survey. There were routes in Kandiyohi County showing more than 200 birds.

Any time the count is at 100 or better, hunters can expect good hunting, Dahlke noted.

Some of the state's highest pheasant numbers are found in the southwestern tier of counties, especially along the western border. Brad Olson, assistant wildlife manager with the DNR at the Lac qui Parle office, said numbers are especially good along the border from Canby in western Yellow Medicine County and south.

But Olson won't hesitate to take to the field in Lac qui Parle County either, where prospects this year match those of the last.

"It should be pretty darn good all over,'' he said.

It will also be pretty darn crowded in lots of spots, too. The opening weekend always sees lots of pheasant hunters. The high expectations for this season are sure to attract more hunters to western Minnesota.

Boraas said that is one of his concerns going into the new season. "Everything gets totally run over,'' he said of the first weekend. It's not unusual for popular hunting spots to have two or three hunting parties cover the same ground by noon.


His opening weekend strategy relies on avoiding the crowds. Boraas will be walking favorite haunts that are "kind of hidden yet.''

Finding hunting spots that aren't being over-worked isn't the only challenge that hunters will face on the opening day. There is sure to be a lot of corn still waiting to be harvested. Many pheasants will be spending the opening day in the protection of those fields, noted Dahlke.

Yet by the same token, areas that are known for producing bumper corn crops will also be offering lots of pheasants.

One of the region's most avid pheasant hunters is Tom Kalahar of Olivia. Kalahar is with the Soil and Water Conservation District in Renville County, and well versed on where to find the conservation lands holding wildlife in the county.

There are more hunting opportunities in Renville County today than at any time in perhaps the last 40 years, said Kalahar.

"The good old days are right here,'' he said.

The state's roadside count bears that out: Most routes in Renville County saw 100 or more birds.

Kalahar said the formula for producing the numbers is simple: "Grass, grass, and grass.''


Pheasant habitat created by the Conservation Reserve Program and other conservation initiatives, along with just the right weather during the spring nesting period, are the reasons for the resurgence of pheasants in western Minnesota.

"If you want more birds, plant more grass,'' said Dennis Pederson, who helps landowners manage their grasslands for Pheasants Forever.

Pederson practices what he preaches. He helped replant a portion of his family's farm lands along Stony Run Creek in Yellow Medicine County into native prairie.

Pederson said he still remembers when his city cousins would come to the family's farm to hunt pheasants. The family moved to the farm in the late 1950s, just as the 'heyday' of the western Minnesota pheasant boom was coming to its end.

Pederson said the prospect of taking to the field with expectations of seeing pheasants makes this a season to look forward to, just like old times. Like others, Pederson said it is hard to match the enjoyment of walking autumn fields, watching well-trained dogs do their work, and feeling the adrenalin rush of a sudden flush and cackle.

"It's more about the doing than it is about the getting,'' said Pederson.

Dahlke encourages all of those heading to the field next weekend to keep safety in mind first of all, and to be certain of their birds. He and others who participated in the roadside count this year noted that there were many young birds from late hatches this year. There will be young roosters without color. Don't shoot if there is any question, and let those birds mature. There's plenty of season left, all the way to Jan. 1.

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