Pheasant hunters report spotty opening weekend success

It’s a small sample, to be sure, but the reports I’ve gotten suggest North Dakota hunters generally had tough to spotty hunting for the opening weekend of pheasant season.

One hunter, who hunts between Richardton and Mott, N.D., said it was the toughest opening weekend he can remember since about 1987. He said he’s pretty sure he was the only one in their group to shoot three birds Saturday but didn’t fire a shot in the three hours he hunted Sunday. (One guy in their crew shot two birds Sunday, he said.)

Still, that’s not the kind of hunting generally associated with southwest North Dakota.

Another group hunting nearby had better luck and got their birds, but they also saw lots of casualties from the previous weekend’s snowstorm in southwest North Dakota.

That’s not surprising. Aaron Robinson, an upland game bird biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department said late last week that pheasants in the southwest part of the state had taken a “significant hit” from the storm that dumped upwards of a foot of snow in some areas.

“I suspect we lost most of the younger chicks in areas and a significant portion of the older chicks,” Robinson told me in an email. “It’s too difficult to speculate on the areas that were hit the hardest. Some may have come through just fine while others will be very poor. It will be very spotty this year.”

That pretty much mirrors the reports I got from Doug Leier, as well. An outreach biologist for the Game and Fish Department in West Fargo, Leier said he received some good reports from hunters, while other hunters said they encountered very few birds.

“It was really all over the board,” Leier told me in an email. “Most revolved around disappointment but some acknowledge the corn, rain, mud, wind and even pre-season forecast factored into it.”

Not surprisingly, reports weren’t any better in pheasant range of western Minnesota, where poor weather resulted in fewer hunters afield. Chris Vinton, a conservation officer for the Department of Natural Resources in Detroit Lakes, Minn., said none of the hunters he checked had birds. Gary Forsberg, a DNR conservation officer in Pelican Rapids, Minn., called the pheasant opener “one of the toughest he has seen in his 20+ year career.”

I did see a few Twitter reports, though, of Minnesota pheasant hunters who were happy with the success they had hunting federal Waterfowl Production Areas, which reopened Friday afternoon just in time for the pheasant opener.

The reality is weather can make or break hunting and fishing trips, and conditions were far from conducive to good hunting last weekend. Hopefully hunting reports improve with better weather.

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