Minnesota's pheasants and pheasant hunters are hitting rock-bottom.
Just 62,000 pheasant hunters went afield last fall, and they bagged only 169,000 roosters. That's the fewest hunters and lowest harvest in 27 years. Hunter numbers declined 19 percent and the harvest was down 32 percent from 2012.
Hunters likely were responding to a huge loss of habitat, poor nesting weather and a corresponding large drop in the ringneck population in recent years. Last year, the pheasant population dropped 29 percent, and the state has recently lost more than 100 square miles of grassland habitat in the pheasant range.
"It's likely the result of people seeing poor reports...and they just don't bother buying a license," said Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager. "It's not like deer hunting, where regardless of density, most hunters buy a license."
Cornicelli said the reduction in pheasant harvest was primarily due to the decline in hunter numbers.
"The average number of birds killed per person (2.7) wasn't that far off from 2012 (3.3)," he said. "Maybe they (the 15,000 hunters who skipped the season) should have bought a license."
The number of other small game hunters also was down, according to the DNR's annual small game survey, released Monday:
• An estimated 77,900 people hunted ducks, a decrease of 5 percent from 2012. They harvested 782,800 ducks, nearly the same as last year.
• An estimated 81,100 people hunted ruffed grouse, a decrease of 11 percent from 2012. They killed 288,000 grouse, a 16 percent decline from 2012.
• Small game license sales fell by about 5,500, to 258,581.
Individual hunter success rates were comparable to 2012. Pheasant hunters harvested an average of 2.7 pheasants in 2013 compared to 3.3 pheasants in 2012. Duck hunters harvested an average of 10.2 ducks in 2013 compared to 9.1 in 2012. Ruffed grouse hunters harvested an average of 3.6 grouse in 2013 compared to 3.7 in 2012.
The DNR annually surveys small game hunters to make estimates of both hunter numbers and harvest trends. For the 2013 season, 7,000 small game license buyers were surveyed of which 3,589 surveys were returned and usable.
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