Pheasant harvest low in 2011, grouse and ducks steady
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has completed the 2011 Small Game Hunter Survey. Results are available online.
DNR annually surveys small game license buyers to estimate both hunter numbers and harvest trends. For the 2011 hunting season, DNR mailed 6,500 surveys to small game license buyers and 58 percent returned usable questionnaires.
As expected, pheasant hunters and pheasant harvest declined in 2011 after two moderately severe winters and a cold, wet spring. Overall, the estimated number of pheasant hunters (77,000) decreased 13 percent from 2010. The drop corresponded with a slight decrease in pheasant stamp sales.
An estimated 204,000 pheasants were harvested in 2011, a 43 percent drop from 2010. The number of birds harvested per hunter also fell from 4 to 2.6. Both hunter numbers and harvest were at their lowest recorded level in recent years.
Regulation changes, including an earlier opening date, likely are factors that contributed to the number of duck hunters (83,500) increasing 14 percent in 2010 and the year's harvest increasing 18 percent. The increase in hunters corresponded with an increase in duck stamp sales.
Hunters harvested 730,000 ducks in 2010 but the results for individual hunters increased only slightly, from 8.5 birds per hunter in 2010 to 8.8 birds per hunter in 2011.
Ruffed grouse hunter numbers (93,800) remained unchanged from 2010, and ruffed grouse remained Minnesota's most popular small game species in 2011. The 2011 harvest of 401,000 ruffed grouse was down slightly from the 10-year peak of 465,000 in 2010 but was still one of the three highest annual harvests of the past ten years.
Grouse populations tend to fluctuate on a 10-year cycle. Minnesota's grouse population already has begun its cyclical population decline. Harvest results continue to show that even with a declining grouse population, Minnesota has better grouse hunting than almost any other state.
2012 season dates
September kicks of the 2012 small game season with mourning dove opening on Saturday, Sept. 1; grouse, rabbit and squirrel on Saturday, Sept. 15; waterfowl and woodcock on Saturday, Sept. 22; and pheasant on Saturday, Oct. 13.