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I'm counting my pheasants, looking forward to my piece of the pie

The Outdoors
Lead Summary
Scott Rall, outdoors columnist

As July races by, I was thinking that in only a few weeks I will be back on the road at sunrise for four days on four routes across the county that I live in.
I waited for more than 20 years to have the opportunity to participate in the Minnesota DNR’s August roadside count program. This is a program that has been in existence since 1955. Wildlife personnel and members of the Minnesota Conservation law enforcement division are the ones usually tasked with this effort.
They drive 172 routes, each consisting of 25 miles. Of the 172 routes, 152 are in the pheasant range. The bean counters really like the same people to do this job year after year, as it results in the most accurate information collected.
The annual roadside count is not actually designed to count the number of pheasants in the state. It shows patterns of pheasant populations compared to the previous year. They also use the numbers to compare pheasant counts to the states’ 10-year averages and also the long-term averages.
The local conservation officer in my area was promoted to a management position, and before they could fill the local CO station, I volunteered to take that job. This will be my fourth year on the road.
The roadside counts take place in the first two weeks of August. The counters try to wait for mornings with little wind and lots of dew on the grass.
You only drive about 10 miles per hour, so it takes about 2.5 hours to complete.
You drive the exact same route every year. They prefer that you drive/ride alone so no other eyes aid the primary recorder’s findings. When you see a rooster, you record it on the form in the mile it was seen.
If you see a hen, you jump out of the truck and run up and down the ditch to see if you can flush the little ones that she is caring for. You record the numbers and the approximate age of the chicks.
I was totally unprepared the first year, and after my first chase up and down the ditch, I was totally soaked and then got to ride the rest of the trip with all my clothes stuck to me like spandex. I wear rain bibs on each outing now. By the way, I don’t look good in spandex.
We don’t just count pheasants. I record cottontail rabbits, jackrabbits, doves, sand hill cranes, Hungarian partridge and deer. We record the number of each, and for deer we also note their sex. There is nothing quite like a drive in the country where there are very few other folks out and about and counting all of God’s creatures.
Hunters will use the results of the roadside counts when planning where to go pheasant hunting when the season opens. Areas with high pheasant densities will see more hunting pressure than others with lower densities.
The other factor that is disappointing is that hunters may choose to purchase a license or skip the pheasant season altogether if pheasant numbers are lower than normal.
I have a pheasant hunting motto. It goes like this: I harvest the same number of birds when populations are high as I do when populations are low.
The pheasant population is like a pie. The number of pheasants is the size of the pie.  When pheasant numbers are lower and there are fewer hunters, I get a bigger slice of the smaller pie. When pheasant numbers are high and there are many hunters, there are just more birds in my smaller slice of that larger pie.
The Dakotas have seen their pheasant habitat come under attack. There are millions, yes millions, of fewer acres of wildlife habitat in North and South Dakota than there were 15 years ago. As a result, pheasant hunter numbers are down and so are the revenues generated from them.
South Dakota came up with the great idea to discontinue their roadside counts this year so hunters will never really know what the population trends are and will come and hunt in their state anyway.
I think they are sadly mistaken. Summer is racing by. Spend your days outside or in the tall grass because pheasant hunting and the winter that follows will be here sooner than you think.
I am one of those outdoor guys who never says that the summer flew by and I missed it. I live it every day outdoors and I think you should too.
Scott Rall, Worthington, is a habitat conservationist, avid hunting and fishing enthusiast and is president of Nobles County Pheasants Forever. He can be reached at or on Twitter @habitat champion.

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