Our Outdoors: Changing Conditions for Pheasants

From Snow to 70s in 36 hours, and back again in as many more. Conditions can change fast, knowing how the weather affects pheasants will help increase your success.

By Nick Simonson

North Dakota’s pheasant opener started cloudy and cold, a half inch of snow clung to the yellowing leaves of the crabapple tree in the front yard of the old farmstead and coated the still-green grass of mid-autumn like white frosting on a cake.  The truck registered 27 degrees on the in-dash thermometer as we set out to walk familiar acreages.  Flash forward to the second day of the season, and we began to pull the dogs back on wild chases over the countryside, through the winding bottoms of cedars, caragana and buckbrush.

Their panting intensified as the sun beat down, and after a pair of roosters ran on them, we called the day early as all four labs belly-flopped and sat in place, lapping up gallons of water before loading up and heading back to the farmstead.  As we pulled into the drive at around 2:30, the truck thermometer read 72.

As the saying goes in the upper Midwest, “if you don’t like the weather here, wait five minutes, it’ll change…then you’ll really hate it!”

We were treated to a season’s worth of conditions in a matter of 36 hours on opening weekend and were reminded of how those elements of the weather – precipitation, temperature and wind – impact how pheasants relate to their habitat, and how best to hunt those areas.  Knowing what to do when conditions shift is key to success, and using elemental cues will help hunters bag more birds.

Hot Stuff. These roosters came in short grass during a mid-day warmup.

Cold Conditions

In the chill of late autumn and early winter, pheasants will hunker down in any vegetation that provides them with thermal cover.  Common options on the landscape for these birds include dense stands of cattails adjacent to lighter cover for when things do warm up, and a food source nearby.  Additionally, stands of trees, particularly low brush formed by plum and chokecherry thickets or stands of junipers and cedar trees provide excellent areas for the birds to hole up in.  Man made shelterbelts of pine and spruce, and tangled overgrown deciduous tree plantings are also frequently used on the landscape. Low branches and surrounding grasses provide great protective cover, and leave a number of options for a hasty exit.

Warming Up

As cold mornings progress into temperate afternoons, pheasants – like most game – look to take advantage of the strengthening sun.  Grassy southern slopes of hills adjacent to cover, or with escape routes like draws and ravines nearby, bring birds in as they look to warm up.  Pinning the birds into the rising slope, or chasing them up a rising ravine can result in explosive flushes and great shooting-gallery style opportunities in the field.

Too Hot

On days of above average heat, birds will often be loose and wild and can be found in some of the lightest cover.  Grassy stretches and areas where light cover quickly gives way to cut fields are prime spots, particularly at the start and ending of the day.  Walking these areas, covering ground and letting the dogs do their thing when they get on scent will push the birds to transition areas or to rises and trigger flushes.  Be aware of warm conditions, particularly at midday and afternoon, so that dogs don’t overheat and remember that pulling out of a hunt is sometimes the best decision if temperatures begin to soar.

Whatever the changing conditions might be, whether it happens over a couple of days or several weeks, adapting and knowing where pheasants hold in the elements and finding the cover that provides a buffer for them gives hunters a head start…in our outdoors.

Nick Simonson is a syndicated outdoors journalist from Marshall, Minn., also serving LCPF as president.  From time-to-time he shares an installment of his column “Our Outdoors” with the chapter.  Read more from Nick at nicksimonson.com 

Rally at Varsity Pub & Extra Innings for Pheasant Opener!

Lyon County Pheasants Forever (LCPF) will be hosting its Rooster Rally Social from 6 pm to 10 pm on Friday, Oct. 14 at Varsity Pub & Extra Innings on the corner of Main Street and E. College Drive in Marshall.

Come meet up with LCPF members and fellow hunters to talk pheasants, shotguns, dogs and more, while checking out area maps and getting tips from members on where and how to hunt in Lyon County this opening weekend.  What’s more, by dining at Varsity Pub & Extra Innings, you’ll help support LCPF as the establishment will make a donation to the chapter for every Buffalo Chicken Panino and Leinie’s Oktoberfest ordered this month!

As an added bonus to celebrate the start of pheasant season, present the coupon below and receive ten percent (10%) off your order at Varsity Pub & Extra Innings this Friday, Saturday and Sunday!  So come join us for great food and drink and enough pheasant talk to carry you through opening weekend.


Our Outdoors: Mighty Preparations

By Nick Simonson

With the opening day of pheasant season just a week or two away, there is plenty to be done to get ready for the big event.  From stepping up physical and shotgun preparations, to packing the things that all hunters and their four-legged friends will need in the field and after the hunt, getting everything in order not only ensures a successful start to the season, but it also helps pass the last few days leading up to the first flush, thundering wingbeats and boisterous cackle of autumn.

Walk It Off


The smile of success.  Being ready for opener is multi-faceted; having the gear, the physical readiness and the confidence in your shot can come with a little preparation, even in the last few days before the season starts.

Few other outdoor pursuits require as much walking as upland game hunting, and as a result many hunters enter the field a tad out of shape, even for those who normally walk their local sidewalks or have a consistent exercise regimen during the off-season. Even the flattest stretches of grassland can present all sorts of challenges, with uneven ground and various varmint holes being just a couple; add in some cattail sloughs, inclines and other obstacles and stiff legs and sore hips are all but guaranteed.  Hunters can prepare for the terrain by taking their dogs off-trail in the days leading up to the opener by hiking state park trails or areas specially designed for trail running.  Don hunting boots for these off-road adventures to get feet set for the challenges to come, and make sure to break in a new pair before opening day. A few quick stretches before and after each walk will help ease the after-effects.

Under the Gun

Most hunters also make it a point in the off-season to keep their aim sharp, but if you haven’t been to the trap range since the company fun night in May, there’s still time to warm up the barrel before the season starts.  A few rounds of trap, skeet or sporting clays – or all three – will prepare shooters for a variety of near-future scenarios in the field.  Before, during and after these events check to ensure proper shotgun condition along with fit and comfort, and in the final round or two, don a field vest to simulate hunting conditions.  Once tuned up, inspect shotguns for wear and clean them prior to opening day to ensure everything is in order.

Geared Up

When arriving at a hunting site, or unpacking after traveling to a destination for pheasant opener, there’s nothing worse than realizing that a vital piece of equipment, clothing or gear was forgotten.  Make a list not only for those things you need, but also the food, medicine and equipment your dog might need, along with those just-in-case items to deal with emergencies.  Blaze orange clothes to match the weather, a shotgun (and a backup if traveling away from home) cleaning tools and equipment and electronics and their respective chargers are all must-haves for opener.  It’s a good idea to buy ammo and any out-of-state licenses you might need now, to avoid the last-second rush and supplies that get skinnier as the season approaches.


Make sure to pack plenty of food and water for dogs and all medicines that might be necessary.  It’s a good idea to find a nearby veterinarian’s office if you’re traveling away from home for opener and enter the number in your phone prior to your arrival.  First aid kits for both people and animals should also be packed and at the ready.  In the coming days, make a list of these items and everything else you might need to be set for the season.


Map It Out

Finally, reach out to landowners of the areas you will be hunting, or those farmers who reside near public lands to find out habitat conditions and what they’ve been seeing throughout the summer and how recent weather may have affected the lay of the land – particularly with recent rains across much of the region raising lowland water levels.  Check out topographic and satellite maps and draft a game plan for any wind or weather conditions which might change the way you walk a certain parcel.


Luck is the residue of preparation, and getting ready can be part of the fun and ensure a safe and successful first day in the field.  Take the time that remains between today and your respective pheasant opener to get ready for whatever might come in those initial exciting moments of the season…in our outdoors.

Simonson is a syndicated outdoors journalist from Marshall, MN who also serves as President of Lyon County Pheasants Forever.  He shares a copy of his column, Our Outdoors with the chapter on a regular basis.  You can read all of his works at www.nicksimonson.com 

LCPF Kicks Off 2017 Guns & Cash Raffle

LCPF Release

The 2017 Lyon County Pheasants Forever (LCPF) Guns & Cash Raffle Tickets are available for purchase from chapter members or at Borch’s or Running’s in Marshall for just $20.00; proceeds of the raffle go to support the chapter’s youth and habitat efforts in Lyon County and the surrounding area.

This year’s Guns & Cash Raffle showcases a wide variety of firearms along with five cash sums, with the retail and cash value of all twenty prizes estimated at over $15,000.  From the high-end Benelli Super Black Eagle II, Remington Versa Max and Browning A5 to the venerable Henry Golden Boy .22 and the unique Kimber 1911, there’s a gun up for grabs that will draw everyone’s interest.  Cash Prizes of $200, $300, $400, $500 and $1,000 will also be awarded to five lucky raffle entrants.

Proceeds from the LCPF Guns & Cash Raffle will go toward protecting wildlife habitat, creating more public hunting opportunities and getting youth involved in the outdoors.

The drawing of raffle winners will occur at LCPF’s Annual Spring Banquet on Saturday, March  11, 2017 at The SMSU Banquet Hall in Marshall, Minn. at.  The prizes will be drawn in the specific order as listed on the ticket and entrants need not be present to win.  Only 1,000 tickets for this raffle are being sold and tickets are already going fast.

“This year’s ticket is by far the best we’ve put together in recent memory, a lot of great guns fell into place for the raffle,” said Dane Tammeus, LCPF Firearms Procurement Officer, “last year, we were sold out nearly two weeks before the banquet, I wouldn’t be surprised if we have very few tickets left in February,” he concluded.

This year, tickets can be purchased in person from members of LCPF selling them in throughout the community, or at the gun counter in Borch’s Sporting Goods in Marshall, Running’s in Marshall.  A ticket receipt stub will be provided to all entrants along with their entry number. Winners will be contacted

The firearms in this year’s raffle cover all pursuits – deer and varmint rifles, upland guns and  waterfowl  guns –with a number of them over $600 in retail value, the big ticket guns are certain to attract some attention.  Top names like Benelli, Browning, Remington and Mossberg are sure draws that year-in-and-year-out drive sales and generate much needed funds for the chapter’s habitat and youth programs which are carried out in the local area.

“We’ve got some very unique guns like the Mossberg Blaze-47 and the Colt AR-15 for the shooting sports enthusiast, and the Browning A-Bolt Slug for those deer hunters in the area seeking a more accurate option – so there’s something that should catch everyone’s eye this year,” said Tammeus.

  A Raffle Within A Raffle

By a unanimous vote, the executive committee of LCPF passed a motion at its September chapter meeting that for every 10 tickets a person sells, that person’s name will be put into a special raffle following the 2017 Banquet for a brand new Stoeger Condor over-under 12-gauge shotgun.

“This special drawing will be a great way to get member participation in our raffle sales efforts” said LCPF Treasurer, Ron Prorok, “it’s important to sell these tickets out before the annual spring banquet, so we can focus on other fund raising efforts at that event, and this bonus drawing will help our members get out there and do that,” he concluded.

If you would like a book of ten tickets (or more) to sell to your friends, hunting buddies and family members so you can get entered into the bonus gun raffle, please contact LCPF Treasurer Ron Prorok at 507-401-6227.

“Great places to make sales include your opening weekend get-togethers, the office, holiday parties, out on the ice this winter or at your favorite watering hole, – just make sure to clear it with the proprietors,” said Prorok.

Updates to the total sales will be posted on the LCPF website after each chapter meeting to keep members current with how many tickets have been sold.

(The 2017 LCPF Guns & Cash Raffle is approved by the state of Minnesota and conducted under Gambling License #X-03716-17-009.)

2016 Pheasant Counts Up 26% in SWMN

From Minn. DNR Roadside Survey

An increase in grassland habitat acres combined with another relatively mild winter and favorable breeding season conditions led to increases in Minnesota’s 2016 population indices for ring-necked pheasants and gray partridge.

You’ll Be Seeing This More Often! 2016 Pheasant Counts are up 26% in Southwest Minnesota on increased habitat and a moderate winter in 2015-16. 

Winning on Habitat Front

For the first time since 2011, total acres of undisturbed grassland habitat increased across Minnesota’s farmland region. Overall, 54,495 acres were gained statewide since 2015, including 24,307 acres of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) habitat. Acres either held nearly steady or increased in all other private land conservation programs. Publically-owned grassland habitat also increased in 2016. Net habitat gains occurred in the pheasant range (61,525 acres) whereas the prairie chicken range (mostly represented by the Northwest region) lost 957 acres.

The winter of 2015-16 was the second consecutive mild winter, and most regions had minimal snow during March. Spring and early summer temperatures varied widely but, on average, temperatures were at or above normal from April-June. Several regions were drier than normal but many areas in the southern regions had above-normal rainfall in May and June. Overall, weather conditions led to good overwinter survival and good nesting and brood-rearing conditions.

Minn. DNR Pheasant Hunting Prospects look good for SW Minn. where counts exceeded 96 birds per 100 mi. 

Grassland and wetland habitat conservation remains a priority concern for Minnesota. Private-land conservation programs, including CRP, continue to make up the largest portion of protected grassland habitat in the state but approximately 393,000 acres of CRP are set to expire by 2018. Recent low corn and soybean prices have increased landowner interest in farmland retirement programs; however, the current federal Farm Bill limits the number of acres that can be enrolled in CRP and the most recent CRP-sign up resulted in a low acceptance rate in Minnesota (i.e., only 9% of acres offered were accepted).

Funding from the Legacy Amendment has helped partially offset habitat losses but the pace has not kept up with the rate of CRP losses. Minnesota’s Prairie Conservation Plan and Pheasant Summit Action Plan both offer a blueprint for moving forward with grassland and wetland habitat conservation strategies in the farmland regions, thereby helping partners prioritize lands acquired with Legacy Amendment funding.

SWMN Pheasant Counts Up 26% over 2015

In 2016, the average number of pheasants observed (52.1 birds/100 mi) increased 29% from 2015 but was 14% below the 10-year average (Table 2, Fig. 3A) and 48% below the long-term average. Total pheasants observed per 100 mi ranged from 17.9 birds in the Southeast region to 96.0 birds in the Southwest region (Table 3). The pheasant index showed substantial increases in the Central (72%) and South Central (70%) regions. Regional indices also increased in the East Central (27%), Southwest (26%), and West Central (10%) regions. Good harvest opportunities should exist in all regions with the exception of the Southeast where the index declined 31% compared to 2015.

counttableThe 2016 range-wide pheasant brood index (8.7 broods/100 mi) increased 39% from last year (Table 2). The index was 7% below the 10-year average and 34% below the long-term average. Regional brood indices ranged from 3.6 broods/100 mi in the Southeast to 15.6 broods/100 mi in the Southwest. Brood indices increased in all regions (range: 14% to 103%) except the Southeast which remained similar to 2015’s index. The average brood size in 2016 (4.4 chicks/brood) was down slightly from the 2015 index and the 10-year average (both indices = 4.7 chicks/brood) and was 20% below the long-term average (5.5 chicks/brood). The median estimated hatch date for pheasant broods across their range was 11 June 2016 (n = 330 broods), which was similar to the 10-year average (12 June; Table 2). Notably, the median estimated hatch dates were later in the South Central (17 June) and Southwest (22 June) regions where rainfall may have disrupted early-season nest attempts.

For more information, read the entire report at the Minnesota DNR Website.