Accepting the Heyday for Pheasant Hunting is Gone Forever

Let’s face it…the dismal pheasant hunting opener here in Minnesota yesterday should have been no surprise to anyone. I’ve already documented how unharvested crops and uncooperative weather were major factors why we did not see any birds opening day. (see yesterday’s blog) Still, what do us hunters expect? For the past several decades the opportunity for quality pheasant hunting has slowly been on the decline here in Minnesota…and there is little to provide for a more hopeful future.

One of my fondest pheasant hunting memories occurred with my buddy Mitch when we flushed several pheasants and hit one that landed on the other side of the field about a quarter mile away. Both of our dogs witnessed the event…and simultaneously followed the bird until we recovered it, thanks to our canine’s assistance. That bird in the bag was the last one we needed to fill our daily limit…after hunting for only about 90 minutes.

The time was the late 70s/early 80s and it was far from what many would call the heyday for pheasants, but it was a quality time, at least as far as we knew. Could I repeat such an event today? I suppose it is possible, but not on that very parcel of land. You see, in the precise spot where the final bird was recovered by our dogs there now sits a new house nestled into the hillside. The entire field where we once hunted would be deemed too close to any building, thus it is now off limits for hunting.

You think this is an isolated happening…think again. Urban encroachment into rural areas has to be one of the biggest factors (aside from farming practices) that is hurting our pheasant hunting opportunities. I can think of a handful of prime locations where I hunted in my youth that are simply unavailable today because of changes in land use. Unfortunately, the very lands that hold the most promise for quality pheasant hunting are often sought-after by developers who want to build homes on what they perceive is nothing but “wasteland.”

I don’t know what the answer is for the future. Even though the particular county I live in restricts housing to no more than 4 structures (houses or farm yards) per square mile, there always seems to be legal variances available to those who know how to work the process. Let’s face it, when a family has set their minds on a particular building site that family’s needs and desires will always win out over the dislocation of the pheasant (or other wildlife). After all, the family has money that will add to the county’s tax rolls…the pheasant, if anything, is a burden to manage. And we are not just talking about pheasants here…many a squirrel hunter has lost their prime spots because woodlots now have $300,000 homes tucked away in once secluded oak stands.

Please understand I am not talking a total doom and gloom scenario here for the pheasant and the hunters who enjoy chasing them. Our world is constantly changing and so, too, must our expectations for what makes a quality hunt. It is not fair to define a successful hunt by comparing it to hunts of 10, 20 or even 30 years ago. Times were different then…and they will likely be much different into our future. It’s hard to believe that the hunts many of us deem mediocre today will be fondly looked back on by our children 20 or 30 years from now. I know that outlook doesn’t seem right…but face reality…we are constantly demanding more from a limited resource (land) and the prospects for things improving dramatically is very unlikely.

As pheasant hunters, we must all stay positive and work toward brighter days ahead. Join groups such as Pheasants Forever and local conservation clubs that work hard to develop both critical habitat projects and awareness. Remind yourself to measure the quality of the hunt not solely by the number of birds you bag. Instead, a better measure of success is by the amount of time your busy schedule affords you to be in the field with friends enjoying one of hunting’s finest, most elegant sporting birds found anywhere in the world.

© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.