I don't want to sound like a wet blanket, but some somber news is coming out of pheasant country this fall.

Bird numbers are down. So are the numbers of hunters. Not what some want to hear.

Hunting reports from both South Dakota and Minnesota point to pheasant numbers down 20%-25% over last year, and last year wasn't great.

Some blame is being attributed to the extreme drought experienced in both states this past summer. Some blame out of control predators. Many say that the downsizing in the crop set aside program is having an ill effect.

All of these reasons are probably true to some degree.

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I admit that I was spoiled during my pheasant hunting years. The years of the Soil Bank program and the CRP farm program, each of which produced millions of acres of tall grassland that harbored millions upon millions of the brilliantly colored wild Chinese ringneck pheasant.

I've seen actual clouds of the birds rise upon entering a patch of pheasant looking property. To bag a limit of three roosters took about as long as a good long walk. During the Iowa season my mother actually told me to quit bringing pheasants home because she had no more room for them in her freezer. Liberal bag limits were in place.

Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.
Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

Not so today. Today's journey to the pheasant fields finds it takes a lot more work to bag a limit unless you're hunting an artificial preserve or a farm where guns for hire is the case.

I guess I'm from the old school of pheasant hunting, and that means if I were to go hunting at my extended age, I do expect to bring home a bird or two. Just exercising my old muscles doesn't satisfy the itch. There is a lot to be said about breathing the fresh air, but if there is not a bird in that fresh air once in awhile, I tend to lose interest.

Hunting regulations have also changed the pheasant picture. Reports coming out of South Dakota say that hunter numbers are down, especially out-of-state hunters. One report stated that in 2016, South Dakota took in $175 million from out-of-state hunters in license fees. That doesn't count the dollars spent on lodging, food, travel or blaze orange caps.

The small towns I visited during the South Dakota season bustled with activity and a hunter had to wait in line to get into the local cafe or American Legion. Many of those hunters had out-of-state license plates on their pickup trucks. The number of South Dakota non-resident licenses sold in 2018 was down 38%, according to the report I read.

I have another splinter under my fingernail and I'm probably going to stick my nose in a noose by writing this. I'm not totally in tune with the early young hunter seasons that have been established in both South Dakota and Minnesota, not only for pheasants but for waterfowl and deer as well.

Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.
Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

Although I'm all for young people getting into the sport of hunting, I see no reason that these seasons are allowed when young people can just as well accompany their parents or friends on a legitimate opening day. What good can come of having prime pheasant land or water used up by an early opening?

I've walked state land and hunted potholes after such hunts have taken place and there are few if any birds left. The reason is said to get the youth started in hunting. I think the youth can still get started in hunting by joining their parents or friends on legitimate opening days, not early ones.

Enough of that. I'm off my soapbox.

So, will hunters venture back to the fields this fall in search of pheasants? Yes, some certainly will. Some will pay the price of hunting on private preserves if they can afford it or some will have a long lost uncle who is still farming and saves his fields from being overrun.

Some hunters young and older will be so lucky. Many will not.

I feel fortunate to have lived through a time when every kid and every hunter enjoyed walking into a piece of grassland, hearing the flush and hearing the cackle of a red-faced rooster pheasant as it busts from below his or her feet, seeing their dog make the retrieve and enjoying a delicious meal when he gets home.

I hope things can change. There are things to think about.

See you next time. Okay?