col Young pheasants are wild card for opener
By John Weiss
Pheasant hunters will need good hearing, not just excellent sight, in the first few weeks of the pheasant hunting season that opens at 9 a.m. Saturday.
The winter was easy for the birds and they came through in fine shape, but heavy rain and cold caused problems during their usual nesting time, said Don Nelson, area Department of Natural Resources wildlife supervisor. When nests or broods were wiped out, hens renested -- and some nested a third time before they were able to bring off a brood.
That means many of the roosters hatched this year still aren't showing a lot of color, which is a quick way to identify them. It could be a few more weeks before all the roosters are easy to identify, he said. Length of tail is not always a reliable way to tell roosters from hens, because some hens have longer tails and young roosters have shorter tails, he said.
What is a giveaway is the two-note cackle that only roosters make, he said. "Listening for a cackle is probably your best bet," he said.
The late hatch is good news for hunters in one way.
The DNR determines bird numbers in early August by driving slowly along a pre-determined route -- the same ones year after year -- and counts the birds. But those only hatched a few weeks before are often missed. The count showed a drop of 47 percent, but Nelson thinks that's wrong because of so many late hatches.
"I think it might not be that bad ... we probably missed some birds," he said. In other words, there's hope for better hunting than originally expected.
A final factor for hunters Saturday will be corn -- there's a lot of it still standing, he said. When that happens, birds spend much of their day in the corn, only returning to grassy nesting cover toward evening, he said.
Once corn is down, hunting usually improves.
As usual, hunters are cautioned that early-season hunting will exhaust dogs faster than in November or December. Dogs are often not in prime hunting shape now, and with temperatures that can reach into the 60s (Saturday is supposed to be a lot cooler) dogs can tire out quickly.
The best bet is to bring plenty of water and monitor dogs closely until the weather cools and the dogs' conditioning improves.