Minnesota's pheasant season opens one week before South Dakota's, and two weeks before Iowa's.
In some years, that's a good thing. If crops were planted early — or at least on time — and if the early fall isn't wet, then farmers typically will have harvested most of their soybeans and gotten a decent start on the corn harvest by the time Minnesota pheasant hunters let loose their dogs and take to the fields.
Standing corn, of course, is the enemy of early season pheasant hunters, and this year, the enemy is standing tall with pheasant season just two days away.
A cold, wet spring delayed planting across much of Minnesota, and USDA crop reports put both corn and soybeans at least two weeks behind where they were at this time last year.
Statewide, virtually no corn has been harvested other than what was chopped for silage, and the heavy rains in the past three weeks mean farmers have barely begun to make a dent in the soybean harvest.
So, not only will pheasants have plenty of corn in which to feed and hide on Saturday, but swamps, sloughs and any low-lying areas are likely to offer tough walking for any hunter or dog who ventures into them.
But the die-hard hunters will so go out, and on Saturday, the focal point of Minnesota's pheasant opener will be in Austin, where Gov. Tim Walz will brave the elements for the Ninth Annual Minnesota Governor's Pheasant Opener.
It will be the first governor's pheasant opener for Walz but merely the latest in a series of openers that have brought him to southern Minnesota.
Twelve days ago, during an appearance in Eagan for a football game between Mankato West and Rochester Mayo, Walz admitted that he's been spending a lot of time afield south of the Twin Cities.
"People are starting to wonder," he said. "We had the fishing opener in Albert Lea, the turkey opener was in Faribault, and now of course we have the pheasant opener down in Austin. Is there any connection? I think it's just pure luck that this is happening, but I like southern Minnesota."
Walz will likely need some good fortune if he wants to knock down a bird or two. Statewide, the annual Minnesota DNR roadside wildlife survey reported a 17 percent drop in pheasants compared to last year. In the southeast region, which includes Austin, the numbers were even more grim, as the pheasant count was down 61 percent from last year.
But all is not lost. Just west of Austin, in the south-central region, counts were up nearly 25 percent over last year, so a trip to Freeborn, Brown or Watonwan counties might be wise — especially once the corn harvest is underway. And even in areas where the survey found few birds, hunters will find pockets of pheasants.
The pheasant season opens at 9 a.m. Saturday and ends at sunset Jan. 1. The limit is two roosters daily, six in possession, but on Dec. 1 the limit increases to three daily, nine in possession.