The Outdoors

By Scott Rall, Outdoors Columnist

There is nothing else to talk about in Southwest Minnesota except flooding.  I have lived in this part of the state for 50 years and have only seen it this bad a few other times. Lives are changed and fortunes ruined. The only light at the end of this tunnel is that the waters are receding and most of the roads that were once closed are now open again.

I was blown away about how fast the gravel roads turned back into the Mad Max dust bowl condition when it finally stopped raining. I am not a weather watcher kind of guy when it comes to the snow storm of this year or that year.

About the only weather data I collect is the amount of rain that falls from May 15 to June 15 each year. The reason I follow this odd measure is that this is the period of time where the majority of the pheasants hatch in a normal nesting season in the mid-west.

Winters certainly have an effect on pheasant populations, but as odd as it may seem, the spring is where a successful pheasant hatch is made or lost. The average life span of a pheasant is 11 months. Normal mortality, which includes hunting leaves, about 40-50 percent of population to make a reproductive effort in the spring.

Most of the pheasant mortality that takes place is when a pheasant is very young. A hen starts out with a brood of 10-12 chicks and can end up with zero if they run into the wrong predator.  Some, if not many, pheasants only live a few days. Most hens are not successful in raising the whole brood. Some only live a few days, thus others have to live about two years in order for the average life span of pheasant to be 11 months.

Being a baby pheasant is a very dangerous undertaking. It really depends on a little luck and good weather conditions. If a three-day old pheasant chick gets rained on and overnight temperature reach down into the mid-40’s they can easily perish. Big rains during my recording periods can flood out the nests. If this happens the hen will most likely re-nest and make attempt number two. Hens can actually renest more than a few times. Tenacious nesters are what they are.

In my history of non-scientific weather recording, I have come to my own conclusions that if more than six inches of rain falls in the four week period which contains the peak of the hatch, reproduction will be negativity affected. Ten inches during that time can really take a toll.

This spring I recorded 15.2 inches of rain during the period with five days added to my four-week hatching sweet spot. There is not a pheasant hunter around that would argue that this will make a substantial impact on the number of roosters a hunter might see this fall.

For the past 50 years, public hunting lands that were purchased were mostly the wetland and nothing more.  Most of the older public lands’ properties had little to no upland nesting cover. In the past 10 years or so, this has changed a little and newly acquired lands have a balance of wetland and upland habitats. Wetlands do not raise any ducks or pheasants. The uplands that surround these lands allow for successful nesting and the wetlands provide cover for creatures, then they grow up a little bit.

With the rains of the past few weeks all of the lowland cover was flooded and all of the nests in those areas were destroyed. Better quality nesting cover on higher ground still suffered losses but not to the extend of the low ground.

The key to successful wildlife habitat is to have enough of both wetland and upland cover so that even when conditions are terrible, some of those nesting creatures will be successful even if this happens to a much lower percentage.

I do not believe that all is lost for this falls’ bird hunters. We have several things that might offset a little of all the rain we have had. The first is the winter was very mild and nesting hens went into their reproductive cycle in great physical condition. This will give them more energy if they need a re-nesting attempt. The second is that there are slightly more acres in habitat then the last time we had floods like this.

Even if nesting success is way down there should be more hens on a few more acres that might be successful. Nature is powerful and this spring’s floods proved that. But nature is also powerful in how adaptive her creatures are. Only time will tell how many rooster cackles I might hear this fall, but I will continue to do all of the habitat work I can to insure the best habitat conditions. We can’t control the rain, but as conservationists we can all do our part to make sure there is enough habitat while making that habitat the best quality it can be.  If we do our part, nature will do the rest.

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If you have any questions, reach out to me at