It was four years ago that I planted a small acre and a half food plot on some CRP land I own. At that time, the pheasant numbers were still fairly strong. However, I knew it was only a matter of time before Mother Nature would send an old fashioned winter our way and the bird population would crash.

As it turned out, it was that following December that Western Minnesota was hit by several severe December snowstorms. The bad winter we had all been hoping to avoid was here.

It was Christmas time when my brother, Jay and I strapped on our snowshoes and trekked back into the food plot to try a little hunting. I was quite surprised at what we found.

The food plot was filled with snow right up to the cobs. Although we kicked out a few birds as we trudged in, there was actually little activity in the corn. The cobs were hanging full of kernels but there was not much feeding taking place.

It wasn’t until spring that I got back to see what the state of the corn actually was. This time, I was totally shocked at what I found. Every cob had been picked clean. I could not find one kernel of corn anywhere. Obviously, the birds had made good use of the food throughout the winter.

Even though pheasant numbers were down significantly across the state the next fall, I noticed very little change in the area I hunted. Birds were plentiful and the shooting was good!

Two years later, as most hunters were frustrated with the lack of pheasants, we continued to do very well. We hunted the CRP several times that fall and never saw fewer than 20 birds on an outing. Others I talked to could barely believe the success we were having.

Habitat is such a critical part of the pheasant story that I believe it is impossible to emphasize it enough. There is no doubt that weather plays a role in winter survival and nesting success, but habitat may be even more critical than the weather.

Nesting cover in the spring and shelter belts for the winter have always been available for the birds in our area. However, I firmly believe that the addition of a winter food supply has made a huge difference. Since adding the corn plot to the mix, we have seen very little population drop.

Pheasants are resilient birds, but they still need some help from time to time. Anything we can do to promote quality habitat is going to make a difference.

From my experience, the addition of a food plot has been a key ingredient in keeping the roosters cackling.