Some of the state's best pheasant range is in southwest Minnesota, places like Lincoln County around the town of Ivanhoe.
Decades ago, this area had more grasslands than it does now. And more birds.
"Forty, 50 years ago it was pheasants and pheasants," said 83-year-old Bud Fehrman. "But not anymore."
When pheasant season starts Saturday, hunters will find fewer birds than they did before. Grassland pheasant habitats are declining, and their future is heavily dependent on what happens in Congress.
There still are some grasslands left, the type of cover pheasants love. Fehrman said the farm he manages has two fields enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP, which pays farmers to convert cropland to grass.
But across the state there's just not enough of this type of grassland left to sustain the large populations that hunters of the popular game bird remember.
The declining pheasant population is one reason the number of pheasant hunters has fallen.
Fifty years ago, there were more than three times as many pheasant hunters as there are today. And any hope of bringing back the days of big pheasant populations appears to depend on what happens in Washington.
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"The federal farm program is the biggest factor influencing our grassland habitat in the state," said Kevin Lines, who manages the state's Pheasant Action Plan for the Department of Natural Resources.
The most important federal help, Lines said, is the Conservation Reserve Program. For more than 30 years the CRP has paid farmers to convert cropland into grassland. But its funding has declined over the last decade.
"Our pheasant population peaked in 2007," Lines said. "And it's not coincidental that that's the same year that CRP acres peaked in the state."
Since then, CRP acres and the number of pheasants taken by hunters have declined by more than a third. The program will be up for renewal in next year's federal farm bill.
But Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson said right now it doesn't look like there will be much money available for expanding federal farm programs like CRP.
Peterson is the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, which will help write the next farm bill.
"There's a lot of requests out there for money, and I don't know where that money is going to come from," he said. "I think it's going to probably be more of a status quo bill than anything else."
If spending is basically frozen, Peterson said the only way to get more acres into CRP would be to change the rules. By reducing payments to farmers the available money could be spread over more acres, bringing more farmland into reserve.
"We are looking at some reforms within the program," Peterson said. "Because in my opinion we're spending too much money on some of this land."