Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz

Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal & Howard Lake Herald, Minn.

July 27, 1998

1998 Minnesota hunting seasons announced

From the DNR

Minnesota's hunting and trapping seasons for this fall were announced this week by the Department of Natural Resources.

As usual, there is a mixed bag in the fall hunting outlook, but overall the news for hunters is good, according to DNR Commissioner Rod Sando.

"The mild winter and the warm, dry spring were just the prescription to help wildlife recover from two years of severe winters and a year of flooding and high water," Sando said.

Despite some setbacks, there are many reasons for optimism as DNR wildlife managers assess the hunting outlook for this fall. "Ruffed grouse are up again in the core areas of their range and are near the peak of their 10-year population cycle, bear and wild turkey populations are at all-time highs, and locally breeding mallards and giant Canada geese are abundant," Sando said. However, populations of Canada geese that nest on the tundra and migrate through western Minnesota have declined because of several years of poor production, while hunting harvests remained relatively high in some areas.

Northern and western Minnesota deer herds are up because of good survival this past winter. Good production this spring should result in some significant recovery. Moose numbers in northwest Minnesota remain low, and long-term research continues in an attempt to identify the factors causing poor productivity in this herd.

Pheasants have been hurt by loss of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) cover, lowland flooding, and direct mortality from the severe winters of 1996 and 1997, but are having a good nesting season and could rebound quickly with good habitat and another year or two of favorable weather.

More details about waterfowl and upland game populations will be available in late summer after summer wildlife surveys have been completed.

Sando advised Minnesota hunters to be aware of a few regulation changes for 1998. The most significant include:

  • a person in the vicinity of a motor vehicle may not shoot at a grouse, or at a decoy of a grouse placed by an enforcement officer, unless the hunter is at least 20 yards from the vehicle and the motor is shut off;
  • youth-only antlerless permits are available in some otherwise "bucks-only" areas of zones 1 and 2;
  • over-water hunting will be allowed in the West Goose Zone for the second weekend of the early September goose season;
  • the bobcat season this year will be shortened by three weeks.

A species-by-species account of status and specific regulation changes follows.

SMALL GAME

General

There is a continuing requirement that a visible portion of at least one article of clothing above the waist must be blaze orange for anyone hunting small game, except for those hunting wild turkeys, migratory birds, raccoons or predators, or anyone hunting with nontoxic shot.

Wild Turkeys

Fall wild turkey hunting information was announced earlier.

Woodcock

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will continue restrictive frameworks on hunting of American woodcock, which means that last year's three-week delay in the season opener, reduction in bag limit, and shorter season will be continued in 1998. The Minnesota woodcock season will run from Sept. 19 through Nov. 2, with a daily bag limit of three.

Pheasant and Gray Partridge

Surveys to assess population trends of pheasants, gray partridge and other upland wildlife throughout the agricultural areas of Minnesota are not conducted until August. Although information from 15 Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) study areas in southern Minnesota indicated a 78 percent increase in pheasants seen this spring, much of that increase is attributed to improved visibility of pheasants because of loss of CRP cover for them to hide in. After taking the improved visibility of birds into account, researchers believe the population this year is similar to last year.

In west-central Minnesota, where pheasant flocks were hard-hit by blizzards in 1996, special crowing count routes indicated birds persisting in good habitat areas, but a near absence of birds even in good habitats in the northern fringes of the pheasant range.

The number of gray (Hungarian) partridge observed was up 200 percent. While that is believed to represent a real population increase, it was from a very low starting population.

The warm, relatively dry spring and early summer in most areas has provided good overall nesting conditions so far, but the cool, wet early June and recent storms have likely affected production in some areas. A better indication of fall pheasant and gray partridge numbers will be available after the completion of roadside counts in late August.

The pheasant season will be Oct. 10 - Dec. 13 and gray partridge season will be Sept. 19 - Dec. 31.

Ruffed Grouse

"Ruffed grouse are probably nearing the peak of their 10-year cycle," Sando said. "Nesting conditions this spring have again been favorable." Drumming counts of male ruffed grouse were up for the fifth consecutive year, increasing 6 percent statewide from 1995. The number of ruffed grouse drums was up 33 percent in the central hardwoods survey zone, while the northern zone increased 17 percent and the southeast zone rose 25 percent. Drumming counts decreased by 20 percent in the northeast and by 15 percent in the northwest survey zones. The high of 2.7 drums per stop counted in the northern zone has not been equaled in northern Minnesota since the early 1970s.

The ruffed grouse season will be Sept. 19 - Dec. 31.

Sharp-tailed Grouse

Sharp-tailed grouse counts increased over the entire range for the third consecutive year. The number of male grouse observed on their mating grounds increased by 28 percent in the bird's northwest range and increased by 20 percent in the east-central range.

"Sharp-tailed grouse need open brushlands," Sando said. "The recent increases are likely the results of increased prescribed burning, shearing, and cooperative programs of brushland management to maintain healthy and vigorous open brushlands."

The sharp-tailed grouse season will be Sept. 19 - Nov. 30.

Other Small Game

The mild winter and warm weather through May has led to higher survival of squirrel, rabbits and hares in many areas, suggesting a good fall hunting season may be in store for these species. Snowshoe hares exhibit an approximate 10-year population cycle, similar to ruffed grouse and appear to be continuing the increasing phase of their cycle. More information on upland game populations will be available following completion of August counts. Rabbit, hare and squirrel seasons will be Sept. 19 - Feb. 28.

Furbearers

Populations of most species of furbearers continue to do well. Fur prices remain good, and the understanding reached between the U.S. and the European Union should avoid disruptions in European fur markets for at least the next several years while states and trappers organizations work on the development and implementation of trapping best management practices.

There are a few furbearer regulation changes for 1998. The southern boundary of the zone for taking fisher, pine marten, bobcat and otter is now the same (I-94 from the western boundary of the state to its junction with U.S. Highway 10 in Arden Hills, then along Highway 10 to the Wisconsin border). The 1998 bobcat season has been shortened by three weeks to keep harvest within objective levels, after a relatively high harvest because of ideal trapping conditions in 1997. This year's bobcat hunting and trapping season will be Nov. 28 - Dec. 13.

DUCKS AND GEESE

All of the state will again be open for early September goose hunting from Sept. 5-15, except that the Northwest Zone will be closed due to lower resident goose populations in this zone. This year, hunting over water will be allowed in the West Zone (including the Lac qui Parle and West-Central zones) beginning on Sept. 12 (the second Saturday of the season). Also, the daily bag limit will be increased from two to five geese per day in the open areas of the northern part of the state. These changes are intended to increase the harvest of locally breeding giant Canada geese before the migrant Eastern Prairie Population geese arrive from Canada.

Based on waterfowl population status and the duck regulations packages proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the duck season should be similar to last year's 60-day, six-duck daily bag limit season, with an opening date of Oct. 3. The general goose opener is also expected to be Oct. 3, except in the West-Central and Lac qui Parle zones, where the season will open later in October.

General waterfowl season dates and bag limits will not be finalized until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announces the federal framework within which states must select their regulations. The framework includes the earliest opening date, bag limits, and the maximum numbers of days allowed for hunting.

Drier conditions and the advanced spring may have contributed to observed lower numbers of Minnesota breeding ducks this spring. May pond numbers in Minnesota decreased 22 percent compared to 1997 and were near the long-term average. Mallard breeding populations in the state were down from 1997, but were still 87 percent above the long-term average. Blue-winged teal also declined from last year and are now 24 percent below the long-term average, according to results from the annual May waterfowl breeding ground survey conducted by the Minnesota DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Information on waterfowl production this summer is not yet available.

The mallard breeding population this spring is estimated at approximately 368,000, compared to 407,000 in 1997. Blue-winged teal populations in Minnesota decreased from 253,000 in 1997 to 175,000 this year.

Canada geese observed on the Minnesota survey increased 31 percent from 1997, and were 140 percent above the long-term average.

Breeding population surveys for the Eastern Prairie Population of Canada geese, that breed in northern Manitoba and migrate through western Minnesota, showed a 37 percent decline, from 258,000 last year to 161,000 this year. "We are committed to do our part in managing harvest of this population to help reverse its decline, so we expect regular goose seasons to be more restrictive than last year in Eastern Prairie Population goose harvest areas," Sando said. Minnesota harvests more birds from the Eastern Prairie Population of geese than any other single state or province.

The status of North American waterfowl populations will be discussed in late July at a meeting of the Mississippi Flyway Council, an organization of waterfowl biologists and administrators representing 14 states and three Canadian provinces. This group will develop recommendations on waterfowl hunting regulations to be presented to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in early August in Washington, D.C.

"We will know more about the status of ducks and geese and predicted fall flights in late July when more population and production data are available," Sando said.

OTHER SPECIES

Additional information on fall seasons will be available in the hunting regulations handbook available in early August. Sando said that hunters should check the actual regulations in the 1998 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook before going afield.

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