Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz

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

Aug. 14, 2000

Details on 2000 hunting seasons

From the DNR, here are species-by-species accounts of wildlife population status and specific hunting regulation changes.

Deer

The firearms deer season will open Nov. 4, archery deer Sept. 16, and muzzleloader deer Nov. 25. The 2000 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook with regulations, quotas, and special hunt information will be available at license agents by the second week in August.

Deer hunters wishing to obtain antlerless or special area permits will apply through terminals at ELS agents this year, and are encouraged to do so well ahead of the application deadline.

The biggest news for deer hunters is the continuing recovery of northern forest deer populations and the widespread availability of antlerless permits in that area. Three consecutive mild winters since the two back-to-back severe winters of 1995-96 and 1996-97, combined with good habitat conditions and antlerless quota management, have resulted in recovery of deer populations in forested areas at a rate that far exceeded the expectations of wildlife managers.

Antlerless deer permits

The application deadline for antlerless and special hunt permits is Thursday, Sept. 7.

Hunters interested in these permits may apply at any of the 1,700 ELS license agents throughout the state, beginning in early August.

A total of 233,795 antlerless deer hunting permits will be available this fall. This represents a 32 percent increase from last year and is the highest number offered since 1993 (see table). Antlerless permits allow hunters the opportunity to harvest a deer of either sex, and are the main way that DNR wildlife managers control deer numbers throughout the state.

In Zone 1 (northeastern Minnesota), quotas more than doubled, from 23,415 in 1999 to 50,170, an increase of 114 percent. Permit area 116, in the area of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, is the only remaining bucks-only area in this zone.

In Zone 2 (a transition band from the northern Twin Cities area to Lake of the Woods), permit numbers increased from 46,725 to 70,300 (up 50 percent). Only permit area 203 (Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge and Elm Lake and Eckvoll WMAs) remains bucks-only for all hunters.

In agricultural areas of Minnesota, permit quotas generally remained stable or increased. In some areas in the southwest and south-central parts of the state, deer populations remain somewhat depressed due to high antlerless harvests in recent years and permit numbers there are relatively unchanged.

In Zone 3 (southeastern Minnesota), quotas increased 16 percent, from 28,975 in 1999 to 33,500. Deer populations in many areas of southeastern Minnesota remain above goals, and many areas will be open to deer management and intensive harvest permits, which will allow hunters in those areas to take up to five deer.

Quotas in Zone 4 (extreme western and southwestern parts of the state) were essentially stable, going from 78,265 in 1999 to 79,825 this year (up 2 percent).

Deer licensing and regulation changes

In addition to the switch to electronic licensing and applications, there are several regulation changes for deer hunters this fall, including two new deer licenses that will be available from ELS license agents after Sept. 1.

* A new $66 All-Season Buck License will be valid for the archery, regular firearms, and muzzleloader seasons. It allows taking one buck, but no party hunting is allowed by holders of this license.

* A free Landowner Antlerless Deer License is available in areas where deer are overabundant compared to the number of available hunters (areas that have archery and muzzleloader management permits). This license is limited to one per farm with 80 acres or more of agricultural land. Landowners receiving this license must live on the qualifying property, must use the license only on that property, and must allow public deer hunting on the property after the opening weekend of their season.

* The Northwest Two-Deer Area in Kittson, Lake of the Woods, Marshall, Pennington, and Roseau counties has been re-established. In this area, hunters are allowed to tag a deer with both a regular firearms and a regular archery license.

* Criteria for obtaining disability permits to shoot from a stationary motor vehicle have been changed, effective Jan. 1, 2001. There is no change for the fall of 2000. All current permits will expire in January.

* Persons taking and transporting deer from reservation lands on the Northwest Angle in accordance with Red Lake Band Code will no longer need a state license.

Bucks-only permit areas and youth-only permits

Bucks-only hunting will continue in effect this fall in Permit Area 116 (in the area of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness) and Permit Area 203 (Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge and Elm Lake and Eckvoll WMAs).

In these areas, all hunters, including archers and muzzleloaders, are limited to bucks-only.

In Permit Area 127 (Isabella area), Permit Area 201 (Roseau River WMA), and permit areas 448 and 449 (Ivanhoe and Marshall areas), some youth-only antlerless permits will be available, but all other hunters are restricted to legal bucks.

In those areas, only resident hunters under the age of 16 who apply for and receive a special youth-only antlerless permit will be allowed to take antlerless deer during the firearms season. Party hunting is not allowed for youth-only permits - the youth must shoot and tag the antlerless deer.

Management permits

Deer management permits allow hunters to take a second deer in designated areas. The additional deer must be antlerless.

These permits are available for one-half the cost of a regular license. Archery and muzzleloader hunters should consult the deer hunting regulations available the second week of August for availability of these permits.

Firearms hunters should indicate their interest in a management permit, if available, when they submit their antlerless permit application.

Intensive harvest permits

Intensive harvest permits allow hunters to take up to three antlerless deer in addition to one deer each on a regular license and a management permit in areas with high deer populations.

This year, intensive harvest permits will be authorized only in permit areas 228 and 337 in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, permit areas 341-342 and 345-349 in southeastern Minnesota, Permit Area 409 in the Wadena area, and in several special hunts.

Special deer hunts

A total of 29 special hunts are planned for parks and other areas where hunting is not normally allowed except as necessary to manage deer populations.

The application deadline for most firearms, muzzleloader, and archery special hunts is Thursday, Sept. 7.

Exceptions are the Camp Ripley archery hunts (applications must be received by Aug. 18), and city of New Ulm archery hunt (applications must be postmarked by Sept. 2).

Bear, moose, elk

Details of the bear season were announced previously. The bear season opens about a week earlier this year, on Wednesday, Aug. 23. Bear baiting can begin on Friday, Aug. 11.

The moose season for 2000 was canceled last winter due to staffing shortages caused by budget constraints.

Due to increased wildlife management funding, the DNR is planning to resume annual moose seasons beginning in 2001. Moose numbers in northwest Minnesota remain low, and the season there will remain closed.

There will be no elk hunt again in 2000 because the small northwestern Minnesota elk population remains within the goal range.

Small game - wild turkeys

Fall wild turkey hunting information was announced earlier. Fall seasons are Oct. 18-22 and Oct. 25-29. The deadline for submitting applications through ELS license agents was extended to July 28.

Spring wild turkey hunting application information for the 2001 season will be available in November, and the application deadline will be Dec. 1. Resident hunters interested in this season will apply through ELS license agents rather than mail-in applications as in previous years.

Woodcock

Restrictive federal frameworks on the hunting of American woodcock continue in response to a long-term population decline. Woodcock hunters are reminded that they need to be certified for the Harvest Information Program (HIP) to legally hunt these birds. Minnesota will be cooperating in a regional study to determine the relative importance of habitat factors to this decline. The woodcock season is Sept. 23 through Nov.6, with a daily bag limit of 3.

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.

Information collected in May from Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) study areas in southern Minnesota suggested a decline in pheasants in some areas, but the consecutive mild winters have generally helped pheasant survival.

In west-central Minnesota, where pheasant flocks were hard-hit by blizzards in 1996, special crowing count routes indicated numbers of birds were up substantially in areas of abundant, high quality habitat, but low numbers remain in marginal habitats and in the extreme northern parts of the western pheasant range.

Warm and relatively dry conditions produce the best pheasant nesting success. Wet weather in June and early July may have hurt pheasant production in some areas. A better indication of fall pheasant and gray partridge numbers will be available after the DNR completes roadside counts in late August.

The pheasant season will be Oct. 14 - Dec. 17, and gray partridge season will be Sept. 16 - Dec. 31.

Ruffed grouse

Ruffed grouse appear to be starting into the downward phase of their roughly 10-year population cycle, but are still abundant compared to ruffed grouse populations in other states. Drumming counts of male ruffed grouse last spring were down 12 percent from 1999.

The average number of drums heard per stop was 1.5, down slightly from last year's 1.7. The biggest decrease in drumming came in the northwestern zone, where the number of drums was down 35 percent (to an average of 1.5 drums per stop).

The southeastern zone was down 20 percent (0.4 drums per stop), the northern zone was down 10 percent (1.9 drums per stop), and the northeastern zone dipped 8 percent (1.1 drums per stop). Only the central hardwoods zone remained stable (1.3 drums per stop).

Despite the decrease, Garber noted that there still should be some excellent grouse hunting in most of the range this fall. "Even with the decline, ruffed grouse numbers across the north are still relatively high and Minnesota continues to have the highest grouse population of any state in the country," he said.

The ruffed grouse season will be Sept. 16 - Dec. 31.

Sharp-tailed grouse

Sharp-tailed grouse counts remained essentially unchanged, after four consecutive years of increases. The number of male grouse observed on their mating grounds decreased one percent range wide, with a 9 percent decline in the bird's northwestern range and a 5 percent increase in the east-central region.

Sharp-tailed grouse need open brushland habitats. "The recent rebound is encouraging, but sharptail numbers are still 70 percent below where they were in 1980," Garber said. He said that the sharptail population appears to be benefitting from increased prescribed burning, shearing, and other cooperative brushland management made possible by increased funding for brushland management. Recent funding increases should allow continuation of that accelerated management.

The sharp-tailed grouse season will be Sept. 16 - Nov. 30.

Other small game

The mild winter and warm weather has led to higher survival of squirrels, rabbits, and hares in many areas, suggesting a good fall hunting season may be in store for these species. Snowshoe hares traditionally exhibit an approximate 10-year population cycle, similar to ruffed grouse. They also appear to be declining after reaching only a small peak.

More information on upland game populations will be available following completion of August counts. Rabbit, hare and squirrel seasons will be Sept. 16 - Feb. 28.

Furbearers

There are a few changes for taking furbearers this fall. The mink, muskrat, beaver, and otter seasons go back to a statewide opener (no splits) this year.

The combined limit of four fisher and pine marten has been changed to allow up to four fisher or four pine marten per trapper. Last year the combined limit could not contain more than two fisher. The lynx season has been closed in Minnesota since 1984, but lynx received added federal protection by their listing this spring as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. That means it is now a violation of federal as well as state law to take a lynx.

Blaze orange requirements for trappers have changed. Trappers must continue to wear blaze orange during firearms deer seasons, except when on waters of the state. Also, the requirement for trappers to wear blaze orange during small game seasons has been repealed. Furbearer seasons are listed in the accompanying table.

Ducks and geese

All licensed migratory bird hunters, including waterfowl hunters, are reminded that they must be certified for the Harvest Information Program (HIP) to legally hunt these birds.

Early Canada goose season

The DNR will again hold an expanded early September Canada goose hunting season this year. Hunting on or near water will be allowed in the West Goose Zone for the entire early September season.

The boundary for the Southeast Goose Zone has changed. Controlled hunt zones will be open at Talcot Lake and Thief Lake for the early September Canada goose seasons, subject to controlled hunt regulations.

The early Canada goose season will be Sept. 2 - Sept. 22, except in the Northwest Zone where it will be Sept. 2 - Sept. 15. The daily bag limit will be five geese per day in most of the state and two geese per day in the southeast and northwest zones. These seasons are intended to increase the harvest of locally breeding giant Canada geese by timing the harvest before the migrant Eastern Prairie Population geese arrive in the state from Canada.

"We're doing everything we can within the allowable federal framework to reduce the population of locally breeding Canada geese and to provide as much hunting opportunity as possible," said Garber.

Ducks

Based on duck population status and duck regulations packages proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the duck season this fall should be similar to last year's 60-day, 6-duck daily bag limit season, with a planned opening date of Sept. 30. A special youth waterfowl hunting day is planned for Sept. 16. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offered a two-day youth hunt this year, but Minnesota will stay with a one-day youth hunt for this fall and will seek public review and comment on the two-day option for 2001.

General waterfowl season dates and bag limits will not be official 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.

Breeding duck populations this spring were similar to last year in Minnesota. May pond numbers in Minnesota declined about one third from 1999, and were the lowest since 1990. Total May duck populations were unchanged. The mallard breeding population in Minnesota this spring was estimated at approximately 318,000, similar to the 1999 count. Mallards have been above 300,000 since 1992, and remain 55 percent above average since the current waterfowl survey began in 1968. Blue-winged teal numbers were similar to 1999 (up 10 percent), but remain 21 percent below the long-term average. Blue-winged teal numbers were high in Minnesota in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but have been below average in recent years. Continentally, recent blue-winged teal counts have been at or near record population levels.

Geese

Canada geese are becoming one of the most abundant breeding waterfowl in Minnesota. Current resident Canada goose breeding populations are estimated at about 300,000. Despite expanded early and late seasons targeted at these resident geese, populations continued to expand in all areas of the state.

Breeding population surveys for the Eastern Prairie Population (EPP) Canada geese, which breed in northern Manitoba and migrate through western Minnesota, showed a 33 percent increase, from 207,000 last year to 275,000 this year. However, a cold, late spring has delayed nesting for this population and production this summer likely will be very poor. Minnesota harvests more geese from the Eastern Prairie Population than any other single state or province.

The general goose opener is expected to be Sept. 30, except in the West-central and Lac qui Parle Zones, where the season is scheduled to open on Oct. 7. A 10-day special December Canada goose season will be open statewide again this year, except in the West-central and Lac qui Parle Zones.

The status of North American waterfowl populations will be discussed by the Mississippi Flyway Council, an organization of waterfowl biologists and administrators representing 14 states and three Canadian provinces, at its late-July meeting. 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. Final decisions on Minnesota's regular goose and duck seasons will be made later this summer, after consultation with the Mississippi Flyway Council and in compliance with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service frameworks.

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

More information

Additional information on fall seasons will be available at ELS license agents or from the DNR in the hunting regulations handbook, available in early August, and the waterfowl regulations supplement, available in early September. Garber said that hunters should check the actual regulations in the 2000 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook and Waterfowl Hunting Regulations Supplement before going afield.

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