Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz

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

Oct. 9, 2000

Ducks in the mud

With dry conditions throughout our area and much of the southern half of Minnesota and very few ducks seen during pre-season scouting, the Department of Natural Resources was telling hunters not to expect much.

With those low expectations, the opening day of duck hunting for many waterfowlers in our area ended up being a big surprise.

At noon Saturday, Sept. 30, hunters were out in typical opening day numbers and ducks were flying in good numbers. In some areas, big numbers.

Reports from our area were very good. Of the hunters I spoke with, several took opening day limits, many had taken at least a few ducks, and all were surprised about the numbers of ducks they saw.

A majority of the ducks bagged were teal, with wood ducks, mallards, spoon bills, and a few divers mixed in.

Although reports indicated the second day of hunting was a bit slower, even with shooting hours beginning one-half hour before sunrise as compared to noon, many hunters said the action was still very good, and much better than originally expected.

For myself and hunting partners, Gregg Machemehl and his son, Ben, of Lester Prairie, opening day action was a bit muddy, but super.

Looking back in my journal, it was the best opening day shoot we've had in several years. For Ben, it was his third opener, and with little activity on his first two, he was all smiles from ear to ear.

Hunting a large and traditional waterfowl lake in southern McLeod County, we bagged a total of 16 ducks - nine teal, four wood ducks, and three mallards. Other hunters on the lake, including those hunting in the same bay, also did very well.

Although hunting pressure on the lake seemed a bit higher than usual, the quality of the hunt was good.

Because of dry conditions, ducks and hunters were concentrated in areas that held water.

The only problem, especially for myself and my dog, Angus, was the mud.

By the end of our hunt, we were both covered from head to toe. Gregg and Ben played it a little more cagey and ended the afternoon fairly mud-free.

At about 9 a.m., I had paddled my canoe into a channel where the water was only about a foot deep and then pulled into the cattails on a small point to set up my blind. The actual shoreline of the lake was about 100 yards of cattails and mud, with one little spot of water behind me.

I thought I was set, and in a good spot to decoy a few ducks.

Then, at about 10:30, a half hour before decoys could be set out, a hunter popped his head out of the cattails approximately 40 yards in front of me. He either didn't want to make his presence known earlier, or he had just woken up from a nap.

In either case, I was forced to pull up stakes and move to a safer and less crowded spot.

With not many options left, and Gregg and Ben set up on the other side of another hunting party a good distance down the line of cattails, I decided to tackle the small pothole behind me and set up closer to the shoreline.

The mud bath started. I dragged my canoe through 60 or so yards of thigh deep mud to the pothole, set up a blind in the cattails, and proceeded to put my decoys out on only three or four inches of water that sat on top of two feet of mud.

For your information, mud with a little bit of water on top is much easier to walk through than mud with no water on top.

When noon hit, the ducks were flying like crazy and the little pothole hidden in the cattails with my decoys was more than attractive to the ducks. The action was fast.

An hour later, Angus had five ducks back to the canoe, and both of us were headed into the mud and cattails to find our last duck, as well as a few others that another hunter had winged.

After trudging through the mud for awhile, and with a good effort from Angus, we had our last duck and had found four others that belonged to the other hunter.

When we got back to the canoe, I noticed my decoys weren't sitting on water anymore, just mud. The hot sun, and the trail through the mud I made with the canoe took care of the little pothole. Most of the water had either just dried up or ran out to the lake through the trail made by the canoe.

Eighty or so yards of very sticky, and leg-cramping mud later, we were finally on open water and paddling to the landing.

I was covered with mud and Angus had brought half of the mud from that little pothole back in the canoe with him.

I didn't make it out for the Sunday hunt. My legs were too tired.

On a final note, I'd love to show you a few pictures, but the little camera I carried got covered with mud, too.

Minnesota pheasant hunting season opens Saturday

Although Minnesota doesn't offer the sheer number of birds that other states in the pheasant range like South Dakota, Iowa, or Nebraska do, the hunting in some parts of the state can be pretty good.

This season, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported the hunting should be very much like last season.

August roadside count numbers indicated a slight increase in numbers range-wide, but also indicated a large increase in numbers in the northern half of the range. Numbers in the northern half of the range were up 78 percent, and numbers in the southern half declined 18 percent.

For a local hunter who just wants to stick around home or doesn't mind to drive a bit, those numbers are significant.

For pheasant hunting, I break Minnesota down to three areas:

· the west: Montevideo to Ortonville;

· the south-southwest: Sleepy Eye to Worthington;

· local hunting: parts of Wright, McLeod, Sibley, Meeker, and Carver counties.

The past few years, the best hunting has definitely been in the southsouthwest. Hunting pressure is high, but so have been the bird numbers.

Before the bad winters of the mid 90s, I always considered the west to provide the best hunting.

At times, bird numbers were very good, and the west, by no comparison to any other part of Minnesota's pheasant range, provides more habitat, more public land, and more places to hunt.

Locally, bird numbers fluctuate with the winter weather and spring nesting conditions. There are some expanses of good habitat, and if you find a pocket of birds, hunting can be good.

But it can be tough to find places to hunt, especially if you're hunting with a larger group or have an entire weekend to chase ringnecks. Urban sprawl and the seemingly endless building of country homes has changed the landscape.

This season, Minnesota pheasant hunting will probably be something like this:

For sheer number of birds, the south-southwest will still be the best. Hunting in that area may even be less competitive because of higher bird numbers in the northern half of the range.

With an early crop harvest, hunting on the public areas during opening weekend should be great, if the pressure isn't too bad.

In the southwest, hunting pressure is a big factor. Although bird numbers are highest there, almost all of the good cover to hunt is public land that gets hit often.

If a good chunk of the crops are off by the opener, a majority of the birds get taken early in the season and mid to late season hunting can be tough.

For quality of the hunt, the west will be back. Late-season hunting in that area last year, showed me bird numbers were on their way back. They also had an easy winter and good nesting conditions this spring.

Hunting pressure can also be strong in that area, but there are piles and piles of good cover and plenty of places worth walking.

Another factor that puts the west in front in terms of quality, is just wildlife and landscape in general - ducks, geese, deer, fox, and much more. If weather conditions haven't been harsh, there usually is much more wildlife to watch and a much less farmed, less flat, and more interesting landscape to watch it on.

Locally, with no joking around, bird numbers are in great shape, and according to roadside count numbers, higher then I can ever remember - 64 birds per 100 miles driven were counted in our region, and it's a safe bet that our local area has the highest bird numbers of any part of the central region.

The hunting will be good, if you have a place to go. Public areas are few and far between because of property values and they get hit hard. Hunting private land is the ticket.

For local success, do a lot of asking, and hunt in pairs. Most areas aren't big enough for more than two hunters.

Finally, remember that conditions are dry throughout most of the range, carry a water bottle for your dog while in the field, and wear blaze orange.

Rifle sight-in offered

Rifle sight-in at the newly NRA-certified Waverly Gun Club rifle and pistol range will be offered later this month.

Dates and times are Saturdays and Sundays, Oct. 21, 22, 28, and 29 from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each day. A range officer will be present.

Several benches to handle a good number of shooters will be available, as well as a running deer target.

Outdoor notes

­ Before the weather turned cold late last week, several people I spoke with were complaining about little black bugs that have a ferocious bite.

Some thought they were gnats or fruit flies and I wasn't quite sure, either. One reader, who was completely annoyed by them on a recent weekend of camping, told me they were called noseeums and they were the smallest of biting insects in our region.

­ The evening shoot for Minnesota waterfowl hunters began Sunday, Oct 8. The shooting hours for the remainder of the waterfowl season are now one-half hour before sunrise to sunset.

­ The Winsted Sportsmen's Club will meet Tuesday, Oct. 10 at 7 p.m. at the Lake Mary clubhouse. All members are asked to bring their raffle tickets. The raffle drawing will be at 8 p.m. Lunch and beverage will be served, and the public is welcome.

­ Now is the time to start watching for deer on the roadways. Be especially careful at dusk.

­ Local hunters heading north for ruffed grouse have reported good hunting with a good number of birds in the Mille Lacs and Brainerd areas, but tough hunting in areas farther north like Grand Rapids and Ely.

­ Enjoy the fall colors while they last. Because of the recent cold snap and dry conditions, the amazing fall colors we have been experiencing of late may not last long. One big wind could knock down many of the leaves in a big hurry.

­ Please remember to wear some type of blaze orange clothing while hunting pheasants, grouse, or small game this fall. The wearing of blaze orange is an excellent safety measure and is required in Minnesota. For more information on blaze orange requirements, refer to page 21 of the 2000 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook.

Also, the blaze orange requirements for hunting small game and firearms deer are not the same. Anyone afield during the open season of the firearms deer hunt should follow the blaze orange requirements for firearms deer hunting listed on page 27 of the handbook.

­ It's time to roll up the garden hoses and store anything that may be damaged from freezing.

­ Antlerless deer permits in Minnesota will be drawn and mailed by Friday, Oct. 20. If you applied and are not notified by Oct. 23, you can assume your application was not selected.

­ The firearms deer hunting season in Minnesota for most zones opens Saturday, Nov. 4.

­ Store your firearms and ammunition safely. It's a good idea to lock them in separate locations and not leave shotgun shells on counters, garage shelves, or in vehicle storage compartments.

­ The days continue to get shorter in a big hurry. Today, the sun will set at 6:40 p.m.; on Oct. 28, the sun will set at 6:08 p.m.

­ Although I haven't noticed much fishing activity on the Crow River this fall, according to reports the fishing on several of our area lakes has been excellent. October can provide some of the best angling for lunker northern pike and walleyes of the year. Try fishing on the eve of the October full moon for some of the best action of the year.

­ Take a kid hunting or fishing; he or she will have fun, and so will you. With the weather turning cold, keep the outings short and dress your kids appropriately.

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