By Chris Schultz Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal & Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Minn. Nov. 20, 2000
Local deer hunting improves during 4B season
Although Minnesota's firearms deer hunting season is still in progress in some parts of the state, and harvest numbers appear to be down locally and throughout the farm belt, in general terms, it was a good deer hunt.
In the north central and northeast parts of the state, hunting has been good, and harvest numbers have increased by more than an estimated 20 percent in some areas.
In an area I hunted for several years, in far northeastern Minnesota near Tofte, harvest numbers increased dramatically over last year and it seems the deer herd in that part of the state has more than recovered from the severe winters of the mid 90s.
Locally, after the close of the 4B season, harvest numbers are be very close to last year's. In 1999, Joe's Sport Shop in Howard Lake registered 102 deer taken during the 4A season and 57 during the 4B season, for a total number of 159.
This year, things looked a little dismal after the 4A season, but rebounded during the 4B season. In the 4A season, Joe's registered 84 deer and then, 66 more, including several nice bucks, during 4B. Total deer registered at Joe's for the 2000 firearms hunt reached 150.
Registration numbers were very similar to last year. However, many hunters reported seeing far fewer deer than last season.
In the next few weeks, the DNR will have a better handle on total harvest numbers and then, we'll do some comparing to past seasons. Although the decade of the 90s included a few very severe winters, the deer hunting in Minnesota was super, and probably the best 10-year span deer hunters have ever had.
For me, the story of this season was "the one that got away." Hunting in Zone 2, in the Brainerd area near Cross Lake, my hunting party bagged three deer; two bucks and a doe, and went home with three antlerless tags unfilled. I had the chance to fill another tag, but didn't connect.
Moving slowly and stalking through a very thick pine tree grove, I went down to my knees to watch and listen for awhile. After 20 minutes or so in that position, my knees began to ache, and it was time to get up and get on the move again. Right at that moment, I heard what I had been so eagerly waiting for, the crunch, crunch, and snap of a deer moving through a northern Minnesota woods.
Back to my knees and heart pounding, I picked out a shooting alley and waited for the animal to appear through the thick pines and brush. In what seemed like less than a second, the deer was right by me, only 15 yards away. A nice buck, I could see his antlers beating through the brush. He was running through the woods with his nose glued to the ground like a hunting dog chasing a pheasant. then, in what now seemed to be an eternity, the deer noticed me and bounded, never making it to my predetermined shooting lane.
With the buck only 20 yards away, and not having a good shot from my knees, I stood up, placing one shot through the brush at the buck, and then, attempting a second shot as he moved through an alley 30 to 35 yards away.
When the animal was out of sight I went back to my knees to reload and ponder my next move. As I opened the chamber of my Remington pump, a nice-sized doe bolted straight across my shooting alley, only 20 yards away and headed in the same direction as the buck. No good shot was available, and none was taken.
After a short wait, I investigated the area and easily relived the moment. The buck must have been chasing that doe hot and heavy to come that close to me. No blood was found, my first shot was deflected by brush and into a good-sized pine tree, and my second shot was probably a clean miss.
Venison or not, that moment was worth all the time and expense of another Minnesota deer hunting season.
Late season pheasants
With snow on the ground and many of Minnesota's pheasant range sloughs covered with ice, the place to find roosters now is in the cattails. It can be tough, dirty, and wet hunting, but that's what makes it challenging.
The other challenges, what many hunters are now starting to be concerned about, is access and hunting pressure.
At this time of year, the number of hunters in the field typically declines dramatically, and access or permission to hunt private lands becomes much easier. However, this season and in the past few, the number of hunters taking to Minnesota's public lands and those tying to gain access to private pheasant haunts has seemed to increase quite a bit. The trend of more posted land, more leased land, and fewer birds left on public lands for late season hunters continues.
A few hunters are even talking about things like split seasons or pheasant hunting zones for Minnesota's public lands. They consider the quality of their pheasant hunts to be declining even with more birds and more public land to hunt than just a few years ago.
In many respects, they may be right, and the issue should be discussed heavily.
In recent discussions on the subject with a DNR staff member, items like good weather the last few years, poor duck hunting, the popularity of hunting dogs, more difficult access to land in other states, and increased bird numbers have all added to more hunters pursuing Minnesota pheasants.
On Saturday, I headed to far western Minnesota for a day of late season pheasant hunting, and a week ago, spent a day in the Windom area, Minnesota's two pheasant hunting hot spots. In the upcoming weeks, I'll review those two hunts and see if the concerns of several Minnesota pheasant hunters are justified.
Good luck pheasant hunting, and head for the cattails.
During the firearms deer hunt and the muzzleloader deer season, the wearing of blaze orange is required by hunters and just about anybody else who is using the outdoors. Last weekend, I saw several hunters driving a woods along the Crow River. When I got down to the river to ask the hunters a few questions, there was an angler on the river bank dressed in black and grey. Don't take the risk he did. If you're in the woods of the field during the deer hunting season, wear blaze orange so hunters can see you and know that you are in the area. It is unlikely a hunter would mistake a person for a deer. But, a hunter needs to know what may or may not be beyond a target, and needs to know that you are there.
Many of our lakes and sloughs are now covered with ice. Remember that ice is never completely safe and the best judgement, for now, is to just stay off of it.
On Nov. 8 and 9, there was a good push of waterfowl through the area. At this time, it's hard to say, but ducking for the year may be over with.
The Winsted Sportsmen's Club will meet Tuesday, Nov. 21, 7 p.m., at Tom's Corner Bar in Winsted.
The application deadline for Minnesota's 2001 spring turkey hunt is Friday, Dec. 1.
Winter has arrived for the time being, stay warm and safe.
The 2001 Minnesota fishing opener is set for Saturday, May 12.