Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz

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

Nov. 27, 2000

Minnesota's late season pheasant hunting draws concern from hunters

Snow is on the ground, cattail sloughs are covered with ice, and a few corners of Minnesota's pheasant range are full of long tailed ringnecks.

Thanksgiving has passed, the firearms deer season is over in most parts of the state, and many hunters have packed up their gear and called it a season. All of these things make right now through the close of the season on Dec. 17, the best time of the year to hunt Minnesota ringnecks.

For many years, and with an echo to tradition, that was the case. Now, several Minnesota pheasant hunters are questioning the quality of hunting in Minnesota ­ especially late season hunting.

In the past two weeks, I have taken a close look at the concerns of a few pheasant hunters I spoke with this season. I also had the chance to hunt in a few of Minnesota's traditional pheasant hunting hot spots.

Concerns from Minnesota hunters are centered around hunting pressure on public lands, access to private lands, and, in general, the quality of their hunts compared to prior years.

In the past few years, I feel, without question, that the number of hunters chasing Minnesota pheasants has increased. In some areas, like Jackson, Windom, and McLeod and Wright counties, the increase has been dramatic. Also, as each season goes by, the ability to get access to hunt private lands in Minnesota's pheasant range has gotten more difficult.

In Minnesota's traditional hot spots, like the southwest and far west, many hunters do not even bother trying to hunt private land anymore. They stick completely to public land hunting, and the element of landowner relations and asking for permission is no longer an element of the hunt.

Increased hunting pressure, the mistakes of a few hunters in the past, higher land values in some parts of the state, and the growing trend of leasing or buying land to hunt on has all added to less access to private land. That, in turn, puts more pressure on Minnesota's public lands.

A few other factors that play into the entire situation include: mild weather the past few falls, poor duck hunting success, higher, and possibly hyped up, bird numbers, and the popularity of hunting dogs. All of these, each in its own way, have added to more hunting pressure on Minnesota's pheasants and pheasant hunting lands.

Another factor that may affect pheasant hunting and hunting in general in our state is the ability of Minnesota hunters to hunt in neighboring states like Iowa, South and North Dakota. Minnesotan's head to those states in droves in search of pheasants. If that access is limited through new legislation in those states creating lotteries and permit systems, Minnesota hunters will be forced to spend more of their hunting time in Minnesota.

Those are the concerns, or maybe the problems, facing Minnesota pheasant hunters. I like to call it the bad side of the story. Because to every story or issue, there is both a bad and a good side.

In next week's column, I'll tell you about my late season pheasant hunting jaunts, and we'll take a little deeper look into the issue, including the good side of the story on Minnesota's pheasant hunting.

Right now, get out there and chase a few ringnecks. Here are a few tips for late season hunting:

­ Get out there early and go during midweek. Shooting hours begin at 9 a.m., and spending the time from sunrise to 9 a.m. scouting for birds will add to the success or quality of your hunt. There are, typically, fewer hunters out during weekdays. If hunting pressure is a concern of yours and you like the solitude of being the only one in a slough, go during the week and avoid the weekends.

­ Hunt with small groups. Two hunters teaming up works best for late season birds.

­ Take your dogs lead and go where he goes, especially when you are in heavy cover. Also, move slow and be thorough. Your odds of getting a tight- sitting rooster that doesn't want to fly are much better than getting the spooky ones.

­ Be quiet. Slamming truck doors and yelling at dogs is a sure-fire ticket to an empty game bag.

­ Dress for the weather. Dress in layers and remove and add layers as needed.

­ Finally, look for cover within the cover, and never hunt too far away from an available food source. When snow lodges or knocks down much of the cover the birds will head to what is left, like the cattails. Look for the heaviest, thickest section of cattails, or pockets of brush and cane that are common in Minnesota's cattail sloughs. No matter what type of cover it is, it has to be close to an available food source to hold a good number of pheasants. Don't waste your time in an area where a food source is not available.

Outdoor notes

­ If the cold weather continues, the ice fishing season will be off and rolling. Read the article in today's column on ice safety and remember that ice, especially early ice, is never completely safe.

­ Minnesota's duck hunting season closed on Nov. 26.

­ The muzzleloader deer hunting season in Minnesota started Nov. 25 and ends Dec. 10. The wearing of blaze orange is required by those afield during the muzzleloader season. Refer to the 2000 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook for specific information on blaze orange requirements.

­ The taste of wild game depends heavily on how it is cared for in the field once it is harvested. Take the time to properly care for the game you harvest. You will reap the benefits at the dinner table.

­ When you get your game home, a good trick is to soak the meat in water mixed with a little baking soda. The baking soda helps remove any of the excess blood from the meat.

­ The application deadline for Minnesota's 2001 turkey hunting season is Dec. 1.

­ It's time to put new line on your jiggle sticks.

­ With the hunting seasons coming to a close, remember to properly store your firearms and ammunition. They should be stored separately in a secure, lockable location.

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