Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz

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

Dec. 4, 2000

Ice not ready for serious angling

Although our area lakes are covered with it, the lakes and the ice aren't quite ready for serious winter fishing yet.

Joe's Sport Shop in Howard Lake and Lil' Angie's Bait and Tackle near Lester Prairie reported there is three to six inches of ice on the lakes and so far, activity has been light.

Joe's noted one spear angler brought in a chunk of ice from his spear hole on the north end of Howard Lake that measured five to six inches in thickness.

With the heart of the ice fishing season just about here, there are many things to remember regarding ice safety and ice angling.

To begin with, no ice - especially early ice - is completely safe.

Ice conditions will always vary from lake to lake and from one part of a lake to another. Early in the season, there may be six inches of ice in one spot and just a few yards away, only two inches.

For the angler and those who enjoy our frozen lakes, this week's column includes some good information from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on ice and ice safety. Take the time to read it, and enjoy the winter season.

Minnesota's late season pheasants

With snow on the ground and ringnecks packed in the cattails, now is the best time of the year to hunt Minnesota pheasants.

In last week's column, we reviewed the concerns of several Minnesota pheasant hunters regarding hunting pressure, access to private lands, and the general quality of their hunts compared to prior years.

Many hunters feel the quality of pheasant hunting, especially late season hunting, has declined in recent years due to increased hunting pressure, less access to private pheasant hunting lands, and more lands being leased or purchased for hunting.

In many cases, these things are happening and the quality of hunting has declined. As I said in last week's column, that is the bad side of the story.

However, to every story there is also a good side.

In the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to get out there and bust the cattails in search of roosters in several parts of Minnesota; mainly, in Minnesota's traditional pheasant hunting hot spots.

From those experiences, I can tell you the hunting was challenging and excellent. Only in one area and on one day did I feel the quality of my hunt was affected by massive hunting pressure throughout the season, limited access to private lands, and poor or declining bird numbers.

Before we move on, there are a few things that need to be taken into consideration.

First of all, Minnesota is a hunting state. Many of us hunt in some form or fashion. I'm not sure about pheasant hunters, but many sources say Minnesota carries more duck hunters than any other state in the nation.

Secondly, each and every hunter's definition of quality in regard to pheasant hunting must be determined. What do you consider to be a quality hunt?

Thirdly, things change over time, including pheasant hunting. Hunters need other hunters and pheasants need more hunters, the dollars and conservation efforts they provide, than they ever have before.

Without hunters, or if there were far fewer Minnesota pheasant hunters, there would probably be far fewer birds and far fewer places to hunt them.

Back to my pheasant hunting adventures: in mid-November, I spent three full days of hunting. One day in the Windom area, one day in Lac qui Parle and Yellow Medicine Counties, and one day in Big Stone and Stevens Counties.

In the Windom area and southwest Minnesota, late season hunting was tough. Although roadside counts from August indicated more birds per square mile there than in any other part of the state, the lack of large amounts of cover, an early crop harvest, and heavy early season hunting pressure made late season pheasants somewhat scarce.

That area has been the hotbed of Minnesota pheasants for the past few years. Bird numbers were good and with numbers down in the west-central area, more hunters headed that direction.

Also, private land hunting in that area is not much of a factor. Most quality cover is on public lands, state wildlife management areas and federal waterfowl production areas.

That day, a Friday with good weather, there were hunters in every public area I tried to hunt, and with snow on the ground, cover was limited. Hunting pressure took its toll in regard to late season hunting.

During the late season, with limited cover, there is only room for so many hunters, no matter if there are birds or not. I found some good areas to hunt, saw a few birds, and went home feeling positive about the experience, although I didn't bag a bird.

The next trip, a day of hunting in Lac qui Parle County in far western Minnesota, the experience was quite a bit different.

It was the Saturday before Thanksgiving and to the surprise of myself and my partner, there were very few hunters out. In fact, pressure was almost nonexistent.

That area carries huge amounts of public land, and because of that, typically provides better late season hunting.

We found excellent bird numbers and hunting. The DNR reported that bird numbers were up in that area and they were right. We had our four-bird limit within hours, saw many more, and by all accounts, it was the kind of late season pheasant hunting most bird chasers dream about.

A few days later, on a Tuesday, we were back out to western Minnesota and found the same kind of success.

Early morning scouting paid off, hunting pressure was nil, cattail sloughs in public areas were flush with birds, and a two-person, four-bird limit was taken by noon. Even without bagging four roosters, it would have been another quality hunt.

We didn't hunt any private land and didn't approach any landowners. There was no need to.

For two of us, there were more than enough birds on the large tracks of public land. To top it all off, we counted bird after bird feeding in fields as we drove through a good chunk of western Minnesota.

The quality of late season pheasant hunting we found was tremendous and, I feel, aided by a few factors:

- Dry conditions early in the season kept many roosters from getting harvested on the opening weekend resulting in a good and increased number of birds, compared to the past few years.

- A later crop harvest in that region. Good weather with four to six inches of snow on the ground and large tracks of public land.

- Western Minnesota has more public hunting land than our area or the southwest does. There's just more of it, and many of the areas are big in size.

- If the weather is conducive, that area of the state will always carry more pheasants than any other part.

- The state and DNR's philosophy of purchasing and developing public habitat and hunting lands verses rented walk-ins or plots as compared to South and North Dakota pays off for Minnesota pheasant hunters in that area.

Without going any farther, quality late season pheasant hunting in Minnesota does exist. It has changed a bit and you may find it in different areas from season to season, but it's there.

Minnesota's pheasant hunting season closes Dec. 17. Look for a final report on Minnesota's 2000 pheasant hunting season in this column in weeks to come.

Outdoor notes

­ The Lester Prairie Sportsmen's Club will meet tonight at the clubhouse at 7 p.m.

­ It's time to get your ice fishing gear ready.

­ If you plan on feeding pheasants or other wildlife this winter, remember that you are making a winter-long commitment. Once you start feeding in a particular location, you should continue with it throughout the winter.

­ On one pheasant hunting trip to western Minnesota, I saw well over 200 deer.

­ Make sure your fishhouse heater is clean and in good working order before you put your house out this winter. Also, make sure your fishhouse is properly ventilated, and never keep your fuel source, like a propane tank, inside the house.

­ Minnesota's muzzleloader deer hunting season ends Dec. 10. All hunters and those using the outdoors during the muzzleloader season, must meet blaze orange requirements.

­ Find something to do outside this winter. Fishing, skiing, and snowshoeing are a lot more fun than sitting inside all winter waiting for spring.

­ Take a kid fishing - he or she will have fun and so will you.

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