Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

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

Jan. 1, 2001

The seasons in review

Although it seems winter has been here for an awful long time already, fall just officially ended a couple weeks ago.

With the end of fall, there also came a marked end to most of Minnesota's 2000 hunting seasons. Yes, another season has passed us by.

Looking back, most can say it was a good season of hunting - in some cases, excellent, and in others, poor.

In general, Minnesota hunting comprises four major seasons - ruffed grouse, waterfowl, pheasant, and firearms deer.

Other seasons - archery deer, squirrel, rabbit, fox, raccoon, muzzleloader deer, and a few more - are important, but carry fewer participants.

This season, I participated in three - waterfowl, pheasant, and firearms deer. I usually give ruffed grouse hunting a try or two, but this season, I couldn't find the time for Minnesota's best-tasting game bird.

Getting into the nitty gritty, for myself and a good share of hunters, Minnesota's firearms deer hunting season, especially in northern forests, was excellent. It was the fourth highest harvest on record.

Pheasant hunting in certain parts of Minnesota's pheasant range was good, and even a bit better than the DNR expected. Duck hunting, by most accounts, was again dismal.

Waterfowl

On the waterfowl side, although Canada goose hunting for the eastern prairie population in the Lac qui Parle area was poor, the early September season for giant Canadas and the general season in many parts of the state, including our area, was good.

Regarding ruffed grouse, several avid grouse hunters I know reported good hunting in north central Minnesota forested areas, although bird numbers were down a bit from recent years. Minnesota's ruffed grouse population is in the downward trend of the 10-year population cycle.

Duck

At a glance, the duck hunting season I experienced was good and bad. The opener, spent on a large waterfowl area in Sibley County, was much better than I anticipated. Ducks were there in good numbers and limits for a large number of hunters in the area were common.

After the opening day foray, the season was more than dismal. I made two other efforts at duck hunting - one in mid-season and one late.

The mid-season adventure, in the same area I hunted on the opener, did not produce a duck in the bag or in the air. I did not even see a duck.

The late season attempt was just a little too late. I headed to southwestern Minnesota on a tip from a few buddies. They had busted a nice bunch of late season migrating mallards the day before and said the ducks were coming through in good numbers.

We headed for a slough in the Windom area and that slough, as well as every other body of water, was froze solid from an overnight burst of arctic air.

There were a few ducks in the air heading south, but they had absolutely no intentions of stopping. That marked the end to another poor Minnesota duck season.

On a final note, mid and late season pheasant hunts revealed no ducks in southern and western Minnesota and the only good mid to late season report I got came from a few local hunters who found a honey hole for mallards in the Spicer area. Their success lasted two mornings, then the ducks were gone.

Pheasant

Swinging the shotgun over to Minnesota pheasants, the season was a good one.

The DNR was very accurate on bird numbers, where hunting would be good and where it wouldn't.

As in the past few years, the highest bird numbers were in the far southwest. That area did provide good early season hunting. However, the word got out about quality hunting and the pressure was intense.

Hunters from as far away as Georgia and Michigan were in that area for the opener. The hunting pressure on public lands in the southwest continued for much of the season and, because of that, mid and late season roosters were tough to come by.

The real gem of Minnesota's 2000 pheasant hunting season was the northern part of the range, in far western Minnesota. Due to a few easy winters and good nesting conditions, the DNR expected bird numbers to be up in that area and it was right.

Actually, I believe numbers in that part of the range were higher than the DNR counts showed. Several other factors also added to good hunting; dry conditions early in the season that kept many roosters from getting harvested on the opening weekend, and snowy, cold weather during the mid and late season that kept many hunters at home.

Two-bird daily limits were common throughout the northwest part of the range for mid and late season hunters.

Personally, I made four trips out to that neck of the woods and had excellent hunting each time. Looking back, it was some of the best Minnesota pheasant hunting I have had since the early '80s.

On a final pheasant note, although access in our area for hunting has become more difficult, and local public lands get a lot of pressure, the hunting was good. Several local hunters I know did very well hunting locally, and noted the population was up from previous years.

I hope you had a good season and found safe and quality hunting.

Deer

From the DNR

Hunters and their families who have been feasting on venison steak already had a hunch, but the official word from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is that the 2000 firearms deer harvest was among the top five on record.

Hunters harvested 193,079 deer statewide, an increase of 27,913 deer (17 percent) compared with 1999.

The higher harvest was near DNR predictions. Steve Merchant, DNR Forest Wildlife Program leader, attributes the increase to more antlerless permits offered by the DNR and good conditions in the north that allowed hunters to stay afield longer and track deer more easily.

"The forested region, where we saw the biggest harvest increase, had moderate temperatures and snow on the ground during opening weekend," Merchant said. "Those are ideal conditions for deer hunting and resulted in a statewide season that was truly exceptional."

The harvest by region was: Northwest Region: 54,332, up 17 percent Northeast Region: 31,748, up 42 percent Central Region: 62,668, up 19 percent Southwest Region: 17,501, down 7 percent Southeast Region: 22,461, up 8 percent Twin Cities Metro Region: 4,369, up 7 percent.

"The combination of cutting back on antlerless permits the past three years and three mild winters allowed the northern deer population to quickly recover," Merchant said.

Merchant noted that another mild winter would mean the DNR would have to again increase antlerless permits.

Outdoor notes

­ With the recent snowfall, expect travel on our area lakes to become more difficult. Stay on the well-traveled areas, and if you venture out through the snow, be prepared.

­ Look for the scoop on area fishing in next week's column. In the past week, activity slowed a bit due to the extremely cold weather.

­ For weekly updates on snow depth across Minnesota, go to the DNR's Web site at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us.

­ Practice catch and release and only keep the amount of fish you can use. In Minnesota, daily and possession limits are the same, and it is illegal to double-trip. That means taking more than one limit of fish in a day or having more than one limit of fish in your possession.

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