Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

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

Dec. 24, 2001

Freeze-over date ties record

If the thin ice sheet now covering the water on Howard Lake would have come one day later, we would have had a new record for the latest freeze-over date for that lake since records were kept.

This year, Howard Lake officially froze over Thursday, Dec. 20. That tied the record of Dec. 20, 1998.

The next latest freeze-over date occurred Dec. 16, 1999. The earliest freeze-over date, since 1951, occurred Nov. 7, 1991.

With the ice finally here, I'm sure some anglers are jumping for joy and ready to drill holes as soon as the ice thickens. However, there is some bad news on the horizon for ice anglers who are waiting for the ice to get thick enough to fish on.

As this column is being written, weather forecasters are predicting a modest to heavy snowfall for the days just before Christmas. If that snowfall arrives and is heavy, it will definitely slow ice-making conditions and put another delay in the ice fishing season.

Snow can act like a blanket, insulating the ice from the cold temperatures at night, and slowing ice creation.

Put the snow onto only an inch or two of ice and that can spell trouble for area ice anglers, especially those who would love to ice fish on local lakes over the holidays.

On a final note, please be patient and remember that no ice, especially early ice, is ever completely safe.

South Dakota pheasants

Being an avid pheasant hunter, I grasp just about every chance I can get to chase a few birds.

This season, after a few lackluster attempts at Minnesota birds, I had the chance to head to South Dakota for a few days of hunting. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity, loaded up my dog and a buddy, and headed west.

Two of us, with my lab, Angus, spent three full days just before Thanksgiving hunting in north central South Dakota. The bird numbers were great, hospitality was super, and the hunting by my standards was top notch.

When I was planning for the trip, I completely expected to only hunt public land ­ South Dakota walk-in areas, state wildlife management areas, and federal waterfowl production areas.

All the commercialization of pheasant hunting is South Dakota had me thinking the only way to hunt on private land was to pay for it.

To my surprise, and what made this a very memorable hunt, was the hospitality we got from farmers and landowners in the areas we hunted. The landowners we talked to almost seemed surprised that we bothered to ask for permission amidst the array of no hunting signs.

With little hesitation and only a few questions, three different landowners gave us permission to hunt on their pheasant wealthy property. It was a Minnesota pheasant hunter's dream.

Although bird numbers were said to be down in northern South Dakota, on the east side of the river, we were very pleased with the numbers. Basically, on this trip South Dakota lived up to its "best in the nation" pheasant hunting reputation.

In one slough we hunted, if there were 20 birds there were 200 birds. We ended the trip with close to a limit of birds for two hunters in three days of hunting, good memories, and best of all five days of hunting left on our South Dakota licenses.

This week, I plan on finishing out the 2001 hunting season with one last bird-chasing adventure to South Dakota. I'll let you know how it went.

Moving on, chasing birds in Minnesota was a bit different than chasing them in South or North Dakota.

In September, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, after analyzing August roadside counts, said Minnesota pheasant numbers were down by about 50 percent from the previous year and that pheasant hunting prospects in general would be poor.

In most cases, including mine, pheasant hunting wasn't as good as the previous year, but it wasn't as bad as the DNR expected.

Actually, late season hunting in Minnesota was very good. Hunter numbers were down, there was a lot of corn still in the fields on the opener, and late season birds weren't as spooky as they usually are.

As I expected, the best pheasant hunting Minnesota had to offer was in the far west, Marshall to Morris. Other parts of the state, like the Jackson area, were hit a little harder by last year's tough winter and wet spring.

In next week's column, we'll close out another year of hunting, with a deeper look at Minnesota's 2001 pheasant hunting season.

Adult snowmobile safety course

A snowmobile safety course for adults is being offered Thursday, Jan. 24 from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Wright County Government Center's community room.

The class is open to Wright County residents age 16 and older. Cost is $15 and is limited to 30 participants.

Interested persons must register at the Wright County Sheriff's Department during office hours, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. Proof of age will be required.

The law now requires all snowmobile operators born after 1976 to have completed a snowmobile safety course by fall 2002.

For more information on this class or youth snowmobile safety classes, or for a booklet titled Minnesota Snowmobile Safety Laws, Rules, and Regulations, call the sheriff's office at (763) 682-7622 or 7620.

Outdoor notes

­ When the ice fishing season finally does arrive, make sure your fishhouse heater is working properly and that the house is well ventilated. It's also a good idea to keep your fuel source or propane tank outside of the fishhouse.

­ Coyotes are becoming much more common in our area. I saw three of them last week and am aware of more people hunting them in our area then ever before.

­ Canada geese were flying in big numbers in the Winsted and Mayer areas last week.

­ As the weather turns colder, make sure your dog is ready for it and in good health. Pay special attention to ears, eyes, and feet.

­ Now is a great time to find super buys on outdoor gear.

­ Take some time to get out of the house and enjoy the outdoors this holiday season. The outdoors, our natural resources, and environment are things we all share and can be thankful for this Christmas.

With that in mind, I wish all of you great outdoor memories and a very Merry Christmas.

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