Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

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

Sept. 30, 2002

All the important parts of the hunt

Waterfowl and other birds are beginning their long journey, the weather has made its timeless change, leaves are turning color, and the harvest is upon us.

All of these are sure signs of fall, a season blessed with beauty and holding only one undesirable quality ­ an irreversible end that leads to winter.

For me and many others, fall is all of these things. But, more than anything else, it is the time to hunt.

The time to sit in a slough amidst decoys and cattails after ducks, chasing pheasants behind a good dog, and stalking the elusive and magnificent whitetailed deer.

The time to hunt also brings with it, more than anything else, time spent in the outdoors ­ sitting against a tree and noticing what bark looks like and how big a tree actually can get; trudging through a cattail swamp and realizing how much wildlife actually lives there; sitting in a deer stand, still and quiet, watching a chipmunk only a few feet away. These are part of the hunt.

There is also the thrill of the harvest, with the flushed pheasant and the gun raised; the bounding whitetail after the catch of human scent; the mallard with wings set and feet down; the ageless accomplishment of putting food on the table; these are part of the hunt.

The outdoor and fundraising banquet attended in the spring; wood duck houses built over the previous winter; dollars from the purchase of your hunting license used by the state to obtain a new wildlife management area; the vote you cast last fall for an outdoor and conservation minded legislator. These are part of the hunt.

Finally, the tradition of the hunt. Not of just the time spent, but with whom you spent that time ­ a father, a son, a daughter, family member, or friend.

Almost all of the things mentioned above that are a part of the hunt involve time spent with someone else.

That time spent with others carries the true value, commitment, and tradition of the hunt.

In that perspective, the value of the hunt is like the change of a season ­ timeless and irreversible.

Special deer hunts planned in state parks

(From the DNR)

Special deer hunts will take place this fall in 19 Minnesota state parks for hunters selected in a lottery for the special hunts. (The lottery deadline was Sept. 5.)

While most of the parks will remain open to the public during the hunts, for public safety reasons 11 parks will restrict use to special hunt permit holders only, due to the extensive area open for hunting in those parks.

Visitors who plan to use the parks during the special hunts should check in at the park office when they arrive and pick up a map of the park's no-hunting zones. Maps of these zones will also be posted in various locations in the park.

Department of Natural Resources officials encourage visitors to wear blaze orange while they are in a park that is holding a special hunt and to remain within the designated no hunting areas.

Visitors might also consider choosing a nearby alternative park for recreation if a special hunt is being conducted at the park they had planned to visit. For example, Interstate State Park on the St. Croix River will not host a deer hunt this year, and is an alternative choice for fall hiking or picnicking.

Park use is restricted to hunt permit holders only at nearby Wild River and William O'Brien state parks. For help in choosing alternative locations, contact the DNR Information Center at (651) 297-6157, or toll free 1-888-MINNDNR (646-6367).

State parks annually host deer hunts in order to manage park resources, according to Ed Quinn, resource management coordinator for the DNR Parks and Recreation Division.

"Deer are part of the natural communities that we seek to preserve or restore in state parks," Quinn said.

"When deer populations in an area become too high, however, they can have significant negative impacts on the natural balance of plant and animal communities. Heavy deer browsing on seedling trees during the winter can nearly eliminate regeneration of some tree species, such as pine. Deer browse can also greatly reduce the number and variety of wildflowers and other herbaceous plants that grow on the forest floor.

"Other techniques, such as bud capping and enclosures, are also used to control levels of deer browse," Quinn said. "Our overall goal is to manage the parks' deer so that populations are at levels that do not negatively affect the other natural resources. In some cases, that is best accomplished through special hunts."

While most of the hunts are designated for regular firearms, seven parks will hold hunts for muzzleloader hunters. The hunts at Wild River and Lake Bemidji state parks include opportunities for hunters with disabilities.

For more information about special hunts, call the DNR Information Center at (651) 296-6157 or 888-MINN-DNR (646-6367) or visit the state park pages on the DNR Web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us.

State parks that will hold special hunts include:

· *Afton State Park (Monday through Wednesday, Dec. 2-4), muzzleloader;

· *Crow Wing State Park (Friday through Sunday, Dec. 6-8), muzzleloader;

· *Frontenac State Park (Saturday through Monday, Nov. 23-25), regular firearms;

· Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park (Saturday through Monday, Nov. 23-25), regular firearms;

· Gooseberry Falls State Park (Saturday through Sunday, Nov. 9-24), regular firearms;

· Jay Cooke State Park (Saturday through Wednesday, Dec. 7-11), muzzleloader;

· Itasca State Park (Saturday through Sunday, Nov. 9-17), regular firearms;

· *Lake Bemidji (Saturday through Tuesday, Nov. 9-12), shotgun and muzzleloader (Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 11-12, hunters with disabilities will be paired with members of the Bemidji chapter of Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.);

· Lake Bronson State Park (Saturday through Monday, Nov. 9-11), regular firearms;

· *Lake Shetek (Saturday through Tuesday, Dec. 7-10), muzzleloader; Maplewood State Park (Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 9-10), regular firearms;

· *St. Croix State Park (Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 16-17), regular firearms;

· *Savanna Portage (Saturday through Wednesday, Nov. 30 - Dec. 4), muzzleloader;

· *Sibley State Park (Saturday through Tuesday, Nov. 30 - Dec. 3), muzzleloader;

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park (Saturday through Sunday, Nov. 9-24);

· **Tettegouche State Park (Nov. 9-24), regular firearms;

· *Wild River State Park (Saturday through Sunday, Nov. 9-10), facilities available for disabled hunters;

· *William O'Brien State Park (Saturday through Monday, Nov. 9-11 and Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 16-17). The park will be restricted to use by hunting permit holders only during the weekend hunts Saturday through Monday, Nov. 9-11 and Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 16-17. This includes the park land north of County Road 4. From Saturday through Sunday, Nov. 9-17, the state park land south of County Road 4 will be open only to hunting permit holders.

· Zippel Bay State Park (Saturday through Sunday, Nov. 9-17), regular firearms

* These parks will restrict park use to hunters only.

** In Tettegouche State Park, the only portion of the park that will remain open to the public is on the Lake Superior side of Minnesota Highway 61, which includes Shovel Point and the mouth of the Baptism River, the park's cart-in campground, Palisade Head and the Baptism River Wayside.

The park's main campground and the cabins at Tettegouche Camp will be closed to the public during the hunt.

Bringing pheasants back

Pheasant season will soon be upon us, and while this season's outlook is better than last year's, it will still be a far cry from the days when Minnesotans harvested a million birds a year.

And it's not just pheasant hunters who miss the birds. Most rural residents enjoy having pheasants around, whether they hunt them or not.

To many people, pheasants are just as symbolic of farm life as planting in the spring and combining in the fall.

What happened to pheasants and what can be done to bring them back? The answers to both questions are tied to one word, habitat.

Habitat is the shelter, food, and water resources needed by any wild creature. Pheasants need undisturbed grassy fields for nesting and raising chicks, waste grain, or food plots to feed them during the winter, and sloughs or thick shelterbelts to survive in the face of winter weather and predators.

Given these essentials pheasants thrive and without them they disappear. Want proof of this? Look at areas that still have pheasants and those that don't. Where there are still good numbers of birds, there's invariably good habitat as well.

Sadly, there are too many places where habitat, and thus pheasants, is in short supply.

The part of the habitat most often lacking is nesting cover. Pheasant hens start nesting in mid April and will keep on nesting into late summer if they lose nests to predators, farming operations, or weather.

Good nesting cover is grassy, at least 10 inches high, and undisturbed throughout the nesting season. In order to support pheasant populations capable of providing "good" hunting, there needs to be at least 60 acres of nesting cover per square mile.

Good wintering areas have to have both food and cover. Standing corn is far and away the best winter food, and has to be less than a quarter mile from thick winter cover.

Good winter cover needs to be thick enough to protect the birds from weather and predators and large enough to keep from filling with snow.

Ten acre or larger stands of cattails or cane are the bird's first choice but they also use wide, dense shelterbelts if there is thick grass (switchgrass is excellent) on the leeward side of it.

Good wintering areas need not take up a lot of land, in fact one good wintering area per nine square miles would be sufficient, although more would certainly be helpful.

The trouble, of course, is that good farmland has to earn a living for its owners, and not many people can afford to put land into wildlife habitat without getting compensated for it.

Fortunately, there are now a number of programs available to help landowners bring pheasants back to their land by paying them for putting land back into habitat. The Conservation Reserve Program, the Wetlands Reserve Program, and the Farmable Wetlands Program are just a few of the programs available.

To help landowners bring pheasants back to their land the Minnesota DNR now employs a private land specialist to help landowners design habitat projects and select the right programs to pay for it.

The Private Land Specialist can visit with you at your property to discuss your goals, design a plan to meet them, and then direct you to the best funding programs.

There is no cost for this service and once you have a plan you aren't under any obligation to implement parts you don't want.

Free, no hassle help bringing pheasants back is just a phone call away. If you want to see more birds on your property in the future you should contact Jeff Zajac, private land specialist for south central Minnesota, at (507) 389-6297 to schedule an appointment.

Outdoor notes

­ Today, Sept. 30, the sun will rise at 7:10 a.m. and set at 6:55 p.m. The last before daylight savings time begins Oct. 26, the sun will rise at 7:44 a.m. and set at 6:09 p.m.

­ Shooting hours for waterfowl extend to sunset Oct. 6.

­ The Minnesota pheasant hunting season opens Saturday, Oct. 12, at 9 a.m.

­ The firearms deer hunting season in Minnesota opens in most zones Saturday, Nov. 9.

­ Make sure to get your dog checked by a vet this fall and get all vaccinations needed. If you're traveling out of state or to Canada to hunt, it may be a requirement.

­ For those hunters who lost their Minnesota firearms safety certificate and need the number or a copy, a duplicate or replacement can be obtained at any electronic licensing outlet.

­ Don't forget about blaze orange requirements this fall. The wearing of blaze orange is required for upland game hunters and anyone in the outdoors during the firearms deer hunting season, even if you're just taking a walk down the road.

Specific requirements can be found on page 31 of the 2002 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook.

­ Please ask first before you hunt on private land. In most cases, it's the law. In every case, it's simply the best thing to do.

­ The most enjoyable hunts are those that are safe and simple. The best gear and newest equipment doesn't ensure a safe and quality hunt.

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