Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

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

April 14, 2003

More on rats and raccoons

In last week's column, I told you about the raccoon that climbed into a tree in my backyard in residential Lester Prairie.

I also let you know that I would finish the story this week by sharing the second part of that Saturday morning furry adventure.

It was sunrise, and although everyone in the house was up because of the raccoon adventure, I headed back to bed for another hour of sleep.

Just as I had nestled back into bed, my 5 year old daughter Abbi came running into the bedroom screaming "Rat! rat!"

I was out of bed fast ­ I hate rats just as much as the next person, and into the living room I went to investigate.

Gladly, there was no rat in the house. Just one good-sized rat in the backyard.

With all of us watching through the window, the rat would run from a little hole underneath our deck, down the sidewalk to the dog kennel, pull a piece of dog food out of the dog dish, and hustle it back up the sidewalk to store it in the hole underneath the deck.

The rat would then head back down the sidewalk, grab another piece of dog food, and hide in a hole underneath the dog kennel or backyard shed.

This went on for about half an hour or so until my wife demanded that I get out there, strategically sneak up on the rat, and club it.

To let you know, my fearless and world champion hunting dog ­ black lab/springer mix Angus, slept through the whole thing.

Upon my wife's request, I headed outside in my pajamas and tried to club the dog food-stealing rodent. Although I was quiet, sneaky, and fast, with my wife and kids watching, I missed on the rat three straight times.

The rat was now under the shed and safely away from the big, bright yellow plastic whiffle bat I was swinging at him. I was never a good hitter.

That was the moment I realized a rodent war had just begun. I was wishing the rat would have left with the raccoon.

Adventure number three ­ next week.

Hunter education results in fewer incidents

From the DNR

With spring firearm safety program classes in full swing, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) official noted there were very few firearms hunting incidents in 2002.

Captain Jeff Thielen, DNR enforcement education program coordinator, said his agency continues its campaign to ensure all hunters have an awareness of safe hunting practices and basic safety principles through its firearm safety and advanced hunter education courses.

"Last year's statistics are an excellent indication that our commitment to hunter education continues to pay dividends," Thielen said. "Even though more than 550,000 hunting licenses were sold, only 20 incidents were recorded. This compares with 35 from the previous year."

DNR firearm safety and advanced hunter education courses are designed to improve safety and to reinforce an attitude of respect for wildlife and the environment. Courses cover hunter responsibility, wildlife conservation, and identification, firearms and ammunition, field safety, first aid and state regulations.

Thielen said the course is mandatory for individuals born after Dec. 31, 1979, who are seeking a Minnesota hunting license.

"I highly recommend hunters take both the Firearms Safety and Advanced Hunter Education seminar and clinics, since there is always a need to reinforce basic safety principles and to stress the importance of obeying conservation law," Thielen said.

Last year's total of 20 incidents and two hunting-related fatalities compares to 35 incidents and two fatalities for 2001, and 27 incidents and four fatalities for 2000.

"Because of improved educational techniques and a nationwide focus on hunter education, hunting is one of the safest outdoor recreational activities in the United States," Thielen said.

Of the 20 firearms hunting incidents in 2002, seven were self-inflicted and 11 were inflicted by a hunting partner. The two fatalities were novice waterfowl hunters ages 11 and 13.

Seven of the 20 incidents were related to deer hunting, three to waterfowl hunting, three to squirrel hunting, one to raccoon hunting, one to pheasant hunting, and five to other causes.

One fatality occurred when a firearm accidentally discharged after a hunter crossed a fence. The other fatality occurred near a beaver hut when the victim was accidentally struck after standing up as the shooter fired.

"We make an effort to improve the students' hunting behaviors and give them specific information on safety issues," Thielen said. "Although we are encouraged by the low number of incidents, we realize a heightened awareness among hunters to put safety first is really our best defense against incidents and fatalities."

Thielen said mentoring a young hunter can make a safe activity even safer. The DNR information center has a new brochure to assist parents and mentors in the process and to give them ideas for keeping themselves and novice hunters safe. Thielen noted that safe hunting practices are learned behaviors.

"Safe hunting principles need to be constantly promoted with new and inexperienced hunters," Thielen said. "It is the responsibility of a young hunter's parent or mentor to ensure that the practices taught in youth firearms safety and hunter education classes are continually reinforced in young hunters."

For a copy of the new mentoring brochure, contact the DNR information center at (651) 296-6157 or toll free 1-888-MINN-DNR (646-6367).

For firearms safety or advanced hunter education class information, go to the DNR web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us.

DNR advises folks to let wildlife remain wild

From the DNR

What should thoughtful Minnesotans do with so-called abandoned or lost animals?

"Just leave them alone," advises Carrol Henderson, Department of Natural Resources Nongame Wildlife Program supervisor. "The parent is probably nearby or will return shortly."

This is the time of year when young animals are scampering about lawns, roadsides, and just about everywhere in Minnesota. Young birds are falling out of their nests and turtles are crossing roads to lay their eggs.

Fawns are often mistaken as abandoned or lost, but in reality the doe is nearby and will soon return, Henderson said. "People should always leave the fawns alone unless it can be verified that the mother deer is dead or the animal is seriously injured," Henderson said.

Many small animals like rabbits attend to their young just a few short minutes a day and intentionally stay away from their young during the day to avoid drawing attention of predators.

"If the young are really small and have been removed from the nesting site, return them to the nest as soon as possible," Henderson said.

Birds can be handled the same way. Sometimes nests get crowded as the birds grow, and young birds get crowded out before they are ready to leave.

Other birds, like young owls, usually leave their nests before they are able to fly. These birds will usually do fine because they will generally be fed by their parents on the ground, except for purple martins, which should be replaced in their nest box. Only very young birds without feathers should be picked up and returned to the nest, Henderson said.

"People should not be afraid of passing on human scent because it generally will not prevent parent birds from caring for their young," Henderson noted. "Most birds have a very poor sense of smell."

Henderson advises people to pen their dogs and keep cats inside. Many people do not know what to do when they find an injured or orphaned animal.

"The best thing is to call the DNR information center for the telephone number of a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in their area," Henderson said. "Injured wild animals require skilled care that can only be provided by a DNR permitted wildlife rehabilitator."

For information or help concerning injured or orphaned wildlife, call the DNR Information Center at (651) 296-6157 in the Twin Cities area, or call toll free 888-MINN-DNR (646-6367).

Outdoor notes

­ The ice left Howard Lake Wednesday, April 9.

­ The application deadline for the 2003 Minnesota black bear hunting season is Friday, May 2.

­ Good luck to all the turkey hunters out there, and especially to those hunting in our area.

Ten permits were issued for each season in our area this year. That's a good sign the turkey numbers are growing and the population is expanding.

­ The Lester Prairie Sportsmen's Club recently donated $1,000 to the Lester Prairie community pool restoration project.

­ Firearms safety training classes at the Lester Prairie Sportmen's Club begin this week. Trap shooting practice begins at the club Wednesday April 16, with league shooting to start Wednesday, April 23.

­ Look for pairs of bald eagles nesting in our area. Currently a pair is nesting near Lake Emma, and another pair is nesting along the Crow River near New Germany.

­ Get your fishing gear ready. The spring crappie bite will be on very soon, and the 2003 opener for walleye and northern pike is set for Sat., May 10.

­ The stream and river trout fishing season in Minnesota opened Saturday, April 12.

­ Starting this summer, hunters and anglers will have to provide their social security number to purchase a hunting or fishing license.

­ Take some time to get outside and watch spring happen. Soon the landscape will change from a dull gray to a beautiful green.

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