Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

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

September 15, 2003

Pheasant and deer hunting should be great this fall

Many hunters, especially the ones that have been around for awhile, often talk about the good old days of hunting in Minnesota.

How much game there was, how easy it was to get on private land, or how fun a drive out to the farm was.

In the '50s Minnesota pheasant hunting was tremendous, annual harvests were often over one million birds, and access to land was easy.

Deer hunting, during what I would call a modern era of hunting in Minnesota, had its ups and downs.

Good hunting was found on certain years, and strong traditions of the "up north" deer hunt became the norm.

Also in the '50s, duck hunting on lakes like Christina, Swan, and Heron, along with many potholes that dotted the prairie regions of Minnesota, was said to be super.

Regarding duck hunting, Minnesota hunting had to be better at that time than it is today. There was just simply more habitat, more birds and more opportunities.

Duck hunting in Minnesota today can be so dismal that I will not even attempt to challenge the good old days of hunting versus the hunting of today.

However, when it come to pheasants, deer, and even wild turkeys, hunting in Minnesota this season could be as good, or better than it ever has been.

Deer numbers are at or near all-time highs, and hunting opportunities on the vast amounts of public land in Minnesota should be excellent.

Wild turkeys, thanks to aggressive transplant programs, are doing well in several parts of the state and every year there are more hunting opportunities.

Pheasants, while it won't be a harvest of over a million birds like the '50s, will be an excellent hunt and probably the best it has been since I started pheasant hunting in the late 1970s.

Pheasant numbers across Minnesota's pheasant range are up 65 percent from a year ago and are 117 percent above the 10 year average.

Plus, if you work hard at it and do some research, you will find a corner of the millions of acres of public land in the pheasant range that hasn't been pounded by other hunters.

Every year, there seems to be more and more public land in Minnesota's pheasant range. Especially in western and southwestern parts of the state.

In Minnesota, this year's DNR roadside survey counted 243 birds per 100 miles in the southwest; 48 birds in the southeast; 136 in the south central; 84 in the west central; 88 in the central; and 56 birds per 100 miles in the east central portion of Minnesota's pheasant range.

In comparison, in 2002, which was a great year of pheasant hunting in western and southwestern Minnesota, 113 birds were counted per 100 miles in the southwest and 65 birds in the west central portion of the state. Those are big increases over a year that I already considered to be great for pheasant hunting in Minnesota.

The point is this, get out there and hunt with your family, friends, and especially kids, and create your own "good old days" , the opportunities may never be better.

Minnesota's Take-A-Kid Hunting Weekend is Sept. 20-21

From the DNR

Introductory experiences are important first steps for young people learning life skills. The Take-A-Kid Hunting Weekend, Sept. 20-21, is intended to give young people an introductory experience in hunting, according to Ryan Bronson, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) hunter recruitment coordinator.

Under state law, adults who take a youngster under the age of 16 small-game hunting anywhere in the state of Minnesota are not required to purchase a hunting license during the special Take-A-Kid Hunting Weekend.

"Surveys and research indicate that many kids want to try hunting, but they need someone to take them," Bronson said. "For parents who might not be serious hunters themselves, or for adults who only hunt big game, this gives them an opportunity to take a kid out in the field pursuing squirrels, grouse, or rabbits."

Minnesota has millions of acres of federal, state, and local public land that are open to hunting. Generally, state wildlife management areas and state forests are open to public hunting, as well as some scientific and natural areas.

Federally owned national forests and waterfowl production areas, and portions of most refuges are open to hunting as well. Good sources of information on public hunting lands are the DNR's Public Recreation Information Maps (PRIM) available at many sporting goods stores.

The maps can be ordered on-line at www.dnr.state.mn.us/maps/prim.html.

Many landowners are willing to allow hunters onto their land to hunt small game if the hunters seek permission first. According to Minnesota Statute 604A.23, landowners who grant hunters to access their land for no charge do not assume liability or responsibility for injuries to persons or property.

Bronson offered tips for adults who plan to take young people hunting:

· emphasize safety first; practice muzzle control, walk with an unloaded firearm, and when shooting, be aware of what is beyond the target

· teach; even if the child is not ready to hunt, have the child accompany you and explain the hows and whys of the hunting experience

· take your time; teaching patience is an important lesson and rushing can lead to unsafe actions

· make sure the young person is comfortable, well-rested, fed and hydrated. The firearm should fit properly and the youth should be dressed comfortably

· set good expectations; competition is best left on the athletic field; success should be measured by the enjoyment of the hunt, and not in the number of game in the bag

· focus on squirrels and rabbits ­ game species that are plentiful and offer young people reasonable opportunities for success

· follow the hunt with a game dinner because completing the cycle is important for kids, and putting game on the table should be celebrated.

"Roasting rabbits and squirrels on low heat, or making a stew, are simple and delicious ways to prepare small game," Bronson noted.

Resident youth under the age of 16 are never required to purchase a small game license, but youth over the age of 12 are required to have a Firearms Safety Training Certificate. Youth under the age of 14 must be accompanied by a parent or designated guardian while hunting.

For more information about hunting regulations, consult the 2003 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook, available where hunting licenses are sold.

Low water will challenge hunters

From the DNR

"For additional information, contact: Tom Conroy, Information Officer, New Ulm; 507-359-6014 LOW WATER WILL CHALLENGE HUNTERS Check it out!"

That is the first suggestion from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to hunters who plan on being in a duck blind this fall. With drought conditions prevalent throughout much of Minnesota, last year's favorite marsh may be this year's mud flat.

With the special youth waterfowl hunting day set for Saturday, Sept. 20, and the regular waterfowl season beginning the following Saturday (Sept. 27), hunters "should really get out soon to check the location they are expecting to hunt this fall," said Jon Cole, DNR Whitewater Area Wildlife Manager.

"For example, Dorer pool #1 near Weaver is very low compared to last year and could get even lower," Cole said. "There are numerous examples of similar situations throughout the area."

Many of the shallow wetlands in southern and western Minnesota have gone dry and will remain so, barring an unusually high amount of precipitation soon. However, the months of September and October are normally dry months, so the prospects for water returning to dry basins are poor.

Cole suggests that with the youth waterfowl hunt fast approaching, now would be a good time for adults and their youth hunting companions to do some scouting for a suitable location to hunt.

"Imagine how disappointed a youngster would be to show up for the youth day hunt, only to find the wetland they were going to hunt to be dry," Cole noted.

Randy Evans, DNR Southern Region Enforcement Supervisor at New Ulm, said conservation officers are also concerned about other potential problems that this year's low water conditions could cause.

Trespassing could be a problem in some places, Evans said. Hunters who traditionally have used a road or stream to access a lake or wetland, for instance, could find that access source dried up this fall.

As the water recedes, the exposed bottom becomes the property of the riparian landowner. "If there is now land between the road and the water, even if it's only five or ten feet, you need to obtain permission from the landowner to cross it, if it's posted. The same is true for a dry creek or ditch bottom."

ATV users are also reminded that it is illegal to operate a vehicle anywhere below the ordinary high water mark of unfrozen lakes and rivers listed in the state's Public Water Inventory, as well as types 3, 4, 5, and 8 wetlands. "That basically covers most of the state's water bodies and the adjacent shorelines," Evans explained.

(The ordinary high water mark is evident by the change in habitat between the area typically under water and that which is seldom under water.)

Hunter versus hunter conflicts might also arise, Evans said. "As ducks congregate in areas where there is sufficient water, hunters will also congregate there," Evans said. "It's important to understand that hunting pressure is likely to be up in many of these areas."

Evans encourages hunters to heed the following suggestions to make their hunt safer and more enjoyable:

· Always know where other hunters are and do not take foolish shots in their direction.

· Don't crowd others. If someone is already in the location you were hoping to hunt, move on to another place.

· Avoid sky-busting. Take only good shots that you are reasonably certain have a chance of making a clean kill. Sky-busters ruin hunting for others and lead to more cripples.

· Keep your cool. Getting angry usually accomplishes only one thing "it raises your blood pressure."

· Respect the traditions and ethics of waterfowl hunting that go back generations in time. Over-bagging, causing needless cripples, shooting at birds that are working someone else's spread, or setting up too close to other hunters are all examples of how not to be a good waterfowler.

Finally, Evans has one other suggestion ­ know your limits and take it easy. "Anyone who has tried to slog their way through knee-deep muck in waders, or spent time push-poling through cattails, knows it can be pretty darn hard work," Evans stated.

"The last thing we want is for someone to have a heart attack out there."

Minnesota fall color updates available on DNR Web site

From the DNR

Minnesotans can follow the changing fall colors on-line this autumn on the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us.

The color reports on this site are gathered from information provided by color observers in state parks across Minnesota.

Because the colorful fall show in Minnesota is the result of more than leaf color, these reports include some extras. In addition to leaf color, the reports include information about the changing fall colors among the native grasses and wildflowers, notes on "critters" that are migrating or preparing for winter, and a listing of the berries, nuts and fruits that are ripe for harvesting.

The site also features highlights about autumn events in Minnesota. The fall color site will also include photos from parks and other locations that will give web site visitors a first-hand look at fall colors.

The public can contribute current fall color photos by uploading them to the DNR Web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us. Click on "Current Conditions."

Fall color information can be accessed from the DNR home page by selecting "2003 Fall Colors." By clicking on a region of the color report map, users are linked to complete reports from state parks in that region.

Color reports for individual state parks, which are updated twice a week during the fall color season, appear at the top of the state park home page.

Colors typically peak along the Canadian border in mid-to-late September. Peak colors come to the northern third of Minnesota the last week in September or early October.

The following weekend should bring peak colors in central Minnesota. By mid-October, peak colors reach the Twin Cities area. The southern and southeastern part of the state should have good color through the third week in October.

For an audio report of fall color status, call the Minnesota Office of Tourism leaf hotline at (651) 296-5029 in the Twin Cities metro area or toll free 1-800-657-3700.

Third annual RAM fishing contest winners announced

The third annual RAM fishing contest took place Aug. 23 on Collinwood Lake.

Winners for the largest walleye were Keenan Weise with an 18" keeper that was netted by Jenni Diedrick.

The largest fish award was shared by Adam Koch and Floydd Lhotka. Lhotka had a northern which weighed in at 3 lbs. 10 oz., and Koch caught a largemouth bass of the same exact weight.

The most pounds of fish went to the team of Mark Laxen and Charlie Radtke. Radtke said they found their fish on the north side, using a black power lizard.

Outdoor notes

­ The archery deer season and small game hunting season in Minnesota opened Saturday, Sept. 13.

­ The pheasant hunting season in Minnesota opens Saturday, Oct. 11.

­ The duck hunting season opens Saturday, Sept. 27 at noon. Pothole and small lake conditions could be tough because of low water levels.

­ The firearms deer season in Minnesota opens Saturday, Nov. 8.

­ Mixed reports came from local hunters participating in the September Canada goose season. While a few hunters did well, most hunters noted there just haven't been any geese using the local area so far this season.

­ Take some time to enjoy the outdoors and share it with someone else this fall.

­ The first day of fall is Tuesday, Sept. 23.

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