Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

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

September 22, 2003

Minnesota waterfowl season opens Saturday

Although Minnesota has the highest number of duck hunters per capita in the county, the 2003 version of Minnesota's regular waterfowl season, or duck season, will open without much fanfare and with very low expectations from hunters.

In our area, small sloughs and potholes are dry, and it seems most waterfowl area and shallow lakes are absent of ducks. Typically on dry years, the Crow River can provide some good hunting, especially for wood ducks.

However, this year, the Crow River also seems absent of ducks. I spent whatever time I can along the river, and I haven't seen a wood duck in weeks.

Moving farther west, into Minnesota's prairie pothole region, the same seems to be true. Potholes are dry, and many hunters have been saying that there are not many ducks in the area.

On a recent drive to the Benson area, pothole numbers apeared to be good, but most didn't carry any ducks. The few that weren't empty carried only a few teal and small flocks of local mallards.

In other areas of the state, the picture doesn't seem any brighter.

Personally, I haven't made an opening day decision yet. A few evenings of scouting at traditional waterfowl areas indicated no or very few birds, and other small potholes I have hunted in the past are dry this year. Right now, I'm not sure where I will be hunting on the opener.

Aside from the great potential of poor duck numbers, the fun of duck hunting and opening day will still be there. The smell of the slough, the muddy and messy dog, the slough pumpers and black birds, and of course all the other things that go along with fall and hunting.

Fall wild turkey leftover licenses available today

From the DNR

Applicants who were unsuccessful in the 2003 fall wild turkey lottery may apply for leftover licenses. All hunters successful in the lottery should have received notification by Sept. 12.

Wild turkey hunting licenses that remain after the landowner and regular lottery drawings are being offered to unsuccessful applicants at Electronic Licensing System (ELS) agents, beginning at noon on Monday, Sept. 22, on a first-come, first-served basis.

There are 287 permits still available from the 3,870 initially offered, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The DNR web site at will have a link to the ELS Internet License Agent. The ELS Internet Agent will begin providing access to the surplus fall wild turkey licenses at noon, Sept. 22.

Because hunting access in many zones is limited, hunters should obtain landowner permission before getting a leftover permit. The fall turkey hunt consists of two five-day seasons, Oct. 15-19 and Oct. 22-26.

Nine of the 21 open wild turkey permit areas have some leftover permits available. Only applicants who were unsuccessful in the fall 2003 turkey hunt lottery may obtain these licenses. A person who obtains a leftover permit does not lose any existing preference for future lottery drawings.

There is no additional application fee, but hunters obtaining leftover permits must pay the regular turkey hunting license and stamp fees. Unsuccessful party applicants must apply individually to purchase these licenses. All license sales are final.

Hunters may check the availability of leftover licenses or the status of their lottery applications on the DNR web site at

Waterfowl hunters reminded to have license and tags, and follow rules

From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resource asks hunters to be safe, ethical, and responsible when the state's waterfowl season gets underway Saturday, Sept. 27.

"The most common violations are not buying a license or not having waterfowl stamps," said DNR Chief Conservation Officer Mike Hamm.

He noted that most waterfowl hunting questions can be answered by reading the 2003 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook and the Waterfowl Hunting Regulations Supplement, both available where DNR licenses are sold and on-line at

Waterfowl hunters must have a Minnesota Small Game License in their possession while hunting unless they are exempt from a license requirement.

A license can be acquired at any of the 1,800 Electronic Licensing System (ELS) agents located throughout Minnesota, by calling the DNR License Center at 1-888-665-4236, or through Internet licensing on the DNR web site

Hunters who have lost their license may obtain a duplicate license at any ELS license agent or from the DNR License Center.

The daily bag limit is six ducks, and may not include more than four mallards (only two of which may be females), three scaup, two wood ducks, two redheads, and one black duck. The daily limit will also include one pintail and one canvasback during the limited 30-day open seasons for those species.

One pintail may be taken during the 30-day open season from Saturday, Sept. 27, through Sunday, Oct. 26. One canvasback may be taken for the 30-day season from Saturday, Oct. 11, through Sunday, Nov. 9. Possession limits are twice the daily bag limits.

Both state and federal stamps are required during waterfowl season. A State Migratory Waterfowl Stamp is required by all resident hunters except those under age 18, or age 65 and over, and all non-resident hunters.

Exceptions to the requirement are outlined on page 87 of the 2003 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations handbook. A Federal Migratory Waterfowl Stamp is required for waterfowl hunters ages 16 and older.

Among the restrictions is taking migratory game birds by the aid of baiting or on or over a baited area when a person knows, or reasonably should know, that the area is or has been baited.

A baited area is considered to be baited for 10 days after complete removal of any bait. Baiting includes placing, exposing, depositing, distributing, or scattering of salt, grain or other feed that could serve as a lure or attraction for migratory game birds to, on, or over areas where hunters are attempting to take them.

It is a separate offense to place or direct placement of bait on or adjacent to an area that causes, induces, or allows another to hunt by the aid of bait or over a baited area.

"Hunters are responsible for ensuring that an area has not been baited and should verify its legality prior to hunting," Hamm said. The maximum federal baiting penalties for hunting over bait are $15,000 and/or six months in jail, and for placing bait $100,000 and/or one year in jail.

It is unlawful to take geese, ducks, mergansers, coots, or moorhens with lead shot, or while having any lead shot in possession.

The only shot that may be used is steel shot, copper-plated, nickel-plated, or zinc-plated steel shot, bismuth shot, tungsten-iron shot, tungsten-nickel-iron shot, tungsten-polymer shot, tungsten-matrix shot, or other shot approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Tagging waterfowl is also important. Tagging is required if the birds are being transported by another person for the hunter, or if the birds have been left for cleaning, storage (including temporary storage), shipment or taxidermy services.

Hamm noted no person shall give, put, or leave any migratory game birds at any place, or in the custody of another person unless the birds are tagged by the hunter with the following information:

· hunter's signature

· hunter's address

· total number of birds involved, by species, and

· dates such birds were killed.

"Minnesota's abundance of wildlife is no accident. It is the direct product of habitat management and compliance with the law," Hamm said. "When you follow the regulations you are on the trail to a safe, rewarding and successful hunt."

To report a violation to a conservation officer, contact the nearest Minnesota State Patrol Office or Turn in Poachers at 1-800-652-9093.

DNR urges duckboat discretion

From the DNR

Most duck hunters are already packing their gear for the Sept. 27 Minnesota opener. The boat has been repainted, missing decoy anchors replaced, and the piquant bouquet of Hoppe's Number 9 wafts up from the basement.

"I wonder how many hunters have forgotten to pack their life jackets," mused Tim Smalley, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources boating safety specialist and life-long duck hunter.

"Ever since 1988, when life jackets were first required on board duck boats, the lack of flotation devices is one of the most common violations DNR conservation officers find while checking waterfowlers," Smalley added.

DNR records indicate that although some hunters still forget to carry life vests, the law is working. In the 15 years since life jackets were first required, seven hunters have drowned in boating accidents.

"That's seven too many, but in the bad old days before duck hunters were required to have life vests, sometimes seven hunters would drown in boating accidents in a single season," Smalley noted.

Last year, two duck hunters drowned in separate boat accidents. One hunter, who fell out of his boat while placing decoys, wasn't able to stay afloat without a life vest.

In the other mishap, three hunters in a 10-foot boat, equipped with a small outboard motor and loaded with gear, capsized in choppy conditions with water temperatures in the high 30s. They all wore life vests, but one died from hypothermia after being immersed in the frigid water for over two hours.

The law requires that there be a readily accessible U.S. Coast Guard approved wearable life vest for every person on board duck boats.

For boats 16 feet and longer, there also has to be one Coast Guard approved throwable device (seat cushion) in the boat. Seat cushions are no longer approved as primary flotation devices, so everyone aboard needs a wearable personal floatation device of the proper size and type.

Of course, a life jacket does no good if it's stuffed under a boat seat when the accident happens.

"Trying to put on a life jacket during a boating accident would be like trying to buckle a seat belt during a car crash," Smalley said. "You just don't have any warning that an accident is going to happen, so the smart thing to do is wear a life vest on the way to and from the blind."

There are new inflatable Coast Guard approved flotation devices made with duck hunters in mind.

"The advantage to an inflatable life vest is that you can wear one and you almost forget you have it on because they are so comfortable," Smalley said.

The most common fatal duck hunting accident is a capsizing or fall overboard from a small overloaded boat. Cold and rough water conditions often figure into the death-dealing mix.

The DNR advises hunters to take several trips in an adequately sized boat to and from the blind, rather than overloading the boat. Avoid cutting across large expanses of open water.

Stay closer to shore so in case of a capsize, you have a much better chance of being seen by potential rescuers. Stay with the boat, even if you have to climb on top of it when it's overturned.

"There is an old saying in water safety that you only have a 50-50 chance of being able to swim 50 yards in 50 degree water," Smalley noted. "Just try holding your hand in a bucket of ice water for three minutes. It just about can't be done. Now imagine having your whole body immersed in water that cold."

Contrary to common belief, waders and hip boots will not flip a practiced wearer upside down. By bending knees to keep the air trapped in the boots' shins, a hunter can trap enough air to stay afloat long enough to return to the boat.

"We have heard from hunters who survived by simply following that simple procedure," Smalley said. "Bodies of drowned duck hunters have been recovered with waders pulled half way down. When the waders are pulled down, all the air trapped inside is released and you have a more difficult time staying afloat."

Another problem with taking off waders in the water is that it requires the hunter to immerse the face and head, which can induce what drowning experts call the torso reflex.

"The torso reflex is the automatic gasp for air that happens when your face is suddenly immersed in cold water," Smalley said. "If your mouth and nose are under water when the gasp occurs, drowning is the probable outcome."

Smalley advised hunters who have to wear waders in the boat to practice floating in them in warm, shallow water.

The Minnesota DNR offers these tips to help make duck hunting trips safe and successful:

· wear a life jacket to and from the blind, with or without waders

· don't overload your boat

· learn how to float in waders and hip boats, or don't wear them

· stay near shore; avoid crossing large expanses of open water, especially in bad weather

· let someone know where you are going and when to expect your return.

The DNR has a free waterfowl hunting boating safety brochure, "Prescription for Duck Hunters," available by calling the DNR Information Center at (651) 296-6157 or 1-888-646-6367. It may be downloaded at

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