Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

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

Oct. 13, 2003

Most of the time nobody's watching

Many of us who hunt understand the laws that regulate hunting and we do our best to follow them and be good lawful hunters.

A big chunk also feel they are committed to conservation efforts and preservation of our outdoor resources. Many in fact, do participate in conservation efforts, donate to the cause, and are members of various conservation organizations.

However, many of us or even a majority of us really understand hunter and conservation ethics.

Do we understand that most of the time we are in the field or in the woods nobody is watching us? No fans in the stands to cheer or boo, no umpires to oversee the event or kick us out of the game when we break the rules, no radar or police officer to make sure our gun only has three shells in it or to make sure we're not using two-way radios to communicate from one hunter to another.

Not all of the time, but most of the time it is only us, alone in the outdoors.

When we are alone in the outdoors, we need to be more than just a hunter who follows the laws. We also need to be the fan, the umpire, and the police officer.

In any case, the best judge of a persons character should be that person. In the outdoors, especially hunting, there really is no other choice.

It boils down to how, as hunters, we feel about ourselves and our outdoor experiences. Do we feel good about how we conduct ourselves in the outdoors? Do we conduct ourselves the way we are supposed to and finally do we not just expect, but demand ethical conduct from those we hunt with?

Only the right answers to these questions will ensure the future of our natural resources and outdoor heritage.

Pheasants Forever Hunter's Code of Conduct

· I will obey all game laws and insist my companions do as well.

· I will consider myself a guest of landowners, seeking their permission and

conducting myself in a manner that I might be welcomed back.

· I will obey the rules of safe gun handling and will courteously insist others do the same.

· I will practice marksmanship in order to ensure clean, sportsman-like kills.

· I will generously support habitat conservation through my contributions,volunteer time and by voting.

· I will work to strengthen our hunting heritage by passing these traditions onto future generations.

Hunters can help themselves by 'always asking first'

Hunters can improve their odds for gaining access to private land if they practice patience and "always ask first."

That is the message from Capt. Randy Evans, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) southern region enforcement supervisor at New Ulm. With the pheasant hunting season set to open on Saturday, Oct. 11, Evans said hunters should have already been out trying to line up locations to hunt.

"For those who have not already obtained permission from a landowner, it can be challenging to find a place once the season opens," Evans said. "That could be especially true this year because the pheasant outlook is excellent so there will be more hunters afield."

Trespassing, Evans said, is the number one complaint of landowners about hunters. Roadhunting complaints are a close second. "For landowners who have experienced trespassing problems, it can really diminish their willingness to allow hunters on their property," Evans noted. "And, it can also undercut their motivation to provide wildlife habitat on their land if they think they are going to have problems with hunters."

Evans acknowledged that it seems to be more difficult to obtain permission to hunt private land today than it was even 10 or 20 years ago. There are several reasons for that, he said.

Years ago, most hunters knew relatives or friends who lived on farms and would allow them access. And, there were simply more farms back then. "Today, you're much more likely to be knocking on a stranger's door and oftentimes you don't even know which door to knock on. Farms are so much bigger today and it can be difficult to find out where the owner lives. Sometimes the owner lives miles or even counties away." County plat maps are invaluable for determining land ownership.

Another complicating factor for the "average bird hunter," Evans said, is the increasing trend of leasing land for hunting. "It's not unusual to see a group of hunters lease land, effectively locking it up for themselves for years."

"Then throw in those landowners who might have a bad taste in their mouths from an unpleasant experience with a hunter and the amount of private land that is available for hunting becomes even more limited," Evans stated.

However, that is not to say the situation is necessarily bleak, Evans hastened to add. For the law-abiding, savvy hunter, there are still ample opportunities to enjoy many autumn days afield.

Evans offers the following tips for those hoping to obtain permission to hunt private land.

· Be patient and polite. If you have not already lined up a place to hunt, start now. Accept the fact that you're likely to be turned down more often than you'll be given permission. Be polite, thank the landowner for his or her time, and then move on. Leaving the landowner with a positive impression is important.

· Be smart about when you stop to ask. Don't show up too early in the morning and avoid typical meal times, if possible.

· Pay attention to your appearance; if you were the landowner, what would your reaction be to someone who came knocking on your door, looking the way you do?

· One helpful idea is to have cards or slips of paper with your name, address and phone number to leave with each landowner you talk to. Landowners feel better knowing who is on their land and how to contact them, if need be. And if you don't receive permission initially, suggest the landowner hold on to the card "just in case" they change their mind.

Evans also explained that if you do receive permission, there are several important do's and don'ts to follow.

· Let the landowner know exactly who will be on the property and when; don't invite extra buddies along without permission.

· Park and drive only where allowed, do not leave litter behind and close any gate you might open.

· Know the boundaries; the old excuse that "I didn't know I was on your land" rarely, if ever, flies with landowners.

· Express your appreciation to the landowner, such as sending a card, bringing a small gift, offering to clean and leave a bird or two, etc.

Finally, Evans reminds hunters that Minnesota enjoys some of the best and most abundant public hunting land in the country. State Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) and federal Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs) can offer "some excellent hunting." "Early in the season the more popular units can receive a lot of pressure but there are lots of lesser known units that can be real diamonds in the rough," Evans stated.

Two DNR publications describe and show where public hunting lands are located. Public Recreation Information Maps (PRIM) and DNR Wildlife Lands brochures are available at most DNR offices and select sporting goods outlets. PRIM brochures, which sell for $4.95, list state and federal recreation areas, public accesses and more. The Wildlife Lands maps show the size, habitat types and locations of WMAs in separate southern and northern Minnesota maps.

Respecting private land and those who own those lands, and hunting ethically and legally, are the biggest favors today's hunters can do for themselves, Evans stressed.

OHV law has implications for wetland hunters

A new law that aims to protect Minnesota's lands and waters from Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) damage is the target of many hunter questions this year.

The law, passed during the 2003 legislative session and designed primarily to promote managed riding on managed trails, prohibits OHV use on certain wetlands even if they are on private land or frozen.

"Most hunters are not affected by this law because they don't own an OHV or ride on uplands only," said Major William Spence, Department of Natural Resources Division of Enforcement operations manager. "However, those who do use machines in swamps, marshes, bogs or in or along water bodies need to know the law has changed."

Specifically, the new OHV law states that a person may not intentionally operate an OHV:

· On a trail or public land that is designated for non-motorized use only

· On restricted areas within public lands that are posted or where gates or other clearly visible structures are placed to prevent unauthorized motor vehicle access; or

Except as specifically authorized by law or rule adopted by the DNR Commissioner, in: type 3, 4, 5 and 8 wetlands or unfrozen public waters; in a state park; in a scientific and natural area; or in a wildlife management area.

To date, hunter questions have focused primarily on the wetland portion of the new law. Most questions relate to getting to and from hunting sites and retrieving harvested game.

"Our advice to OHV owners is to assess the land on which they are operating and use their machine in a way that is consistent with the law's purpose," said Spence. "The law was passed to prevent damage in wetlands, environmental degradation and the establishment of new trails to inappropriate areas. Therefore, hunters should try to avoid situations where riding would cause rutting or degradation."

Minnesota has eight different wetland types. Type 3 wetlands are shallow marshes. These wetlands usually contain several inches of water and plants such as cattail and bulrush. Type 4 wetlands usually contain six inches to several feet of water. These wetlands contain vegetation such as cattail, bulrush and wild rice. Type 5 wetlands are essentially shallow ponds up to 10 feet deep. Type 8 wetlands are waterlogged bogs. These wetlands are typically covered with spongy mosses, grasses and stunted black spruce or tamarack.

"It is important for hunters to know they are not complying with the law if they are riding among cattails or a spongy bog regardless if on public or private land," said Spence. He said conservation officers will focus primarily upon education this year with an emphasis on verbal warnings, but citations will be issued to those who commit intentional and reckless acts of environmental degradation."

Spence said new laws are often subject to legislative changes and clarifications in subsequent years to address unforeseen impacts and omissions. That may be the case with the new OHV law. "Due to the changing nature of motorized recreation, the Legislature may continue to refine the OHV laws that are designed to balance natural resource conservation with the desires and needs of citizens," said Spence. The DNR, he added, is considering proposing changes to the existing law that would address hunters? concerns while still protecting streams and wetlands.

Further details about OHV operation can be found on pages 119-120 of the 2003 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook or the DNR Web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us.

Outdoor Notes

­ The Winsted Sportsmen's Club, along with help from the Lake Mary Homeowners Association and the Watertown Sportsmen's Club, stocked walleyes into Lake Mary on Friday, Oct. 10. I believe the fish were fingerlings.

­ The Winsted Sportmen's Club will meet Tuesday, Oct. 14 at the Lake Mary clubhouse. Docks will be removed at 5:30 p.m. with the meeting to follow.

­ The Lester Prairie Sportsmen's Club just finished another successful season of trap shooting and is now discussing potential improvements and remodeling of the clubhouse. The club house and trap range is located approximately 1.5 miles southwest of Lester Prairie on McLeod County Rd 1.

­ The Crow River, both the north and south forks, could provide some great fishing this fall. Right now the river is low and easy to fish and many times all it takes to find a few walleyes or northern pike is to find a deeper hole.

On the south fork, a great place to access the river is about five miles southwest of Lester Prairie at the bridge on Eagle Ave. At the bridge, the property on the east side now belongs to a coalition of several conservation organizations and will be developed into a state wildlife management area. Plans at the site also include a canoe access.

­ Don't expect much from fall colors this year. Dry conditions and an early September cold snap did hamper fall colors in our area this fall.

­ The pheasant hunting season in Minnesota opened Saturday, Oct. 11. Look for a full report in next weeks column.

­ The evening hunt for ducks in Minnesota started on Sunday, Oct. 12. Hunters can now hunt ducks until sunset.

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

­ Today, Oct. 13 the sun will rise at 7:26 p.m. and set at 6:34 p.m.

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