Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Herald Journal

July 5, 2004

A few big changes to 2004 hunting seasons

Minnesota hunters will find a few welcome changes to hunting seasons in the state this fall.

At this time, the two biggest changes deal with the length of the pheasant hunting season, and the start time of the waterfowl opener.

The 2004 Minnesota pheasant hunting season will open Saturday, Oct. 16, and run through Friday, Dec. 31.

That’s a two-plus week extension to the season over previous years.

Typically, the pheasant hunting season closed in mid-December.

A press release for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on the subject is included in this week’s column.

The next big move, something waterfowl hunters have been asking for since I was a kid, was a change back to an opening day start time of 9 a.m. instead of noon.

The rest of the waterfowl season, including shooting hours, season length, and bag limits will most likely be very similar to last years.

The time change for the waterfowl opener has more to do with tradition, and the opportunity to simply spend more time in field hunting on the opener, than it does with anything else.

It’s a little more then just perception, but a 9 a.m. start just seems a lot more like duck hunting then a noon start.

I’m sure a few other changes for Minnesota’s 2004 hunting season are in the works, with more information coming out soon.

Regarding Minnesota pheasant hunting, another change I would like to see is in the 9 a.m. start time after the daylight saving time change in late October.

The 9 a.m. start is fine when there is ample daylight hours. But, when daylight savings time changes, the amount of available hunting time really gets cut down.

As the season progresses, even more available hunting time is lost.

A simple change, and one that would have little effect on pheasant populations, would be to start the season at 8 a.m. after the daylight savings time change.

In next week’s column, I’ll provide you with all the information regarding youth deer hunting opportunities in Minnesota.

DNR extends pheasant season for 2004

From the DNR

Minnesota’s pheasant hunters will have additional hunting opportunities this year, thanks to a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) decision to extend the 2004 season through Dec. 31.

Under the previous season framework, the 2004 season would have closed Sunday, Dec. 19.

“The extended season will offer more opportunities for families and friends to hunt pheasants over the holidays, without harming pheasant populations,” said Ed Boggess, DNR Fish and Wildlife Division policy chief.

“While we recognize that some hunters did not favor this extension out of a concern for pheasants, the biology of pheasant populations supports this change, and the DNR has emergency authorities to close or reduce seasons if necessary.”

The hunting season extension was requested by pheasant hunters and was supported by DNR biologists and by Pheasants Forever.

Based on the best scientific information available, the extension should slightly increase harvest without affecting pheasant numbers during the following year, according to Kurt Haroldson, DNR wildlife biologist in Madelia.

Although Haroldson said hen pheasants flushed by hunters from prime winter cover could experience some increased mortality, such mortality should be compensated by reduced winter mortality and increased nest success for the surviving hens.

Both sexes of other small game species, such as grouse, are harvested and all small game populations can withstand some hunting mortality of females.

“We do expect a slight increase in hen mortality due to the extension,” Haroldson said. “But studies indicate that the additional mortality will not be enough to negatively impact future fall populations.

Studies of pheasant mortality from the 1940s, when hen pheasants were part of the legal bag, showed that pre-hunting season hen abundance declined when the previous year’s hen harvest exceeded 45 percent, Haroldson said.

Hen numbers increased when the previous year’s hen harvest was less than 20 percent.

Although hen pheasants cannot be legally harvested in Minnesota, the DNR estimates that 11 percent of hen pheasants are killed -accidentally or deliberately shot - during the hunting season.

“Using these studies, we expect that a moderate increase in Minnesota’s pheasant season length will be sustainable and add some holiday recreation,” Haroldson said.

More than 100,000 people hunt pheasants in Minnesota.

This year’s season will begin Oct. 16.

A small game license and a $7.50 habitat stamp are required

Apply now for prairie chicken, fall turkey hunts

From the DNR

Hunters seeking one of 100 permits for the 2004 Minnesota prairie chicken season or one of 4,380 permits for the fall turkey hunt must apply by July 30, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Applications may be picked up at more than 1,800 Electronic Licensing System locations beginning July 1.

PRAIRIE CHICKEN SEASON

The five-day prairie chicken season, which will begin on Oct. 23, is open to Minnesota residents only.

Hunters will be charged a $4 application fee.

They may apply individually or in groups up to four hunters. Prairie chicken licenses cost $20.

The hunt will be held in seven prairie chicken quota areas in west-central Minnesota between Crookston in the north and Breckenridge in the south.

Up to 20 percent of the permits in each area will be issued to landowners or tenants of 40 acres or more of prairie or grassland property within the permit area for which they applied.

The season bag limit is two prairie chickens per hunter.

This year, licensed prairie chicken hunters will also be allowed to take sharp-tailed grouse while legally hunting prairie chickens.

Sharptails and prairie chickens are similar looking species.

The general closure on taking sharp-tailed grouse by small game hunters in this area is to protect prairie chickens.

Licensed prairie chicken hunters who wish to take sharptails must meet all regulations and licensing requirements for taking sharp-tailed grouse.

Last year was the first Minnesota prairie chicken season since 1942.

There were 853 applicants for the 100 available permits in 2003.

The odds of being drawn the first year were about 12 percent.

A preference system is in place that adds a preference point for each year a hunter correctly applies but is not drawn.

Of the 100 successful applicants in 2003, 93 purchased licenses.

Licensed prairie chicken hunters harvested and registered 115 prairie chickens.

Overall success rate of prairie chicken hunters in 2003 was 68 percent.

The average registered take per license holder was 1.2 birds.

Minnesota’s prairie chicken population now stands at more than 3,000 breeding birds in the spring and more than double that number in the fall.

Prairie restoration and protection programs have helped stabilize the bird’s population in recent years.

The restoration of a regulated prairie chicken hunting season has helped build awareness and support for protecting and enhancing prairie and grassland habitats.

FALL TURKEY SEASON

Applications for this year’s fall turkey hunt are being accepted at Electronic Licensing System vendors across Minnesota.

Fall turkey hunters may apply for one of 4,380 permits to hunt in one of 24 permit areas from Oct. 13-17 or Oct. 20-24.

This is a 13 percent increase in available permits compared with 2003.

The application fee is $3. The license costs $18 for residents and $73 for nonresidents. A $5 stamp validation is also required for turkey hunters 18 years of age or older.

The deadline for applications for both the prairie chicken and fall turkey hunts is July 30.

Application worksheets and maps of permit areas for both hunts are available on the DNR web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us.

Successful applicants will be notified by mail and must purchase their permit at an electronic licensing system vendor.

Spring waterfowl counts good in Minnesota

From the DNR

Breeding duck and Canada goose populations in Minnesota increased or remained stable this year, according to results just released by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“Breeding waterfowl numbers for most species were generally good,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl staff specialist. “Although May was one of the wettest on record for most counties in the state, most of the rain occurred after we had completed the survey.”

Each May a DNR waterfowl biologist and conservation officer pilot estimate breeding duck populations by flying randomly selected survey routes at low elevations using fixed-wing aircraft.

The survey is designed to estimate breeding duck populations across about 40 percent of Minnesota, which comprises most of the better duck breeding habitat.

All waterfowl and wetlands are counted along these routes.

In addition, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service ground crews count waterfowl along a portion of the routes to correct for birds missed during the aerial survey.

The estimated mallard breeding population in Minnesota this spring was 375,313, which was 34 percent higher than last year and 9 percent above the 10-year average.

“Although the increase this year was not statistically significant, the mallard population remains high despite the dry conditions,” Cordts said. “Pond numbers declined 19 percent this year, but mallards seemed to have fared well.”

Since 1992, the population has been above 300,000 every year except in 2003.

Blue-winged teal numbers were 353,209, an increase of 83 percent from last year and 54 percent above the long-term average.

“The increase this spring was partially due to the cooler-than-average May temperatures, which resulted in delayed migration of blue-wings through the state, so some migrant teal were counted early in the survey,” Cordts said. “Last year, most migrant blue-wings had moved through Minnesota by the time the survey was initiated.”

Populations of other duck species such as wood ducks, ring-necked ducks and gadwalls increased 13 percent this year to about 280,000, which is 10 percent above the 10-year average.

“Overall, we expected slightly lower populations this year because of the dry conditions during the survey, but duck populations remain fairly high across the state,” Cordts said. “Also, the abundant rainfall received across most of the state later in May should improve brood-rearing conditions and benefit late-nesting ducks.”

CANADA GEESE

This is the fourth year the DNR conducted a statewide helicopter survey of breeding giant Canada geese in April and early May.

A DNR biologist and helicopter pilot counted Canada geese on 150 quarter-section (160 acre) plots randomly across Minnesota’s three major ecoregions: prairie, transition and forest zones.

This year’s estimate of 375,000 geese was higher than 2003 and remains above statewide population objectives.

“Conditions were very dry throughout most of the state when we flew the survey,” said Steve Maxson, DNR goose specialist. “That seemed to concentrate geese on the remaining wetland habitats, which may have influenced the count,”

The number of breeding waterfowl in Minnesota is estimated each year as part of an annual inventory of North American breeding waterfowl.

“Data on breeding duck populations from Canada and other states is not available until July, but preliminary reports indicate fair conditions and duck numbers in the Dakotas and prairie Canada,” Cordts said. “Most regions benefited by rain in late May, but it may have come a little late. Also, we expect production from most artic-nesting goose populations to be very poor because ice melt was extremely late this year.”

Mallard population estimates from Minnesota will be combined with estimates from other North American breeding areas and used to determine the duck season length and bag limit for the 2004-05 waterfowl hunting season.

Outdoor Notes

• The sunfish bite is still on. On many of our area lakes, the sunfish are still spawning in very shallow water.

On a few of the lakes, the fish have moved out the spawning beds, and are in 8 to 12 feet of water.

Shallow or deep, they’re still biting.

When the sunnies are in deeper water, try small pan fish leeches, and to find them trolling, or drift with jigs or small spinners.

When you feel that tap, tap on your spinner rig, drop the anchor and still fish

• Mosquitoes are out in full force. Don’t forget the repellent, wear long sleeves, and long pants, and if your especially sensitive to them stay in side at dusk.

• The crow hunting season in Minnesota opens Thursday, July 15.

• Remember that safety always comes first when you’re on the water, and in the boat.

Being safe starts with wearing life jackets, using commonsense, maintaining safe speeds, and not mixing alcohol with boating.

• Try throwing some the new plastic scented baits for bass.

They have been working great for me so far this season.

I don’t use any additional weight, and I’ll throw the rig right into the weeds.

• Sharpen your fillets knives, and put new line on your reels.

• Today, July 5, the sun will rise at 5:33 a.m. and set at 9:02 p.m.

• Finally, when will our townships, counties, and the state understand that the mowing of grasses, not toxic weeds, in our road ditches before Aug. 1, with absolutely no intention of harvest, makes absolutely no sense, and besides being devastating to nesting wildlife, is a complete waste of resources.

I have spoken to county officials from our area several times in the past, and have never received one legitimate reason for mowing the ditches before Aug. 1.

• Take a kid fishing, he or she will have fun, and so will you.

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