Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Herald Journal

Sept. 6, 2004

Pheasant counts down 47 percent in cool, wet spring

From the DNR

Unseasonably cold, wet weather this spring caused Minnesota’s pheasant counts to drop 47 percent from 2003, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Overall, the counts indicate pheasant populations will be close to the 10-year average.

Gray partridge, cottontail rabbit and white-tailed jackrabbit numbers were also down in the annual roadside survey, conducted in southern and western Minnesota during the first two weeks in August.

The survey is used to monitor annual changes and long-term trends in populations of ring-necked pheasants, gray partridge, eastern cottontail rabbits, white-tailed jackrabbits, and selected other wildlife species.

“March and April were warmer and drier than average, which typically bodes well for wildlife production,” said John Giudice, a DNR wildlife research biologist in Madelia. “Unfortunately, frequent rainfall and below average temperatures prevailed during May and early June, the peak hatching period for pheasants in Minnesota.”

Rainfall during May was 81 percent above the long-term average.

Southeast and northwest regions were 150 percent to 200 percent above average.

The mean temperature during May was 4 degrees Fahrenheit below normal in May and 3.7 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than normal in June.

“Pheasant and gray partridge chicks simply can’t survive in cold, wet weather,” said Giudice, who supervised the annual August roadside survey. “In addition, poor weather reduces the amount of available food and time for foraging. Flooding after heavy rainfall also caused nest loss and abandonment in some areas.”

The number of pheasants along survey routes, while down significantly from last year, was still similar to the 10-year mean (1994 2003).

The state’s pheasant population was high going into the 2004 breeding season, Giudice said.

Spring counts of hens and cocks on intensive study areas were up 44 percent and 15 percent, respectively, compared with spring 2003.

However, poor weather during the critical nesting and brood-rearing period caused a drop in production.

Mean brood size decreased from 5.0 chicks per brood in 2003 to 4.2 chicks per brood in 2004. Likewise, the brood index (broods per 100 miles) decreased 45 percent from 2003.

Giudice said there is a possibility that the survey may have missed some hens.

“Many of the hens detected in spring were not observed during the August surveys, suggesting that some hens were still nesting or had young broods - typically undercounted in roadside surveys,” Giudice said. “The true population decrease may not be as great as indicated by the August roadside survey, especially in areas containing good habitat and where the late reproductive effort was successful.”

While overall the size of the fall population will be close to the 10-year average, there will be more adults and fewer juveniles.

The southwest and south-central regions should offer the best opportunities for harvesting pheasants in 2004, but reasonable numbers of birds will be found in other regions as well.

Habitat in the pheasant range is at the highest level since the mid-1990s, Guidice said.

More than 1 million acres of grassland habitat are currently enrolled in farm programs that pay farmers to retire land from agricultural production.

Among those programs are the Conservation Reserve Program, Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, Re-invest in Minnesota and the Wetland Reserve Program.

Another 550,000 acres of habitat are protected permanently in state wildlife management areas and federal waterfowl production areas.

The DNR is working with partners in the private and public sector to expand the habitat base through accelerated acquisition of wildlife management areas and marketing of farm bill conservation programs in partnership with the Minnesota Board of Water & Soil Resources, Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, and county Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

Habitat abundance in the pheasant range should gradually increase until 2007, when a large proportion of existing CRP contracts will expire.

Within the pheasant range, protected grasslands account for about 6 percent of the landscape.

“We have a long way to go in terms of meeting the habitat needs of grassland-dependent wildlife,” Giudice said. “For example, pheasants generally do best in landscapes that contain 30-50 percent grassland and the remainder in row crops. Grasslands that remain undisturbed until Aug. 1 are especially important.”

PARTRIDGE

Gray (Hungarian) partridge numbers declined 58 percent from last year and were 55 percent below the 10-year average and 63 percent below the long-term average.

The number of adults observed per 100 miles was similar to last year and the 10-year mean, but the proportion of adults observed with broods (24 percent) and mean brood size (5.7 chicks per brood) were down considerably from last year.

“The best chance of flushing a covey or two will be in the southwest and south-central regions,” Giudice said.

RABBITS

The number of cottontail rabbits counted during the roadside survey was down 29 percent from last year, but was similar to the 10-year mean and long-term average.

Counts and estimates of the percentage of change were highly variable among routes and regions.

“The best chance of harvesting cottontail rabbits will be in the South Central, Southwest, and East Central regions,” Giudice said.

Jackrabbits counted during roadside surveys declined 54 percent compared with last year.

The statewide count was similar to the 10-year average but remain 89 percent below the long-term average.

Giudice explained that the range-wide jackrabbit population peaked in the 1950s and declined to its lowest level in 1993, from which the population has not recovered.

The long-term decline in jackrabbits probably reflects the loss of their preferred habitats (i.e., small grains, pasture and hayland).

The annual roadside survey began in the late 1940s and was standardized in 1955.

DNR conservation officers and wildlife managers in the farmland region of Minnesota conduct the survey during the first two weeks in August.

The survey consists of 172 routes, each 25 miles long, with 153 routes located in the ring-necked pheasant range.

Observers drive each route in early morning and record the number and species of wildlife they see.

The data provide an index of relative abundance and are used to monitor annual changes and long-term trends in populations of ring-necked pheasants, gray partridge, eastern cottontail rabbits, white-tailed jackrabbits and selected other wildlife species.

DU banquet set for September 14

The annual Ducks Unlimited Banquet is set for Tuesday, Sept. 14 at the Blue Note, Winsted.

Social hour begins at 6 p.m., followed by a three-meat buffet at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are available at the Blue Note or by calling (320) 485-3885.

HL Sportsmen’s Club sponsors locals at LLCC summer camp

Jake Young and Brian Krienke, both of Waverly, and Will Everett of Annandale, received scholarships to attend the summer leadership program offered at Long Lake Conservation Center (LLCC) this summer.

The program relies on a statewide network of sponsors to make it possible for students to attend. The Howard Lake Sportsmen’s Club sponsored the local campers.

At LLCC, an environmental learning center near Palisade, campers have hands-on experiences with nature. Outdoor learning activities include canoeing, archery, and orienteering, as well as ecological investigations of bog, forest, and lake environments, all led by professional naturalists.

Sportsmen’s Club appreciation dinner planned

The Winsted Sportsmen’s Club will host its annual appreciation dinner Saturday, Sept. 11, beginning at 1 p.m. at the clubhouse.

A meal and beverage will be provided for all those who donated or helped the club in any way the past year. Serving begins at 5 p.m.

Enhance the Hunt: Take a Kid

From Tom Conroy of the DNR

Sweat-stained t-shirts and muddy pants was the fashion of the day as five middle-aged guys wielding sledgehammers and assorted tools waded in knee-deep muck.

We were installing a new dock in preparation for the upcoming waterfowl season, the old one having finally succumbed to heavy use and ice action.

Inevitably, the conversation amongst old boyhood chums tends to turn nostalgic and on this day it was no different.

Collectively we were transported back in time as we shared the mandatory Me and Joe stories and reminisced about the youthful excitement we felt as we prepared for each upcoming season – re-stringing decoys, painting the old boat, struggling to re-assemble the shotgun after cleaning it.

And, inevitably, the talk turned to those old hunters who taught us the ways of wildlife and hunting.

Each of us, bar one, was fortunate to have a dad who hunted and it was at their knees that we learned.

We would listen intently to their hunting stories when we were too young to accompany them. And each of us could still vividly recall the excitement of finally being allowed to go with our dad on our first hunt.

As for the buddy whose father did not hunt, even he isn’t sure how he became introduced to hunting.

It might have been his uncle, who was a great trap shooter but hunted only occasionally.

It could have been our own fathers when he would tag along with one of us.

But somehow, somewhere, the desire to hunt got deep into his soul.

That this friend developed into such an avid hunter is an exception to the norm. And perhaps that is why he is so passionate about the annual youth waterfowl hunt.

In 1996, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed the youth hunt for states and the Minnesota DNR quickly took advantage of the offering.

The special youth hunt has not been without a modicum of controversy, however; some adult hunters contend the early hunt negatively impacts their own duck harvest when the regular season opener rolls around a week later.

A study of hunters’ opinions and activities during the 2002 waterfowl hunting season in Minnesota found that 61 percent of hunters supported the youth waterfowl day, down slightly from the 66 percent that supported it in 2000.

The study also found that 11 percent of those responding to the survey reported that they had taken a youth hunting during the special waterfowl day in 2002.

Based on percentages provided by the survey, it is estimated that 18,908 youths participated in the 2002 youth hunt.

This year, the Minnesota youth waterfowl day is set for Saturday, Sept. 18.

Waterfowl hunters age 15 and younger, when accompanied by a non-hunting adult (age 18 and older, no license required) may take ducks, Canada geese, mergansers, coots and moorhens from one-half hour before sunrise to 4 p.m.. (Consult the recently released 2004 waterfowl supplement for additional details.)

My boyhood friend somehow became a passionate hunter in spite of the fact that he did not have an adult mentor to teach him the ropes.

And although he does not have children of his own, he does what he can as an adult hunter to introduce interested youngsters to the thrills and pleasures only to be found in the outdoors.

Ask him if he supports the youth waterfowl day. Ask any of the sweat-soaked five of us if we support the youth day.

The days of our youth and those of today’s youth are an apples and oranges comparison.

A larger percentage of kids today have little or no outdoor experience, especially when it comes to hunting.

Who are the hunters of tomorrow? Who are the future caretakers of our wildlife and wildlife habitat?

It might be that young boy down the street, or your young niece.

A day on the marsh is always a day well spent. It’s even better spent when there’s a wide-eyed youngster next to you.

Outdoor notes

• Minnesota pheasant numbers apparently took a big dive compared to last year.

The press release from the DNR included in this week’s column reports that pheasant numbers are down 47 percent compared to last year.

Although last year was a banner year with high numbers, and the pheasant population came out of the winter in great shape, cool wet weather this spring put a big dent in the numbers.

Look for the season to be a bit better then what the numbers indicate, and keep reading this column for a complete run down of Minnesota pheasants.

• The first Minnesota dove hunting season in 46 years opened Wednesday, Sept. 1 with little fanfare, and little activity from area hunters.

Warm, muggy weather, and little crop harvest activity, has kept hunter participation at a minimum.

• Hunters in our area after Canadian geese should experience excellent hunting if the birds decide to move, and fly, during shooting hours.

In the past several years local flocks of giant Canadian geese have developed a pattern of moving well before sunrise, and well after sunset.

• The Winsted Sportsmen’s club will host a buffalo feed Saturday, September 18 at the Winsted American Legion Club.

Tickets are available from several local businesses.

Look for more information in next week’s column.

• The deadline for antlerless permit applications is Thursday, Sept. 9

• The 2004 Minnesota waterfowl hunting season opens Saturday, Sept. 25.

For more info grab a copy of the 2004 Minnesota Waterfowl Regulations Handbook.

The handbook has a new format, and contains much more info then is has in the past.

• Sharpen your shooting eye with a round of trap at the Lester Prairie Sportsmen’s Club.

The club is open for practice shooting on Wednesday evenings through early September.

• The youth waterfowl hunting day in Minnesota is set for Saturday, Sept. 18.

• The sign up period for landowners to enroll eligible land in the Federal Conservation Reserve Program ends September 24. This sign up period began August 30.

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