Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Herald Journal

Sept. 20, 2004

Waterfowl season opens Sat., Sept. 25

Another season of Minnesota duck hunting is just about here, and like many of the seasons in recent years, no one is willing to really give any solid predictions on what duck numbers and hunting may be like.

At this time, experts and many hunters a like are saying hunting during opening weekend, and for much of the season, will vary dependant on the weather.

Some have been quick to note that the ups and downs, and quick changes, we have had in the weather lately, 50 degrees one day and then 90 the next, could really throw a loop in the upcoming duck season.

The weather does play a huge role in duck hunting and hunter success, however and especially in our area, a changing landscape has probably affected duck hunting more then anything else.

Rural development and expanded farmland drainage have changed the duck hunting picture in Carver, Wright, and McLeod Counties.

Access to quality duck hunting locations has become more difficult, small potholes are fewer and hold water for shorter periods of time, and the base of our local duck hunting, shallow lakes like Emma and Shakopee, aren’t holding ducks like they once did.

This year, high water levels on many of these shallow public lakes have reduced habitat and cover, which in turn will affect duck hunters.

Before I move on to a few other points on the waterfowl season I’m going to throw out this scenario regarding ducks and duck hunting in our area.

In my opinion, and I believe this without question, the nesting and migration patterns that once made our area a great place to duck hunt have changed, and those patterns have now moved farther west.

In simple terms, the ducks have just picked up and moved west to better habitat.

Maybe one day we will be doing the same thing.

Moving on, remember, shooting hours on opening day start at 9 a.m. this season, instead of noon.

• Always put safety first, don’t overload your boat, and make sure you and anybody else in your boat is wearing a personal flotation device.

• Don’t forget to purchase your federal waterfowl stamp, and put the plug in your gun.

• Make sure you are Hip certified on your Minnesota hunting license.

• Get year gear ready, and make sure it is all in working order before you get to the slough or field.

• Be cautious, courteous, patient, and not competitive while duck hunting.

• Finally, read and review the 2004 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulation Handbook and the Waterfowl Supplement.

It’s tough to follow the regulations, rules, and ethics of hunting if you don’t know them.

Cold water danger to duck hunters

From the DNR

Many duck hunters are already getting ready for the September 25 Minnesota opener.

The boat has been repainted, missing decoy anchors replaced and dozens of shells carefully arranged in ammo boxes.

Unfortunately, a number of hunters have probably forgotten to pack their life jackets, noted 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 duck boats, the lack of flotation devices is still one of the most common law violations among waterfowl hunters,” he added.

DNR records indicate that, the law is working. In the 16 years since life jackets were first required, ten hunters have drowned in boating accidents.

According to US Coast Guard statistics, more hunters die every year from hypothermia and drowning than gunshot wounds.

Last year, three Minnesota duck hunters drowned in two separate boat accidents.

In one case, a hunter wearing a PFD and waders capsized his boat while placing decoys.

He didn’t survive, possibly due to the hypothermia-inducing effects of cold water.

In the other mishap, two hunters in a 16-foot boat loaded with equipment, capsized on the Mississippi where water temperatures reported to be in the high 30s.

They were not wearing life vests and died from hypothermia and drowning.

The law requires a readily accessible US Coast Guard-approved wearable life vest for every person on duck boats.

For boats 16 feet and longer, there also has to be one US coast Guard approved device that can be thrown, like a seat cushion, in the boat.

Seat cushions are no longer approved as primary flotation devices though, so everyone on the boat needs a wearable personal flotation device of the proper size and type.

And of course having a life jacket doesn’t do any good if its stuffed under the 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.

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

The Minnesota DNR offers these tips:

• Wear a life jacket to and from the blind, with or without waders.

• Don’t overload the boat.

• Learn how to float in waders and hip boats or don’t wear them.

• Stay near the shore and avoid crossing large expanses of open water, especially in bad weather.

• Let someone know where you are going and when to expect your return.

Blaze orange required for most small game hunting

From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says most hunters participating in the small game seasons, which opened Saturday, Sept. 18, must wear blaze orange clothing.

“Hunters may not take small game unless a visible portion of at least one article of clothing above the waist is blaze orange, except when hunting wild turkey, migratory birds, raccoons, or predators, or when hunting with nontoxic shot or while trapping,” said Capt. Mike Hammer, DNR education program coordinator.

This restriction does not apply to persons hunting by falconry.

Blaze orange, more than any other color, is the most easily seen and recognized bright, unnatural color against a natural background.

This shade of orange is the only satisfactory color for hunters to wear under all weather and light conditions.

From the standpoint of hunter safety, Hammer said the wearing of this high-visibility clothing while small game hunting in heavy cover, such as for grouse and pheasant, is a great communications tool.

“Blaze orange clothing is a tremendous aid in helping hunters maintain visual contact with one another, particularly when moving through dense cover or woods,” Hammer said.

“Any hunter who has ever identified someone strictly by seeing an orange patch knows its value in keeping track of other hunters in the field.”

Know where you are, know the rules, when hunting, when riding

From the DNR

As hunting season opens, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources urges hunters and off highway vehicle (OHV) riders to know the rules and know where they are hunting and riding.

OHV, including all terrain vehicle (ATV), laws and rules have changed this year and they vary depending on land ownership.

Knowing the regulations for the area where you hunt will make the hunt more enjoyable in the long run.

To help, the DNR offers this recap of hunting/OHV laws and regulations.

General OHV rules for all public and private lands and waters

• OHV travel is not allowed on designated non-motorized trails or in areas posted and designated as closed to OHV use

• OHV travel is not allowed on unfrozen public waters or in a manner that would carelessly damage the natural and ecological balance of a wetland

• It is unlawful to transport an uncased firearm on an OHV

• It is illegal to shoot at a wild animal from an OHV

• During firearm deer hunting season only, a person with a valid deer hunting license may use an ATV only before legal shooting time (one-half hour before sunrise), from 11 am to 2 pm, and after legal shooting time (one-half hour after sunset).

OHV site-specific laws and rules

Federal lands

• The Superior and Chippewa National Forests have changed their forest plans including changes to OHV policies.

• OHV use is prohibited in ditches and on shoulders of roads, and on trails and roads posted closed.

• All cross-country travel is prohibited, including travel to retrieve a large game animal and travel to construct stands.

• OHV use is allowed on some, but not all, low maintenance and unclassified roads and on certain trails.

Please check with your national forest office for further information.

State lands

Wildlife management areas (WMAs)

• OHVs are generally prohibited on WMAs with the exception of Carlos Avery, Hubbel Pond, Mille Lacs, Red Lake, Roseau River, and Thief Lake where motor vehicles licensed for use on public highways may be operated on established roads but not at speeds over 20 mph.

• Some other WMAs allow OHVs on designated travel routes at speeds of 20 mph or less.

For more specific information please see pages 121-123 of the 2004 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook.

State forest lands

During 2004, State forest lands are classified as:

• Managed where motor vehicles may operate on forest roads and forest trails unless the trail/road is posted closed

• Limited where motor vehicles may operate only on forest roads and trails or in areas that are posted and designated open

• Closed where motor vehicles are not allowed except that vehicles licensed for highway use may use forest roads that are not posted closed or gated

In state forests, general OHV restrictions are:

• OHV travel is not allowed on designated non-motorized trails or in areas posted and designated as closed to OHV use

• OHV use that causes erosion or rutting, or that damages trees, growing crops, roads, or natural resources is prohibited

• OHV riders must travel at reasonable speeds on state forest roads and they must obey posted speed limits and traffic laws.

• Cross-country travel is prohibited except for big game hunting or constructing stands during October through December, and except for retrieving harvested big game during September through December.

County lands

• OHV regulations on county lands generally follow those of state forest lands.

For more information contact the county land department where you will be hunting.

Private lands

• Landowner permission is needed for using an OHV or hunting on private land.

For more information, contact Jean Goad, Public Affairs Officer, (218) 327-4262.

Question of the week

From the DNR

Q: The switch from summer to fall has begun in earnest for many of us, but some trees have already made an unexpected transformation to their fall colors.

Why is this? Does this mean this year ‘s fall color display will be early and not as vibrant?

A: Some tree species, such as ashes, that are known to get a jumpstart on the fall color change.

So it’s not uncommon for people to see one or two ash trees in their neighborhood that have colored leaves.

However, early coloration in other tree species can mean that the tree is stressed, either from a disease or physiological stress, such as lack of water or too much of it.

As a result, these trees will shut down before other individuals of the same species.

Even though a number of trees are already in the midst of their annual transformation, people should expect this year’s fall colors display to be quite brilliant in most areas of the state, provided we continue to have warm days and cool nights.

Those who enjoy fall foliage should expect an early change in most areas of the state, as the leaves and trees are responding to the unusually cool summer and autumn weather.

For the latest information about fall colors, visit the DNR’s Web site at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/current_conditions/index.html.

Outdoor notes

• Several hunters I spoke with said the youth waterfowl hunting day went well, but there were not many ducks in the air.

Other local reports indicate there are more, and more, participants in the special youth hunt every year.

• Take a walk in your hunting boots, and make sure your waders don’t leak before the season starts.

• With hunting season now underway, and others soon to start, pay special attention to your firearms and ammo.

Don’t leave firearms, or ammo, in places they shouldn’t be.

When not in use, make sure they are locked, and kept away from children.

• The 2004 Minnesota pheasant hunting season opens on Saturday, Oct. 16.

• Today, Sept. 20, the sun will rise at 6:58 a.m. and set at 7:13 p.m.

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