Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Herald Journal

Oct. 4, 2004

Boom and bust – mixed results dominate waterfowl opener

On a beautiful public slough south of Starbuck in west central Minnesota, a drake mallard floated over my decoys with wings set, I missed.

Soon after, two wood ducks took a hard look at my spread, I missed.

About 15 minutes later a small flock of teal buzzed my decoys, I missed, and then, finally, a green winger set right in and Angus was back in the boat with my first duck of the 2004 Minnesota waterfowl hunting season.

Latter that morning, I bagged one more teal and two mallards for a total of four opening day ducks.

By my standards and those hunting in the party, the opening day hunt and the entire experience of the 2004 Minnesota waterfowl opener was a good one.

By the end of the weekend, eight of us, including two very young hunters, bagged almost 50 ducks and two Canada geese.

The ducks included a mix of blue and greenwing teal, mallards, and one drake wood duck.

We chose to hunt the Starbuck area over our local area for a few reasons.

Habitat conditions for waterfowl are still good in that part of the county, and locally produced mallards seemed to be in good numbers prior to the season.

For the younger hunters and their dads, we had access to a nice six-acre private slough where they wouldn’t have to deal with competition from other hunters; and for the rest of us, public waters and public hunting areas like Federal Waterfowl Production Areas are numerous.

Although the hunting on the public areas was pretty typical for a Minnesota opener, the number of hunters on the public water three of us started on was manageable and really didn’t affect our hunting.

However, the really good hunting and decoying was had by the boys and their dads on the private slough; they had a hunt, their first Minnesota waterfowl opener, they soon won’t forget.

The night before, when I got to the farmhouse we were staying at near the slough, the ducks were quacking and pouring into the slough like crazy. Needless to say, we had the boys pretty worked up for an opening day hunt.

Now, all they want to do is go back.

Moving on, and although our hunt was a good one, many Minnesota waterfowl hunters reported tough going and very few ducks.

Only a token few that I spoke with harvested a fair number of ducks and considered the opener to be a good.

Several hunters noted bad weather for duck hunting and the bluebird skies as reasons for the poor hunting, but most, including many local hunters, simply said there just weren’t many ducks around and competition was fierce. Almost all noted a lack of wood ducks.

In our area, recent heavy rains that filled corn and bean field potholes spread out the ducks and probably did affect hunting on the opener.

Throw in the blue sky and no wind weather and you have tough conditions for hunting ducks.

In reality, wetland degradation in our area is the biggest factor.

Our small potholes are now designed to drain quickly, not allowing for vegetation growth, and not providing habitat for nesting ducks like they once did.

Our larger sloughs and shallow lakes, because of those same drainage issues, are now deeper, have silt-covered bottoms, have less aquatic vegetation, and are in poor shape for ducks.

These big, shallow lakes in our area carry the majority of our local ducks in the spring during nesting, and in the fall during migration.

They were once excellent waterfowl nesting and loafing areas because they were very shallow and had an abundance of back water areas and aquatic vegetation that ducks need.

Now, with more and more water draining into these areas, they have become deeper, are harboring rough fish, and have lost or are losing the aquatic vegetation ducks need.

For local hunters, these changes in habitat, combined with the amount of quality duck habitat west of us, have simply moved the ducks farther west.

All this added up to a boom and bust 2004 waterfowl opener. Hunters that were on good habitat, public or private, found ducks; those that weren’t on or near good habitat, didn’t.

Look for another report on local duck hunting in next week’s column.

Waterfowlers should be aware of Eurasian watermilfoil

From the DNR

As waterfowlers head out this fall, they should take extra time to keep from spreading non-native, invasive species like Eurasian watermilfoil, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Chip Welling, DNR Eurasian watermilfoil program coordinator, says no matter what type of recreation people participate in-angling, sailing, or waterfowl hunting-they need to get into the habit of removing any plants or animals from your equipment before leaving the access.

Eurasian watermilfoil, a non-native, submersed aquatic plant, has recently been discovered growing in several Minnesota lakes bringing the total number of water bodies known to have the non-native plant to 160.

Despite finding more evidence of the plant’s spread, DNR officials say Eurasian watermilfoil is documented in less than 2 percent of Minnesota’s lakes.

Two popular lakes with duck hunters where Eurasian watermilfoil was recently discovered include Lura Lake near Mankato, and Leech Lake in northeastern Minnesota.

It was also found in an area where the Snake River flows into Cross Lake near Pine City.

Welling urges boaters to continue to take precautions to avoid spreading either Eurasian watermilfoil or other non-native species like zebra mussels.

Waterfowlers should assume that any aquatic plant parts could be potentially harmful and should not be transported from one marsh, lake or river to another. Also, zebra mussels can attach to aquatic plants.

If aquatic plants or even fragments of aquatic plants are not removed from equipment, waterfowlers may unintentionally transport a non-native, invasive animal such as the zebra mussel to another lake or river.

For more information, visit the DNR Web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us

Question of the Week

From the DNR

Q: The fall firearms deer season is fast approaching. Although it is illegal for hunters to shoot and kill any wild animal from a motor vehicle, there are some exemptions for persons with disabilities.

What are they?

A: Certain disabled persons may obtain a permit to hunt from a stationary motor vehicle, including a truck, car or all-terrain vehicle (ATV).

The permit may only be issued to a person who obtains the appropriate hunting licenses and has a permanent physical disability that makes them unable to get out of a vehicle without the aid of crutches, wheelchair or similar device.

Disabled persons who require oxygen to walk any distance may also be eligible for this permit.

In order to obtain the permit, which is available at DNR regional offices, a physician must verify the disability in writing.

There are also many people with very real, very limiting physical disabilities who do not qualify for that permit.

In those circumstances, local conservation officers may issue a special permit for hunters to operate motor vehicles any time during the firearms deer hunting hours.

This permit is available to hunters who, due to health, medical or other reasons, cannot stay outside for extended periods of time.

It would not, however, allow the hunter to shoot from the motor vehicle or to operate the vehicle where the vehicles are otherwise prohibited.

Outdoor Notes

• The Howard Lake Sportsmen’s Club will meet at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 11, at the Howard Lake American Legion.

• The Prairie Archers Club will host a steak and pork chop dinner at the Dodge House in downtown Lester Prairie Saturday, Oct. 9 from 4 to 7 p.m.

Look for more info in the events section of this issue of the Herald Journal.

• The Lester Prairie Sportsmen’s Club will meet today, Monday, Oct. 4 at 7:30 p.m. at the clubhouse.

• A few weeks ago at my home in Lester Prairie I had an entire family of raccoons on the deck.

I left the broiler pan on the deck and the litter critters, one them pretty darn big, must have caught the scent. Between knocking around the broiler pan, and Angus barking like crazy, the coons created quite a stir.

• Start looking for deer on the roadways. Deer become much more active at this time of year and like to move at dusk and dawn.

• The 2004 Minnesota pheasant hunting season opens at 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 16.

• Look for a late crop harvest this season. In west central Minnesota the corn crop looks like it may still be in the fields into November.

• Fall is finally here, and with it, more cool weather.

Look for beautiful fall colors in our area anytime now, and please take some time to watch fall happen. Before you know it winter will be here.

• There are fishing and water issues on the Crow River near Hutchinson.

Because of a raw sewage spill, signs were posted asking people to avoid the water and not fish.

I’m not sure if the problem is corrected at this time, or if the signs are still there.

• Big muskie caught on Lake Waconia. Roger Larson landed a 52” muskie on Lake Waconia September 7. The fish had a 25 inch girth and weighed 43 pounds.

• Today, Oct. 4 the sun will rise at 7:15 a.m. and set at 6:47 p.m.

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