Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Herald Journal

Oct. 11, 2004

On the hunt for Minnesota pheasants

The entire 2004 affair begins at 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, and doesn’t end until Dec. 31, that’s a few weeks longer than in past years.

For most Minnesota hunters, those two extra weeks, tacked on at the end of the season, won’t mean much because the ice fishing season is usually well under way by that time.

A longer season or not, the 2004 season of Minnesota pheasant hunting is shaping up to be a pretty normal one, and to the dismay of many bird chasers, not up to par with last year’s banner Minnesota pheasant hunt.

Due to better habitat conditions, several consecutive years of mild winters, and warm, dry nesting conditions in the spring, the 2003 pheasant population heading into the fall was tremendous by Minnesota standards and in turn, the hunting across Minnesota’s pheasant range was excellent.

Personally, it was the most memorable, and bird-filled season I’ve had in 26 years of chasing them in our fine state.

Needless to say, and although we had a another mild winter, heavy spring rains across the pheasant range mixed in with cool temperatures, took a big toll on the 2004 Minnesota population heading into the fall hunting season.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, August roadside pheasant counts have declined, compared to 2003, a whopping 47 percent.

In my opinion, the numbers are down, especially in our local area, and in regions of poor or little habitat.

But, in Minnesota’s prime pheasant hunting areas of the far west and southwest, the bird numbers will be higher than DNR numbers indicate, and the hunting in those areas will probably be similar to last year.

Actually, because of what’s shaping up to be a late crop harvest, the mid-and late-season hunting could be better.

That’s right, a later than normal crop harvest. The way it looks right now, almost all of Minnesota’s corn crop, and even a share of beans will still be standing in the field come opening day.

You can also expect a large share of the corn crop to still be in the field when November arrives.

For the early season warm weather hunters, that doesn’t sit well when it comes to pheasants, but for the guys like me that love to chase them late into the season, it’s a pheasant hunting dream.

Before the start, make sure you have your Minnesota pheasant stamp and your license, take note that non-toxic shot is required on all public lands, and wear your boots once or twice.

Pheasants Forever reminds hunters to be safe, courteous, and aware

From Pheasants Forever

Pheasants Forever (PF) reminds hunters to be safe, courteous, and aware as pheasant hunting seasons open this month. 

Over 2.5 million U.S. hunters will take to the fields in search of the ring-necked pheasant this fall. 

While pheasant populations vary greatly from state-to-state, hunters across the upper Midwest expect to see good pheasant numbers.

 With expectations high, it is important to go over the basics of hunter safety with every member of your hunting party. 

First, treat every gun as if it were loaded.  Second, always keep your muzzle pointed in a safe direction.  And, third, know your target and beyond. 

PF reminds pheasant hunters to always wear hunter orange and be especially cautious when using blockers at the end of fields. 

 “A rooster busting out of a thicket can give anyone a jolt,” explains Rick Young, PF’s vice president of field operations.  “But, no matter how excited you get, it’s important to remember safety.  A safe hunt is a successful hunt, no matter how many birds are bagged.  As always, hunters should be familiar with the rules and regulations of the state in which they are hunting, and we do recommend using non-toxic shot during all hunts.” 

 In addition to being safe, PF reminds hunters to be courteous and ask permission before hunting private lands. 

“Many landowners will grant permission to hunters if approached with a friendly request,” reports Howard Vincent, PF’s president and CEO.  “Be especially respectful of working farmers and their equipment.  That’s their livelihood, so be sure not to impede them from doing their work.  You should also consider sharing your harvest with the landowner.”

 PF also advises hunters to be aware of the potential for discovering narcotic labs as they hunt the rural countryside.  

In recent years, pheasant hunters have stumbled upon meth labs and waste products. 

Meth is generally cooked outdoors in remote places.  If a hunter finds a backpack, gas can, thermos, cooler, box, bucket, or any other “out-of-place” item in the middle of nowhere, PF recommends that it be left alone and that the authorities be contacted. 

Materials used to make meth may cause burns or respiratory problems if the waste products are touched or inhaled. 

 “We definitely don’t want to make a bigger deal out of this than it is,” explains Vincent.  “This isn’t a wide-spread occurrence.  However, hunters should at least be aware of the possible existence of meth labs in rural areas.”

 Also, PF reminds hunters to take good care of hunting dogs.  Last year, South Dakota hunters lost many dogs as a result of heat during 90-degree weather and from contaminated stagnant water.  In light of those terrible outcomes, PF asked long-time supporter Purina PetCare for recommendations. 

 “Dog owners should regularly exercise their dog before hunting season, get their dog into the vet before the season for a thorough health check, and be sure to have water available while hunting,” advises Bob West, Purina’s director of breeder enthusiast sporting groups and a professional dog trainer.

“Pay attention to your dog while hunting.  Abnormal behavior and less-than-normal animation can be early signs of fatigue or heat stress; indications that your dog may be in trouble.  Also, carry clean fresh water with you to keep your dog hydrated and to flush their mouth for better cooling.  At the end of hunting, don’t give your dog free access to water until it has rested some and stopped panting.  Essentially, do what you can to get your dog in good shape before season, pay special attention to overweight dogs, and if there is any doubt of apparent heat stress, get the dog to a veterinarian.”

 PF is a non-profit conservation organization dedicated to the protection and enhancement of pheasant and other wildlife populations in North America through habitat improvement, land management, public awareness, and education. 

Such efforts benefit landowners and wildlife alike.  Pheasants Forever has more than 108,000 members in over 600 local chapters across the continent. 

 For additional information about Pheasants Forever, please visit www.pheasantsforever.org

Increased deer activity raises risks of vehicle-deer collisions

From the DNR

Fall is an active time for whitetail deer, which means drivers should take extra precautions to avoid vehicle-deer collisions, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

White-tailed deer, which maintain a home range of about one square mile, increase their daily movements during the fall mating season, which usually peaks in the first two weeks of November.

“Natural white-tailed deer movement increases the number of deer crossing highways,” said Mike Hamm, director of the DNR Division of Enforcement. “This, in turn, increases the chances of vehicle-deer collisions.”

Incidents of vehicle-deer collisions are highest during the fall months. More than 5,500 vehicle-deer accidents are reported annually, according to Minnesota Department of Transportation officials. Officials estimate that another 10,000 to 12,000 vehicle-deer collisions are not reported.

The issue of vehicle-deer crashes becomes more critical as traffic increases throughout Minnesota and as the state’s deer herd, estimated at 1.4 million, continues to grow.

Motorists facing an unavoidable crash with a deer are advised to not veer out of their traffic lane or lose control of their vehicles.

“It’s safer to hit a deer than to risk hitting another vehicle or a fixed object such as a tree,” Hamm said. “Apply your brakes firmly, hold onto the steering wheel, and bring your vehicle to a controlled stop.”

If a driver hits a deer, Hamm advises removing it from the roadway only if certain that the animal is dead. “An injured deer’s sharp hooves can cause serious injury,” he said. “Report the crash to a law enforcement agency and notify your insurance company.”

Hamm encourages motorists to increase their awareness of deer during the fall breeding season and offers tips to decrease the odds of striking a deer:

• Slow down and prepare to stop as soon as you see a deer. It is much safer to stop than to have to take evasive action.

• When you see a deer, watch for additional ones. Deer are herd animals and frequently move in groups.

• Deer are nocturnal and travel most at dawn and at dusk. Most deer-vehicle crashes occur between the hours of 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. Deer eyes may reflect in your headlights. Watch for them. For maximum safety, assume that deer will cross your path.

• It is illegal to take a deer without an authorization permit. If you hit a deer or find a deer carcass, you must obtain a permit to tag the deer before it can be legally transported. Any local law enforcement officer can issue such a permit.

“We know that deer are creatures of habit,” Hamm said. “If you see a deer-crossing sign posted along a road you’re traveling, it’s a good idea to slow down. These signs are placed in areas where deer have been crossing roads for years. Ignoring these signs is asking for trouble.”

Question of the Week

From the DNR

Q: The DNR has been removing or modifying dams that once obstructed water flow in rivers throughout Minnesota.

How does this work improve the health of these bodies of water, as well as the fishery?

A: The removal or modification of existing dams, along with river channel restoration, corrects the damage caused by these structures.

Dams block sediment and organic matter from moving downstream. As a result, the collection of these and other nutrient-rich materials, plus the pooling of water behind in the reservoir, causes algae blooms and favors non-native fish species such as carp and bullheads.

Also, sediment accumulation in the reservoir means water leaving the dam is sediment hungry and often results in downstream erosion problems.

Without these structures blocking the river channel, fish, such as walleye, are able to migrate upstream to where the best spawning areas are located.

Projects to eliminate these obstructions have already proved beneficial to plant and animal communities.

For example, dam removals throughout the Red River Valley have enabled the reintroduction of the lake sturgeon to the Red River and its tributaries, and the Pomme de Terre River upstream of Appleton now has channel catfish, walleyes and other migratory species that were largely extinct.

Outdoor notes

• The duck hunting across the state continues to be slow and fairly disappointing. Even the recent cold snap didn’t move enough birds to perk up a morning in the blind.

• Last weekend, I had the opportunity spend a morning on the south fork of the Crow River.

The morning hunt produced two small flocks of wood ducks that came within range, but no birds in the bag.

The morning and the river were so peaceful and quiet that I didn’t want to spoil it with the blast of a shotgun.

• The Winsted Sportsmen’s Club will meet Tuesday, Oct. 14, at 7 p.m. at the Lake Mary Club House.

• Grease the wheel bearings in your trailer, and make sure your tires are in good shape. If your trailer doesn’t have a spare, get one.

• Remember to wear blaze orange while you’re in the field this fall.

Small game hunters are required to wear an article of blaze orange clothing above the waist while hunting, or in the field.

• The 2004 Minnesota firearms deer hunting season opens Saturday, Nov. 6.

• The days are getting shorter in a big hurry, and leaves are turning fast.

• Today, Oct. 11, the sun will rise at 7:24 a.m. and set at 6:34 p.m.

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