Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Herald Journal

Nov. 29, 2004

The last day of duck season

The 2004 Minnesota duck hunting season started for me in a slough on a beautiful September day in Pope County, near Starbuck.

On the long, narrow public slough only a smattering of ducks were in the air, but the day was long anticipated, and a good one.

The season ended for me, on its last official day, Tuesday, Nov. 23, in eastern Carver County, on Goose Lake near Mayer.

Only a small flock of big northern mallards, and one lone merganzer, broke the cold November air.

Although big mallards, and fast flying divers like buffalo heads, blue bills, and golden eyes weren’t buzzing our decoys, for Tony Ecklund of Howard Lake, myself and Tony’s lab Jade, the thrill of a last day of the season duck hunt was still there.

A last day of the season hunt, which I haven’t participated in for several years, is usually a time of reflection on the current season that is ending, and on seasons of the past.

Although there are hopes of big curly tail mallards setting into the decoys, and a flock or two of bills buzzing the end of delicately set J-hook, those hopes, at least by experienced waterfowl hunters, are clearly kept in check.

With few ducks in the air, and only one shot being taken, it was a morning of reflection, a cold sunrise, and old stories of past waterfowl adventures, from duck hunts in southern Manitoba to the better days of Minnesota duck hunting.

The morning hunt was exactly what last day of the season hunts usually are, at least those without a couple of inches of ice.

Personally, the morning adventure was also part of a mission. Since my youth, I have always managed to harvest at least a few local ducks for the table and this year, my table was still bare.

Three attempts at local duck hunting during the season had not garnered one duck, not a teal, or a mallard, or even a wood duck on either fork of the Crow River.

In fact, my shotgun had been kept silent, with the only opportunity to shoot a local duck passed on so not to break the serenity of a morning spent on the south fork of the Crow River.

Now, on the last day of the season I was looking for an opportunity to harvest a local duck, at least one for the grill or crockpot.

With the decoys, and beautiful spread it was, picked up and no ducks in the bag, I had been officially blanked, the first in exactly 25 years of local duck hunting.

As I pondered the season of no ducks, I granted Tony and his dog a sincere gesture of appreciation for the opportunity to hunt with them.

I also thanked him exuberantly for the propane heater in the boat, cold feet and no ducks is much worse than warm feet and no ducks, especially on the last day of a season.

Parents’ reminded of thin ice danger

From the DNR

In the wake of a 4-year-old Park Rapids boy falling through thin ice Wednesday evening, safety officials from Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are warning parents to caution their children to stay off of water bodies that may now have a thin coating of ice.

Many small ponds as far south as southern Minnesota have a skim of ice.

“We are asking parents and other adults to keep a close watch on children, especially over the long Thanksgiving weekend when adults are busy preparing meals and entertaining guests,” said Tim Smalley, DNR water safety specialist.

“It seems as though nearly every year around the holidays, we receive reports of young children falling through ice and it’s just so incredibly tragic,” Smalley said. “Kids are attracted to ice like a magnet, and they just don’t have the knowledge of how much ice it takes to support a person or the understanding of what is or is not safe. I think a reminder to busy, holiday stressed adults is timely.”

Danger to children and potential drowning is as close as the frozen pond or stream near their house if they aren’t properly supervised.

The DNR recommends that even when conditions improve, children should not go out on the ice without adult supervision.

Ice conditions vary widely from no ice in the south to a couple of slushy inches in the far northern part of the state. The DNR urges winter recreationists to check with a local bait shop or resort before heading out.

“Right now, there is no walkable ice in the state,” Smalley noted.

The DNR has a free packet of ice safety information, including a pamphlet and a minimum ice thickness wallet card, available by calling (651) 296-6157 in the Twin Cities area and toll-free in Greater Minnesota at 1-888-MINNDNR (646-6367).

Computer users may send an e-mail to info@dnr.state.mn.us to ask for the ice safety information packet.

Sometimes you just gotta wonder

From Tom Conroy of the DNR

Sometimes you just gotta wonder. Why, for example, would someone want to poach a buck deer – and then put the rack on the wall?

Some people do. Honest. One guy actually had nearly a dozen racks from illegally taken deer on the walls of his home.

Has to make a fellow proud, don’t you think? And, oh, the stories you could tell your family and friends.

“Yup, by golly, got that one over there with one shot from the truck, about two in the morning. The thing just stood there, frozen in the light.”

When it comes to hunting and fishing, there are certain things that are clearly right and wrong. They’re spelled out in law and they’re on the books for a reason.

Shooting wild game out of season is one of those laws and, to most people, the reason why is obvious.

But there are also those behaviors and actions that fall into the category of ethics.

There are no legal sanctions attached to them; the penalties for violating an ethical standard are primarily self-imposed.

Hunting and fishing ethics seldom come in black and white colors. And they are largely individual.

Take, as an example, this deer hunting situation, one that probably happens every year. A hunter shoots the biggest buck he has ever seen in the woods.

It’s a good, well-placed shot and the hunter is certain the deer won’t go far. The wounded deer races off and is soon out of sight. A few moments later, the hunter hears a shot ring out from somewhere down below.

After waiting 10 or 15 minutes, the hunter begins tracking the deer. He trails it down a hill and around a bend of a creek. It is then that he sees another orange-clad hunter, cleaning the biggest buck he has ever seen in the woods. So, who should claim the buck?

The one who mortally wounded it or the hunter who actually put it down?

You won’t find the answer in any law book and hunters can argue it equally well from either side.

A flip of a coin might be as good a way to settle this matter as any.

Recently, an acquaintance was hunting deer when a nice buck came within range.

He dropped the deer cleanly. After admiring the animal for a short time, he and the others in his party continued on their drive through the woods, intending to return to tag and clean the deer when the drive was done. (Not tagging the deer immediately, he realizes, was a mistake.)

When the group returned to where the big animal lay, their excitement quickly turned to astonishment.

The deer was gone. A path clearly showed where someone had dragged the buck out of the woods.

Unethical? Perhaps. Illegal? No. If a hunter with a legal tag comes upon a dead, untagged deer during the hunting season, he can legally tag and take the deer.

But is that the ethical thing to do? Most hunters in that situation would probably first check around to see if there were other hunters in the vicinity.

And many would call the local conservation officer for advice.

Maybe, just maybe, the person who took this deer assumed there were no other hunters around and did not want to just leave the deer to go to waste.

Maybe he thought he was doing the right thing. Maybe.

It’s unfortunate that the hunting behavior that receives the most attention is the unethical kind. But there are countless more examples of ethical behavior that occur every day that hunters are afield. We just don’t often hear about them.

To address that, the DNR, Minnesota Deer Hunters Association (MDHA), and Turn in Poachers (TIP 1-800-652-9093) launched a contest that annually presents a deer hunter ethics award.

Now in its 13th year, the award is presented to a deer hunter who exhibits conduct during the season that can serve as an example of admirable hunting practices.

Anyone may nominate a hunter by writing a letter explaining the actions of the nominee and why that person is worthy of this recognition.

Both youth and adults are eligible, but nominees must be Minnesota residents.

The incidents for which hunters are nominated must have occurred during any of the 2004 Minnesota deer hunting seasons (firearm, archery, and muzzleloader.)

The MDHA will accept nominations for the award until Feb. 1, 2005.

Nomination letters should be sent to Ethical Hunter Award, MDHA, 460 Peterson Road, Grand Rapids, MN 55744-8413.

Every year, numerous guns, hunting equipment, and vehicles are confiscated by DNR, and hunting privileges suspended from individuals who made the choice to take wild game illegally. Why take that chance? You gotta wonder.

Outdoor notes

• The Minnesota Department of Natural resources as not yet finalized harvest totals for this years firearms deer hunt. In the next few weeks those numbers should be out.

Although the hunt was a good one, we probably didn’t top last years record total.

Locally, the deer hunt seemed a bit down from previous years.

• With the murder of six deer hunters in Wisconsin, and all the media attention surrounding the incident, the issues, ethics, and role of hunting in our society will be questioned with great intensity.

The subject of trespassing and property rights will come to the forefront.

When that happens, the hunting and non-hunting segments of society, especially those that are greatly divided, must remember that the death of six deer hunters was a disgusting criminal act done by someone with criminal intent.

• Please remember that no ice, especially ice at this time of year, is ever completely safe.

Now, with ice just forming, the best safety practice is to just stay away from it. It takes four solid inches of good clear ice for angling activity.

• Reports from Minnesota pheasant hunters have been a bit dismal this year.

Back in September, the Minnesota DNR reported that August roadside counts for pheasants were down 47 percent from the previous year.

After hearing many reports from hunters, and giving it a few shots myself, I’d say those number were pretty accurate, and maybe even a bit conservative.

Without question, bird numbers are well below last years banner season, and a cold wet spring was the biggest culprit.

• Now is the time to get your ice fishing gear out and ready to go.

• Take a hard look at the landscape in our area. With the crops off it has become almost barren. If you were a pheasant or whitetail deer, where would you go?

• Today, Monday, Nov. 29 the sun will rise at 7:29 a.m. and set at 4:34 p.m.

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