Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Herald Journal

Sept. 26, 2005

A great time to get and stay connected

The 2005 Minnesota duck hunting season opens Saturday at 9 a.m. and, although duck numbers are down and most hunters are expecting a dismal season, there’s still nothing else like strapping on some waders, hopping into a duck boat, and heading into slough.

In reality, and with the understanding that most people who don’t duck hunt will never sit in the middle of a slough, there is no better way of getting close to and connecting with our outdoor environment.

Imagine being nestled in cattails, breathing in the smell of the swamp, having a muskrat swim right passed your legs, or a redwing blackbird perched only feet away from your head. Those are just a few examples of what it’s like to be in the slough.

The message here is simple. It’s important to get and stay connected with the outdoors and to share that connection with others and duck hunting is a great way to accomplish that.

For those who are considering not participating in this year’s season, please remember that even though ducks numbers are down and harvest success has not been great in recent years there is still no other experience like being in a slough; and the future of our ducks and wetlands depends on you being there.

Here are a few duck hunting tips:

• Wear your PFD and remember that safety always comes first.

• Don’t forget about your state and federal duck stamps.

• The use of motorized decoys or other motorized devices may not be used from opening day through Oct. 8. Please refer to the 2005 waterfowl regulations supplement for more details.

• Keep the water under your decoys a little stirred up. Ducks on the water stir up the bottom and from the air, murky water looks a lot different than clean water. Stirring up the water a bit just adds a little extra touch to your decoy spread.

• Check your waders and make sure they don’t leak before the season starts.

• Be courteous and cautious and not competitive with other hunters. They will have a better time and so will you.

Annual Whitetail group banquet to take place

Come enjoy lots of great food, fun, and prizes for the whole family at the Buffalo American Legion Saturday, Oct. 1 during the Wright County/West Metro Whitetale Club banquet. Social hour starts at 5 p.m., with dinner at 6 p.m.

This year, the organization is featuring 17 guns, and prints by Scott Storm, Michael Sieve, Terry Redlin, and Bruce Miller.

Many raffles, including a portable fishhouse, MDHA 25th anniversary gun, and the engraved gun of the year, will take place. Guns up for raffle include models from Wetherby, Remington, Henry, and Browning.

A free raffle for children 16 and under, in which all will win a prize, will also take place, with the top prize being a .20 gauge shotgun.

Money raised from this banquet will help continue to send children to Forkhorn camp, help support public hunting areas, and help support youth-related activities.

The Minnesota-based conservation group is a part of the Minnesota Deer Hunter’s Association, which has donated more than $2 million toward purchasing and maintaining public hunting land, sent more than 750 children annually to outdoor camp, and strives to maintain ethical and fair chase in hunting.

For more information, call (763) 682-2061 or (763) 263-7893. To make a donation to the banquet, call (763) 682-3660.

Hunting, trapping seasons underway in Minnesota

From the DNR

Minnesota has an abundance of small game animals including rabbits, hares, squirrels, and foxes, as well as grouse and partridge.

Migratory birds and waterfowl such as mourning doves, ducks, geese, mergansers, woodcock, snipe, rails, coots, and gallinules are also included with this group. These animals, which are important parts of the forest, grassland, and wetland ecosystems, are popular among wildlife watchers and are favorites with many hunters and trappers. Last year, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) sold more than 292,000 small game hunting and trapping licenses.

VIOLATIONS

While most abide by hunting and trapping laws, DNR conservation officers issued 621 small game/trapping tickets or written warnings from July 1, 2004, through June 30, 2005. Small game/ trapping fines totaled $19,450.

Top 10 small game/trapping violations in fiscal year 2005:

Offense description/Top 10 cases /average fine/total fine

1. License not in possession 108, $70, $630

2. No blaze orange 80, $90, $540

3. Transport uncased/loaded firearm 66, $160, $6,720,

4. No license/permit 64, $110, $3,410

5. Closed season 28, $110, $750,

6. No waterfowl stamp 29, $120, $3,480

7. Misdemeanor trespass 27, $110, $1,100

8. Untagged traps fur 26, $100, $1,200

9. Unsigned state stamp 25, $80, $320

10. Failure to check/remove traps 24, $100, $1,300

The DNR found fewer small game/trapping violations in fiscal year 2005 (621) than fiscal year 2004 (719), according to DNR Enforcement Chief Col. Mike Hamm.

“The reduction is due to a combination of factors: having more field stations filled in fiscal year 2005, awareness of stiffer penalties associated with the state’s gross overlimits law enacted in 2003, and the continued success of the Turn In Poachers program,” he said.

In 2004, Turn In Poachers received 1,118 poaching-related calls and referred 1,006 of them to conservation officers. The tips resulted in 367 arrests and 64 cash rewards.

The most common small game violations varied little from previous years, according to the DNR. Citations for license not in possession remained the top violation each fiscal year. Transport uncased/loaded firearm, no blaze orange, and no license/permit violations were also among the most common each fiscal year. Untagged traps were the top trapping violation the past two fiscal years.

Where does the money go?

Many people believe all the money collected through fines goes to the DNR’s bottom line, but that is not the case.

“Unless there is specific language in statute directing a portion of the fine be remitted to a specific state fund, governmental unit, or other entity, the entire fine amount is retained by the county or court where the violation occurred,” Hamm said.

Restitution may be ordered by the district court, in addition to the fine and surcharges. Some types of restitution and their remittance are specified in statute, in a similar manner to fine amounts. The court may otherwise order restitution for damages or costs incurred and specify their receipt.

“Only half of game fines are deposited to the DNR’s Game and Fish Fund,” Hamm said. “It does not go directly to enforcement.”

The entire restitution amount, which is in addition to fines and court surcharges, is also deposited in the Game and Fish Fund, and must be used for replacement, propagation, or protection of wild animals, Hamm noted.

One percent of the $72 criminal court prosecution surcharges, regardless of the type of violation or charging agency, is deposited in the Game and Fish Fund to provide training for conservation officers.

Take a stand

The DNR has made many good poaching cases because hunters and trappers use phones and cell phones to call in the violation, Hamm noted.

“Phone calls are a fantastic aid in reporting violations,” Hamm said. “Many hunters and trappers will make the call as the violation is occurring. In some cases, our officers will meet the violator as they’re coming out of the field.”

Poaching activities to watch for include spotlighting, careless/unsafe acts, litter, unlicensed people, and over bagging.

“We expect the legally licensed hunters and trappers, as well as landowners, to be our eyes and ears and to report the violations,” Hamm said.

Hamm emphasizes that timeliness is the key to catching poachers. Observers should be sure to get as much information as possible and report it immediately. Things to remember are a physical description of the suspect; the vehicle make, color, model and year; and, if possible, the license plate number.

Hamm said many people use still, video, and cell phone cameras to record the information. Other details include the time, type of game taken, location of evidence, location and directions to where the violation occurred, and a description of the location of the property, for example, “200 yards behind the red barn by the creek.”

“Defend wildlife and the right of future generations to enjoy it,” Hamm said.

Hunters can help stop poaching violations by calling the Turn In Poachers hotline, toll-free, (800) 652-9093.

It’s the time of the year – watch for fall colors

From the DNR

Recent warm, sunny days and cool nighttime temperatures have resulted in the appearance of fall colors across the state. People can follow the progress of the annual autumn color event by visiting the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us

The reports are gathered from information provided by color observers in state parks. Because the colorful fall show is the result of more than leaf color, these reports include some extras like information about the changing fall colors among the native grasses and wildflowers, and notes on birds, butterflies and other wildlife that are migrating or preparing for winter. There is also a listing of the berries, nuts, and fruits that are ripe for harvesting. The site also features highlights about autumn events and photos of the changing fall colors.

Website photos

Fall color photos, contributed by the public, are included in these 2005 Fall Colors Reports. These photos provide a first hand look at the autumn scene in various parks across the state. People can share their current fall color photos online by following instructions listed on the site.

Typically, colors peak along the Canadian border in mid- to late-September. Peak colors come to the northern third of Minnesota the last week in September or early October. The following weekend should bring peak colors in central Minnesota, including the Twin Cities area. The southern and southeastern part of the state should have good color through the third week in October.

State parks busy

“The fall color season always brings visitors out to enjoy the scenic beauty of our state parks,” said Courtland Nelson, director of the DNR Division of Parks and Recreation. “Since all 72 state parks and recreation areas are open to the public year round, people have the opportunity for recreation and relaxation in all seasons. Our outdoor education programs and the opportunity to witness seasonal events such as bird migration, fall colors, and wildlife activity also help bring visitors out to enjoy the scenic beauty of our parks.”

Nelson cited another major factor that helps boost visitation – fewer bugs and mosquitoes.

“Campers especially appreciate the lower bug levels in fall,” Nelson said. “If the string of good weather continues, I expect our campgrounds will continue to see good business this fall.”

Nelson also recommends a midweek visit to state parks this fall.

“On weekends, our parks are usually pretty busy in the fall,” said Nelson. “If you want to spend a more quiet time in the park, come during the week, if you can. During the week, camping is more available and you likely will not need a reservation.”

Individuals who do not have access to the Internet can call the DNR Information Center at (651) 296-6157 or 1-888-MINNDNR (646-6367).

For an audio report of fall color status, call the Minnesota Office of Tourism leaf hotline at (651) 296-5029 in the Twin Cities metro area or toll free (800) 657-3700.

Duck hunters busy early

With mild temperatures, open water and abundant local ducks, Minnesota’s waterfowl hunters often find the fastest action during the first weeks of the season.

Most years, hunters harvest about half their season’s ducks in the first two weeks. Early migrating species like wood ducks and teal – often raised on local sloughs – make up a large part of the bag limit.

“Barring a late-September cold snap, Minnesota duck hunters can expect to do pretty well in the early season,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. “This year should be no different. Some hunters will do better than others, but there are usually plenty of birds moving, particularly if blue-wings are still present in the state in good numbers.”

By mid-October, Cordts said ducks and duck hunters begin to change their patterns. Teal and wood ducks become more scarce. Hunters start to depend on later-season migrants like mallards, green-winged teal, ring-necked ducks, and bluebills to fill the skies.

If conditions are mild in northern Minnesota and Canada, the ducks tend to stay put and hunters stay home. “After the first two weeks, hunters start to focus on hunting during weather patterns that will likely move ducks into Minnesota,” Cordts said. “If the weather’s mild and no new birds show up, hunters will find something else to do.”

This summer’s warm, wet weather was favorable for rearing broods, Cordts said. But flooding in northwestern Minnesota may have reduced nesting success, and most reports indicate a below average wild rice crop, which will influence duck distribution this fall.

Local habitat conditions always play a key role in fall duck distribution. As of now, wetland conditions are highly variable across the state.

“There are just so many variables that affect duck movement,” Cordts said. “It’s impossible to predict how successful hunters will be in any particular season. The forested region of the state remains dry, but wetlands in the western third of the state seem to be in good shape. This could change depending on rainfall over the next few weeks.”

While weather affects duck movement from year-to-year, improvements in wetland habitat will increase duck and goose populations over the long term. The DNR is currently working with conservation groups and other agencies to formulate a new duck recovery plan.

In a typical year, the DNR adds some 3,000 acres to our wildlife management system, restores 50 to 100 wetlands, plants 10,000 to 20,000 acres of grasslands, and manages 250 shallow lakes.

Signs of new progress include:

- a $10 million bonding package to step up acquisition of high-priority habitat;

- plans to restore high-priority wetland and grassland complexes by focusing state and federal conservation programs through the “Working Lands Initiative;”

- protection of an estimated 120,000 acres of wetlands and grasslands under the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP II).

“Waterfowl management is a key component of the DNR’s conservation mission,” said John Guenther, DNR Fish and Wildlife director. “This year, with the support of individual hunters and our partners in conservation organizations, we’re increasingly focused on revitalizing the state’s wetlands.”

The waterfowl season will open Saturday, Oct. 1 at 9 a.m. and continues through Nov. 29.

Except for opening day, when shooting hours will be 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., shooting hours will be from one-half hour before sunrise to 4 p.m. daily through Saturday, Oct. 8.

Beginning Sunday, Oct. 9, and through the close of the season, shooting hours will be from one-half hour before sunrise to sunset.

New this year

• Minnesota hunters may harvest four ducks with only two scaup daily. The bag may include no more than one hen mallard, one black duck, one pintail, two wood ducks, two redheads, and two scaup. One canvasback will be allowed from Oct. 8 through Nov. 6. Possession limits are twice the daily bag limits.

• Motorized decoys may not be used from the opening day of duck season (including youth waterfowl day) through Saturday, Oct. 8. The devices may not be used anytime during the duck season on water and lands fully contained within wildlife management area boundaries.

Outdoor notes

• The Waverly Gun Club will offer a doubles league, set to begin Thursday, Oct. 6.

All interested are welcome to participate. For questions, call (763) 658-4644 and leave a message. The gun club web site is www.geocities.com/waverlygunclub/.

• The Lester Prairie Sportsmen’s Club recently graduated another class of firearms safety students.

• Look for great colors across our area this fall. Moisture can a make a big difference in the amount and brilliance of fall colors, and ample rain fall late this summer should make our fall colors excellent this year.

• Always ask first before you enter private land; it’s just not the right thing to do, it’s the law.

• Changing your dog’s diet can have a tremendous impact, good and bad, on the dog’s performance in the field this fall. If you are planning on moving toward high protein food mix in slowly to the dog’s regular food, over the course of weeks. At this time of year especially, it’s not a good idea to make a rapid change in your dog’s diet.

• Look for great pheasant hunting across the Midwest pheasant range this fall. Numbers are up in the Dakota’s, Iowa, and Nebraska. In South Dakota, officials are saying the season could be the best ever. The North Dakota pheasant hunting season opens Sat., Oct. 8. In South Dakota the season opens Sat., Oct. 15.

• Now is a great time to head to your favorite lake in search of lunker northern pike and walleye. You missed the fall harvest moon, but the fall feeding frenzy is on.

• Take a kid hunting or fishing; she will have fun and so will you.

• Today, the sun will rise at 7:05 a.m. and set at 7:02 p.m.

• The first day of fall was Thursday, Sept. 22.

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