Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Herald Journal

Dec. 26, 2005

Making one last trip

It’s been a great year of hunting across most of the pheasant range in Minnesota and the Dakotas. Probably the best year of hunting that many, or even most, of today’s pheasant hunters have ever experienced.

Because of great bird numbers, and a tremendous October and November of hunting, the pheasant hunting bug I catch every year was still running through my veins.

Although the weather was cold, the snow deep, ice from an early winter storm had hit parts of the range, the ice fishing season was underway, and birds can be darn hard to bag, that pheasant hunting bug had a grasp on me like iron.

A grasp I would have to carry for an entire year if I didn’t head out at least one more time.

That time was last Friday, Dec. 14. With a weather forecast of below zero wind chills, but with a valid South Dakota license and of course, my Minnesota license in my pocket I had to go, and go I did.

With no real plan in place and the desire to hit a new spot, I ended up near Milbank, not too far from some good traditional hunting areas of mine in western Minnesota.

This day didn’t produce a bird in the bag, but it did produce hundreds of birds in the air, many, many deer, and even though it was bone chilling cold, a great day in the field.

Near Milbank, hunting on all public land, I ran into hundreds of well-educated and bunched up birds, and several deer that spoiled our pheasant hunting.

Pheasants in the late season are, like I mentioned, well educated to hunters, and when hunting, no matter how quietly Angus and I would sneak into a slough, 10 or more whitetail deer busting out of the edge and through the cattails is going to chase out every pheasant within 200 or more yards.

At this time of year, when one pheasant goes, they all go.

At one spot, Angus, who was sitting in the passenger’s seat next to me with seat belt on, and I watched more than 200 pheasants pile into a fair-sized cattail slough.

As soon as we got close to the slough, a dandy whitetail buck got wind of us, trotted out of the slough, and took every pheasant in it with him.

Like most times, they all ended up in another slough behind a wall of no hunting signs.

Other areas we checked out near Milbank were not holding birds anymore because of a modest blanket of snow and heavy coating of ice.

Milbank was an area that did get hit pretty hard by an ice storm early in December.

Most of the cover was lodged, many trees had broken limbs and branches, and because of the ice cover, pheasants were having a hard time scratching for food.

From Milbank, we hopped the border back into Minnesota, where I knew there were areas of good heavy cover on public land.

There, only a few miles from South Dakota, we chased and chased one monster rooster for most of the afternoon.

Along with running into a few hundred other birds, we flushed that rooster six times, all six of them just out of gun range.

With tired legs, a cold face, no birds in the bag, and without question, a great day in the field, Angus and I got in the truck, hopped on Hwy 7, and headed home.

The pheasant hunting bug had eased its grip on me for another year, and it was one last trip of a great season that was well worth it.

DNR offers pheasant feeding do’s and don’ts
From the DNR

Recent snowfalls have prompted a flurry of calls to Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wildlife offices inquiring about the advisability of feeding pheasants, the DNR reports.

“Pheasant rarely starve or freeze to death, except during the most severe blizzards,” notes Wendy Krueger, DNR area wildlife manager at Slayton. “If they start out in good shape, they can go as long as two weeks without food.”

Still, feeding pheasants can be helpful if done properly, Krueger said.

During a typical winter, pheasants can find adequate food in the form of waste grain in corn and bean fields with little or no tillage. It becomes more difficult during winters with prolonged crusty snow or ice cover, however.

Under such conditions, pheasants are forced to spend excessive time in the open looking for food.

“That’s when they can get into trouble,” Krueger stated. “They become more susceptible to predators and exposure to the weather. They can begin to lose weight and when their fat reserves are depleted they begin to burn muscle tissue to stay alive. As a result, they become even more susceptible to death from exposure or predators.”

While planned food plots provide the best source of winter food for pheasants, feeders can also help. Krueger offers the following tips for anyone interested in feeding pheasants.

• Do not place feeders near a road. Attracting pheasants (and deer) to roadsides can be dangerous to motorists as well as wildlife.

• Feeders should be placed within 150 yards of good winter cover. This allows the birds to feed and then return quickly to cover.

• The most important reason for feeding pheasants is to keep them in areas of good winter cover, such as large cattail marshes, shrub swamps, or shelterbelts with at least four rows of evergreens where they stand a much greater chance of surviving winter. Placing feeder cribs in areas where there is only marginal winter cover can actually be counter-productive.

• Place food where birds have been seen feeding in an open, windswept area near thick cover. A high spot with a southern exposure is best.

• Simple feeder cribs can be constructed of 3’ or 4’ wide hardware cloth (1/2” mesh) that is double-wrapped and hog ringed together to form a cylinder. Wire the feeder to a steel post or another object to keep it erect. (Designs for constructing barrel feeders can be found on the DNR web site at http://files.dnr.state.mn.us/assistance/backyard/wildlifehabitat/winterwildlifehabitat.pdf).

• Try to avoid placing feeders in areas where deer are concentrated as they will quickly consume what is available. Deer may be excluded from a feeder by cutting two cattle panels in half and using the four pieces to make an 8’ x 8’ fence around the feeder.

• It is very important that once you start feeding you do not stop until spring when there are large, snow-free areas in fields. Pheasants will become dependent on your feeders.

One of the biggest mistakes well-intentioned people make is to not keep the feeders replenished or to stop feeding too soon in the spring.

Feeding should be regarded as a temporary solution to meeting pheasant habitat needs.

Winter is an excellent time to survey the habitat in your area, identify deficiencies, and make long-term plans to correct those deficiencies (e.g. restoring a wetland or establishing a food plot.)

For additional information on pheasant feeding, contact the DNR wildlife office in your area.

Walleye angling to reopen on Red Lake
From the DNR

For the first time since 1999, anglers in 2006 will catch and keep walleyes on Upper Red Lake as a result of what today DNR Commissioner Gene Merriam said is “a remarkable example of sport fish restoration success.”

In today’s announcement, he said, “walleye are once again abundant in Upper Red Lake, and for now we will manage this fragile fishery conservatively to protect against over harvest.”

When the fishing season opens May 13 on Upper Red Lake, anglers will be allowed to keep two walleye, but must release all walleye from 17 through 26 inches, with one trophy larger than 26 inches allowed.

From the fishing opener through Nov. 30, the total walleye harvest will be limited to 108,000 pounds. This estimate will be based on DNR creel surveys.

If the harvest cap is reached, walleye angling will be prohibited until Dec. 1, when a winter harvest level will be set. Walleye fishing has been banned on Upper Red Lake since 1999 when it was closed due to low walleye populations.

“So far, this recovery is nothing short of phenomenal,” said Henry Drewes DNR regional fisheries manager in Bemidji. “We are well on the way, but full recovery won’t occur until the lakes contain many different year classes of mature fish.”

Shotley Brook from Highway 72 west to Upper Red Lake and Tamarack River from the Beltrami County Line west to Red Lake will be included in the regulations.

Over harvest caused the Red Lake walleye population to collapse in the 1990s. In 1999, the DNR, the Red Lake Band and the Bureau of Indian Affairs agreed to a short-term stocking effort coupled with a harvest closure and aggressive enforcement.

“Now that we have re-established an abundant walleye population, our focus has shifted to working on a sustainable, collaborative management approach that protects this walleye population from being over harvested once again,” said Drewes.

DNR and the Red Lake Tribe have developed a management plan to prevent future over harvest. Walleye regulations were developed in cooperation with a Citizen’s Advisory Committee comprised of local, regional and statewide angling and business interests.

In addition, regulations aimed at maintaining a quality northern pike fishery on Upper Red Lake will also take effect this year. Anglers will be allowed to keep three northern pike, but must release all northern pike from 26 though 40 inches, with one trophy larger than 40 inches.

Outdoor notes

• Ice fishing activity has picked up on our area lakes in the past week, and so has the fishing.
Several anglers are reporting good walleye and pan fish action on Lakes like Howard and Ann.
Although ice conditions aren’t what they could be at this time of year, the season is shaping up to be a good one for those anglers that are set up with portables and systems that are easy to move on a snow packed lake.
On the other side it may be a tough year for anglers with larger houses, especially on the smaller lakes in the area where roads aren’t plowed.
In general, fewer houses and less traffic usually ads up to better fishing.

• Remember the new sticker needed on your snowmobile if your riding on State Grant-in-Aid Trails

• Take some time to enjoy the season and look back at another great year of outdoor experiences and adventures.

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