Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Herald Journal

January 1, 2007

Safety is the best gift of all for young hunters

From the DNR
If youngsters unwrap their first air rifle or firearm this holiday season, parents should be sure to give them the second part of the gift – an education in firearms safety.

Children enjoy shooting sports because they are fun, challenging and safe, according to Capt. Mike Hammer, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Enforcement Education Program coordinator.

Parents must decide if a youngster is mature enough for supervised shooting, Hammer said.

Parents must also decide if they are ready, themselves, for the responsibility of teaching safe firearm handling and shooting to the child.

“Keep in mind kids will be kids, and take that into account when buying a firearm,” Hammer said. “Keep the firearm under your control. You can use it as a training aid to teach safe handling and the responsibility of owning a firearm.”

Parents should keep ammunition and firearms in separate locations, and both should be locked. Trigger locks are also a good idea.

If a child wants to show his new firearm to friends, he should do so in the company of a parent.

“Having the firearm locked gives the youngster the message his or her firearm is not a toy, and it is another way of teaching responsibility,” Hammer said.

Almost all shooters will eventually take a hunter education course, but youngsters don’t necessarily need the course before they have some supervised experience with a gun.

Some target shooting or small game hunting before the course will familiarize them with the firearm and may actually make them better able to learn the lessons taught in the classroom.

According to the DNR, to hunt in Minnesota, all children 13 years of age or younger who do not have a valid Firearm Safety Certificate must be supervised by an adult.

How old should a child be to have a firearm? “The bottom line is, you know your child better than anyone else,” said Bob Foth, director of junior development for the U.S. Shooting Team, writing in a National Shooting Sports Foundation publication. “You know how well he or she follows directions and handles responsibility. You know if your child is mature enough to be mindful of his or her own safety and the safety of others. With proper supervision, participation in the shooting sports can teach responsibility at an early age.”

Anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1980, must have a Firearms Safety Certificate (or equivalent), or other evidence of successfully completing a hunter safety course to obtain a license to hunt in Minnesota. Classes are taught by certified instructors.

Hunters who have a Firearms Safety Certificate are required to carry it with them while hunting with a firearm.

The DNR is now providing more hunting opportunities for youngsters. Minnesota has Take a Kid Hunting Weekend in September.

Residents over age 18 may, without a license, hunt small game if accompanied by a youth under age 16.

A Firearms Safety Certificate is required for youth hunters 13-15 years of age and for anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1980, who purchases a firearms license.

There’s also Youth Waterfowl Day in late August.

The intent of this youth hunt is to encourage older hunters to concentrate on teaching youngsters age 15 and younger the pleasures, skills, ethics and traditions of waterfowl hunting.

Youths must be accompanied by a nonhunting adult age 18 or older.

“Each event is a good opportunity for a young person to hunt with a parent and learn firearm safety first-hand,” Hammer said.

The time, date and location of hunter education classes are listed on the DNR’s web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us or call (651) 296-6157 or toll free 1-888-MINNDNR (646-6367).

Pork chop/shrimp dinner Sunday

Prairie Archers wil host a pork chop/shrimp dinner Saturday, Jan. 6 at the Dodge House, Lester Prairie from 5 to 8 p.m.

Dinner includes a baked potato, tossed salad, bread, dessert, beverage and complimentary drink.

Call in your reservation before 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 5 to Jim Richardson (320) 395-2721 or Dodge House (320) 395-2877.

Snowmobile trails not yet open
From the DNR

The lack of snow throughout Minnesota continues to hinder riding opportunities on the state’s more than 20,000 miles of snowmobile trails.

Although trails typically open in early December, snow depth determines whether or not a trail is ready for riding.

A minimum of 12 inches of adequate snow cover is necessary for packing and grooming trails, according to Les Ollila, Northeast Region Trails and Waterways manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“The lack of snow is a safety concern,” Ollila explained. “We understand that people are anxious to get out, but there just isn’t enough snow on the ground for grooming and riding. We don’t want people risking their safety, the safety of others, or cause damage to their machines or the trail.”

Even once the first significant snow falls, Ollila encourages snowmobilers to wait until the trails are groomed.

In addition to adequate snow cover, the ground needs to be frozen, allowing for safe trail crossings through wet areas or over lakes.

Although there have been a few cold days, the ice on many lakes throughout the state is still not thick enough to support people on foot, let alone a snowmobile.

The DNR recommends five inches of new, clear ice for snowmobiles.
Ollila suggested that trail users call the local trail club or chamber of commerce before leaving town.

State trails conditions are also available on the DNR web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us or by calling (651) 296-6157 or 1-888-MINNDNR (646-6367).

When the trails finally have enough snow, snowmobilers are reminded that a Minnesota snowmobile state trail sticker is required for all snowmobiles operated on any state or grant-in-aid snowmobile trail in Minnesota.

The state trail sticker costs $16 for an annual permit and $31 for a three-year sticker, which may only be purchased during snowmobile registration.

Annual stickers can be purchased from a deputy registrar or any of the 1,800 electronic licensing agents throughout Minnesota, by telephone at 1-888-665-4236, or on the DNR Web site.

The three-year sticker is available at a deputy registrar office; through the mail to the DNR, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155; or with an online renewal on the DNR Web site.

The snowmobile trail pass provides funding to snowmobile clubs to help with trail grooming and upkeep.

The permit will only be valid from Nov. 1 through Apr. 30 of each year.

Most snowmobile trails are not open to ATV or any other uses. Unauthorized uses are trespasses.

2006 fish and wildlife highlights include Red Lake, wildlife habitat boost
From the DNR

The first walleye fishing on Red Lake in nearly a decade and a big boost for public hunting land acquisition were among fish and wildlife highlights for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) this past year.

Anglers and hunters generally enjoyed excellent seasons as well.

“DNR creel census data showed above average catch rates on many of the state’s largest walleye lakes, including Mille Lacs, Rainy and Winnibigoshish,” said Dave Schad, director of the DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife. “Hunters had some of the best pheasant hunting since the Soil Bank Days of the 1960s, contributed to one of the highest deer harvests on record, enjoyed improved waterfowl hunting and benefited from a rising ruffed grouse population. With our partners, we also acquired and restored thousands of acres of habitat that will benefit fish, wildlife and native species,” Schad said.

This year’s boost in land acquisition came as the DNR completed purchases related to a $10 million bonding appropriation for state wildlife management areas (WMAs) in 2005.

The funding, which allowed the DNR to leverage additional dollars from private, state and federal sources, added 4,584 acres (more than seven square miles) to the WMA system in the past year, and work has started on purchasing additional WMA acres funded by the $12 bonding appropriation from the 2006 Legislature

“This funding will allow us to continue to acquire larger, higher-quality parcels nearer to population centers,” said Kim Hennings, wildlife section acquisitions coordinator. “Typically, those parcels are more expensive due to increasing development pressure and demand for recreation land.”

Angling and shore land habitat

The opportunity to catch walleye for the first time in nearly a decade drew thousands of anglers to Red Lake for the opener of the 2006 inland fishing season.

There was no shortage of early-season action as anglers harvested more than 32,500 pounds of walleye before May 31.

Even though the bite slowed in July and August, anglers harvested an estimated 54,000 pounds (65 percent of the target harvest) of walleye during the open water season.

The DNR is considering less restrictive harvest regulations that could be implemented next summer if walleye harvest during the winter and spring remains below target.

Elsewhere in the state, anglers had a very good year, particularly on larger well-known walleye lakes.

On Mille Lacs, anglers caught 1.1 million pounds of walleye, the second highest total since 1985.

Likewise, the total catch on Rainy Lake, 118,000 walleye, exceeded the 10-year average by more than 10,000 fish.

On Lake Winnibigoshish, anglers enjoyed the highest catch rate ever recorded on the lake.

“While walleye, bass and panfish are the targets of most anglers, in 2006 we continued to see a growing interest in fishing for and catching really large fish,” said Ron Payer, DNR fisheries section chief. “Many 50-plus-inch muskies were caught and released this summer, which would have been unheard of a decade ago, and lake sturgeon, our state’s largest fish, continue to attract a growing following as these fish rebound from their low population numbers of the past.”

Maintaining sustainable fish populations requires diligent management of walleye stocking, regulations and habitat, Payer said.

To that end, the DNR section of fisheries completed the following projects in 2006:

• completed the most comprehensive analysis ever done of the DNR walleye-stocking program and increased the number of fish stocked in more than 200 lakes

• exceeded goals of stocking at least 160,000 pounds of walleye in 2006; preliminary estimates show the DNR stocked 165,400 pounds of walleye this past fall - a total of 2.9 million fingerling, yearling and adults

• purchased 640 acres and 7.5 miles of land adjacent to lakes and 456 acres and nine miles of land adjacent to streams which will protect sensitive shoreland for fish spawning and habitat

• added four new and enhanced urban fishing opportunities through the “Fishing in the Neighborhood (FiN)” program; in addition, 28,000 fish were stocked in 53 FiN ponds in the metro area

• continued intensive management efforts to aid in the recovery of the walleye population at Leech Lake; efforts include stocking of walleye fry, special fishing regulations, cormorant control, research on invasive rusty crayfish, and stepped up aquatic habitat protection; late fall test netting showed an upswing in both young walleye and yellow perch numbers

• finalized the Lake Superior Management Plan, which reflects a decade of progress in rehabilitating Lake Superior’s wild lake trout, lake herring and salmon populations

• approved a new, 48 inch minimum for muskies on 45 lakes.

Hunting and wildlife habitat

Minnesota hunters enjoyed excellent opportunities for deer, pheasants and waterfowl and improved hunting for ruffed grouse, according to early reports.

Youth hunters also enjoyed increased opportunities this year as more than 1,000 youngsters had the opportunity to participate in special youth hunts and seasons conducted from Winona to Warroad.

In addition, habitat protection efforts got a boost with the finalization of the Duck Recovery Plan and continued effort on the Working Lands Initiative, which seeks to focus conservation efforts on protecting large complexes of wetland and grasslands.

Wildlife Chief Dennis Simon pointed out there are currently more than 1 million acres of grassland habitat enrolled in farm programs and another 650,000 acres protected in wildlife management areas or waterfowl production areas.

“The expiration of a large proportion of existing Conservation Reserve Program contracts beginning in 2007 is a major concern for future wildlife populations,” said Simon. “In the coming year, the DNR will continue the marketing of farm bill conservation programs to landowners in partnership with the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, Pheasants Forever, and county Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and will be working at the national level to ensure the next Farm Bill has strong conservation programs.”

Wildlife highlights for 2006

• a new 2,840 wildlife management area, on land known as UMore Park in Dakota County, was established by the Legislature for continued management by the University of Minnesota and DNR in cooperation with Dakota County for research, public hunting and other recreational opportunities;

• increased the number of 2006 spring turkey permits by 1,001 for a total of 33,976;

• convened a committee of sportsmen, conservationists, technical staff and others to consider nontoxic shot issues; the committee recommended a measured approach to moving toward lead shot alternatives;

• continued efforts to improve waterfowl habitat and hunting on Swan Lake by eliminating the carp population; this fall, DNR staff treated the lake with rotenone to kill carp that remained after lowering water levels this past year;

• to improve waterfowl hunting on Lake Maria, a one-time Mecca for migrating bluebills, the DNR installed a pumping system and electric fish barrier; the system will allow wildlife managers to lower the lake’s water levels, revitalizing native aquatic vegetation;

• created new hunting and fishing opportunities near the Twin Cities with the acquisition of the Vermillion Empireview Wildlife Management Area in Dakota County; the 475-acre WMA contains upland habitat for pheasants as well as 1.2 miles along the Vermillion River, a trout stream the DNR is working to preserve;

• to provide more opportunities for dove hunters, the DNR began managing 14 public fields on wildlife management areas specifically to attract doves;

• continued an intensive effort to collect tissue samples from hunter-harvested whitetail deer; samples are currently being tested for Chronic Wasting Disease or bovine tuberculosis (TB) and results will be available in early 2007;

• awarded 43 new school programs grants and enrolled them in the National Archery in Schools Program (NASP); in the coming year more than 60,000 students will target shoot thanks to the DNR’s three-year-old Archery in the Schools Program;

• continued to identify deer population goals by permit area with input from hunters, local residents and businesses as part of a three-year process launch in 2005.

In the coming year, DNR will continue to work toward meeting challenges related to habitat, hunter and angler recruitment and fish and game population management.

“Clearly, our state continues to face many challenges as we work together with our many public and private partners toward quality land, water and species conservation,” said Schad. “Still, what we accomplished in 2006 is evidence that we are making good progress thanks to the support of our partners, the contributions of license buyers and the public.”

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