Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Herald Journal

September 17, 2007

DNR continues to reduce barries to hunting participation

From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) knocked down more barriers to hunting participation this year.

The agency, which in recent years has expanded youth hunts, reduced the price of youth deer licenses, and propelled the state into a national leader in the archery in the schools program, has launched an apprentice hunter program that promises to nudge would-be hunters off the fence and into fields and forests.

It is also developing a new mentoring program.

The mentoring effort aims to work with existing hunting, fishing and mentoring organizations to link avid outdoors enthusiasts with youth who have an interest in the outdoors but not the opportunity to experience it.

The agency has also implemented a special deer hunting clinic for women, a guided grouse hunt for women, an outdoors family weekend that included shooting skills and other activities that aim to keep hunting healthy in the face of national trends that show a downward decline in hunting participation.

“Nationally, Minnesota ranks fifth in terms of hunting participation,” said Dave Schad, DNR Fish and Wildlife Division director. “Currently, 13 percent of the population hunts. While that is down from 15 percent in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, it is still at a level that exceeds most other states. Moreover, the total number of hunters continues to be stable. The 2 percent decline is actually a function of population growth rather than a decline in hunter numbers.”

Minnesota has about 578,000 total hunters, of which about 80 percent hunt deer with a firearm.

Schad said the combination of the new hunter apprentice program and strong wildlife populations make this an ideal year to introduce someone new to hunting.

“Think about it. Ruffed grouse numbers are at their highest level in years. Pheasant numbers are excellent again. Deer are abundant. What better time to introduce a friend, spouse, or child to someone’s back forty or a nice wildlife management area perhaps 40 miles down the road.”

To that end, what follows are some of the DNR’s new hunting recruitment and retention initiatives.

• Apprentice hunter validation

The apprentice hunter validation enables an individual who is normally required to have a firearms safety certificate, but does not have one, to try hunting for a year under the supervision of a licensed hunter.

The validation is available to Minnesota residents only. It costs $3.50.

The apprentice hunter needs to purchase all licenses and stamps normally required for the hunt.

This program was developed because many potential new hunters are not sure they will like it and therefore want to experience a hunt before committing to a firearms safety class.

Apprentice hunters must be within sight and sound of their supervising hunter.

Mentored hunts of this type are as safe as other hunts, according to data from the International Hunter Education Association.

• Women’s deer clinic

The DNR’s Becoming An Outdoors Woman program hosted its first-ever deer-hunting clinic for women in August on a rolling and wooded farm in Kanabec County.

More than 40 women signed up to get hands-on experience with rifles, shotguns and archery equipment.

They also learned how to follow blood trails, hang tree stands, and were presented information on deer behavior and biology.

• Family weekend

The DNR held its first-ever Becoming An Outdoors Family Weekend in August at Deep Portage Environmental Learning Center.

The event featured skills-building events in both shooting and archery.

• Archery draw weight reduction

The DNR reduced the minimum bow draw weight for taking big game from 40 pounds to 30 pounds.

This change stems from research that indicated the 40-pound regulation was a barrier to women and youth who were long in heart but short in strength when it came to shooting a bow accurately.

Industry and agency information indicates that a 30-pound draw weight is adequate to take Minnesota big game species.

• Youth mentoring

The DNR recently convened a “kitchen cabinet-style” meeting of selected stakeholders to strategize ways to implement a successful hunting and fishing mentoring program.

The gathering included input from Big Brothers Big Sisters, Kinship Partners, Kansas-based Pass It On Outdoor Mentors, Inc., and representatives of the National Wild Turkey Federation, Pheasants Forever, Minnesota Deer Hunters Association and other hunting organizations.

• Women’s grouse hunt

In partnership with the Ruffed Grouse Society, the Becoming An Outdoors Woman program will offer upland bird biology seminar and grouse hunt on the Mille Lacs Wildlife Management Area on Oct. 6.

• New opportunities for soldiers

Minnesota military members who have served at any time in the preceeding 24 months in federal active military service outside the United States and who have been discharged from active service can take small game without a license (with official military discharge papers) and obtain one free deer license.

• National archery in the schools program

The DNR agreed last month to help fund a national study that, among other things, will determine if the students who participate in the National Archery in the Schools Program become target archers and hunters.

During the last four years, more than 150 Minnesota schools have begun working with the DNR to teach archery as part of their physical education curriculum.

More than 60,000 youth participate in this program each year.

• Other opportunities

People who want to take advantage of other special hunting opportunities should take note that Youth Waterfowl Day is Sept. 15.

On that day, waterfowl hunters age 15 and younger (when accompanied by a nonhunting adult) may take certain waterfowl from one-half hour before sunrise to 4 p.m.

Check the regulation booklet for additional details. Take A Kid Hunting Weekend is Sept. 22-23.

During this weekend adult residents who are accompanied by a youth under age 16 may hunt small game without a license but must comply with open seasons, limits and other regulations.

Finally, Future Pheasant Hunters Weekend is Oct. 27-28. Together with Pheasant Forever chapters, the DNR encourages pheasant hunters to introduce a young person to hunting this weekend.

Many youngsters will be hunting this weekend following mentoring sessions earlier in the year.

The DNR believes these and other approaches are reducing barriers to hunting participation.

“As we look at the future of hunting, we need to do two things,” said Schad. “First, we need to stay focused on the importance of habitat conservation, which is at the heart of all that’s wild and wonderful in this state. And two, we need to stay in touch with our public by listening, learning and delivering the programs and services that are desired by society and are critical to the species we are entrusted to manage.”

With potential habitat losses . . . is 2007 the boom before the bust?
From Pheasants Forever

All across the Midwest and Upper Midwest, signs are pointing to an excellent pheasant hunting season.

The typical pheasant powerhouses – South and North Dakota, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, and Nebraska – will again top the list.

Unfortunately, because of the potential for massive habitat losses this year and next, namely Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres under soon-to-expire contracts, we may soon be referring to 2007 as “the good old days.”

Key pheasant states, including South Dakota and Iowa, stand to lose literally hundreds of thousands of acres of critical wildlife habitat in the next few years to row crop conversion.

That’s why now, more than ever, there is a need for all hunters and wildlife enthusiasts to become actively involved in the 2007 Federal Farm Bill process.

The Farm Bill will be introduced in the U.S. Senate soon, meaning now is the time to contact your state’s Senators and let them know you want a Farm Bill with a strong Conservation Title.

After all, CRP and other federal farmland conservation programs accounting for over 50 million acres nationwide are primarily responsible for the birds you’ll be chasing this fall.

• Iowa: Despite a March blizzard, an ice storm, and flooding during the spring nesting season, the Iowa pheasant population remained relatively unchanged compared to last year.

Iowa’s 2007 August Upland Wildlife Roadside Survey saw an average of 27 birds per route across the state, compared with 28 last year.

Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist with the Iowa DNR, said Iowa pheasant hunters should harvest between 700,000 and 780,000 roosters this fall.

Once again, northwest, north-central and central Iowa reported higher bird counts, but small, localized areas of good pheasant numbers were reported in the northeast, east-central and southeast.

Unfortunately, Iowa stands to lose a significant amount of crucial habitat before the pheasant season opens on October 27.

Iowa is expected to lose almost 200 square miles of CRP habitat after October 1 as farmers plow up land in preparation for row crop conversion next spring to try and meet the needs of the ethanol industry.

With no CRP sign-up in 2008, the state is expected to lose another 350-400 miles of CRP after October 1, 2008.

Bogenschutz said a habitat loss of this magnitude will certainly mean Iowa’s pheasant population will be lower in 2008 and 2009.

Season Opener: October 27

• Minnesota: In each of the past two years, hunters in Minnesota have harvested nearly 600,000 roosters, the most since 1964.

With favorable pheasant nesting and brood-rearing conditions this year and abundant habitat, Minnesota hunters can expect more of the same.

The state’s pheasant index remained at its highest level in 20 years, (107 birds per 100 miles driven) topping 100 for the third consecutive year.

Protected grassland habitats in the state’s pheasant range account for approximately 6 percent of the landscape – the highest number in more than a decade – and those areas are the major contributing factor to the increased population.

Hunters will want to take note of the southwest portion of the state, where observers reported 223 birds per 100 miles driven; the south-central area, with 121 birds reported per 100 miles driven; and the west-central area, where 118 birds were reported per 100 miles driven.

Season Opener: October 13

• Nebraska: Although total harvest in 2006 was below the 2005 harvest of 437,000, pheasant hunters experienced above-average success.

However, severe snow and ice storms last winter and heavy rains this spring appear to have impacted pheasant populations in some regions.

Statewide, the August roadside survey indicated a decline of 5 percent from last year, while the rural mail carrier survey indicated a decline of 11 percent.

Yet these surveys indicated that pheasant numbers in the northeast, southeast and southwest – the most heavily hunted regions in the state, were comparable to last year.

Like last year, the highest abundance of birds can be found in the southwest and northeast regions, followed by the panhandle and southeast regions.

Season Opener: October 27

• North Dakota: The forecast again looks bright for North Dakota’s upland hunting season, with one of the best recent years expected for pheasants, sharptails, and prairie chickens.

Good population carryover from last year and decent nesting conditions have contributed to the conditions prime for a banner year, though some fairly heavy rains during peak hatch likely affected reproduction in the southeast corner of the state.

State biologist Stan Kohn expects a year comparable to 2005, when NoDaks harvested 809,000 roosters.

Traditional pheasant hotspots include the northwest corner of the state, the area around Lake Sakakawea, and areas south of I-94, however, Kohn did say that counties just north of the interstate are starting to catch up to southern counties in terms of population.

Season Opener: October 13

• South Dakota: Simply put, South Dakota has the makings of a banner 2007 pheasant season, with pheasant survey routes indicating one of the largest pheasant populations in South Dakota history.

In fact, brood count surveys by the S.D. Game, Fish and Parks Department show an estimated pheasant population that easily surpasses the 40-year high mark set in 2005.

Overall, statewide numbers for 2007 are 23 percent higher than the 2006 counts and 18 percent higher than the 2005 mark.

The growth in population can be attributed to a perfect scenario of weather and habitat conditions at peak hatch.

Tom Kirschenmann, Sr. Wildlife Biologist for the S.D. Game, Fish and Parks Department, said that with cooperative weather and corn harvest, this year’s pheasant harvest could approach 2 million birds.

Unfortunately, while the pheasant population has soared, future habitat conditions in the “Pheasant Capital” appear to be at risk.

Kirschenmann said that the state is set to lose nearly 300,000 CRP acres this fall.

South Dakota, which currently has 1.55 million acres enrolled in CRP, could potentially see that number drop under 1 million acres in a few years.

The detrimental effects would bethree-fold: The loss of all-important pheasant habitat, as well as fewer public access opportunities, and the resulting downturn in the economic impact visiting hunters have on the state’s fall economy.

Season Opener: Multiple

Outdoor notes

• Strap on your hunting boots and start getting your feet, and the rest of your body, in shape. There is nothing that can ruin a hunting season faster than a few painful blisters.

• The duck hunting season in Minnesota opens Sat., Sept. 29 at 9 a.m.

Local hunters can expect fair action on larger bodies of water, although gaining access, because of low water levels, could be more work than on a normal year.

• The pheasant hunting season in Minnesota opens Sat., Oct. 13.

Locally, farmers, highway workers, and others have been reporting great bird numbers.

With some even saying they have seen more pheasants this year than they ever have before.

Of course, the challenge of local pheasant hunting is simply finding areas to hunt.

Across southern and western Minnesota, where there are vast amounts of quality public hunting lands, pheasant hunting should be as good as it’s been in any of the last 40 years.

• The small game season and archery deer hunting seasons in Minnesota opened Saturday. Archery deer hunters are expecting another good year.

• Most local Canada goose hunters reported fewer birds and less success during the early season than in recent years.

• Look for great fall fishing to take off soon.

Big northern pike have been hitting on several lakes in the area and the walleye action should pick up soon.

Fall is definitely the best time of year catch a lunker on our area lakes.

Remember to fish during the October and November full moon periods.

• Take the time to review the 10 commandments of firearms safety, and do some practice shooting before you hit the field, swamp, or woods to hunt his fall.

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

Outdoors Columns Menu

Outdoors: Home | Honor Roll | Library | Links

Herald Journal
Stories | Columns | Obituaries | Classifieds
Guides | Sitemap | Search | Home Page