Hip boots and waders are required

October 26, 2009

by Chris Schultz

A big hen mallard banked, cupped her wings, put her feet down and prepared for a slow landing into our decoys – nine shotgun blasts and a few cuss words later, she picked up wing speed and headed out to the horizon never to return to that quarter-section of pothole-filled land in southeastern North Dakota again.

Then, just minutes later, three widgion tuned and headed right into the decoys – one shot apiece from three hunters, and three ducks were in the bag.

Aside from muddy, almost un-driveable gravel roads, and too much water, the duck hunting so far this season in North Dakota has been tremendous.

Teal, mallards, gadwall, and widgion were in abundance across the many potholes in the area of southeast North Dakota we were hunting.

A day’s limit of six ducks, hunting from small bean field potholes, was relatively easy to come by.

It was a waterfowl hunters’ dream. Reports from hunters in other parts of North Dakota have indicated the same.

Although pheasant hunting was tough, for me, it was a combo trip.

I spent part of each day duck hunting and another part, usually in the evening, waiting for roosters to come out of the corn, pheasant hunting.

On the first day of our trip, I did manage to bag a dandy limit of six ducks and three roosters.

The next two days I didn’t fare as well on the pheasant hunting part.

Fewer birds, less grassland habitat, standing crops and wet conditions made pheasant hunting next to miserable.

Several reports indicated the same was true in most parts of the Midwest pheasant range.

A few Minnesota hunters who headed to South Dakota to pheasant hunt cut their trip short because of the wet conditions and standing crops that all added up to poor hunting.

They noted birds were there, but conditions were just that miserable.

For the most part, it’s been a fall for ducks and not pheasants, hunters and birds alike.

• Too much water

That’s the story this fall. Everywhere I have been, the landscape is soaking wet.

In all my years of fall travel across the Midwest I have never seen the landscape as wet as I have this fall.

In many parts, especially southeastern North Dakota, farmers don’t have a prayer of getting their crops off the field until the ground is good and frozen.

In comparison, our area is very wet, the crop harvest is behind, and it will take a week of good dry weather for the harvest to really get going.

In the region of North Dakota I mentioned above, and according to reports from many other areas of western Minnesota and the Dakotas, conditions are much worse than here.

The gravel and dirt roads in the area we were hunting were treacherous, and driving over 15 miles per hour was almost impossible. Often, it seemed the water in the road ditch was higher than the road.

Also, the weather forecast for this week and into next isn’t calling for much improvement.

It’s going to be a while yet before the fields and roads dry out and the crops get off the fields.

The best pheasant hunting may not come until December.

Farmland deer hunting may be difficult with acres of standing corn, and the fall flight of ducks may pass right over many areas of the Midwest because of un-harvested crop fields.

Good luck hunting. Make sure you have four-wheel drive on your vehicle and watertight boots on your feet – at least above the knees.

Migration reports
From Avery Pro-Staff

• Name: Ben Cade

Date: October 20, 2009

Location: Buffalo, MN

Weather: Warm with high temps in the 50s. More rain is in the forecast for this week, which is going to slow harvest even more.

Snow Cover: None.

Water Conditions: All area lakes and wetlands are open and very full.

Feeding Conditions: We are starting to see some corn and bean fields come down, but fields are still very wet. Birds do have some options for feeding fields, but we could see a few more fields come down.

Species and Numbers: There are a few good feeding flocks of Canada geese in the area as well as a few scattered bunches of mallards. We still have teal, wood ducks and wigeon hanging around.

Migrations: We are still waiting on bigger bunches of birds from the north; however, we have seen some new birds enter the area. We will need colder weather north of us in order to push some fresh birds in.

Season Stage: Mid season.

Hunting Report: Hunting has been very good for geese and ok for ducks as well. Groups who are lucky enough to have permission for private land have been doing very well. Scouting has been paying off for those willing to put in some windshield time. Look for low areas in fields or smaller private ponds for success.

Gossip: Hunters have been passing up some of the feeding flocks of Canada geese while they concentrate more on the duck hunting. Our area doesn’t see very good duck hunting in the fields often, so now is the time to look to shoot mallards. Canada goose hunting will pick up later in the season.

• Name: Levi Fry

Date: October 14, 2009

Location: St. Michael, MN

Weather: Colder than normal temps.

Snow Cover: N/A

Water Conditions: All water is open.

Feeding Conditions: Ducks are keying on newly flooded areas around lakes, ponds. Geese are spotty, fields are not harvested.

Species and Numbers: A large number of mallards, wigeon, teal, and wood ducks remain. Local geese mostly.

Migrations: Some new birds (ducks) to the area due to colder temperatures up north.

Season Stage: Three weeks into our duck season.

Hunting Report: Success on ducks over smaller bodies of water. Goose hunters are struggling with the lack of harvested grain fields.

Gossip: With warmer weather for the weekend, and more rain coming next week, most hunters are not expecting limits.

MN man faces steep fines, jail time for gross over-limit of walleye
From the DNR

A Twin Cities man faces nearly $9,000 in fines and restitution, plus jail time for a gross overlimit of walleye.

State conservation officer Scott Staples of Carlton received a call May 11 that a large overlimit of fish was being transported through Cloquet by a Burnsville man.

Charles R. Osland, 55, was later stopped by the Minnesota State Patrol for a driving violation on Interstate 35.

Osland allegedly refused to allow law enforcement officers to search his vehicle, but a subsequent check of a residence in Cloquet revealed a freezer containing 250 walleye fillets or 125 fish.

Where Osland secured the fish or where the fish were caught remains under investigation.

The daily walleye and sauger (either or combined) possession limit through Feb. 28, 2010 is six in Minnesota.

Not more than one walleye in possession can be more than 20-inches.

Osland was charged Oct. 6 in Carlton County District Court with possessing a gross overlimit of walleye, illegal packing of fish, and illegal transportation of fish. No court date has been set.

In 2003, the State Legislature passed a law giving Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officers the power to levy fines and seize fishing licenses.

Officers can also confiscate equipment, including fishing tackle, boats, and vehicles.

The DNR appreciates help from the public and encourages people who see illegal fishing or hunting activities to call the Turn-In-Poachers hotline at 800-652-9093.

The more detailed the description, the more helpful it is to the officers.

Most important are vehicle and boat license numbers, the number of people and the area where the activity took place.

Safety first this hunting season
From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources sells about 600,000 hunting licenses each year so there will be a large number of hunters afield this fall in search of a variety of big and small game.

The DNR says it’s important that each hunter put safety first to ensure an enjoyable and successful hunting trip.

“Minnesota is a very safe place to hunt and hunting is a very safe activity,” said Capt. Mike Hammer, DNR Enforcement Education Program coordinator. “The few hunting incidents we do have are almost always linked to a safety violation.”

Double-digit hunting fatalities were the norm in Minnesota during the 1950s and 1960s with a high of 29 fatalities in 1961.

But with the help of mandatory hunter education classes that average has been greatly lowered.

Hammer believes most hunting incidents could be prevented if hunters apply what they learned during Firearm Safety training.

Minnesota hunters born after Dec. 31, 1979 must take a DNR Hunter Education Firearms Safety Training Course and receive a certificate of completion before purchasing a license for big or small game.

The firearm safety class consists of a minimum of 12 hours of classroom and field experience in the safe handling of firearms and hunter responsibility.

The field experience allows students to learn and demonstrate commonly accepted principles of safety in hunting and the handling of firearms. It includes live fire on a rifle range.

Upon successful completion of this course, students receive a temporary certificate.

This certificate will allow the bearer to purchase a hunting license in Minnesota and other states where certification is required.

The DNR recognizes that courses can be difficult to fit into the hectic schedules of today’s fast moving lifestyles.

As a result, Independent Study Course options are offered for those 16 and older to help the person who has a need for certification and has difficulty arranging participation in the traditional firearm safety course.

This method is not a “short cut” to certification. Experience has shown that the Independent Study option involves a similar amount of time as the traditional firearms safety classroom course.

The options include the online or workbook version and are administered through volunteer instructors around the state.

Find an upcoming class or get information on the Independent Study options online or call 888-MINNDNR (646-6367).

As a refresher, DNR offers the following hunter safety tips:

• Always point the muzzle of your firearm in a safe direction.

• Treat every firearm with the same respect you would show a loaded gun.

• Be sure of your target and what is in front of and behind your target.

• Unload and safely store firearms when not in use.

• Handle firearms and ammunition carefully.

• Never climb a fence or tree, or jump a ditch or log with a loaded firearm.

• Carry your firearm safely, keeping the safety on until ready to shoot.

• Never point a firearm at anything you do not want to shoot.

• Don’t drink alcohol or take mood-altering drugs before or while handling firearms.

• Be aware of changing weather conditions.

Public comments on DNR draft elk management plan due Oct. 28
From the DNR

Interested citizens can make final comments on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) draft Strategic Elk Management Plan through Wednesday, Oct. 28.

“Two local working groups had numerous recommendations regarding elk populations and management in northwestern Minnesota,” said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife program manager. “Many of these recommendations are reflected in the plan’s latest draft as well as several comments received online.”

A draft of the plan, which seeks to maintain a free-ranging, wild elk population in northwestern Minnesota, has been available online and open to public comment since April.

“DNR envisions a healthy, reproducing, yet limited population that affords optimum recreational opportunity for all state citizens, including regular hunting seasons,” Merchant said.

The current draft of the plan, which incorporates all changes, is available online.

An online comment form is provided, and people are encouraged to use it because of the short time available for final comments.

“This round of public input via the Web site is quite condensed,” Merchant said. “The final plan needs to be presented to the county commissioners of Roseau, Kittson and Marshall counties on Nov. 3 so the mid-November deadline of having a management plan in place is met.”

Pheasant hunting tips
From the DNR

According to a DNR wildlife research biologist, pheasants follow a schedule as routine as your daily commute to and from work.

Understanding the pheasant’s daily movements can increase your odds of flushing a rooster.

“Pheasants start their day before sunrise at roost sites, usually in areas of short- to medium-height grass or weeds, where they spend the night.”

That’s the word from Dick Kimmel, research biologist at the DNR Farmland Wildlife Research and Populations Station at Madelia.

Kimmel says that at first light, pheasants head for roadsides or similar areas where they can find gravel or grit.

Pheasants usually begin feeding around 8 a.m.

When shooting hours begin an hour later, the birds are still feeding, often in grain fields while cautiously making their way toward safe cover.

“Look for the edges of picked cornfields,” says Kimmel, who regularly hunts southwestern Minnesota with his English setter, Banjo.

By mid-morning, pheasants have left the fields for the densest, thickest cover they can find, such as a standing corn, federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) fields, brush patches, wetlands, or native grasses.

Kimmel says the birds will “hunker down here for the day until late afternoon.”

It’s next to impossible for small hunting groups of two to three hunters to work large fields of standing corn.

Pheasants often run to avoid predators, a response that frustrates dogs and hunters working corn, soybean, and alfalfa fields.

Groups of two or three hunters usually have better success working grass fields, field edges, or fencerows.

Other likely spots during midday are ditch banks and deep into marshes.

Remember: The nastier the weather, the deeper into cover the pheasant will go.

But eventually, pheasants have to eat again.

During the late afternoon, the birds move from their loafing spots back to the feeding areas.

As in the morning, birds now are easier to spot from a distance and are more accessible to hunters.

“That’s why the first and last shooting hours are consistently the best times to hunt pheasants,” Kimmel adds.

Outdoor notes

• The Minnesota firearms deer hunting season opens Saturday, Nov. 7.

• With the hunting seasons underway, make sure you have firearms and ammunition properly stored and locked.

• Now is a good time to give your hunting dog a good check-over.

Take a hard look at the paws, ears, eyes, and underside.

Small abrasions and cuts undetected and untreated now can put a dog out of commission and on the injured reserve list for the rest of the season.

• With the poor weather and high water levels on most of our lakes, I haven’t heard much about good fall fishing.

However, fall is the best time of year to catch a lunker, and a great time to fish is during the November full moon phase.

• Look for info in next week’s column about youth pheasant hunts in the area sponsored by local landowners and Pheasants Forever Chapters.

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