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From the Dakotas – pheasants, ducks, and skunks

October 25, 2010

by Chris Schultz

Pheasant numbers are good, crops are coming off the fields fast, the weather has been beautiful, and even the nasty smell of a skunk or two didn’t dampen my spirit on a hunting trip to South Dakota last week.

In the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to hunt and enjoy the outdoors in both North and South Dakota.

In southeastern North Dakota, pheasant numbers were promising and above last years numbers as predicted.

With all the soybeans off the fields and the corn coming off fast, pheasant hunting was excellent, and the bonus of a day of duck hunting added to the adventure.

The landscape is wet in that portion of North Dakota and several of the areas we had hunted in previous years were underwater this fall.

The only dissapointment was the crop of mosquitoes; North Dakota has a pile of them, too.

North Dakota’s pheasant hunting season opened Oct. 9, and with good luck on the opener, prospects for the season are good.

The next weekend, I passed on the Minnesota pheasant opener and a group of us headed to some of the best pheasant hunting ground on earth for the South Dakota opener.

South Dakota’s pheasant opener is a lot like the Minnesota fishing opener – expectations are high, the hype is intense, and tradition is strong.

Like walleye on Mille Lacs, South Dakota has the bird numbers to back it all up.

Hunting on a South Dakota opener is more about seeing pheasants than shooting them.

For me, watching dozens of birds bust from cover or head for the corn back to the roost is more than worth the drive.

It’s especially good when you’re hunting with a few young guys who haven’t seen it before, which was the case on this trip.

Before our hunt started at noon on the 16th, a South Dakota farmer warned me about skunks. He said there were more of them than usual, and not to be surprised if we ran into a few while hunting.

I was wondering why he singled me out for that comment.

Everyone in our hunting party fared well in regard to skunks except me and my Labrador Copper.

We had the pleasure of getting skunked twice – I still have clothes hanging in my back yard. Copper got the brunt of it, but I also got it pretty good from the first skunk we ran into.

It was a stinky hunt, but with birds in the air and beautiful sunsets over the South Dakota prairie, we all headed home, even Copper, smelling like Dakota wildflowers.

With crops coming off the fields fast across the pheasant range, and the weather still good, don’t wait around to enjoy a day in the field pheasant hunting.

Before you know it, Christmas will be here, skunks will be nestled in their dens, and the season will be over for another year.

Wright County/West Metro Whitetails announce Hides-for-Habitat drop sites

With the archery deer hunting season underway and the firearms deer hunting season quickly approaching, once again this year, the Wright County/West Metro Whitetails Chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association will be collecting deer hides around the area to raise money to purchase and upgrade public hunting land in Minnesota, as well as for Youth Hunter Education.

You can find the chapter’s official Hides-for-Habitat boxes at the locations listed below.

For more information, call Al Weller at (763) 370-1206.

• Buffalo: Wal-Mart, Hwy 25 North
• Cokato: Cenex Station, Hwy 12
• Corcoran: AK Corners, Cty Rd 10 & 115
• Delano: Delano Sportsmen’s Club and All-Seasons Sports
• Hamel: Hamel Lumber & Supply
• Howard Lake: Joe’s Sports Shop
• Maple Lake: H&H Sports
• Montrose: Marketon Body Shop
• Rockford: Ace Hardware

Migration reports
From Avery Pro-Staff

Name: Ben Cade
Date: October 19
Location: Buffalo, MN

Weather: We have been having lows in the upper thirties and low forties with highs in the mid fifties.
There has been no recent precipitation and the next cold dip in temps is forecasted for the middle part of next week.

Snow Cover: None

Water Conditions: All area wetlands are still full and some low spots in fields continue to hold water, however a lot of sheet-water areas have dried up.

Feeding Conditions: Improving. Harvest has picked up and many area corn fields are now combined. Bean fields have also been harvested.

Species and Numbers: We still have a good number of wood ducks around and the diving ducks are here in good numbers for this time of year.
Mallards are becoming harder to find, but there are a few around.
Some small flocks of Canada geese are using area lakes to roost.
I have heard reports of some little Canada geese as well as a blue goose in the area.

Migrations: Nothing too major for the past couple weeks.
We have seen some bird movement, but would need a change in weather to bring on a large scale migration.

Season Stage: We are in our third week of the regular waterfowl season.

Hunting Report: Hunting for diving ducks on area lakes has been pretty good.
Most guys who are hunting the lakes mid week have been doing pretty well.
Hunters willing to put in the extra scouting time have been able to find good wood duck shoots and some good goose hunting.

Gossip: Duck species variety has been abnormally good this year with reports of good numbers of pintails being taken by some hunters.
Wood ducks, mallards, red heads, ring-necks and even buffleheads have been common over the past few days.
Goose hunting usually becomes the trend as the season progresses, so hunters are enjoying this mixed bag during the early part of the season.

Conservation officer reports from area
From the DNR

• CO Brian Mies (Annandale) checked anglers. CO Mies checked pheasant hunters this past week end. CO Mies also worked on late duck hunting complaints.

• CO Rick Reller (Buffalo) worked waterfowl hunters and checked hunters on the pheasant opener.
Enforcement action was taken for unplugged shotguns and no PFDs.
A district meeting was attended.

• CO Steve Walter (Waconia) gave a presentation to several Watertown-Mayer 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students on hunting regulations.
The students then went on a pheasant hunt at Wings of Watertown where 50 pheasants were released with the help of Pheasants Forever.
Several car-kill deer permits and nuisance beaver permits were issued.
The pheasant opener was worked with hunters having fair success; waterfowl hunters were having great success with many limits observed.
Hunter numbers were very high and the violation rate very low.

• CO Jackie Glaser (Mound) checked small game and waterfowl hunters throughout the week in Carver County.
Violations included transporting a loaded firearm in a motorboat, lead shot, no PFD, and no small game license/stamps in possession.
She also responded to a TIP call involving small game hunters using rifles on the National Wildlife Refuge. Four individuals were located and cited.
She also continued to check fishing activity on Lake Minnetonka.
She encountered an individual fishing while his fishing privileges were suspended due to non-payment of fines.

• CO Angela Graham (Hutchinson) reports checking numerous pheasant hunters over opening weekend, as well as anglers that are still having success on local lakes.
Officer Graham also checked waterfowl hunters, archery hunters, responded to complaints of trespassing and wanton waste.
Enforcement action was taken on no license in possession, no small game license, and PFD violations.

• CO Wayne Hatlestad (Litchfield) checked pheasant, waterfowl, and archery deer hunting activity.
Additional time was spent checking angling and boating activity, and advising boaters and hunters of invasive species.
Hatlestad also spoke to an ATV class in Cedar Mills, and checked ATV activity.

• CO Brett Oberg (Hutchinson) focused on waterfowl and pheasant enforcement.
Limits of ducks and pheasants were checked in the area.
CO Oberg followed up on calls of trespassing, late shooting, wanton waste and negligent discharge of a firearm.
ATV work continues in the area with enforcement action taken for no ATV registration.
Enforcement action was also taken for failure to tag waterfowl, taking waterfowl after hours, and no license in possession.

Tune in to DNR audio program about deer hunting
From the DNR

What does a big game coordinator do, anyway?

Just in time for the 2010 firearms deer hunting season, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has recorded a new audio program featuring an interview with Lou Cornicelli, DNR Big Game Program coordinator.

“He offered insights into what it takes to manage large game populations and provides some excellent information to help hunters prepare for the firearms deer season,” explained Steve Carroll, the DNR information officer who served as host of the program.

Cornicelli shared a bit about his background and training, as well as what hunters can expect this fall.

He touched on tips for a successful hunt, what role the weather may play and convenient ways for hunters to register their deer.

He also discussed deer hunting traditions, the importance of safety, and ways to get more kids involved with the sport.

Minnesota has about 500,000 licensed deer hunters.

The firearms season begins Saturday, Nov. 6.

The 25-minute program can be downloaded from the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov.

Temporary OHV riding restrictions go into effect during deer hunting season
From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reminds off-highway vehicle (OHV) owners that restrictions on recreational riding in state forests will be in effect during part of the upcoming firearms deer hunting season.

Some state forest trails and access routes will temporarily be closed to OHVs, beginning Nov. 6.

This move will protect recreational riders from potentially unsafe riding conditions, and will minimize conflicts between deer hunters and recreational riders who may inadvertently disturb them.

The trail closures specifically apply to the use of all-terrain vehicles, off-highway motorcycles, and off-road vehicles, such as jeeps and four-wheel drive trucks, by recreational riders on state forest trails or nondesignated forest access routes.

Licensed deer hunters may still use these routes in conjunction with their hunting activity:

• Before legal shooting hours.
• From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
• After legal shooting hours.

Effective dates of the recreational riding restrictions will be:
• Nov. 6-21 for the Minnesota 100 Series deer season
• Nov. 6-14 for the Minnesota 200 Series deer season

Because recreational OHV trails in southeastern Minnesota close Nov. 1 each year, no additional OHV riding restrictions are necessary in that part of the state.

The riding restrictions do not apply to state forest roads.

For more information, including where the 100 and 200 series hunting boundaries are, see the 2010 firearms deer season zone map posted online at www.mndnr.gov.

Or call the DNR Information Center at (651) 296-6157 or toll-free 888-646-6367, between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

New DNR shallow lakes plan aims to boost waterfowl populations
From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) aims to put more ducks in the sky by training its sights on 1,800 shallow lakes.

That’s the essence of a new plan released today by the DNR’s Section of Wildlife. The plan, called Managing Minnesota’s Shallow Lakes for Waterfowl and Wildlife, outlines five actions the agency intends to take to rebuild waterfowl populations.

“At its heart, this plan is about identifying our best opportunities and managing them aggressively,” said Dennis Simon, Section of Wildlife chief. “It also reflects an evolution in our thinking. The plan emphasizes maximizing the quality of shallow lakes on or adjacent to existing public lands and waters.”

Nicole Hansel-Welch, the DNR’s shallow lakes supervisor and primary author of the plan, echoed Simon’s sentiments.

She said the state’s 4,000 shallow lakes (lakes larger than 50 acres and less than 16 feet deep) need to be assessed for their potential so that some can be managed in ways that benefit wildlife, hunters and others.

“As an agency, we have a history of actively managing our wildlife management areas, prairies and forests by shearing, prescribed burning, harvesting timber and implementing other activities,” she said. “We have also restored many wetlands on these lands, but believe we can do much more with our shallow aquatic systems. This first-ever shallow lakes plan addresses that need as part of our long-range duck recovery plan.”

The plan targets 1,800 basins with adjacent public land. Its five primary objectives are to:

• Assess the habitat quality of Minnesota’s shallow lakes so conservation and protection efforts can be prioritized.
• Maximize waterfowl habitat efforts on 154 shallow lakes located completely within DNR or federal government ownerships.
• Maximize waterfowl habitat on some 1,700 shallow lakes that abut federal, state or county ownership.
• Increase wildlife management on 244 shallow lakes with public access, especially those already designated as Migratory Waterfowl Feeding and Resting Areas.
• Increase awareness and protection of lakes that contain natural stands of wild rice, an important waterfowl food.

“Though our plan is 50 pages long, it can be summed up in a single sentence,” said Hansel-Welch. “We want to maximize wildlife and public benefits on the basins with the highest potential.” This approach, she said, builds on recent successful water management projects at Buffalo Lake in Waseca County, Round Lake in Murray County and Lake Maria in Murray County.

The plan, currently in draft form, is open for public comment through Monday, Nov. 1.

It is available on the DNR’s website at mndnr.gov/shallowlakesplan.

Comments can be made online, via e-mail to nicole.hansel-welch@state.mn.us or by mailing written comments to Shallow Lakes Plan, 1601 Minnesota Drive, Brainerd, MN 56401-0030.

Question of the week
From the DNR

Q: The DNR is compiling weekly waterfowl migration reports throughout the fall hunting season.
What is the purpose of these reports and what will they show?

A: The waterfowl migration and hunting reports are a compilation of information from state and federal wildlife managers across Minnesota.

The information provides an assessment of local habitat conditions, weather, waterfowl migration in each area, and other pertinent information, such as hunting pressure and hunting success, if available.

Each report also includes tables that show actual waterfowl count data from weekly surveys.

The purpose of the weekly reports is not to pinpoint specific hunting locations but simply provide hunters with additional information for the areas they hunt.

This will allow hunters to compare survey counts from week to week or last year, and gauge what waterfowl migration is like throughout the hunting season.

Bird watchers may also find the information contained in the reports useful.

The reports are updated each Thursday, and are available on the DNR’s website at www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/waterfowl/index.html.

Outdoor notes

• The Minnesota firearms deer hunting season opens Saturday, Nov. 6.

• Watch out for deer on the roadways.

• Wright, Carver, and McLeod county chapters of Pheasants Forever recently conducted youth pheasant hunts.
Look for more information in next week’s column.

• Fall fishing has been super so far this fall. We just passed the full moon phase for October. If you missed it, hit the water during the full moon in November.

• Take a kid hunting or fishing; he or she will enjoy it, and so will you.