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Minnesota News
Minnesota News


Hunters register more than 128,000 deer through third weekend

Minnesota firearms hunters registered 128,174 deer through the third weekend of firearms deer season, up from 112,715 from the same period in 2014, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

So far this year during special hunts and the archery, early antlerless and firearms seasons, hunters have harvested 145,383 deer, up from the 2014 to-date harvest total of 128,134. Preliminary numbers show that the number of deer registered rose 13.5 percent from 2014.

Buck harvest during the firearms season was up 18.4 percent from last year, indicating that the population has in fact grown from its low point two springs ago. Zone 1 total firearms harvest was up 11 percent, Zone 2 was up 15.5 percent and Zone 3 was up 7.7 percent. Buck harvest was up significantly in all zones.

The DNR has projected the 2015 total deer harvest to be between 140,000 to 155,000 deer. The 2014 total harvest after last year’s conservative season was just over 139,000.
In much of Minnesota, the last day of the firearms deer season was Nov. 15. The northern rifle zone season continued through Nov. 22. Additional deer will be harvested during the late southeastern season, which runs Saturday, Nov. 21, through Sunday, Nov. 29; the muzzleloader season, which begins Saturday, Nov. 28, and continues through Sunday, Dec. 13; and the archery season, which runs through Thursday, Dec. 31.

Final numbers from all deer seasons will be available in January.

New this year, hunters can preview an interactive deer information tool being developed by the DNR at www.mndnr.gov/deermap. This map is the first step toward launching an online application that delivers useful information hunters need and want. Hunters are encouraged to take a look at the application, discuss it and provide the DNR with feedback.

More information on deer management can be found at www.mndnr.gov/deer.

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New Mille Lacs northern pike winter regulations begin Dec. 1 

Anglers and dark-house spearers on Mille Lacs Lake this winter will have northern pike regulations that continue to allow plentiful harvest of smaller pike from the lake, while continuing to protect large fish.

The only change from current regulations is a reduction in daily bag from 10 to 5, which is consistent with input received from the new Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee and other anglers. 

“Northern pike are abundant in Mille Lacs Lake,” said Brad Parsons, central region fisheries manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “During the winter season that starts Tuesday, Dec. 1, regulations will be in effect that are meant to protect large pike while allowing a high harvest of smaller pike.”

The Mille Lacs northern pike bag limit is five, and only one may be longer than 30 inches. Additionally, an earn-a-trophy regulation requires the harvest and possession of two pike less than 30 inches long on the same day before taking a pike longer than 30 inches. These regulations apply to both anglers and spearers.

On Mille Lacs, state regulations for party fishing apply. Anglers may party fish, and pike longer than 30 inches may be taken as long as the party has at least two small pike for each large pike harvested.

Spearers may not party fish, and therefore each spearer must harvest two small pike before spearing a larger pike. Spearers cannot accept pike caught by another person in order to fulfill the two-small-pike requirement.

Spearing for pike on Mille Lacs ends Sunday, Feb. 28, at the same time that the statewide angling and spearing seasons end. The angling season on Mille Lacs is extended through Sunday, March 27, to allow more late-season fishing opportunity. As a reminder, permanent fish houses must be removed from Mille Lacs Lake by March 7.

“This fall is much warmer than last fall, which may delay ice formation on Mille Lacs and many other lakes,” Parsons said. “Be sure to check ice thickness before you go out and as you travel on early ice.”

Spearers are reminded to push their blocks of ice back into or under the ice surface. If blocks of ice are left on the ice, mark them with branches or other biodegradable materials that make the block visible to others. For safety, filled holes also should be marked. 

For more information on Mille Lacs Lake management, see www.mndnr.gov/millelacslake. For dark-house spearing regulations, see www.mndnr.gov/regulations/fishing.

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Legacy funding proposals support pheasant action plan 

Pheasants and pheasant habitat will benefit from approximately $60 million of more than $111 million in habitat programs and projects recommended by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council for funding from the Outdoor Heritage Fund next year.

The proposed projects will provide key support for several components of the Pheasant Summit Action Plan announced earlier this fall. That plan arose from the December 2014 Minnesota Pheasant Summit convened by Gov. Mark Dayton.

“This funding is critical to keeping up progress on key steps in the pheasant plan and highlights the great partnerships between governments and conservation organizations, in cooperation with interested landowners,” said Kevin Lines, pheasant action plan coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Outcomes of these projects will protect and restore grassland and wetland habitat; create and enhance habitat buffers; and restore once-drained wetlands.

“Together, these activities will improve habitat, wildlife populations, and hunting and other outdoor recreation opportunities across the pheasant range,” Lines said.

The $60 million ties directly to several of the 10 steps included in the pheasant plan by helping to protect large complexes of wildlife habitat; enrolling more land in conservation easements; increasing quality of habitat on public and private land; adding more vegetative buffers along waterways; and increasing land open to public hunting.

“Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council members and staff are aware of the rates of habitat loss in southern and western Minnesota,” said Bob Anderson, who chairs the LSOHC. “We are pleased that our efforts are helping support these habitats and wildlife across Minnesota’s pheasant range as well as the rest of the state.”

The recommended funding package includes about $20 million to acquire public lands; $25 million for private land easement programs; and $15 million to enhance grasslands and wetlands on both public and private lands.

All the action plan steps, as well as the complete plan, are online at www.mndnr.gov/pheasantaction.

Recommendations made by the council this fall total more than $111 million. All funding requires approval by the 2016 Legislature.

“We want to thank LSOHC members and council staff for being aware of the habitat needs in southern and western Minnesota,” Lines said. “We are pleased that their efforts are helping support these habitats and wildlife across the pheasant range.”

In many of the projects, conservation organizations work with the DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to acquire land and do the initial improvement work. Once improvements are made, the DNR or FWS manage the land.

“Our partnerships with state and federal agencies lead directly to better hunting and better habitat for pheasants, which benefits other wildlife and water quality, too,” said Eran Sandquist, Pheasants Forever Minnesota state coordinator. “It takes all of us working together to make conservation effective on the landscape.”

Habitat loss
Habitat loss continues to drive the long-term decline in pheasants, waterfowl and other grassland-dependent wildlife. Outdoor Heritage Funds and the support of council members are both crucial to help stem the tide of this loss, enhance existing public lands and make sure those lands are as productive for wildlife as possible.

The loss of nesting habitat, primarily driven by the expiration of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres, is one of the largest factors explaining the decline of pheasants over the last six to eight years. Minnesota has lost 247,000 acres of CRP since 2007 and another 495,000 acres will expire by 2018 if contracts are not renewed or new acres enrolled in the program.

“There is no one single answer to the issue of grassland habitat loss and declining grassland wildlife populations,” said Greg Hoch, DNR prairie habitat team supervisor. “Bringing wildlife populations back to historic levels will require a combination of protecting and restoring habitat on public and private lands and managing those lands for the benefit of wildlife.”

The LSOHC, made up of eight citizen and four legislative members, reviews project proposals for the Outdoor Heritage Fund and makes funding recommendations to the Minnesota Legislature for approval.

The fund was created after voters approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in November 2008, which increased sales tax by three-eighths of 1 percent. The Outdoor Heritage Fund receives one-third of the sales tax dollars and may only be spent to restore, protect and enhance wetlands, prairies, forest and habitat for game, fish, and wildlife.

Details on all the proposals recommended by the council can be found at http://tinyurl.com/LSOHC2016.

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Conditions look good for late-season pheasant hunting

Plenty of roosters in the fields and light hunting pressure are two good reasons why Minnesotans should keep their pheasant hunting gear handy, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

“People may not realize that pheasant hunting success is probably as good as it has been in many parts of the pheasant range for the last three to five years,” said Cory Netland, DNR area wildlife supervisor for six counties in the Willmar area.

The daily bag limit is two roosters through November with a possession limit of six. Beginning Tuesday, Dec. 1, the daily bag limit increases to three roosters with a possession limit of nine.

Weather conditions during the first few weeks of the season were warmer and drier than average, making it tougher for hunters and their dogs. However, temperatures are cooling off and recent rains should help dogs pick up the scent of birds.

“Conditions are shaping up nicely for the last half of the season, and there are still plenty of birds out there,” said Nicole Davros, DNR upland game project leader.

Pheasants are still using grassland cover and haven’t appeared to move to winter cover just yet. Pheasants will move to winter cover such as cattail sloughs or willow thickets once grasses get pushed down by snow or heavy rains. Netland said that snow shouldn’t scare hunters away.

“A light snow can actually help with pheasant hunting because it makes it easier to find roosters in winter cover,” Netland said. “And hunting access improves once cattail wetlands freeze up.”

Many DNR wildlife managers have noted that hunting pressure has been lighter than expected so far. Yet those who have spent time in the fields have had plenty of opportunities to harvest roosters. Some hunters have even reported filling their daily bag limits within their first hour afield.

The upcoming holidays will take even more attention away from pheasant hunting, yet hunting can be a part of holiday traditions.

“There is no better way to spend time with family and friends while walking off the holiday calories than pushing through tall grasses and cattails for the chance to harvest roosters,” Davros said.

Hunters need a small game license and a pheasant stamp to hunt pheasants in Minnesota. A small game license costs $22 for Minnesota residents age 18 to 64, and the pheasant stamp costs $7.50. Pheasant hunters 65 and older need to buy a small game license for $13.50 but are not required to buy a stamp. Hunters age 16 to 17 must buy a $5 small game license but do not need to buy a stamp, and hunters under 16 can hunt pheasants without a license or stamp.

Minnesota’s 2015 pheasant season is open through Sunday, Jan. 3. Shooting hours are 9 a.m. to sunset. Additional details are available at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/pheasant.

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