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Special hunts to prevent overpopulation of deer and protect resources will take place this fall at several Minnesota state parks. Access to the parks will vary during these hunts.
Some parks will remain open to all visitors, some will have limited access and some will be open only to hunters with special permits (closed to the general public). The deadlines for youth and adults to apply for a special permit to participate in the hunts—which include firearms, muzzleloader and archery options—have passed.
“Too many of one animal or plant species in an area can start to throw off the balance of other species in that area,” said Tavis Westbrook, Natural Resource Program coordinator for the DNR’s Parks and Trails Division. “When there are too many deer in a park, they tend to feed too much on certain trees and native plant communities, so occasionally we allow deer hunts as a means of protecting natural resources.”
The DNR advises anyone planning to visit a state park between now and the end of December to go online or call ahead to check whether a hunt is planned and whether the park will be open. The DNR also advises wearing blaze orange when visiting parks where hunts are taking place. Visitors should check for hunt-related information at the park office when they arrive, look carefully for hunt-related signage and follow instructions.
“We do our best to minimize the disruption to park visitors, but in some cases safety concerns require us to close—or partially close—the parks where these hunts take place,” Westbrook said.
For a list of parks that are open, partially open or closed during the 2017 hunting season, visit www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/hunting.html or contact the DNR Information Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or 888-646-6367 (8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday). Details on which areas of each park will be affected by the special deer hunts can also be found in the “Visitor Alert” boxes on the individual park webpages at www.mndnr.gov
Commentary by Paul Telander, wildlife section chief
Much has been written about this autumn’s upland bird hunting season, and a lot of it is numbers. Yet the numbers that are truly important are one and two. One, are you going to go bird hunting? And two, are you going to ask someone new to join you?
Hopefully, your answers are “yes.” Clearly, this is an ideal autumn to hunt ruffed grouse because the population is at or near the top of its 10-year up-and-down cycle. This peak means it is also the perfect autumn to introduce a child or adult to grouse hunting, especially if they have an interest in adventure, wild food or the means to get out again if the hunting bug bites.
Many who accept an invitation to hunt are often back in the woods soon for the forest is a special place in autumn. Golden leaves. Pungent aromas. Mucky footfalls. A buck rub here. A scrape over there. All cool. And when a grouse explodes into flight a new memory takes wing too. Sometimes in that moment – when startled by sound and confused by a flying football of feathers – a new hunter is born.
Regrettably, pheasant numbers are trending in a different direction. Their decline mirrors a landscape that has some 770,000 fewer acres of Conservation Reserve Program habitat than it did just 10 years ago. Still, some pheasant hunters are likely to do very well when the season opens Saturday, Oct. 14, and there is no reason you can’t be among them. Those who watch the corn and soybean harvest and look for tracks in snow will have a leg up on those who look no further than headlines, which while admittedly disappointing, cannot predict the human hunting experience.
I say this because there is a personal geometry that transcends the ups and downs of wild game populations. This geometry is real yet has no formula. For how do you measure the closeness of friends? How do you quantify the volume of acquired wisdom? How do you calculate the dimensions of personal growth over a day, year or lifetime of hunting?
As a young wildlife biologist, I spent much of my early career collecting, analyzing and extrapolating numbers. Much of it was statistical analysis. Most of it was fun. Yet the math I most enjoy now is simply this: One, go hunting. And two, take someone with me. The sum of these actions always adds up to something special for both of us.
What follows is advice I often share about grouse and pheasant hunting.
Perspective: Minnesota is the premier national destination for ruffed grouse hunting. Top grouse-hunting counties include Aitkin, Cass, Itasca, St. Louis, Beltrami and Koochiching, yet quality hunting can be found across much of central and northern Minnesota. Though not abundant, grouse can also be found in the forested hill country of southeastern Minnesota.
Where to hunt: Grouse tend to prefer younger forests, especially those areas where most trees are smaller than the diameter of an adult’s forearm or calf. These trees aren’t tall and will be quite close together, making a successful shot quite the challenge.
Step saver: Minnesota has 30 million acres of forest so finding a place to hunt isn’t a problem. However, finding a place that suits your interests can be a challenge. So, to save time, go the Recreation Compass on the DNR website. That site, which identifies public hunting lands on an aerial photo, allows you to zoom in and out so that you can easily find a place that works for you.
Perspective: Despite this year’s pheasant population index being 32 percent below the 10-year average and 62 percent below the long-term average, there should be good hunting in certain areas. In southwest Minnesota, portions of Brown, Nicollet, Sibley, Redwood and Cottonwood counties appear promising. To the west, the same is true for portions of Lincoln, Yellow Medicine and Big Stone counties.
Where to hunt: Beyond private land, the most popular places to hunt are state wildlife management areas and federal waterfowl production areas. Also popular is private land open to public hunting through the Walk-in Access Program. This year private landowners in the southern and western Minnesota have opened nearly 27,000 acres of their property to hunting. Access to these lands requires the purchase of a $3 validation.
Results from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ 2016-1017 wolf population survey suggest Minnesota’s wolf population has increased 25 percent since the 2015-2016 survey.
After remaining stable during the past four years, the survey estimates that within Minnesota’s wolf range there were approximately 500 wolf packs and 2,856 wolves. The survey’s margin of error is about plus or minus 500 wolves. The 2015-2016 survey estimated the number of packs at 439 and the wolf population at 2,278.
Minnesota’s wolf population remains well above the state’s minimum goal of at least 1,600 wolves and also above the federal recovery goal of 1,251 to 1,400. The DNR has consistently managed wolf populations at levels that exceed both state and federal minimums.
Survey results suggest packs were slightly larger (4.8 vs. 4.4) and used smaller territories (54 square miles vs. 62 square miles) than the previous winter. Although neither individually represented a significant change from recent years, collectively they explain the increase in the population estimate and are consistent with a continuing increase in deer numbers observed in many parts of wolf range. From spring 2015 to spring 2016, deer density within the wolf range is estimated to have increased 22 percent.
“From approximately 2005 to 2014, a decline in prey appears to have translated into larger wolf pack territories, fewer or smaller packs and a reduced wolf population, said John Erb, the DNR’s wolf research scientist. “Now, the reverse appears to be happening.”
Although other factors such as pack competition, disease and human-caused mortality can influence wolf population dynamics, prey density typically determines the carrying capacity for wolves.
“Changes in estimated wolf abundance generally have tracked those of deer over the past 5 years,” Erb said.
The wolf population survey is conducted in mid-winter near the low point of the annual population cycle. A winter survey makes counting pack size from a plane more accurate because the forest canopy is reduced and snow makes it easier to spot darker shapes on the ground.
Pack counts during winter are assumed to represent minimum estimates given the challenges with detecting all members of a pack together at the same time. A winter count also excludes the population spike that occurs each spring when the number of wolves typically doubles immediately following the birth of pups, many of which do not survive to the following winter.
The DNR’s goal for wolf management, as outlined in the state’s wolf management plan, is to ensure the long-term survival of wolves in Minnesota while addressing wolf-human conflicts. Minnesota currently has no direct management responsibility for wolves now because a federal district court ruling in December 2014 returned Minnesota’s wolves to the federal list of threatened species. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service manages all animals on that list.
Visit the DNR website at mndnr.gov/wolves to find the full population survey report, reported wolf mortalities and an overview of wolves in Minnesota.
“The number of breeding ducks in Minnesota and North America has been good in recent years, so we’re optimistic that will result in a good duck season,” said Steve Cordts, waterfowl specialist with the Department of Natural Resources. “Wetland habitat conditions and wild rice lakes are in pretty good shape. Canada goose populations remain high as well, so there’s lots of opportunity to hunt geese this fall.”
Duck seasons and limits
The duck season structure is similar to recent years. The waterfowl seasons are based on a federal framework that applies to all states in the Mississippi Flyway. Waterfowl hunting regulations are available wherever DNR licenses are sold and online at mndnr.gov/regulations/hunting.
Duck season will be open for 60 days in each of the three waterfowl zones:
The daily duck bag limit remains six per day. The mallard bag limit remains four per day, including no more than two hen mallards. The daily bag limits are three for wood duck and scaup; and two for redheads, canvasbacks and black ducks and one for pintails.
The DNR will post a weekly waterfowl migration report each week during the duck season. The reports are typically posted on Thursday afternoon at mndnr.gov/hunting/waterfowl.
Goose and sandhill crane seasons
Minnesota’s goose season will reopen in conjunction with the duck season statewide on Sept. 23, with a bag limit of three dark geese per day the entire season. “Dark” geese include Canada geese, white-fronted geese and brant. The daily bag limit for light geese is 20. “Light geese” include snow, blue and Ross’s geese. Goose season will be closed in the central and south duck zones when duck season is closed.
The season for sandhill cranes remains open through Sunday, Oct. 22 in the northwest goose and sandhill crane zone only. The daily bag limit will be one sandhill crane per day. A $3 sandhill crane permit is required in addition to a small game hunting license.
More information on duck, goose, sandhill crane and other migratory bird hunting is available in the 2017 Minnesota Waterfowl Hunting Regulations booklet from license vendors and online at mndnr.gov/hunting/waterfowl.
Bob Hautman, an artist from Delano, Minn., is the winner of the 2017 Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest. The announcement was made today by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Principal Deputy Director Greg Sheehan at the annual art contest, held at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point at the Noel Fine Arts Center.
Hautman’s acrylic painting of a pair of mallards will be made into the 2018-2019 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, or Duck Stamp, which will go on sale in late June 2018. The Service produces the Federal Duck Stamp, which sells for $25 and raises nearly $40 million each year to provide critical funds to conserve and protect wetland habitats in the National Wildlife Refuge System for the benefit of wildlife and the enjoyment of people.
“Our nation’s waterfowl hunters and other sportsmen and women have a long tradition of leading the way in conserving wildlife and habitat,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “There is no better example of this than the Duck Stamp, one of the most successful conservation programs in U.S. history, through which hunters have contributed hundreds of millions of dollars since its inception eight decades ago.”
“Congratulations to Bob Hautman on his win today,” Sheehan said. “He is part of a collection of talented wildlife artists whose work has helped conserve habitat not just for waterfowl, but for a vast diversity of wildlife, and helped create and maintain hundreds of places where hunters, anglers and outdoors enthusiasts of all stripes can enjoy their passion.”
This is Hautman’s third Federal Duck Stamp Contest win. His art previously appeared on the 1997-1998 and 2001-2002 Federal Duck Stamps.
Hautman’s brothers, Jim and Joe, are also multiple Duck Stamp artists, having each won the contest five times.
Of 215 entries in this year’s competition, 12 entries made it to the final round of judging today. Eligible species for this year’s Federal Duck Stamp Contest were the mallard, gadwall, cinnamon teal, blue-winged teal and harlequin duck.
Greg Alexander of Ashland, Wis., placed second with his acrylic painting of a cinnamon teal; Christine Clayton of Sidney, Ohio, took third place with her oil painting of a blue-winged teal.
In 2000, Clayton won the National Junior Duck Stamp Art Contest with a painting of a northern pintail. She was 17 at the time.
The judges for this year’s Federal Duck Stamp Contest were: Dr. Jacob Straub, a waterfowl biologist and the Wetlands and Waterfowl Conservation Chair in UW-Stevens Point’s College of Natural Resources; Jane Kim, an artist and science illustrator; Robert Spoerl, a lifelong hunter and conservationist with a passion for waterfowl; Tim Pearson, an artist - and flyfishing guide - who paints mostly in watercolors, inspired by the waters and surrounding wilderness of Lake Superior; and Richard Prager, an avid collector of Federal and Junior Duck Stamps and Duck Stamp remarques and original artwork.
“A huge thank-you goes to the faculty, staff and students of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point for hosting the contest this year,” said Sheehan. “The UW-Stevens Point’s College of Natural Resources is one of the nation’s premier natural resources programs and has historical connections with the Service as the alma mater of a number of our staff and top agency leaders.”
Waterfowl hunters age 16 and older are required to purchase and carry the current Federal Duck Stamp. Many non-hunters, including birdwatchers, conservationists, stamp collectors and others also purchase the stamp in support of habitat conservation. Additionally, a current Federal Duck Stamp can be used for free admission to any national wildlife refuge that charges an entry fee.
Ninety-eight percent of the proceeds from sales of the Federal Duck Stamp go to the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, which supports the protection of migratory bird habitat within the National Wildlife Refuge System.
You can contribute to conservation and America’s great conservation tradition by buying Federal Duck Stamps at many national wildlife refuges, sporting goods stores and other retailers, through the U.S. Postal Service, or online at http://www.fws.gov/birds/get-involved/duck-stamp/buy-duck-stamp.php.
A gallery of the 2017 Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest entries is at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwshq/sets/72157686451028213/
The first step is the hardest.
That exercise adage often applies to hunting, too.
Yet, not the case, if hunters have a smartphone. For if they do, they can simply flick their fingers to mndnr.gov and do the following:
Buy a license: Yes, without ever standing in line hunters can buy a license and any necessary stamp. They just need to have driver’s license or firearms safety certificate identification number handy, plus a credit or debit card for payment. Some youth licenses are free, and others cost as little as $5. For licenses that require a tag (deer, for example) people must wait for the tag to arrive by mail before hunting.
Check regulations: Both the hunting and trapping regulation booklet and the waterfowl hunting booklet are online.
Waive firearms safety training: Don’t have a state-issued firearms safety certificate? That’s not a problem. Like many states, Minnesota allows residents and nonresidents to waive the firearms safety certificate requirement under certain limited exemptions. Minnesota’s twice-in-a-lifetime exemption allows youth and adults to hunt small game, deer and bear without firearms safety training so long as they are in unaided visual and verbal contact with each other. Cost of the apprentice hunter validation is $3.50. A hunting license is also required. Firearms safety training is mandatory for those hunting in Minnesota who were born after Dec. 31, 1979.
Find a place to hunt: Don’t know where to go? That’s not a problem, either. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources manages 1,400 wildlife management areas that total 1.3 million acres. To find a nearby or distant WMA, simply go to “Recreation Compass” on the DNR website. This mobile application, which features an aerial photo of the entire state, allows hunters to zoom in and out to easily find WMAs all across the state. The detailed photos and boundary lines allow them to actually see what the landscape looks like, thereby allowing them to plan a hunt from home or in their vehicle. For hunters who already know where they’re going, they can access the same information by searching by WMA name or county at mndnr.gov/wmas.
Discover a grouse hunting walking trail: Want to take advantage of higher ruffed grouse numbers this season? Again, no problem. The DNR’s “Hunter Walking Trails” web pages can help people find hundreds of miles of trail throughout central and northern Minnesota. The walking trail web pages can help hunters find trails in the county of their choice. Trail maps, which are essentially aerial photos of the land they’ll be hunting, can be downloaded and printed.
Get a permit to hunt certain private lands: For $3, hunters can purchase a Walk-in Access program validation that allows access to 26,700 acres of private land from Sept. 1 through May 31. These lands are located in 46 counties throughout the pheasant range. Maps of all Walk-In Access sites are available electronically at mndnr.gov/walkin. Visually, walk-in lands are identified by bright yellow-green signs at boundary corners. So, if hunters see a nice-looking Walk-In Access area this hunting season, they can simply use a phone to purchase a validation. They can be hunting it in minutes.
Explore every deer permit areas: Visit mndnr.gov/deermap to access an interactive map of every deer permit area in Minnesota. By clicking on a permit area or selecting one from the drop-down list at the top, people find information about the area’s management designation, dates of all deer seasons, whether mandatory disease testing is in place and a direct link to deer hunting regulations. A “detail report” link provides historical harvest statistics, land cover type, public land listings and historical winter severity indexes.
Register deer, turkey and other game: Not long ago, deer and certain other types of hunters had to drive to a registration station to report their harvest. Today, hunters can save gas and time by connecting to the internet at mndnr.gov/gameregistration to report their harvest information.
“Those without a smartphone can always buy a license and register game with an ordinary phone,” said Paul Telander, DNR wildlife chief. “The toll-free number for licenses is 888-665-4236 and to register deer call 888-706-6367.”
Telander said efforts to make Minnesota hunting information more smartphone friendly has been rewarding to see.
“It’s never been easier to buy a license, find a place to hunt and register your game,” said Telander. “Hunting will always involve work. Yet these days, a lot of hunters are saving boot leather and tire tread by putting their phones to work.”
Hunters who harvest deer, elk, moose or caribou outside of Minnesota are reminded that whole carcasses cannot be brought into the state.
The prohibition on importation of whole carcasses of these cervids from anywhere in North America was put into place last year as a proactive measure to reduce the risk of chronic wasting disease in Minnesota and bring consistency to regulations.
“Because of the increasing prevalence and distribution of CWD in North America in both farmed and wild cervids, we decided in 2016 to impose an across-the-board importation ban,” said Lou Cornicelli, wildlife research manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Previously, Minnesota’s Board of Animal Health, the agency responsible for regulating farmed cervids, placed carcass import restrictions on specific areas of North America. Those areas could change based on disease prevalence. Now the carcass import restriction applies permanently to all of North America.
“With the new infections occurring at all times of the year, it made more sense to impose one ban that applied uniformly across the nation. It is now much easier for hunters to interpret this regulation,” Cornicelli said.
This restriction is part of efforts to minimize the opportunity for CWD to become established in Minnesota.
Only the following cervid parts may be brought into Minnesota:
“We realize this may be a departure from tradition; however, we appreciate the cooperation from our hunting groups and individual hunters as we address this significant disease challenge,” Cornicelli said.
Cornicelli said meat and trophy handling already are part of the trip planning process so taking the additional steps to minimize CWD risk can be added to that process. Another item to consider is the mount itself.
“If you kill an animal you want to mount, you should make those arrangements in the destination state and have it caped before you leave,” Cornicelli said.
Alternatively, hunters can view a video at http://bit.ly/capeyourdeer on how to cape a deer. The same technique can be used on elk or moose. The video also includes helpful information on the carcass importation ban.
Nonresidents transporting whole or partial carcasses on a direct route through Minnesota are exempt from this restriction.
Carcass import information is available at mndnr.gov/deerimports, in the 2017 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook on page 65 and the questions and answers section on the back cover.
It’s habitat that matters and loss of habitat in the farmland regions has contributed to a 26 percent decline in Minnesota’s pheasant index compared to last year, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
“There has been a steady decline in undisturbed nesting cover since the mid-2000s, and our pheasant population has declined as a result,” said Nicole Davros, the DNR research scientist who oversees the annual August roadside survey that monitors pheasant population trends. “Although it appeared mild winter weather and dry summer weather might boost our numbers, that wasn’t the case.”
The 2017 pheasant index is 32 percent below the 10-year average and 62 percent below the long-term average.
Minnesota has lost about 686,800 acres of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres statewide since 2007. The program, covered under the federal Farm Bill, pays farmers to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and restore vegetation that will reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, and provide habitat for wildlife and pollinators.
Roadside survey data
The DNR’s August roadside survey for pheasants showed a 26 percent decrease in the overall pheasant index from 2016. This year’s statewide pheasant index was 38.1 birds per 100 miles of roads driven.
All regions had declines in the pheasant index compared to last year except the south-central and southeast regions, which remained similar. The highest pheasant counts were in the west central, southwest, and south-central regions where observers reported 43 to 55 birds per 100 miles driven. Hunters should find the best hunting opportunities in these regions.
Minnesota’s 2017 pheasant season runs from Saturday, Oct. 14, through Monday, Jan. 1.
Pheasants and grassland habitat
Weather and habitat are the two main factors that drive Minnesota’s pheasant population trends. Although weather causes annual fluctuations in pheasant numbers, nesting habitat is more important for long-term trends. Minnesota peaked in nesting habitat acres, particularly CRP, in 2007 but has been experiencing a steady decline annually. The pheasant index and pheasant harvest have declined in response to these habitat losses.
The 2012 version of the Farm Bill called for reduced spending on CRP and a cap of 24 million acres nationwide. The Farm Bill is due to be renewed in 2018, and many conservation groups are asking for enough funding to support 40 million acres of CRP.
The DNR and Minnesota conservation community also are advocating for a Working Lands program associated with CRP that allows grazing and haying of some acres under a conservation plan; and increased state input in determining where those acres should go to achieve the greatest benefits for landowners, wildlife, pollinators and clean water.
When Minnesota had its maximum CRP acreage – 1.83 million acres in 2007 – Minnesota hunters saw the highest pheasant harvest in decades. As CRP acres have declined, so has the annual pheasant harvest.
Weather conditions and survival
Warm winters usually lead to good hen survival and therefore more nests in the spring; however, the 2017 hen index, at 5.8 hens per 100 miles, was also down 26 percent from last year.
“It’s surprising to see our hen index down this year,” Davros said. “We experienced a pretty mild winter so hen survival should have been good. But the amount of habitat on the landscape makes the difference in the long run, so we may be at the point that good weather just isn’t enough to help us anymore.”
Another key indicator of annual reproduction is the number of broods observed during roadside surveys. The 2017 brood index decreased 34 percent from last year, and the number of broods per 100 hens declined 10 percent from 2016.
Monitoring pheasant population trends is part of the DNR’s annual August roadside wildlife survey, which began in 1955. DNR wildlife managers and conservation officers in the farmland region of Minnesota conduct the survey during the first half of August. This year’s survey consisted of 171 25-mile-long routes, with 151 routes located in the pheasant range.
Observers drive each route in early morning and record the number and species of wildlife they see. The data provide an index of relative abundance and are used to monitor annual changes and long-term population trends of pheasants, gray (Hungarian) partridge, eastern cottontail rabbits, white-tailed jackrabbits, mourning doves and other wildlife.
The 2017 August Roadside Survey report and a map of pheasant hunting prospects are available at mndnr.gov/hunting/pheasant. Also recorded in this year’s survey:
During the 2017 pheasant season, the daily bag limit is two roosters through November, and it increases to three roosters on Friday, Dec. 1. The possession limit is six roosters (increasing to nine roosters on Dec. 1). Shooting hours are 9 a.m. to sunset. Additional details are available at mndnr.gov/hunting/pheasant.
An angler has broken the state record for flathead catfish in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ catch-and-release length category.
Mark Mosby of St. Anthony caught, measured and released the new record flathead catfish Aug. 2 on the St. Croix River near Stillwater. He caught the 52-1/2 inch fish on 80 pound braided line with a 40 pound monofilament leader. It had a girth of 32 inches.
Mosby, who describes himself as an occasional angler, said his fishing partner made sure his fishing gear was ready for a battle as they were targeting big flathead catfish known to inhabit this stretch of the river.
“Kudos to my fishing partner John Kaiser for his knot-tying ability,” Mosby said. “The flathead put up a great 15 minute fight right up until he got to the boat, and the knots held true.”
Although weight is not required for the catch-and-release record, the fish was estimated to weigh about 70 to 80 pounds, based on length and girth. The current record for certified weight of a caught-and-kept flathead is 70 pounds.
There are two kinds of Minnesota state records: one for catching and keeping the biggest fish in each species based on certified weight; and the other for the length of a caught and released muskellunge, lake sturgeon or flathead catfish.
Mike Kurre, the DNR’s mentoring program coordinator, recommends anglers become familiar with the record-fish guidelines and be ready to take the required photos and go through the correct procedures for submitting a record – especially when equipped with the fishing tackle and on waters where they might catch record fish.
The DNR announces new state records in news releases, on social media and on the DNR website. Find current records and guidelines for each type of state record at mndnr.gov/recordfish.
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