Pheasant hunting tips

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.

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Ruffed Grouse Numbers Up in MN, Hunter Numbers Down

From this story (via Upland Journal) in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
When the 2010 Minnesota ruffed grouse hunting season opens at a half-hour before sunrise Saturday, hunters should encounter good numbers of the forest birds. Although spring drumming counts conducted by the Minnesota DNR were down slightly, a good hatch of young grouse could offset the apparent dip in bird numbers. Anecdotal observations this summer by many grouse enthusiasts suggest a good hatch indeed, with reports of more and bigger broods than the past few nesting seasons. Despite the optimistic forecast, fewer grouse hunters will take to the woods this fall than during past grouse population peaks. That’s a disturbing statistic.

“…The number of grouse hunters has always fluctuated with the ruffed grouse population. Times of peak numbers of birds saw corresponding peak numbers of hunters. Recently though, ruffed grouse hunter numbers during cyclic ruffed grouse high populations have declined significantly. According to DNR statistics, during the last ruffed grouse population peak in 1998, 142,000 hunters pursued ruffed grouse. Last fall was the supposed grouse population peak, yet only 87,000 hunters pursued the birds, a roughly 40 percent decline from the 1998 peak. Why is this happening? ”

You could take the above paragraphs and replace “ruffed grouse” with quail, pheasant, prairie grouse or virtually any other upland gamebird and the numbers – and the question of why – would be similar. Granted, many species are suffering range-wide population declines, and it stands to reason that as a species and the opportunity to hunt it dwindles that fewer people will. But it seems that there are fewer and fewer bird hunters these days even in good hatch years and in states with ample public land. Why? Do most guys simply prefer deer and turkey hunting these days? Does the considerable expense and time commitment required to own bird dogs just not gel with our modern lifestyle as easily as deer hunting? Your thoughts?

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DNR hires a new grouse specialist

Aitkin, Minn. – The DNR has a new grouse coordinator.

Ted Dick, who’s been with the DNR for nearly 10 years as the assistant area wildlife manager in Baudette, began the new position last week. He’s based in Aitkin.

The DNR and Ruffed Grouse Society are sharing in the costs of the position. Dick grew up grouse hunting in Cass and Itasca counties and says he’s long been interested in grouse and woodcock management.

“This job gave me an opportunity to move closer to those areas and work on it full-time,” Dick said. “I’m pretty excited about it.”

The DNR first announced its plan to create such a position at the annual roundtable sessions in January. It marks the first time the agency has had a point person for grouse hunting.

In January, DNR Wildlife Section Chief Dennis Simon said the agency needed a person to advocate for grouse and stay in touch with hunters.

“We really do need someone, I think, to advocate for grouse when they are on the up cycle, and look for ways to maintain that excitement when they are on the down cycle,” he said at the time.

The agency has a grouse researcher – Mike Larson, at the Forest Wildlife Population and Research Group – who is the “brains behind the science, and investigating ways to ensure healthy grouse populations,” Dick said.

Dick will work closely with Larson to communicate grouse-related information. He’ll also be a “voice for grouse hunters,” and make sure that grouse habitat is a part of the state’s long-range timber planning. Dick will advocate for early successional habitat, and also “to make the habitat better when we harvest to make sure grouse and woodcock like what’s left after a timber sale,” he said.

Dick also will work with counties and the U.S. Forest Service to make sure there are hunting opportunities for grouse and woodcock hunters.

At the end of the day, he plans to “do everything we can to make sure grouse hunting remains strong in Minnesota.”

Grouse counts have been strong in the state for the past couple of years – at or around their 10-year peak – but harvest has lagged because the number of people targeting grouse isn’t as high as it once was.

“Grouse hunting here is as good as it is anywhere,” Dick said. “We want to keep it that way and make sure people know about it.

“Grouse hunting is still good. It’s a fun thing to do and it’s a great gateway into the outdoors and hunting for kids.”

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Wet and wild: Wildlife management areas

LAC QUI PARLE WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREA Here on the very western edge of Minnesota, Dave Trauba lives his passion for wildlife and wildlife management day by day, season by season, year by year.

Overseeing a 33,000-acre complex of prairies, lakes and wetlands that make up this wildlife unit, Trauba and his staff attune themselves constantly to the landscape, asking:

Are the area’s grasslands vast enough to encourage the successful nesting of pheasants and songbirds? Are its wetlands fertile enough to support nesting waterfowl? Are ducks and geese stopping during their spring and fall migrations? If so, how long are they staying?

“For many years in Minnesota, waterfowl and other wildlife were the byproduct of an ecosystem dominated by prairie fires and grazing buffalo,” Trauba said. “Look at the state today, and there’s not much of this habitat left. In the future, if we want ducks, for example, I believe we’re going to have to manage for them intensively.”

The Killen Wildlife Refuge, whose 110 acres are wholly contained within the Lac qui Parle wildlife management area, provides such intensive management.

Commonly called a “moist soil management” area, the Killen Refuge — named for Owatonna wildlife artist Jim Killen and his wife, Karen — is providing the DNR a way to attract, feed and hold migratory waterfowl in spring and fall.

Fairly simple in concept, but somewhat challenging to implement and even more challenging to replicate, moist soil areas gained fame in recent years when in the 1990s the Missouri Department of Conservation developed a number of them successfully.

Those areas now are credited with holding migratory birds in Missouri that in previous years might have stopped there only briefly, or overflew the state entirely.

With that example in mind, construction of the first phase of the Killen Refuge was completed in 2004 with significant engineering and financial assistance from Ducks Unlimited.

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Minnesota’s pheasant index remains unchanged from 2009

Minnesota’s pheasant index remains unchanged from 2009 but is 22 percent below the 10-year average, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Contributing factors to the below-average index include:

· The most severe winter in the farmland region of Minnesota since 2001, resulting in hen counts 28 percent below the 10-year average.
· Fewer nesting opportunities caused by the removal of more than 100,000 acres of private land from the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and other farm programs during the past four years.
· Cool, wet weather during the normal June peak of the pheasant hatch appears to have reduced early brood survival.
A severe winter, fewer acres of habitat, and a cool, wet June all contributed to what DNR wildlife biologists are calling a below average pheasant population.

“We expect hunters to harvest a similar number of birds in 2010 as they did in 2009,” said Kurt Haroldson, a wildlife biologist for the DNR’s Farmland Population and Research Group in Madelia. “But after a series of above-average pheasant harvests from 2005-2008, Minnesota’s pheasant population has fallen below average for a second consecutive year.”

The pheasant population estimate is part of the DNR’s annual roadside wildlife survey. The survey summarizes roadside counts of pheasants, gray (Hungarian) partridge, cottontail rabbits, white-tailed jackrabbits and other wildlife observed in the early morning hours during the first two weeks of August throughout the farmland region of Minnesota.

“Given the severity of last winter, we expected a decrease in the range-wide pheasant index and we were pleasantly surprised to observe no change from last year,” Haroldson said

Pheasant hunters are expected to harvest about 400,000 roosters this fall, similar to last year and 2004. This compares to harvests that have exceeded 500,000 roosters five of the past seven years. The 500,000 bird harvests correspond with a string of mild winters and high CRP enrollment.

The best opportunities for harvesting pheasants likely will be in the southwest, where observers reported 104 birds per 100 miles of survey driven. Hunters also will find good harvest opportunities in the central and west central regions, where observers reported 76 and 70 birds per 100 miles driven, respectively. This year’s statewide pheasant index was 63 birds per 100 miles driven.

Haroldson said the most important habitat for pheasants is grassland that remains undisturbed during the nesting season. Protected grasslands account for about six percent of the state’s pheasant range. Farmland retirement programs such as CRP, Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, Reinvest in Minnesota and Wetlands Reserve Program make up the largest portion of protected grasslands in the state.

High land rental rates and competing uses for farmland diminish the economic attractiveness of farmland conservation programs. During the next three years, 500,000 additional acres would be removed from Minnesota’s CRP land if no acres are re-enrolled, reducing the total number of CRP acres in Minnesota by 32 percent.

To help offset continued habitat losses caused by reductions in conservation set-aside acreage, DNR has accelerated acquisition of Wildlife Management Areas in the farmland region of Minnesota. DNR also supports habitat conservation on private lands by working with a variety of partners in the Farm Bill Assistance Partnership and Working Lands Initiative.

The August roadside survey, which began in the late 1940s, was standardized in 1955. DNR conservation officers and wildlife managers in the farmland region of Minnesota conduct the survey during the first two weeks in August. This year’s survey consisted of 168 routes, each 25 miles long, with 148 routes located in the ring-necked 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 trends in populations of ring-necked pheasants, gray partridge, eastern cottontail rabbits, white tailed jackrabbits and other select wildlife species.

The gray partridge index was similar to last year but 55 percent below the 10-year average. The cottontail rabbit index was also below the 10-year and long-term average. The jackrabbit index was 96 percent below the long-term average. In contrast, the mourning dove index was similar to last year and the 10-year average.

The 2010 August Roadside Report and pheasant hunting prospects map can be viewed and downloaded from

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Beltrami Co. board opposes DNR shoreline purchase

Bemidji, Minn. (AP) — The county commissioners in Beltrami County are opposing a state Department of Natural Resources plan to buy more than a mile of lake shore in the county.

The Pioneer of Bemidji reports that on Aug. 3, the county board passed a resolution saying there would be no net gain of public lands in the county. They were concerned about losing taxable property and a decline in state payment-in-lieu-of property taxes.

So on Tuesday, the board denied a DNR request to buy 153 acres of land from a private landowner that includes 6,600 feet of lake shore along Balm Lake in Alaska Township.

The effect of the board’s action is unclear. County Administrator Tony Murphy says the DNR could seemingly go ahead, but the board’s action might influence decision makers in St. Paul.

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Minnesota Hunting

Minnesota Hunting

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Goats on the lam: Lost critters rescued from 60-foot bridge

Two goats stranded on the ledge of a train bridge over Old Divide Road were rescued on Wednesday.

 The Rimrock Humane Society, a nonprofit animal rescue organization in Roundup, received a call at 8 a.m. Wednesday from a person reporting the stranded goats.

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DNR asks bear hunters not to shoot radio-collared bears

Hunters participating in this fall’s bear hunt, which opens Sept. 1, should avoid shooting radio-collared or ear-tagged animals, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Taking a bear with a radio collar is legal unless the bear is accompanied by a researcher who has identified the bear to the hunter as a research animal.

DNR researchers are monitoring about 35 radio-collared black bears, most of them in northwestern Minnesota, especially near Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area and the Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge. Additional radio-collared bears reside in and around the Chippewa National Forest, Camp Ripley, Cloquet Forestry Station and Voyageurs National Park.

Bear research also is being conducted between Ely and Tower near the Eagles Nest chain of lakes in northern St. Louis County.

“Hunters near these areas should be especially vigilant for collared bears,” said Dave Garshelis, DNR bear research biologist. “However, bears travel widely in the fall, sometimes 50 miles or more, so collared bears can turn up almost anywhere.”

Most of the monitored bears have brightly-colored ear-tags to make them more visible to hunters. Some bears also have brightly-colored tape or streamers on their collars. Photos of some of these are available on the DNR website.

“We’re asking that if hunters see ear tags or a collar on a bear, they refrain from shooting it” Garshelis said. “Researchers have invested an enormous amount of time and expense in these bears. Many of the collars have global positioning units that collect and store data, which is downloaded when we visit the bears in their dens and helps us monitor and manage the bear population.”

DNR officials recognize that a hunter may not be able to see a radio collar or ear tags in some situations.

Any hunters who do shoot collared bears should call the DNR Wildlife Research Office in Grand Rapids at 218-327-4146 or 218-327-4133.

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MN Waterfowl hunting

Waterfowl hunt

Waterfowl season opens Saturday, Oct, 2
Youth Waterfowl Day, Saturday, Sept. 18 – A specially designated day on which any adult can take any youth 15 and younger waterfowl hunting. Only youth may hunt.
Opportunities for inexperienced youth are available at the Youth Waterfowl Day Hunt.
2010 Carlos Avery Controlled Hunt
Regulations: Minnesota 2010 Hunting & Trapping Regulations (4.6 MB)

Waterfowl Hunting Regulations (1.8 MB)
Hunting information:

HIP (Harvest Information Program) – certification necessary for hunting migratory birds.
Hunting licenses – find license agents, get applications or purchase licenses by phone or the Internet.

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