Winter camping symposium starts tomorrow

The 16th Annual Winter Camping Symposium will be held Thursday through Sunday at the YMCA’s Camp Miller in Sturgeon Lake. Admission is $40. The event includes seminars and workshops devoted to winter camping. You can make your own wool shirt, learn to make snowshoes or build your own winter camping toboggan. For more information, go to



Big bear enjoys fruits of a Duluth apple tree

Phillip Lockett of Saginaw grabbed this quick smartphone photo of a hefty bear in an apple tree near the intersection of Martin and Jean Duluth roads on Tuesday evening. (Phillip Lockett photo)

Phillip Lockett of Saginaw sent along a couple photos of a bear that was enjoying an apple tree near Martin and Jean Duluth roads Tuesday evening. That’s a beefy bear.

Here’s one more photo of the big guy:

Yep. He’s a big boy. (Phillip Lockett photo)


Fall surveys offer positive signs on Mille Lacs Lake

For the first time since 2008, Mille Lacs Lake walleye surviving into their second year are abundant and the following year’s hatch appears to be doing well, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Mille Lacs Lake has been the subject of great concern in recent years as biologists try to determine why the reproduction and growth of walleyes has declined.

“We’re far from out of the woods on Mille Lacs Lake,” said Rick Bruesewitz, Aitkin area fisheries supervisor for the DNR. “But younger walleye are showing more positive signs of survival than they have in past years.”

The lake’s walleye population has been declining because the vast majority of walleye that hatch in Mille Lacs have not grown into yearlings by surviving to their second autumn, according to DNR biologists. When not enough smaller fish grow into larger ones, the population eventually drops.

As expected, the walleye catch in all types of nets during this fall’s population assessment was down slightly from last year, DNR officials said, but there were strong numbers of walleye hatched the previous year in all surveys. Catch rates of these walleye were among the highest observed since 1991 for electrofishing and 2006 for fine-mesh gill nets.

Electrofishing for walleye hatched this year produced average numbers when compared with catches from previous years, indicating that reproduction in 2014 was again successful. Walleye hatched this year were a little below average in size. This may be related to a lack of food caused by low numbers of newly hatched perch, which serve as the primary food source for newly hatched walleye.

In addition, high numbers of newly hatched and yearling tullibee, which range from 3 to 8 inches long, were too large for newly hatched walleye to eat but their availability will provide more food for larger walleye.

“Both of these tullibee age classes were caught at the highest levels we’ve seen in the forage nets,” Bruesewitz said. “With that much food for larger predators, smaller walleye may have had a better chance of survival from predation. This food resource also appears to have improved the overall condition of larger walleye, which was better than we’ve seen for several years.”

Results of assessment netting also showed high numbers of northern pike, many of which range from 22 to 28 inches. Northern pike as long as 39.7 inches were observed in the survey. Smallmouth bass numbers decreased slightly close to shore but increased in off-shore nets.

Annual Mille Lacs Lake safe harvest levels are based on fish population assessments in combination with other sources of information, including past harvest statistics. The DNR and eight Indian bands will evaluate technical data and modeling results related to Mille Lacs Lake and use that information to reach agreement on final safe harvest levels in January.

State anglers are expected to harvest close to 30,000 pounds of walleye this fishing season from an allocation of 42,900 pounds. Indian bands with rights under the 1837 Treaty harvested about 13,000 pounds of walleye last spring. Their total allocation was 17,100 pounds.




Pheasant numbers decent on southwestern Minnesota hunt

A rooster pheasant basks in the early-morning sunlight near Windom, Minn. (Sam Cook photo)

I joined Joe Nicklay of Finland and his brother-in-law Ron Anderson of Forest Lake, Minn., on a pheasant hunt near Windom, Minn., this week. Between them, they own three Brittanies. The dogs know how to handle pheasants. Nicklay and Anderson found plenty of the flashy birds during their multi-day hunt. Read about their hunt on Sunday, Oct. 26, in the Duluth News Tribune’s Outdoors pages.

Most of the corn remains standing in west-central and southwestern Minnesota, and early-season pheasant hunting reports are mixed. Some hunters are finding birds, but some have been blanked. Nearly all of the soybeans have been harvested, and farmers were just getting started on the corn harvest this week.

Forecasts before the season indicated pheasant numbers were up slightly from last year but well below the long-term average. The season continues through Jan. 4.

Taz, a Brittany owned by Ron Anderson of Forest Lake, Minn., delivers a rooster shot by Anderson’s brother-in-law, Joe Nicklay of Finland. (Sam Cook photo)

Harvest at grouse and woodcock hunt reflects tough spring

The proportion of immature birds harvested this fall at the National Grouse and Woodcock Hunt near Grand Rapids was 10 percent below the long-term average for ruffed grouse and 20 percent below for woodcock, according to Dan Dessecker of the Ruffed Grouse Society. The hunt was held Oct. 9-10.

“The drop in reproductive success for both ruffed grouse and woodcock was expected given the delayed, wet and cool spring that northern Minnesota experienced this year,” Dessecker said.

While Minnesota’s 2014 ruffed grouse spring drumming survey documented a significant increase over the 2013 survey, the ruffed grouse and woodcock harvest at the hunt was similar to last year. This fall, each hunter harvested an average of 1.07 grouse per day. The average daily harvest in 2013 was 1.06 grouse. This year, each hunter harvested an average of 1.8 woodcock per day, down from last year’s average daily harvest of 2.03 woodcock.

The hunt, in its 33rd year, is a fundraiser for the Ruffed Grouse Society.


UMD panel to discuss the ethics of hunting

The University of Minnesota Duluth’s Center for Ethics and Public Policy will sponsor a panel on hunting ethics from 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 23 at UMD’s Chemistry building, room 200.

I’ll join four others to discuss questions such as:

1. What are the morally acceptable ways to hunt?

2. What role does such hunting play in responsible environmental management?

3. What are the improper ways to go about hunting?

The goal, according to panel organizers, is to create an open discussion in which many sides can voice ideas or concerns in a respectful atmosphere.

This event is free and open to the public.

Other panelists will include Duluth outdoors writer, author and photographer Michael Furtman; Becca Kent, chapter coordinator for the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association; Rich Staffon, retired Department of Natural Resources area wildlife manager from Cloquet and the president of the Izaak Walton League chapter in Duluth; and James E. Zorn, Executive Administrator of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), an agency of eleven Ojibwe tribes located in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.


On missing an opportunity to hunt grouse

I wanted to get out grouse hunting today, but that isn’t going to happen. The real world interceded, book-ending my day with obligations that made even an abbreviated hunt impossible.

Some things you can rearrange or put off. Some you can’t.

A hunter admires the tail feathers of a ruffed grouse. (File photo)

I know what I will be missing, in no particular order:

1. Time with my yellow dog.

2. The sound of wind shaking brittle leaves.

3. The trail, damp and pungent.

4. Blue sky, framed by gold leaves.

5. The feel of the old shotgun in my hands, just the way it must have felt in my dad’s hands.

6. The startling thunder of a grouse taking flight.

7. The soft flush of a woodcock rising through the popples.

8. The smell of gunpowder that hangs in an invisible cloud after a shot.

9. Conversation with a good friend.

10. The humility comes so easily after missing a shot.

11. The soft and muted colors of both grouse and woodcock.

12. The way my dog’s legs look, dark and fox-like, after she emerges from a mucky pool of water.

13. The hundreds of “little birds” — sparrows, warblers, juncos, woodpeckers, flickers, robins — that flit away as I pass.

14. The reflection of maple leaves in puddles.

15. The way I feel when I slow down and let all of the urgency of civilization fade away.

16. The taste of a McIntosh apple, which I always stop to eat while sitting on a log.

17. The way my Lab catches the chunks of the McIntosh apple I always bring along for her.

18. Having to pay attention to my compass to make sure I end up somewhere near the car after the hunt.

19. Being mildly fascinated by how much the fronds of a withering fern resemble the markings on a ruffed grouse.

20. The good tired that accrues after a long walk in the woods.


Khalar’s reports from Brule will be missed

Catherine Khalar at the Brule River State Forest in Brule took this photo of sunlight passing through trees in fall color. (Catherine Khalar photo)

For the past 11 years, Catherine Khalar, visitor services associate for the Brule River State Forest at Brule, has provided informative weekly updates to media outlets and others in the region. I’m sure others, like me, looked forward to her weekly emails, which were often illustrated with her own photos. Khalar did a wonderful job of telling us all about the big things — fish migrations, water flows, deer hunting rule changes — as well as the little things happening in the woods and waters around us — wildflower bloomings, frogs calling, leaves changing, insects hatching, turtles laying eggs and much more.

She took her work seriously, and her photos, like the one above, added a great deal to her updates. Khalar will soon move on to the Douglas County Forestry Office in Solon Springs.

“It has been a pleasure working on the Brule outdoor reports over the last 11 years,” Khalar wrote in her final update. “It has helped make me notice the phenological changes throughout the seasons much more. I notice the ‘little things’ much more often as I do my photography, and I have met some wonderful people over the years through my reports. It has become one of my favorite parts of my job.”


A ‘smoky’ turkey and some feisty whitetail bucks

A hen turkey walks through grass near the South Ridge School at Culver on Tuesday evening. (Guy Sander photo)

Guy Sander of Saginaw sent along a couple of recent photos of wildlife in his neighborhood. The photo above, taken Tuesday, shows a hen turkey with a very young brood for this time of year. Sander believes the hen is a “smoky gray phase” of Eastern wild turkey. It’s feathers are much lighter than a typical Eastern turkey.

Here’s what James Earl Kennamer, Chief Conservation Officer with the National Wild Turkey Federation, writes about that color phase:

“One of the most common color variations is the “smoky gray” color phase. Turkeys with this color appear white from a distance. Upon closer examination, however, it is obvious that these birds’ appearance is due to a loss of brown or bronze pigments while the black areas of the feathers remain. Every year, the NWTF receives reports of turkeys in a smoky gray color phase, and many turkey hunters have seen at least one during their time in their field. This recessive trait seems to occur more frequently among hens, but is still occasionally seen in gobblers.

“Most hunters see color variations for the first time and think that the condition is a result of crossbreeding with a domestic turkey. Many wildlife biologists used to think the same thing. But, these differences occur regularly in flocks that have no contact with domestic turkeys.”

Sander also sent along this photo of two young bucks sparring near Twig today: