Send us your best hunting-dog story

Do you have an amazing hunting-dog story to share? We want to hear it. Duluth News Tribune outdoors writer Sam Cook wants to share your story with our readers.

Cooper, a yellow Lab owned by Duluth’s Bruce Smith, retrieves a ruffed grouse in 2013. (News Tribune file photo)

Just email it to us (300 words or less) and tell us what happened. We’re looking for hunting-related stories — a remarkable retrieve, a surprising moment in the field, a humorous anecdote. If you have a photo of the dog, send it along, too. And please include a phone number where we can reach you during the day. Deadline for entries is Oct. 1. We’ll publish as many as we can. Send your stories to with the subject line “hunting story.”

Eastern Montana offers good sharptail hunting for Minnesota hunters

Mark Helmer of Duluth and Millie, his Lab, walk across a piece of short-grass prairie in eastern Montana during a sharptail hunting trip. (Sam Cook photo)

Four of us made our annual pilgrimage to eastern Montana to camp on the prairies and hunt sharp-tailed grouse for a few days. We found plenty of birds and covered a lot of ground. We pitch our tents in a tree-lined hay yard of farm friends we have come to know. They opened their farm to us for camping during the first conversation we had with them at a convenience store in town.

Sharp-tailed grouse, a relative of ruffed grouse, are birds of the short-grass prairie. They like to be in wide-open country where they can easily see predators approaching. Hunters can easily flush the birds without dogs, but it’s nice to have the dogs for retrieving. Plus, we just wouldn’t hunt without them.

Montana’s sharptail season opens Sept. 1 each year. Western North Dakota also has excellent sharptail hunting, and hunters have easier access to the land there than in Montana. We hunted Block Management Areas, private land opened to hunters by landowners.

We were greeted upon arriving at the farm by this sign, made by Bailey, the oldest of the two farm couple’s children.

We felt welcome from the moment we arrived. (Sam Cook photo)

Our farm friends had made a generous alcove among the hay bales for our little camp. From left are Steve Harrington of Duluth and Rick Francisco of Hermantown. (Sam Cook photo)

Steve Harrington spends some quality time with Willow, his German wire-haired pointer. (Sam Cook photo)

Mark Helmer takes a break on a piece of prairie with dogs Boof (left) and Lucy. (Sam Cook photo)

Helmer gets some midday reading in around the fire as Boof and Millie rest. (Sam Cook photo)

Eastern Montana is wheat country, and sharptails sometimes feed in cut wheat fields. This year’s harvest was running late, and much of the wheat was still standing. (Sam Cook photo)

Raptor migration happening daily over Hawk Ridge

Duluth News Tribune photographer Clint Austin captured this arresting photo of a sharp-shinned hawk at Hawk Ridge in 2008. It had been captured and banded at the Hawk Ridge banding station.

The annual raptor migration has begun, and counters at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Duluth are documenting it daily. Chief counter Karl Bardon and his crew began counting in mid-August.

As always, sharp-shinned and broad-winged hawks are among the most common early migrants. As of Monday, some 187 sharpshins and 165 broadwings had been counted so far this fall. In addition, 153 bald eagles have passed over Hawk Ridge, located one mile east of Glenwood Street on Skyline Parkway.

Best days to observe the migration — meaning the chance of more birds in the air — are days with westerly winds. Those winds push the migrants toward Lake Superior, but hawks don’t like to fly over the lake. So, they follow the shoreline south and west, eventually passing over Duluth. The raptors ride thermals that form along the hillside before continuing their movement south.

Viewing at Hawk Ridge is free. Just bring a pair of binoculars and, if possible, a birding guide to help identify hawks. The broadwing migration peaks in mid-September. Larger hawks and bald eagles continue to migrate through October.

A bander at Hawk Ridge holds a female sharp-shinned hawk before banding it. (News Tribune file photo)

South Dakota pheasant index up 76 percent

A yellow Lab rests with the result of an afternoon hunt.

South Dakota’s pheasant-per-mile index is up 76 percent from last year, according to the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department. The survey is not a population estimate, but rather compares the number of pheasants observed on the routes and establishes trend information.

“With favorable weather conditions this past winter and spring, along with the availability of quality nesting habitat across the state, we are going to see an increase in this year’s pheasant population,” Jeff Vonk, GFP secretary, said in a statement. “Survey results show pheasant numbers rebounded the strongest in central South Dakota; especially in the Pierre, Chamberlain, Mobridge and Winner areas. Results also indicate that pheasant numbers are substantially higher than 2013 throughout much of eastern South Dakota.”

The 2014 statewide pheasants-per-mile index of 2.68 is up from 1.52 in 2013. The statewide pheasant-per-mile index is similar to 2002 when hunters harvested 1.26 million roosters.

Dave Nomsen, who leads Pheasants Forever’s new regional headquarters in Brookings, S.D., says the positive brood report should excite pheasant hunters but needs to be taken in context with the substantial upland habitat losses of recent years.

“The ‘pheasant crisis’ South Dakota has experienced over the past few years has not been solved,” Nomsen said in a statement. “While tough winters and wet springs play a role in population changes, it’s the loss of habitat that’s responsible for the long-term decline of pheasants in the state. And we haven’t yet replaced the 1.8 million acres of grasslands and prairies lost since 2006.”

South Dakota’s traditional statewide pheasant hunting season opens on Oct. 18 and runs through Jan. 4, 2015.



Small game and duck hunter numbers decline in Minnesota

A yellow Lab retrieves a rooster pheasant during a Minnesota pheasant hunt.

The number of pheasant hunters, ruffed grouse hunters and duck hunters all declined last year, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Pheasant hunter numbers dropped the most dramatically, down 19 percent from 2012. Pheasant hunters took an estimated 169,100 pheasants, down 36 percent from 264,000 in 2012 and the lowest harvest since 1986. Pheasant hunters took an average of 2.7 pheasants last fall.

An estimated 77,900 people hunted ducks, down 5 percent from 2012. Duck hunters took more than 782,000 ducks, an average of 10.2 ducks each in 2013.

The number of grouse hunters last fall was estimated at 81,100, down 11 percent from 2012. Grouse hunters harvested an average of 3.6 in 2013 compared to 3.7 in 2012. The overall grouse harvest was 288,410, the lowest since 2005-06. The ruffed grouse population fluctuates on about a 10-year cycle and is currently in the lower range of that cycle.

The hunter numbers and harvest figures are based on a survey of small-game hunters by the DNR.

Wisconsin announces duck season framework, new crossbow season

Wisconsin duck hunters will have a 60-day season opening Sept. 27, the Department of Natural Resources announced today . Waterfowl breeding populations in 2014 are mostly good to excellent in Wisconsin, according to DNR officials. The youth waterfowl hunt will be held Sept. 20-21.

Changes to waterfowl regulations will include a reduction in the daily canvasback limit from two to one, and an expansion of the Horicon Zone Canada goose limit from six birds to 12.

The daily bag limit for ducks statewide will be six, including no more than: four mallards, of which only one may be a hen; one black duck; one canvasback; three wood ducks; two pintails; three scaup; and two redheads.

For species of duck not listed, such as teal and ring-necked ducks, the combined bag total with all other species may not exceed six ducks. It is important to note that possession limits have been increased to three times the daily bag limit.

The department will offer an early teal-only duck hunting season Sept. 1-7 statewide with a daily bag limit of six teal.

For more information on Wisconsin’s waterfowl seasons, go to and search “waterfowl.”


Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board on Wednesday approved the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ recommendation to establish a deer hunting season in which the use of a crossbow is allowed. A crossbow deer hunting license is available for any qualified hunter to purchase. This will be the first time many Wisconsin deer hunters will have the opportunity to hunt with a crossbow. Previously, only holders of permits for hunters with disabilities and hunters age 65 or older could use a crossbow under the authority of an archer license.

The crossbow deer hunting season will run concurrent with the archery season. During open firearm seasons, a gun deer license will authorize bow and crossbow use. Crossbow licenses include one statewide buck tag and one Farmland Zone antlerless tag. It is important to note that those who purchase both an archery license and a crossbow license will receive only one set of tags. For more information, go to



Wild rice season opens Friday, but rice may not be ready

Minnesota’s wild rice harvesting season opens Friday, Aug. 15, and runs through Sept. 30. Despite the season dates, harvesters must first ensure the rice is ripe before launching their canoes, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Minnesota’s green rice law does not allow the harvesting of unripe rice, and the late spring means some rice stands may be slow to mature.

More than 1,200 lakes and rivers in 54 counties contain wild rice, with concentrations of rice being the highest in Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing, Itasca and St. Louis counties.

Rice is ripening similarly to last year. Peak harvesting dates are estimated to be in early to mid-September as long as weather remains mild.

Some beds that held rice last year may have no harvestable rice this fall, said Dave Kanz, DNR area wildlife manager at Aitkin. Scouting will be particularly important this year to find decent stands of harvestable rice.

Here are some rules for harvesting wild rice in Minnesota:

Harvest may take place from a non-motorized canoe, 18 feet or less in length, utilizing only a push pole or paddles for power.

Rice is collected by using two sticks, or flails, to knock mature seeds into the canoe. Flails can be no longer than 30 inches, and must weigh less than one pound each.

Harvesting licenses cost $25 per season, or $15 per day, per person for Minnesota residents.

There is no limit to the number of pounds people may harvest with a permit.

More information about wild rice management, a list of wild rice buyers and processors, and a list of lakes and rivers containing wild rice is available on the DNR website at

Wild rice harvesting licenes may be purchased online via desktop browser and smartphone at or any DNR license agent.

3D archery shoot set for this weekend near Duluth

The Duluth Archery Club will hold its annual Bowhunting Warmup 3D shoot Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 16-17, at its range, 5979 Eagle Lake Road. Registration is from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday. The cost $15 for adults, $7.50 for ages 13-17, and free for children 12 and under. The 30-target 3D shoot is open to the public.

New Riverside mountain-biking trail in Mission Creek is open

Another 2.2 miles of mountain biking trail has opened in Duluth in the Mission Creek area of far western Duluth. COGGS (Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores) announced the opening late last week.

I rode the trail on Sunday, and it’s spectacular. It’s a wide “flow” trail that rides like a dream as it winds around the ravines and beneath towering white pines between Minnesota Highway 210 and the St. Louis River.

A mountain biker negotiates a bridge on a new segment of mountain biking trail in the Mission Creek area that opened this past weekend. Hansi Johnson shared this photo. For more photos of this trail segment, visit Johnson’s “Universal Klister” blog at (Hansi Johnson photo)

The trailhead is 1/4 mile up Highway 210 on the left side from Chambers Grove and Minnesota Highway 23. The trail was built by Aaron Rodgers and his Upper Peninsula crew from Rock Solid Trails.

I’m not an expert rider by any means, and I was comfortable on the entire trail, even some of the bridges that had some elevation change to them. However, beginning mountain bikers might find some of the short, steep drops on the trail and on some of the bridges more than they want.

Here’s how I’d compare the trail to other mountain biking trails around town. It’s wider than the trails at Hartley and along Amity Creek. It’s as wide as the Duluth Traverse segment along the Lester River which opened recently. It’s much less rocky and rooty than the trails at Hartley. The bridges are much wider than those at Hartley and some along Amity Creek.

Mostly, it just flows beautifully and offers gorgeous views of that mature maple and pine forest around every corner.

The Rock Solid trail crew is still working on the trails on the upper side of Highway 210, and those trails remain closed, COGGS reminds riders. Rock Solid is in the U.P. this week and will return the week of the Kraus-Anderson Bike Duluth Festival to put the finishing touches on that trail.


Night fishing will open July 21 on Mille Lacs Lake

The night-fishing ban for walleye anglers on Mille Lacs Lake will be lifted July 21 at 10 p.m., according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

In past years, the Mille Lacs Lake night closure, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., began the Monday after the May opener and continued through mid-June. This year’s regulations originally extended the closure to Dec. 1 to help ensure state-licensed anglers did not catch more walleyes than the lake’s safe harvest limit allowed. If that limit was reached, anglers would have had to release all walleyes instead of being allowed to keep two. The possession limit is two fish from 18 to 20 inches. One fish may be longer than 28 inches.

The night-fishing ban was lifted because anglers are catching fewer walleyes on the lake this summer. So far, anglers have caught about 10,000 pounds of walleyes, DNR officials said. Fisheries officials believe anglers won’t catch more than the harvest limit of 42,900 pounds of walleyes.

Anglers have caught fewer walleye because walleyes are feeding on an abundance of perch in Mille Lacs this year and because of reduced fishing pressure.

“The DNR is not removing the night closure because Mille Lacs Lake has recovered,” said Don Pereira, DNR fisheries section chief. “More young walleye still need to survive their first year and keep growing from year to year into larger walleye. Conditions this year combined for a slow bite, allowing DNR to re-open an activity that helps the Mille Lacs area economy and is a tradition among many fishing families.”