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:


Huge songbird migration occurs in Duluth and along North Shore

Thousands of songbirds, pushed by two days of strong northwest winds, converged along the North Shore and in Duluth on Friday and Saturday, according to reports from counters at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Duluth. Many motorists reported hitting songbirds along Minnesota Highway 61.

On Friday, counters at Hawk Ridge (who count non-raptors as well as raptors) counted nearly 18,000 non-raptors, including 13,000 robins. On Saturday counters tallied more than 37,000 songbirds in one of the largest non-raptor flights observed at Hawk Ridge since non-raptor counts began in 2007.

Saturday’s flight included more than 23,000 robins and more than 3,000 unidentified warblers, according to the Hawk Ridge report.

“Unfortunately, many yellow-rumps (yellow-rumped warblers) were killed along Highway 61,” the day’s count summary reported.

Counters were Karl Bardon and Steve Kolbe. Dave Carman also helped in the observations.

All of these songbirds are migrating south. Strong northwest winds push them toward Lake Superior. They don’t like to fly over the lake because the air over the cold water offers little lift. So they move along the North Shore until they can clear the tip of the lake at Duluth.

Weary from flying or grounded by rain, such as on Friday, the birds become vulnerable to fast-moving cars.


Duluth city deer hunt harvest up slightly so far

After the first two weeks of Duluth’s city bow hunt for deer, hunters had registered 107 deer, according to the Arrowhead Bowhunters Alliance. Of those, 103 were antlerless deer. Last year at the same time, hunters had taken a total of 101 deer.

Last fall’s total harvest of 399 deer was 30 percent below the 2012 harvest, according to the ABA.

“We’re doing better than I thought we’d be doing,” said Phillip Lockett, president of the ABA. “We pretty much expected to be down this year given last winter’s conditions. I figured if we got 350 deer this year, we’d be doing good.”

Duluth’s city deer hunting season opened Sept. 13 and continues through Dec. 31.