Firearms deer harvest down 44 percent in NE Minnesota

After the first 10 days of Minnesota’s 16-day firearms deer season, the deer harvest in Northeastern Minnesota was down 44 percent from last year, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The buck harvest in the region — all Series 100 deer permit areas — was down 28 percent from last year. The antlerless deer harvest was down 82 percent, largely because so many deer permit areas were restricted to bucks-only hunting this fall.

DNR wildlife officials reduced the number of antlerless deer permits significantly this fall after a severe winter in 2013-2014 in hopes of rebuilding the deer herd.

Statewide, the harvest was down 23 percent overall through Monday, 10 days into the season. The firearms season will end Sunday.

After the first three days of the firearms season this fall, the harvest was down 52 percent in Northeastern Minnesota and 36 percent statewide. As the peak of the rut came on and bucks started moving, hunters took advantage of that.

In Series 100 areas, hunters had taken 23,087 deer this fall through Monday compared to 40,873 last year, DNR officials reported.

Statewide, firearms hunters had taken a total of 102,168 deer through Monday, down from 133,000 last year.

Jeff Lightfoot, DNR regional wildlife manager at Grand Rapids, said despite the slow start to the season, hunters were able to take more deer through the remainder of opening week and into last weekend.

“We’ve historically said that the first three days (of the season) determine the harvest, and once we’re down we’re not climbing out,” Lightfoot said. “But recently (2012) hunters really put in the effort through that first week and into the second weekend, and we made up some ground. This year looks like the same thing was going on.”

Some factors worked in hunters’ favor, he said.

“We had snow on the ground, and people like that,” he said. “They can see tracks. It keeps you a little more engaged. But with some of the wind and the cold mornings, I was surprised to see the relative difference (between this year and last) get a little better.”

The DNR had predicted a steep decline in the deer kill this fall, with an overall harvest estimate of 120,000 deer. Through Monday, including the archery harvest, hunters had taken about 115,000 deer this fall, said Leslie McInenly, DNR big game program leader in St. Paul.


Minnesota firearms deer kill down 36 percent statewide after first three days

As expected, Minnesota’s firearms deer harvest is down. Way down.

After the first three days of the season, the harvest was down 51 percent from 2013 in Northeastern Minnesota (Series 100 deer permit areas) and down 36 percent statewide, said Leslie McInenly, big game program leader for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The statewide harvest was 54,000 for the first three days of the season, which opened Saturday. That’s down from 84,000 in the same period last year.

Part of the reason for the decrease is that the DNR offered far fewer antlerless deer permits this fall than in recent years. But the buck harvest was down as well, said Jeff Lightfoot, DNR regional wildlife manager at Cloquet. In addition, opening weekend weather was not ideal, with high winds.

MN firearms deer license sales on pace with previous years

A total of 220,000 firearms deer licenses had been sold in Minnesota through Monday, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. That’s about 1,000 ahead of the total for the same period last year and on par with the past few years. That total is expected to double by this weekend.

A whitetail buck browses on berries in this photo from November 2014. (News Tribune file)

Minnesota’s firearms deer season opens Saturday. License sales will continue to increase through the week. About 23,000 to 40,000 hunters typically buy licenses on Tuesday and today during the week before the opener. Thursday’s sales usually hit about 50,000, and sales peak on Friday, when about 100,000 hunters are expected to buy licenses. Through opening weekend, firearms license sales typically reach 430,000 to 445,000.


Another good pheasant hunt at the old red farm house

Every fall, when October slides into November, a few of us and a few more dogs gather at the old red farm house in west-central Minnesota. We throw out sleeping bags on the vintage beds, wear a lot of blaze orange and hunt pheasants on farm land owned by the family of a friend of mine. Some of the land grows crops, but most of it is grassland and wetlands, thanks to the vision of my friend’s mother and father.

If you drove past the farm, and you were a pheasant hunter, you’d say to yourself, “Boy, I wish we could hunt that piece.”

My friend has been hunting here since he could carry a shotgun. Some of us have been coming only for the past 25 or 30 years. The log books in the kitchen have tallied the fortunes of our hunts going back decades. We have buried dogs on the big hill overlooking Lake Marge. In nearly every willow run, every patch of native prairie grass, every cattail swale, we can remember hunts of long ago.

The bird numbers are not great this year. They’re better than last year, but nothing like the big years of the mid-2000s. Still, we found our share of roosters and missed a few more. The dogs —Copper, Waldo, Comet and Lucy — hunted hard and rested well.

Here, then, are a few photos from the trip.

Lucy, a 10-year-old yellow Lab, delivers a rooster. (Sam Cook photos)

Gary Larson of Duluth has plenty of help as he gets ready to kindle a fire in the woodstove.

Hey, it was tough out there in the field.

Taking a break after a hunt.

There’s nothing much more striking than the colors of a rooster pheasant.


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.