Engwall named to head Minnesota Deer Hunters Association

The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association today named Craig Engwall as its new executive director. Engwall has more than 20 years’ experience in law, natural resources and conservation and  served as northeast regional director of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources at Grand Rapids from 2006 to 2013..

Engwall, an attorney, is currently forest legacy projects coordinator with the DNR at Hibbing. He will assume his duties with MDHA on Jan. 2.

“I’m ecstatic. This is awesome,” Engwall said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “I’ve worked in natural resources pretty much my whole career. This lets me mesh my personal life with my professional life.”

Engwall, 51, lives on Dora Lake near Northome, about 50 miles northwest of Grand Rapids.

He said his experience in partnering with other agencies and businesses will help him in his role at MDHA.

“One of the things I look on with pride is that partnerships are key,” he said. “I think MDHA can partner with the state, and I’ll be looking to counties, too, looking at some habitat projects that the counties would be willing to support in northern Minnesota.”

Engwall grew up in the Twin Cities. He graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in 1986 and the University of Minnesota Law School in 1991, He has worked on natural resources and agriculture issues at both the state and federal levels, including the linkage between the Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) program and the Federal Conservation Reserve (CRP) and Wetlands Reserve Programs (WRP). Engwall was a key player in Minnesota acquiring the largest conservation easement in state history, the nearly 200,000-acre Blandin Paper Company project that protects forest lands.


Minnesota ‘Pheasant Summit’ offers ideas to increase bird numbers

I didn’t make it to Gov. Dayton’s “Pheasant Summit” in Marshall, Minn., on Saturday, but from various news reports, it appears the 300 people who attended offered up several ideas for making Minnesota more pheasant friendly. Here’s an account of the meeting from outdoors editor David Orrick of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Pheasant hunters walk across a grassland on a December hunt. (Sam Cook photo)

Among the suggestions, according to Orrick’s account and others, is for the state to more vigorously enforce laws that require grassland buffer zones along streams and laws that restrict mowing of ditches and the planting of crops along roadsides.

Another idea that proved popular was using state bonding money to buy land for more Wildlife Management Areas. Those areas provide wildlife habitat and hunting opportunities.

The DNR plans to develop an accelerated action plan to enhance pheasant habitat and present the plan at its annual roundtable meeting with stakeholders on Jan. 16.

While the state wants to do everything it can to improve the pheasant population, most hunters believe federal farm policy drives pheasant numbers by offering programs that pay farmers to set aside lands in grass cover. In recent years, farmers have been opting out of those programs to put land back into crops while commodity prices are higher than they’ve been in recent years. Payments to farmers through federal farm programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program can’t currently compete with the rental rates farmers can charge for land in production.







Some thoughts on the deer hunt, from a deer hunter

My friend Michael Furtman offered some thoughtful comments on hunting today on his Facebook page. Mike is a Duluth outdoors writer and wildlife photographer (michaelfurtman.com). He was writing about deer hunting in Wisconsin. Thought I’d share his thoughts here:

“Hunting really well is hard, just plain hard. Even the experts can’t always get everything to mesh.” So said my friend, and great writer, Chris Madson. Few truer words have been spoken!

This morning, in a dense fog, I crept into the north woods. The first thing I saw were enormous tracks from what had to be a giant buck. Like all bucks, he had a mission in mind. He did not waver. He did not wander. It was a straight line from doe area A to doe area B, to doe area C. I was, of course, full of anticipation.

I sat at the crossing of several deer trails, waiting for him, or another buck, to appear. The morning was warm, the wind light, and as I sat I realized that for two hours, I’d never heard a shot. This is Wisconsin. This is the opening of deer season. There are hundreds of thousands of people in the woods, and yet there was no shooting. Not a good sign. The deer obviously were not moving. So I needed to.

So I walked. The woods were wet, and quiet, the snow the consistency of oatmeal. With the same skills I use to get photos of deer, I crept through the forest for six hours, often taking a half hour to creep a hundred yards. And I never saw a deer.

For those of you who do not hunt, I suppose it is easy to imagine that it is wanton slaughter out there, that deer are bounding this way and that, and that reckless, feckless hunters are slinging bullets willy nilly, that deer are stacked up like cord wood, and with no more respect. Well, that is not the case. The hunt is, more often than not, a long, tedious task. It is work. Enjoyable, sometimes. But work. All food should come with such effort. Perhaps not so much of it would be scraped into the trash can!

Tomorrow is, as they say, “another day.” I hope to “hunt well” as Chris said. But though I saw no deer, I did see numerous chickadees, nuthatches, some wild turkeys, an otter run, and the tracks of an American marten. It was a good day.


Still time to sign up for Pheasant Summit

There’s still time to register for the first Minnesota Pheasant Summit, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Gov. Mark Dayton is inviting Minnesotans to register for the summit, which takes place from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 13 at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall. To sign up, look here.

The summit is free and open to all Minnesotans. It will focus on why the pheasant population has declined in the state, and possible collaborative efforts to improve pheasant habitat statewide.



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)