Good news for South Dakota pheasants

South Dakota’s pheasant population is up 42 percent over last year, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks department announced Thursday. The statewide PPM index is similar to 2011 when hunters harvested 1.56 million roosters.

t10.15.2014 -- Sam Cook -- cookPHEASANT1026c3 -- Along a rural road near Windom, Minn., a rooster pheasant sits in a tree on a frosty October morning.

This year’s population index is more than double the 2013 level, when hunters harvested just under one million pheasants. The index continues to lag behind the 10-year average due to the extremely high counts from 2005 through 2010.

South Dakota’s traditional statewide pheasant hunting season opens Oct. 17 and runs through Jan. 3.

The highest counts in the survey were recorded in the Chamberlain, Pierre and Winner areas.

DNR: Minnesota’s wolf population statistically unchanged

Minnesota’s wolf population remains about the same as in recent winters, according to results of the latest survey by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The latest survey results estimate that within Minnesota’s wolf range there were 374 wolf packs and 2,221 wolves last winter. Although this year’s specific population estimate is lower than the previous winter’s estimate of 2,423 wolves, there has been no statistically significant change in population size during the past three years, state wildlife officials said.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife photo

U.S. Fish and Wildlife photo

The population survey is conducted in mid-winter near the low point of the annual population cycle. Immediately following birth of pups each spring, the wolf population typically doubles, though many pups do not survive to the following winter.

“Results from the 2015 wolf survey demonstrate that the wolf population remains well established across northern and central Minnesota,” said Dan Stark, large carnivore specialist for the DNR.

Minnesota’s wolf population remains above the state’s minimum management goal of at least 1,600 wolves and is above the federal recovery goal of 1,251 to 1,400.

Minnesota announces duck and goose season framework

Minnesota duck hunters will see a season framework similar to last year’s, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced today. The state’s regular waterfowl season will open a half-hour before sunrise on Sept. 26, with similar bag limits and season dates that were in place last year.

Duck season will be open for 60 days in each of the three waterfowl zones.

t10.2.11 Sam Cook -- cookDEVILS1009c2 -- Lily, Dave Kent's yellow lab, returns to the boat with a duck during a morning of hunting on Devils Lake.

In the north zone, duck season is Sept. 26 through Nov. 24.
In the central zone, duck season is Sept. 26 through Oct. 4, closes for five days, then reopens Oct. 10, and runs through Nov. 29.
In the south zone, duck season is Sept. 26 through Oct. 4, closes for 10 days, then reopens Oct. 15 and runs through Dec. 4.
The only bag limit change from the 2015 season is for canvasbacks, which increases from one to two per day. The daily duck bag limit remains six ducks per day. The mallard bag limit remains four per day, including two hen mallards. The daily bag limits remain at three for wood ducks and three for scaup.

The waterfowl seasons are based on a federal framework that applies to all states in the Mississippi Flyway.

More information on duck, goose, sandhill crane and other migratory bird hunting seasons will be available in the 2015 Minnesota Waterfowl Hunting Regulations, available in mid-August in booklet form and online at

All states in the Mississippi Flyway were offered the option for a September teal season or two bonus blue-winged teal during the regular season. Minnesota did not participate in either teal option last year and again made the choice not to take a teal season or bonus blue-winged teal option this year.

Mallard abundance from a continental spring survey that includes Minnesota is used to determine overall duck season length. This year’s estimate was 11.8 million mallards, which was well above the long-term average. Since 1997, duck season length has been 60 days each year and the mallard population has ranged from 6.8 million to 11.8 million mallards.

“The status of mallards, and most other species of ducks important to Minnesota hunters, is very good this year based on spring populations surveys,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist.

Youth waterfowl day

Youth Waterfowl Day will be Sept. 12. Hunters ages 15 and under may take regular season bag limits when accompanied by an adult age 18 or older.

Canada goose seasons and limits

Canada goose hunting is open in the three duck zones, and also in an intensive harvest zone. For a map of the intensive zone and other information, see

The early September Canada goose season will open statewide on Sept. 5, and run through Sept. 22. Bag limits for Canada geese are 10 per day in the intensive harvest zone (west-central Minnesota) and five per day in the rest of the state. A $4 permit is required to hunt Canada geese during the September season.
Minnesota’s regular goose season will open in conjunction with the duck season statewide on Sept. 26, with a bag limit of three dark geese per day the entire season.  “Dark” geese include Canada geese, white-fronted geese, and brant. Goose season will be closed in the central and south duck zones when duck season is closed.
Sandhill crane season

The season for sandhill cranes is Sept. 12 Oct. 18 in the northwest goose and sandhill crane zone only. The daily bag limit will be one sandhill crane per day. A $3 sandhill crane permit is required in addition to a small game hunting license.

Canada goose hunting opens Aug. 8 in western Minnesota

Hunters can hunt Canada geese in west-central Minnesota from Aug. 8 through Aug. 23, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Hunters are allowed to shoot up to 10 Canada geese per day, but there is no limit to the number of Canada geese a hunter can possess.

t10.02.2014 -- Sam Cook -- cookGEESE1005c1 -- In the pre-dawn darkness Thursday morning, Reed Ylitalo of Grand Rapids places a Canada goose decoy in a field of wheat stubble near Cohasset before a morning of goose hunting. Ylitalo and his dad, Tom Ylitalo, put out six dozen decoys and two dozen goose silhouettes to attract geese.

Reed Ylitalo of Grand Rapids places a Canada goose decoy in a field of wheat stubble before a morning of goose hunting.

“The state’s Canada goose population remains high, and the August management action is one way to control goose numbers,” said Steve Cordts, waterfowl specialist for the DNR. “This harvest helps limit the amount of damage the birds cause to crops in the western portion of the state.”

The August goose harvest will open only in the intensive harvest zone in west-central Minnesota, with shooting hours from a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset. A small game hunting license, special goose permit and state waterfowl stamp are required. A federal waterfowl stamp is not needed; however, it is required to hunt geese and other waterfowl beginning in September.

This is the third year the DNR has held an August goose management action.

“Last August, about 5,500 hunters harvested about 21,000 Canada geese, compared to 24,000 in 2013,” Cordts said. “Factors like weather and progress of small grain harvest tends to affect hunter success.”

The DNR in August will announce details of fall waterfowl seasons, including the September Canada goose season that runs from Sept. 5 through Sept. 22, and the regular Canada goose seasons that tentatively begin Sept. 26.

Minnesota mallard numbers down, other species up

Minnesota’s breeding mallard population counts are down from last year, but other species saw increases, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced today.

Each year, the department conducts spring waterfowl surveys across the state. This year’s mallard breeding population was estimated at 206,000, which is 20 percent below last year’s estimate of 257,000 breeding mallards, 17 percent below the recent 10-year average and 10 percent above the long-term average measured since 1968.

The blue-winged teal population is up 66 percent at 169,000, compared to the 2014 estimate of 102,000, but the population remains 21 percent below the long-term average of 212,000.

The combined populations of other ducks, such as ring-necked ducks, wood ducks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads was 149,000, which is 29 percent higher than last year and 16 percent below the long-term average.

The estimate of total duck abundance (excluding scaup) was 524,000, similar to last year’s estimate of 474,000 ducks.

The continental waterfowl population estimates will be released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service later this summer and will provide an indicator of what hunters can expect this fall.

This year’s Canada goose population in Minnesota was estimated at 250,000, which was similar to last year’s estimate of 244,000 geese.

Ma and the cubs come to visit the Johnsons

Four bears roam the yard of Bill and Mary Johnson of rural Two Harbors. (Mary Johnson photo)

Four bears roam the yard of Bill and Mary Johnson of rural Two Harbors. (Mary Johnson photo)

Bill and Mary Johnson had a surprise last Wednesday night at their home about two miles west of Two Harbors. Mary looked out and saw what at first she thought to be three bears. But then she and Bill spotted a fourth. It appeared to be a sow in the distance and three yearling cubs closer to the house.

“The three cubs were under bird feeder,” Mary said. “The mother was off in the distance. I could hear her making noise back there.”

She said the couple hasn’t seen bears in their yard for several years.

When Mary first went out to take a photo, the cubs scampered up pine trees. But she was able to get a photo a bit later. The cubs stayed around for about an hour, Mary said.

Time of offer feedback on Wisconsin deer recommendations

Douglas County’s Deer Advisory Council has released its preliminary antlerless quota and permit level recommendations for public comment. The council is recommending antlerless quotas and permit levels that would increase the deer population, a goal that was established during the 2014 meetings. To offer feedback, through Wednesday, go to Final recommendations will be sent to the Natural Resources Board for approval in May 2015.

Wisconsin man headed for stem-cell transplant in Panama

Don Christensen will board a plane Thursday morning for a flight that he hopes will change his life. Christensen, of Webster, Wis., suffers from multiple sclerosis. He and two personal attendants will fly to Panama, where he is scheduled to receive a stem-cell transplant. The transplants have proven effective in reducing the symptoms associated with MS, according to the testimony of others who have received the treatments. The transplants are not available in the United States.

“I think it’d be cool if I could reach up and scratch an itch,” said Christensen, a quadriplegic. “We’ll give it a shot. Hopefully, it works. Whatever happens, it’s been a really neat ride.”

Don Christensen of Webster, Wis., demonstrates how he shoots his crossbow with a breath-activated trigger device. (News Tribune file photo)

Don Christensen of Webster, Wis., demonstrates how he shoots his crossbow with a breath-activated trigger device. (News Tribune file photo)

Christensen, 50, is an avid outdoorsman who hunts and fishes from his wheelchair. He uses a breath-activated device to trigger his shotgun, rifle or crossbow. He has hunted deer, turkeys and bears. In February, friends and supporters gathered at a fundraiser in Spooner for Christensen, raising $27,800 for his transplant and associated travel. Donations have now topped $28,000, he said.

The transplant, to be done at the Stem Cell Institute in Panama City, Panama, will cost $21,200, Christensen said in a telephone interview Monday. Travel, lodging other other costs will total about $4,000.

“I’ve spent last couple weeks talking to people who have done stem cell transplants in Panama,” he said. “It’s amazing. There’s been some miracles happening. It definitely keeps hope alive.”

Christensen has been on his MS medicine for seven years. While it has kept his MS symptoms in check, the medicine has a serious potential side effect. The longer a person takes the medicine, the more likely it is that he or she will develop progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, or PML.

After a recent screening, he learned that his risk of PML had increased dramatically. PML is caused by a virus infection that affects the white matter in the brain and targets cells that make myelin — the material that insulates nerve cells.

PML has a 30 to 50 percent mortality rate within the first few months of diagnosis, but that depends on the severity of the underlying disease and treatment received, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. People who survive PML can be left with severe neurological disabilities.

Christensen researched the option of the stem-cell transplant and decided it was worth trying. He and two attendants, Jennifer Tripp of Spooner and Dawn Elliott of Trego, plan to be in Panama City for 10 days.

In some cases, Christensen said, those who receive the transplants must return for a second transplant. But nearly all those he knows of who have received the transplants have experienced some reduction in symptoms, Christensen said.

The transplants are not available in the United States because the procedure has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Town bird

A ruffed grouse stands near an intersection on Minnesota Point. (Sam Cook photo)

A ruffed grouse stands near an intersection on Minnesota Point. (Sam Cook photo)

I was finishing up at another assignment on Friday when I pulled up to the intersection of 11th Avenue South and Minnesota Avenue on Duluth’s Park Point. As I approached the intersection, I looked ahead and saw a brownish bird standing in the street. At first, I assumed it was a hen mallard because mallards hang around Park Point much of the winter. But the body shape didn’t seem to match up with a duck.

I looked again and figured it had to be a ruffed grouse. I mean, it looked like a grouse. But I certainly didn’t expect to see a ruffed grouse on Park Point. There isn’t a lot of grouse-y habitat there, especially near that intersection. But that’s what it was. A grouse.

It was cooperative enough to let me switch to a telephoto lens and make several photos. The grouse didn’t flush when I got out of the car to take pictures, nor when I walked completely to the other side of it so I could shoot with the sun at my back. It just stood there in the street.

Finally, after I was through shooting, it must have decided enough was enough. It rocketed into flight, flew across Minnesota Avenue and over a hedge between two closely spaced homes.

Another motorist came up. He, too, had seen the bird.

“Was that a grouse?” he asked.

I told him it was a grouse.

“I didn’t know they had ’em down here,” he said.

I didn’t, either.


Deer-population goal recommendations available, comment welcome

Citizen advisory panels convened by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Northeastern Minnesota have recommended a range of deer population goals, from no change in some units to 50 percent increases in others, as part of a statewide effort to reassess deer population goals. Those recommendations were made public on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website today.

The public may now offer comments on those goal recommendations by visiting the DNR website at

The DNR is in the process of revising deer population goals across much of the state. Citizen advisory panels representing a range of stakeholders have met during the past two months to offer their recommendations for specific deer permit areas.

Along the North Shore, a 15-member panel has made recommendations for deer permit areas stretching from near Duluth to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. In some cases, the panel recommended no change in population goals, while in at least one permit area, the panel recommended increasing the deer population by 25 percent. The panel could not reach a consensus for two other permit areas.

Here are the panel’s recommendations: Permit area 180, no consensus; permit area 122, 25 percent increase; permit area 127, no change; permit area 117, no change; permit area 126, no consensus.

In permit area 169 north of Grand Rapids, a panel recommended increasing the deer population by 50 percent. Not all deer permit areas statewide are included in this round of goal-setting.

The northern Minnesota deer population is relatively low following a series of severe winters. Some hunters also believe gray wolves are taking too many deer. But others say the region has enough deer and that increasing population goals would make it more difficult for forest regeneration and could negatively affect a declining moose population.

The public will have until April 15 to offer comments to the DNR on deer population goals, and all of those comments must be made online at the DNR’s website. All recommendations made by citizen advisory panels are also available on the website.

After the public comment period ends, DNR officials will make a final decision on deer population goals in the units under consideration this year. A final announcement on population goals is expected by June.

Earlier this winter, the DNR accepted public comments on deer population goals by mail, email, online and through written questionnaires. Verbal comments were received at public meetings in each goal-setting block. More than 1,650 comments were received, DNR officials said.