Where do we begin?
With a bear season that might set a record for lowest number of animals harvested? Or with a grouse season that finds the birds at the low end of their population cycle? Or how about that duck opener? Wasn't that fun standing in the rain looking at those duckless gray skies?
Oh well, pheasant and deer seasons are still to come, yet with West Nile Virus a concern (wear rubber gloves when cleaning those birds!) and chronic wasting disease on the tip of every hunter's tongue it seems even the full glass is half empty.
Surely better days are ahead for Minnesota hunters. It just might take awhile for them to get here.
The waterfowl enhancement program launched last year by the DNR looks like it's being trimmed by budget cuts. Last week Deputy Commissioner Steve Morse dropped by The Dispatch with the cheery news that the Shallow Lakes Program will be reduced by about 30 lakes. It shouldn't be too hard to decide which 30 to drop, since none of them seem to be drawing many ducks anyway.
What are we to make of that preseason duck forecast? Here are a few nuggets for your consideration:
It was announced that Minnesota's breeding duck populations this spring were higher than any previous counts since surveys began in 1968. The mallard breeding population was estimated at 367,000, 14 percent greater than last year. Mallard populations in Minnesota are 72 percent above the average since the current waterfowl survey began in 1968. Blue-winged teal numbers increased to near-record high numbers, 430,000, up 217 percent from last year and 94 percent above the long-term average. Combined populations of other ducks, such as wood ducks and ring-necked ducks, increased to 375,000 and were 126 percent above the long-term average.
My first duck season was in 1970, so these should be the golden days of my duck hunting career. How come I shot just two shells on Saturday? I once brought four boxes to the blind on the opener, and some years I had to hit my cousin up for extras by mid-afternoon. Where were all those mallards and teal?
In a disclaimer of sorts the DNR points out that the late spring delayed migration of some ducks, so it's likely there were more migrant birds still in the state when the counts were done. Part of the large increase in teal was due to delayed migration and displaced birds from dryer areas elsewhere.
That explains it. Minnesota is a nice place for ducks to visit, but they don't want to live here.
Enough of the negatives. Let's look at what we have to thankful for as the hunting season advances.
"Deer are abundant following a string of mild winters. Deer hunting opportunities this fall will be unparalleled."
Those words are straight from Commissioner Allen Garber, and there's no reason to doubt him. On my first bow stand Sunday I saw seven deer. Looks like there will be venison in the freezer this fall. And no, I will not have my deer tested for CWD. Let that hype die right where it started -- here in the media.
It appears most Minnesota deer hunters are not swayed by fears of CWD. Sales of deer hunting licenses are only slightly lower than they were at this point last year. Through Friday of last week, vendors had sold 253,754 firearms, archery and all-season licenses. The number is about seven percent lower than last year.
"We need the cooperation of hunters and landowners to keep Minnesota's deer population at manageable levels."
That's the commissioner again, and he's right on. Use your antlerless permits this year. Use your management tags, too. Let's do our part as stewards of the resource and thin our deer herd to a reasonable level. With any luck we'll avoid what happened in Wisconsin.
Anybody going fall turkey hunting? Turkey populations remain at all-time highs and their geographic range continues to expand. It's probable that before long central Minnesota will have a turkey zone.
Finally, there's good news on the pheasant front. According to reports, nesting conditions were ideal this spring after a mild winter that didn't claim many birds. Good hunting is expected in many parts of Minnesota when the season gets underway Oct. 12. In fact, I heard a rooster pheasant crowing on the morning of the duck opener, and I was a long way from the prime pheasant range.
Maybe I should have saved those two shells I shot until Oct. 12?
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