It’s not surprising that hunters around the state are reporting varying results while pursuing their favorite games species in 2016.
Here is a summary of the action I and a few of my friends, mostly Rolf Moen of Nisswa, Minn., have experienced so far this fall:
Moen and I opened the ruffed grouse season Sept. 17 in dark, thick, dank vegetation. Sally, Moen’s 16-month-old German shorthaired pointer, was along for pointing and retrieving. Ruffed grouse are tough birds for pointing dogs, and we didn’t expect too much from her in this, her inaugural season.
We did manage to flush 15 grouse in about three hours of hunting. Only one of the forest birds fell to our guns. We missed a few shots, but most of the flushes we had were heard but unseen because of the heavy, early season cover.
Moen and I opened the duck hunting season Sept. 24 on a big wild rice marsh not too far from Brainerd. As is the case with most hunters, we found wood ducks aplenty, at least by today’s standards. Never mind the good old days (for me the 1970s) when duck numbers were, well, much higher than today.
It was a gray morning under a light mist. We were accompanied again by Sally. It was her first duck hunt and we were both anxious to see how she would perform.
Not long after legal shooting time hit, Moen and I had our limit of three wood ducks apiece. Other waterfowl species were scarce, at least for us. The occasional blue-winged teal, usually single birds but sometimes small flocks, buzzed within shotgun range. Mallard sightings were few, even though the day before I had scouted our location and seen a fair number of highly coveted waterfowl.
We had added four teal to our bag by 9 a.m. My shooting percentage was poor (I feel for you, Aaron Rogers), or we would have had our limit of 12 ducks by then.
We ended the day two hours later, one duck short of our limit. Perhaps the highlight of the duck opener was that Sally, the young shorthair, showed remarkable progress, gaining confidence and determination with each retrieve.
A week into October, Moen, Sally and I headed back to the aspen woods. Again, we hunted for about three hours. By then roughly half the leaves had fallen, so we were able to spot more of the birds we flushed. My shooting slump continued and I missed several chances on grouse and woodcock. We bagged one grouse and two woodcock. We elected not to shoot at the birds that Sally “bumped,” a term hunters use when a pointer flushes a bird without stopping to point. Young dogs need time to learn. Sally did make two beautiful points on woodcock, and Moen and I proceeded to whiff on both accounts.
I hunted ducks alone for a few hours Oct. 8, and had a good day. My shooting improved a bit and I brought home four ducks, a mixed bag that include one blue-winged teal, one green-winged teal and two wood ducks.
Moen and I again hunted grouse and woodcock in mid-October. Most of the leaves were down and a migration of woodcock had arrived from the north. We flushed 25 woodcock over a few hours. Sally pointed some of the woodcock, but again had a bit of youthful trouble. We shot two woodcock apiece, each one bird short of our daily limit. We flushed only six grouse, too, and didn’t bag any.
As for bow hunting for deer, two words: really slow. I’m seeing a few does and fawns but no bucks. A trail camera survey in summer and early fall in my area shows an extreme lack of bucks of any age. We all know deer numbers are down due to lenient bag limits imposed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in the past decade. But the buck-to-doe ratio is the worst I’ve ever seen since I began pursuing whitetails when I was 14. It’s a sad situation, and one that I hope will be addressed as the DNR plans for future deer management.
Bill Marchel is an outdoors writer and photographer. He lives near Brainerd. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.