Doug Smith

Even if the fish aren’t biting, the ducks aren’t flying and the pheasants aren’t flushing, Doug Smith says any day spent outdoors is a good day. A Minnesota native, he’s been covering the outdoors for the Star Tribune since 1995. He considers walleyes fried over a campfire to be gourmet cuisine.

Minnesota's elk herd up slightly from last year

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: March 12, 2015 - 11:32 AM

Minnesota's elk population is up a bit from last year, according to the Department of Natural Resources' annual aerial survey.

Three distinct herds totaling 131 animals roam far northwestern Minnesota.

Spotters counted 79 elk in the Caribou-Vita herd (also known as the Cross Border or International herd), up from 51 animals counted in 2014. This is Minnesota’s largest herd, which migrates between northern Kittson County and Manitoba.

“We continue to see more elk in this herd on the Minnesota side of its range,” said John Williams, DNR’s northwest regional wildlife manager. “We know animals move between those grouped in Minnesota and those grouped in Manitoba, so our next step is to work with Canadian officials to determine the actual herd size.”

The Caribou-Vita herd’s population goal is 150-200 elk inhabiting both sides of the border.

The Kittson-Central herd is located near Lancaster in Kittson County. Spotters counted 34 elk compared to 37 in 2014. This year’s count remains above the population goal of 20-30 animals.

Grygla’s herd is at 18 elk, down from the 20 counted last year and 28 counted in 2013. Williams said the decline of this herd in Marshall County is troubling because it hasn’t been hunted since 2012. The population goal for the Grygla herd is 30-38.

The DNR completed its population survey in late February, when weather and snow conditions provided the best opportunity to effectively count individual and groups of elk on their winter ranges. Herd counts are estimates based on the number of elk actually spotted.


Nobles County PF chapter honored for habitat efforts

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: February 24, 2015 - 1:20 PM

The Nobles County chapter of Pheasants Forever was the top-spending chapter in the nation in 2014, investing more than $1.3 million into wildlife habitat conservation projects.

 The chapter was recognized at Pheasant Forever’s annual Pheasant Fest, held last weekend in Des Moines. Since inception, the chapter has contributed $4.8 million to complete 223 wildlife habitat projects, helping to improve habitat conditions for pheasants and other wildlife on 6,877 acres.

 The non-profit group’s Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic was held in Des Moines over the weekend, and drew 22,654 people. The annual national convention and outdoor tradeshow heads to Kansas City, Mo., in 2016.

 Last year, the event, held in Milwaukee, attracted 21,000. Pheasant Fest  drew 28,855 in 2013 when it was held in Minneapolis for the group’s 30th anniversary.

Craig Engwall named to head Minnesota Deer Hunters Association

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: December 16, 2014 - 11:46 AM

Craig Engwall of Dora Lake, Minn., is new executive director of Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.

Engwall, 51, a lifelong deer hunter, is an attorney and current forest legacy projects coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. He was the DNR's northeast regional director from 2006 to 2013.

Engwall also was a special assistant to the DNR commissioner from 2004 to 2006 and worked as an assistant attorney general from 1995 to 2003.

"I have always greatly admired the work that the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association has done on behalf of Minnesota deer hunters, so to now become a part of the MDHA team and contribute to those efforts is truly exciting," said Engwall.

Engwall replaces Mark Johnson, who left recently to become executive director of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.

 Engwall has a deer camp that is more than 50 years old and has family ties to Duluth and Winthrop. He lives at Dora Lake in Itasca County, about 20 miles southeast of Northome. 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 facilitating the linkage between the Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) program and the Federal Conservation Reserve (CRP) and Wetlands Reserve Programs (WRP).

He was a key player in Minnesota acquiring the largest conservation easement in state history -- the nearly 200,000 acre Blandin Paper Co. project that protects forest lands from parcelization while providing habitat and public access to those lands.

He joins the non-profit MDHA, which has about 15,000 members, on Jan. 2.

Wolf hunt in state's northeast zone closes as season winds down

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: December 4, 2014 - 3:14 PM

Wolf hunting and trapping in Minnesota's northeast zone will close at the end of shooting and trapping hours on Friday.

The harvest target for the northeast zone during the late season was 35 wolves. Thirty-one had been registered as of Thursday afternoon.

Wolf hunting and trapping continues in the northwest and east-central wolf zones. The late season in those zones is scheduled to end on Jan. 31, or whenever the target harvest is expected to be met, whichever comes first.

As of Thursday, late-season hunters and trappers had harvested 22 wolves in the northwest zone and none in the east-central zone.

That means hunters and trappers in the late season have killed 53 wolves so far. Hunters killed 124 during the early wolf season, meaning a total of 177 wolves have been killed thus far. This year, the DNR set the total wolf quota at 250.

Complete wolf hunting information, including a map of the wolf zones, is available online at Information about wolf management is available online at

Register now for first-ever Minnesota Pheasant Summit

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: October 30, 2014 - 3:13 PM

(The 2015 state pheasant stamp, by Stephen Hamrick)

People interested in the future of Minnesota's pheasants can register for the state's first-ever Minnesota Pheasant Summit, set for Dec. 13 in Marshall.

Gov. Mark Dayton called the summit to discuss strategies to increase the state's pheasant population, improve pheasant habitat and ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy the iconic game birds.

The pheasant population is 58 percent below the 10-year average and 71 percent below the long-term average. The summit will focus on why the pheasant population has declined in Minnesota, and what  efforts can be undertaken to improve pheasant habitat.

The summit will be at Southwest Minnesota State University on Saturday, Dec. 13, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The summit is free and open to all Minnesotans interested in preserving the state’s pheasant population.

People can register at the DNR website at At that site, they can also tell Dayton what topics should be addressed, and suggest ideas for how the state can improve pheasant habitat and the pheasant population.

For those who can't make it to the summit, the DNR is developing a survey to collect additional public input, and you can register to receive the survey via email at the same DNR website. The survey will be available online in mid-November.


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