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.

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.

Waterfowl hunting "fair" this week; some migrants move into state

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: October 16, 2014 - 4:52 PM

The latest DNR weekly waterfowl migration report says hunting was fair to good last weekend, but has been only fair since then with the mild temperatures and southerly winds.

Diving ducks were more common in hunters' bags this week as ring-necked ducks, canvasback and redhead abundance increased, the report said.          

The DNR says a few wood ducks and blue-winged teal remain in southern Minnesota and a few late season migrants such as scaup and buffleheads have moved into the state, too.

See the full report at:

Lakeville artist wins pheasant stamp contest...again

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: October 2, 2014 - 12:49 PM

Stephen Hamrick of Lakeville has done it again. The artist has won the 2015 state pheasant habitat stamp contest with his painting of a cock and hen pheasant atop a hillside.

Hamrick also won the 2014 turkey stamp contest, the 2012 duck stamp contest and the 2003 pheasant stamp contest, and is a four-time winner of the trout and salmon stamp contest.

The $7.50 pheasant stamp is required of all Minnesota pheasant hunters ages 18 through 64. Stamp sales generate money for habitat enhancement efforts on both public and private lands in Minnesota’s pheasant range.

The DNR offers no prizes for the stamp contest winner, but the winning artist retains the right to reproduce the work, which is usually done as limited edition prints. The 2015 pheasant stamp will be available for sale in March.

Lake sturgeon to be reintroduced into Big Stone Lake

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: September 17, 2014 - 10:21 AM

Lake sturgeon are being reintroduced into Big Stone Lake, which straddles the Minnesota-South Dakota border.

Some 4,000 lake sturgeon fingerlings will be dumped into the lake Thursday in a joint effort by the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (GFP) and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Historically, Big Stone Lake had a wild lake sturgeon population, but the last known fish washed up on shore in 1946. The large prehistoric fish is native to the Minnesota River drainage and the Missouri River in South Dakota.

The two state agencies are coordinating a project to release 4,000 tagged lake sturgeon fingerlings into the 12,610 acre lake. The project plan calls for repeated stockings of 4,000 fish per year for up to 20 years.

While only 5 inches long at the time of stocking, lake sturgeon can exceed 100 years in age and 300 pounds in weight. Lake sturgeon feed on a variety of insect larvae, crayfish and mollusks.

The fingerlings are from the Genoa National Fish Hatchery in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources obtained the eggs from fish in the Wisconsin River. Minnesota and South Dakota along with the Citizens for Big Stone Lake partnered on the cost of the fish.

“This is like planting a tree for future generations,” concluded John Lott, chief of aquatic resources in South Dakota. “The fisheries biologists working on this project may never see one of these huge fish that result from this effort, but hopefully future generations of South Dakotans and Minnesotans will be able to enjoy these prehistoric fish. The ultimate goal in this stocking it to restore a historic fishery and a potential angling season could be established in the future. ”

The stocking is taking place at 5 p.m. Thursday at Hartford Beach State Park, about 15 miles north of Milbank, S.D. The public is welcome to watch.

Minnesota pheasant index up slightly, but still way below long-term averages

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: September 8, 2014 - 11:16 AM

Minnesota's pheasant index is up 6 percent from last year, despite a severe winter, a cool spring and heavy rains in June.

This year’s statewide pheasant index was 28.7 birds per 100 miles of roadside driven, the Department of Natural Resources announced Monday.

While the slight increase is welcome to the state's pheasant hunters, the picture isn't rosy. The pheasant index remains 58 percent below the 10-year average and 71 percent below the long-term average. And officials said habitat loss continues to be the primary factor in the long-term decline of the state’s pheasant population.

This year, the highest pheasant counts were in the southwest, south-central and west-central regions, where observers reported 28 to 62 birds per 100 miles driven. Hunters will find good harvest opportunities in these areas, the DNR said.

The DNR said weather and habitat are the two main factors that drive pheasant population trends. Weather causes annual fluctuations in roadside indices. Available grassland habitat for nesting and brood-rearing drives the longer-term pattern.

Like other Midwestern states, the loss of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres is the primary reason there’s been a steady decline in Minnesota’s pheasant harvest since 2006.

“We expect the decline in the rooster harvest to continue because of more anticipated losses in grassland habitat in the next few years as CRP contracts continue to expire and more grassland is converted to cropland,” said Nicole Davros, the DNR research scientist who oversees the August roadside survey.

Pheasant hunters are expected to harvest about 224,000 roosters this fall, which is less than half the number of pheasants taken during the 2005-2008 seasons.

Davros cautioned that direct comparisons between survey results from this year and last year may not accurately reflect population trends.

“The 2014 pheasant roadside counts do show improvement over last year’s numbers but we believe there were more birds in the field last year than what we counted because of the late hatch,” Davros said. “This year’s results suggest the survey did not undercount birds so hunting conditions should be comparable to last fall.”

Here's more from the DNR news release:

Although many regions in Minnesota experienced a tough winter, conditions within the core of the pheasant range were not as severe. This likely led to higher winter survival for hens as evidenced by an 18 percent increase in the hen index from 2013. Higher winter hen survival leads to more pheasant nests in the spring.

Reproductive indices showed increases from 2013 despite having cooler spring temperatures and substantial rainfalls in June. The number of broods observed per 100 miles driven increased 28 percent and the number of broods per 100 hens increased three percent.

The average number of chicks per brood was down 15 percent compared to 2013, which may be related to below normal survival rates of very young birds during heavy rains in June. The median hatch date of nests was June 16, which was five days later than the 10-year average. Warmer temperatures in June may have helped young chicks survive the rains and drier conditions in July were beneficial for re-nesting birds.

Monitoring pheasant population trends is part of the DNR’s annual August roadside wildlife survey, which began in 1955. DNR wildlife managers and conservation officers in the farmland region of Minnesota conduct the survey during the first half of August. This year's survey consisted of 171 routes, each 25 miles long, with 152 routes located in the ring-necked pheasant range.

Observers drive each route in early morning and record the number and species of wildlife they see. The data provide an index of relative abundance and are used to monitor annual changes and long-term population trends of pheasants, gray (Hungarian) partridge, eastern cottontail rabbits, white-tailed jackrabbits, mourning doves and other wildlife. 

Also recorded in the survey:

  • The cottontail rabbit index increased 11 percent from 2013 but remained below the 10-year average and long-term averages.
  • The gray partridge index decreased 13 percent, well below its 10-year and long-term average.
  • The mourning dove index decreased five percent, well below its 10-year and long-term average.
  • The white-tailed jackrabbit index was similar to last year but remains at a historic low.
  • The white-tailed deer index was similar to 2013, at 20.8 deer per 100 miles, which is 34 percent above the 10-year average, and 109 percent above the long-term average.

The 2014 August Roadside Survey report and a map of pheasant hunting prospects can be viewed and downloaded from

Minnesota’s 2014 pheasant season runs Saturday, Oct. 11, through Sunday, Jan. 4. The daily bag limit is two roosters through November. It increases to three roosters from Monday, Dec. 1, through Sunday, Jan. 4. The possession limit is six roosters (increasing to nine roosters on Dec. 1). Shooting hours are 9 a.m. to sunset. Additional details are available on the DNR website at


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