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.

South Dakota pheasant index increases 76 percent

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: August 26, 2014 - 2:48 PM

Finally, a bit of good news for pheasant hunters: South Dakota's annual pheasant survey shows a 76 percent increase in the ringneck index.

The 2014 statewide pheasants-per-mile index of 2.68 is up from 1.52 in 2013. The index is similar to 2002 when hunters harvested 1.26 million roosters.

 “With favorable weather conditions this past winter and spring, along with the availability of quality nesting habitat across the state, we are going to see an increase in this year’s pheasant population,” stated Jeff Vonk, Game Fish and Parks secretary.

 “Survey results show pheasant numbers rebounded the strongest in central South Dakota; especially in the Pierre, Chamberlain, Mobridge and Winner areas. Results also indicate that pheasant numbers are substantially higher than 2013 throughout much of eastern South Dakota.”

Here's more from a news release:

From late July through mid-August, GFP surveyed 109, 30 mile-routes across the state to estimate pheasant production and calculate the pheasants-per-mile index.

 The survey is not a population estimate, but compares the number of pheasants observed on the routes and establishes trend information. Survey routes are grouped into 13 areas, based on a local city, and the index value of each local city area is then compared to index values of the previous year and the 10-year average.

“Habitat is at the forefront of the conversation right now and is a crucial factor in pheasant numbers,” stated Vonk. “Bird numbers are higher this year due to excellent reproduction in parts of the state where quality habitat conditions still exist, primarily on grasslands including those enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program as well as fields of cereal crops such as winter wheat. We continue to work in cooperation with the Governor’s Pheasant Habitat Workgroup, partner organizations and agencies, and landowners to provide an improved future for habitat in our state.”

Public hunting opportunities are abundant in South Dakota. Over 1 million acres of publicly owned and private land leased through GFP’s Walk-In Area Program and the James River Watershed Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program is available in the primary pheasant range of South Dakota. The 2014 public hunting atlas and a web-based interactive map of public lands and private lands leased for public hunting can be found online at

“The results of this survey are highly anticipated by many who have a strong interest in South Dakota’s hunting heritage. The availability of pheasants and pheasant hunting opportunities in our state this fall should serve to enhance that heritage,” concluded Vonk.  

South Dakota’s traditional statewide pheasant hunting season opens on Saturday, Oct. 18, and runs through Jan. 4, 2015.

Number of pheasant hunters, and harvest, plunges

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: August 25, 2014 - 4:10 PM

Minnesota's pheasants and pheasant hunters are hitting rock-bottom.

Just 62,000 pheasant hunters went afield last fall, and they bagged only 169,000 roosters. That's the fewest hunters and lowest harvest in 27 years. Hunter numbers declined 19 percent and the harvest was down 32 percent from 2012.

Hunters likely were responding to a huge loss of habitat, poor nesting weather and a corresponding large drop in the ringneck population in recent years. Last year, the pheasant population dropped 29 percent, and the state has recently lost more than 100 square miles of grassland habitat in the pheasant range.

"It's likely the result of people seeing poor reports…and they just don't bother buying a license,'' said Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager. "It's not like deer hunting, where regardless of density, most hunters buy a license.''

Cornicelli said the reduction in pheasant harvest was primarily due to the decline in hunter numbers.

"The average number of birds killed per person (2.7) wasn't that far off from 2012 (3.3),'' he said. "Maybe they (the 15,000 hunters who skipped the season) should have bought a license.''

The number of other small game hunters also was down, according to the DNR's annual small game survey, released Monday:

*An estimated 77,900 people hunted ducks, a decrease of 5 percent from 2012. They harvested 782,800 ducks, nearly the same as last year.

*An estimated 81,100 people hunted ruffed grouse, a decrease of 11 percent from 2012. They killed 288,000 grouse, a 16 percent decline from 2012.

*Small game license sales fell by about 5,500, to 258,581.

Individual hunter success rates were comparable to 2012. Pheasant hunters harvested an average of 2.7 pheasants in 2013 compared to 3.3 pheasants in 2012. Duck hunters harvested an average of 10.2 ducks in 2013 compared to 9.1 in 2012. Ruffed grouse hunters harvested an average of 3.6 grouse in 2013 compared to 3.7 in 2012.

The DNR annually surveys small game hunters to make estimates of both hunter numbers and harvest trends. For the 2013 season, 7,000 small game license buyers were surveyed of which 3,589 surveys were returned and usable.

The complete report is on the DNR website at

Mille Lacs walleye reproduction is topic for upcoming public meetings

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: August 15, 2014 - 4:57 PM

Walleye reproduction in Lake Mille Lacs will be the subject of two upcoming Department of Natural Resources public presentations and discussions.

The intent of the meetings is to share biological information and answer citizen questions related to past, present and future walleye reproduction.

"We're trying to address the question whether there's a problem with walleye reproduction,'' said Tom Jones, DNR regional fisheries treaty coordinator, who will give the presentation and answer questions.

The meetings aren't intended to be wide-open affairs dealing with other Mille Lacs issues, including harvest issues, Jones said.

The presentations will be held 7-8:30 p.m. Aug. 21 in the Isle High School auditorium, 730 Fifth Ave. S., in Isle, and 6:30- 8 p.m Aug. 28 in the New Brighton Community Center, at 400 10th St. NW in New Brighton.

“We all care about Mille Lacs,” said Jones. “To that end, our goal is to create a deeper and more common understanding on the specific issue of whether there is a walleye reproduction problem.”

The DNR is calling the events Hooked on Mille Lacs: On the Road. They are intended to complement the agency’s new Hooked on Mille Lacs Lake quarterly newsletter. At these and future gatherings, local DNR fisheries biologists will give presentations on important and timely Mille Lacs topics. A facilitated group discussion on the evening’s topic will give people the chance to ask questions and make suggestions for future discussions.

"If this turns out well, there will be more of them,'' Jones said. The idea, he said,  is to regularly meet with citizens to take an in-depth look at a specific issue.

“This is new. It’s different. It will allow for more public interaction than in our past meeting formats.”

Jones said the meetings are part of an emerging agency approach to more broadly communicate fish population information, research findings and rationale for management decisions.

For more information about Mille Lacs management, see

Minnesota's waterfowl season opens Sept. 27; details announced

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: August 7, 2014 - 12:21 PM

Minnesota’s waterfowl season will open a half-hour before sunrise Sept. 27, under a similar season structure to last year, with similar bag limits and with season dates that vary for north, central and southern zones.

The daily bag limit remains six ducks per day. The mallard bag limit remains at four per day, including two hen mallards. The wood duck bag limit remains at three per day. The only bag limit change from 2013 is the canvasback limit, which decreases from two to one per day.

Youth Waterfowl Day will be Sept. 13. Hunters ages 15 and under may take regular season bag limits when accompanied by an adult age 18 or older. The accompanying adult can’t hunt that day and does not need a license. Canada geese, mergansers, coots and moorhens may be taken from a half-hour before sunrise to 4 p.m. Motorized decoy restrictions are in effect. Five geese may be taken statewide

A change has been made to the south duck zone (south of highway 212.) Hunting opens there for three days from Sept. 27 through Sept. 29, and then closes. The season then reopens from Oct. 11 through Dec. 6.

In the north duck zone (north of Highway 210), the season will run Sept. 27 through Nov. 25. And in the central duck zone, the season will run from Sept. 27 through Oct. 5, and from Oct. 11 through Nov. 30.

Canada goose hunting is open in the three duck zones, and also in an intensive harvest zone. An August Canada goose management harvest will open in that intensive harvest zone this Saturday and run through Aug. 24. The bag limit is 10 per day. A $4 permit is required. This is the second year Canada goose harvest has been allowed during August due to high populations of Canada geese and agricultural crop depredation.

 The early September Canada goose season will open statewide on Sept. 6 and run through Sept. 22. Bag limits for Canada geese are 10 per day in the Intensive Harvest Zone and five per day in the remainder of the state. A $4 permit is required to hunt Canada geese during the September season.

Additional details on the duck, goose, sandhill crane, and other migratory bird hunting seasons will be available in the 2014 Minnesota Waterfowl Hunting Regulations, available in mid-August in booklet form and online at

Wisconsin asks public to help survey deer herd

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: July 29, 2014 - 1:03 PM

Wisconsin officials are asking for the public's help to survey the state's whitetail deer population.

The DNR will launch Operation Deer Watch this week – asking the public to report the number of deer they see from Aug. 1 to Sept. 30.

"This is a fun and useful opportunity for the public to be the daily eyes and ears for wildlife managers throughout Wisconsin," says Brian Dhuey, DNR surveys coordinator. "To become personally involved and committed to the well-being of Wisconsin's deer herd is a unique opportunity that should not be missed."

Here's more from a DNR news release:

During their assigned period, participants will record all bucks, does and fawns they see using an online tally sheet. Observations can be submitted at the same website.

In 2014, 14,000 randomly selected deer hunters received an invitation to participate in Operation Deer Watch. Those who were not selected to participate are encouraged to submit their observations and help provide insight into Wisconsin's deer herd.

This unique collaboration of data from the public, along with deer observations collected by DNR staff, provides valuable information regarding the reproductive status of Wisconsin's deer herd in 2014. The program first began in 2010 with more than 14,000 individual citizen observations logged.

For more information, videos, and past results, go to the DNR website and search "deer watch."


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