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.

Hunters being asked to submit wild turkeys for avian flu testing

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: April 17, 2015 - 10:46 AM

Successful wild turkey hunters in five Minnesota counties are being asked to bring their turkeys to Department of Natural Resources offices to be tested for the highly pathogenic avian flu.

Starting Monday, the DNR is asking hunters in Kandiyohi, Pope, Meeker, Swift and Stearns counties to call local DNR wildlife offices to schedule an appointment to bring their birds in for testing.

Officials are trying to find sources of the avian flu that so far has decimated 26 domestic turkey flocks in the state.

“(Avian flu) has not yet been found in wild turkeys, but it has been found in domestic turkeys in these and other Minnesota counties,” said Michelle Carstensen, DNR wildlife health program supervisor “We chose those five counties to enlist the help of hunters because they have sufficient wild turkey populations.”

The wild turkey samples will include a swab of the trachea and, if the bird has not yet been field dressed, a swab of the cloaca, too.

Sampling takes a few minutes and the hunter will retain the bird. Hunters are asked to keep wild turkeys in their vehicles, and DNR staff will come out to take the samples at the vehicles. Hunters also will be asked to provide their contact information, harvest information and approximate harvest location.

Successful turkey hunters in those counties can call the following offices beginning Monday to schedule an appointment:   

  • Sauk Rapids, 320-223-7840
  • New­­­ London, 320-354-2154
  • Glenwood, 320-634-0342
  • Carlos Avery, 651-296-5290

The DNR earlier asked the state's turkey hunters to watch for signs of the illness in wild turkeys or raptors this spring, and report any dead birds to DNR officials. The agency has collected hundreds of feces samples from waterfowl -- which are believed to be the source of the virus -- in infected counties, but none has tested positive.

The 2015 spring wild turkey season opened Wednesday, and runs through May 28. The DNR hopes to collect 300 wild turkey samples. At this time, the DNR will not be sampling wild turkeys harvested in other counties.

Unless their bird is found positive, individual hunters will not be notified of results. 

The DNR recommends turkey hunters practice good hygiene while field dressing their birds and cook the meat to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill any viruses and bacteria.

Big tullibee puts 11-year-old angler in Minnesota record book

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: April 7, 2015 - 11:43 AM

An 11-year-old Minnesota angler has landed himself a new state record fish.

Austin Stoll caught a  tullibee (also known as a cisco) weighing 5 pounds, 13 ounces, while fishing last month in Sybil Lake in Otter Tail County. It broke a 13-year-old state record by 2 ounces.

 “Congratulations to Austin on the great catch,” said Mike Kurre, who coordinates the state-record fish program for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “Austin and his dad did everything right to certify the fish, and they show how it’s possible to catch a state-record fish at any time of the year.”

To certify the tullibee as a record, they took it to be weighed on a certified scale at Essentia Health in Pelican Rapids after trying a local hardware store that was closed. Two impartial observers witnessed the weighing, and Austin and his dad brought the fish to be identified by two fisheries experts at the DNR Fergus Falls fisheries office. They also had the application stamped by a notary public.

“Austin’s fish is one of 62 state records, which are measured by weight,” Kurre said in a news release. “Many of these records are attainable at any time of the year because fishing seasons remain open for panfish and other species. In fact, the past several records have all been species that rarely grace the covers of glossy magazines.”

The five most recent records prior to Austin’s tullibee were golden redhorse in 2014, and the following fish in 2012: bowfin (dogfish), burbot (eelpout), river carpsucker and shovelnose sturgeon.

The state's record walleye remains a 17-pound, 8-ounce giant pulled from the Seagull River at Saganaga Lake in Cook County in 1979.

Ruffed Grouse Society supports Minnesota trapping bill to reduce dog deaths

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: April 2, 2015 - 1:28 PM

The national Ruffed Grouse Society has come out in support of a controversial bill in the Minnesota Legislature that would restrict the use of body-gripping traps in an attempt to reduce accidental dog deaths.

The conservation group, which has about 16,000 members, including 2,100 in Minnesota, issued a statement Thursday supporting most of the provisions in the bill, SF1325, authored by Sen. John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin.

“The proposed trap-use requirements outlined in SF 1325 appear reasonable and consistent with requirements in other states that have trapping histories and opportunities similar to those in Minnesota,'' RGS president and CEO John Eichinger wrote in a letter to Hoffman.

"The Ruffed Grouse Society is confident that Minnesota’s skilled trappers will have little difficulty adapting to these new procedures,” Eichinger wrote.

Gary Zimmer, an RGS coordinating biologist in Wisconsin, said the issue is a big one for many Ruffed Grouse Society members in Minnesota.

"There have been bird dogs killed and injured by traps, and we're trying to correct that situation to make it good for trapping and for bird dogs in the woods,'' he said.

"I've heard from many members who say they quit hunting when the trapping season starts,'' Zimmer added.

The Minnesota Trappers Association and the Minnesota Forest Zone Trappers Association both oppose the measure, saying the proposal would greatly limit the effectiveness of trappers.

"It would not allow meaningful trapping in Minnesota,” Gary Leistico, an attorney representing the Minnesota Trappers Association, told legislators recently.

Hoffman’s bill would require body-gripping traps to be either completely submerged in water or have enclosures with smaller openings and larger recesses, or be placed at least 5 feet above ground. These methods would greatly reduce the chances of a dog being accidentally trapped, Hoffman said.

Since 2012, the Department of Natural Resources says 75 dogs have been caught in traps and snares, and 17 died. A group pushing for trapping restrictions claims at least 25 dogs have been killed during that time. The DNR has testified in support of the bill.

Another provision of Hoffman's bill, not supported by the DNR or the Ruffed Grouse Society, is a requirement that trappers secure written permission from the landowner prior to placing traps on private lands.

 “This stipulation places on unreasonable burden on trappers and could set a dangerous precedent for the future of outdoor recreation in Minnesota,'' Eichinger said. "After all, if trappers are required to obtain written permission to pursue their passion on private lands, why not bird watchers or deer hunters?”

Meanwhile, Pheasants Forever, another national conservation group with 25,000 Minnesota members, many of them with hunting dogs, hasn't taken a formal position on Hoffman's bill.

"We support protecting hunting dogs,'' said Joe Duggan, a PF vice president. "Many of our members own dogs and are very concerned, as we are as an organization. It's a difficult issue, but we're not going to comment on specific legislation.''

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.


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