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.

Northern Wisconsin will be mostly bucks-only hunting this fall to help herd recover

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: May 28, 2014 - 3:48 PM

It will be bucks-only deer hunting for most of northern Wisconsin next fall as officials try to help the herd rebound from a brutal winter.

Wisconsin's Natural Resources Board approved the Department of Natural Resources' recommendations for the 2014 deer hunting season, which includes antlerless quotas, antlerless permit levels and an updated CWD-affected area.

"With the severity of this past winter, recommending a buck only hunting season for much of northern Wisconsin is a first step in allowing the deer population to recover," said DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. "We have received a great deal of public input on these recommendations and have received great support."

Here's more from a state news release:

In 2014, 19 counties (all or in whole) and four tribal reservation deer management units will allow buck only hunting with an antlerless quota of zero for most hunters. New deer management units will follow county lines and reservation boundaries. It is important to note that youth hunters, disabled hunters and qualified military personnel will be allowed to harvest a limited number of antlerless deer in buck only units. All proposed buck only counties fall within the northern and central forest deer management zones.

In addition to each hunter receiving one free antlerless permit for use in farmland zones in 2014, approximately 175,000 bonus antlerless deer permits will become available for purchase in mid-August. At purchase, hunters will designate the zone, county and land type where they will use each bonus permit. Public versus private land designation will allow the department to limit antlerless harvest on heavily-hunted public lands.

The board also established the boundaries of an updated CWD affected area. This area will include 35 counties where CWD has been detected in either wild or game farm deer or elk since 2008. The department will continue to work with stakeholders throughout Wisconsin to learn more about the disease. For more information, visit and search keyword "CWD."

Implementation of the approved recommendations will involve public outreach to inform hunters, landowners and others about changes and opportunities prior to the 2014 deer season. For more information, see and search keyword "deer."

South Dakota to reduce antlerless deer harvest because of declining deer population

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: May 15, 2014 - 11:08 AM

Minnesota isn't the only state coping with declining deer populations.

South Dakota officials have announced big changes this fall to try to boost deer numbers there.

With decreased deer populations across the state, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission has proposed to reduce the number of licenses and tags for many of the state’s deer hunting seasons.

The proposed East River deer season would result in a reduction of 7,240 licenses and 20,560 tags compared to 2013. The substantial decrease in antlerless tags is intended to increase deer populations in several management areas.

Officials said the response is being implemented where deer populations have declined over the past few years due primarily to outbreaks of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), habitat loss and weather.

Here's more from a news release:

The proposed West River deer season would result in 3,775 fewer licenses with a corresponding reduction in tags by 25,120 (56 percent). Similar to the East River deer season, the most significant reduction in tags for the West River season will be antlerless tags, which are proposed to decrease by 86 percent or 23,145 compared to 2013.

The commission proposal for the Black Hills deer hunting season would have no antlerless licenses for 2014. The Black Hills proposal calls for 200 resident and 16 non-resident any deer licenses and 3,000 resident and 240 non-resident any whitetail deer licenses.

The Department of Game, Fish and Parks recommended no changes to the Custer State Park deer hunting season and will again have 10 any whitetail licenses and 20 antlerless whitetail muzzleloader licenses.

The proposal for the 2014 archery deer hunting season would only allow the harvest of whitetail deer on antlerless deer licenses. Each hunter could only have one antlerless license. In addition, several management units in both the eastern and western parts of the state would be closed to antlerless archery deer licenses. 

Youth deer hunters could have one antlerless license; which would be valid statewide under the Commission’s proposal.

The commission will finalize these proposals at itsr June 5-6 meeting in Yankton at Lewis and Clark Resort. Written comments can be sent to To be part of the official public record, comments must be received by 12 p.m. on June 5. Please include your full name along with the city and state of residence. If you would like to comment in person, the public hearing will be held Thursday, June 5, at 2 p.m. CDT at Lewis and Clark Resort in Yankton.

South Dakota angler breaks state record with 128-pound paddlefish

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: May 12, 2014 - 5:10 PM




A South Dakota man has landed the largest fish ever recorded by an angler in that state – a 127-pound, 9-ounce paddlefish.


Bill Harmon of Chamberlain shattered a 35-year-old state record when he snagged the monster on May 7.

Harmon drew a permit for the Lake Francis Case paddlefish snagging season. His fish surpassed the old record of 120 pounds, 12 ounces set in 1979.

Here's more from the Game, Fish and Parks news release:

Annual stocking efforts of paddlefish began in the early 1990s and have resulted in quality numbers of the species in Lake Francis Case.

Jason Sorensen, S.D. Game, Fish and Parks’ fisheries biologist, noted, “One of the original goals of the paddlefish stocking program was to initiate a sport fishery for this species. Paddlefish are a long-lived species and the Lake Francis Case population has some very old fish.  There is potential for anglers to harvest large paddlefish and Bills’ recent catch is proof of that.” 

Paddlefish are among the largest and longest lived species of freshwater fishes. Native to the Mississippi River drainage, these prehistoric fish once roamed freely throughout the network of rivers in the central United States. From the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers in the west to the Ohio and Allegheny Rivers in the east, paddlefish are believed to have made long seasonal migrations throughout the Mississippi River basin.

The unusual appearance of paddlefish amazed early European explorers. Different from most fish species, paddlefish can best be distinguished by their very large mouths and a paddle-shaped snout that is about one third their body length. Paddlefish are bluish-gray in color and appear dark when viewed from above. Similar to many freshwater fishes, they are white on the bottom. Paddlefish lack scales and have smooth skin similar to catfish.

Paddlefish feed primarily on zooplankton by swimming with their mouths open and filtering zooplankton out of the water with their gill rakers. Since paddlefish do not feed on bait fish and invertebrates, conventional fishing methods prove useless to anglers pursuing paddlefish.  Anglers typically snag for paddlefish using heavy-duty equipment and heavy fishing lines.

Moose population at Voyageurs National Park stays steady

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: May 8, 2014 - 12:19 PM

The moose population at Voyageurs National Park remains steady, even as the iconic animal's overall population in the northeast has fallen.

And officials aren't sure why.

Here's the National Park Service news release:

Wildlife biologists at Voyageurs National Park recently completed an aerial survey of the park's moose population in Feb/Mar, 2014.  The 2014 population estimate for the Kabetogama Peninsula was 40 moose, similar to estimates from 2009-2013 of 41-51.  The Kabetogama Peninsula is a 118-square mile roadless area that contains almost all of the park’s moose population. 

Fewer calves were observed in 2014 than in the previous 3 surveys, and the calf:cow ratio of 0.23 was also lower than estimates from 2010-2013 of 0.54-0.61.  Two adult collared moose moved from the park into Ontario a few weeks before the survey began and another died during the survey.  If those moose had been present during the survey, the 2014 estimate would have been inside the range of past counts.  Biologists also confirmed the presence of at least 3 moose in the southern portion of the park.

The continued apparent stability of the low-density population in Voyageurs is corroborated through ongoing monitoring of GPS-collared moose.  Only 1 of 14 collared adult moose has died since the last aerial survey was completed in 2013.  Overall, mean annual mortality of adult moose in Voyageurs National Park has been 10% since monitoring began in 2010.  By comparison, annual mortality of adult moose in the declining northeastern Minnesota moose population in recent years has been around 20%. 

Voyageurs National Park is at the current southern extent of moose range in North America.  Warmer annual and summer temperatures may be stressing moose populations in the region.  The moose population declined by about 50% between 2006-2014 in northeastern Minnesota and several areas in adjacent Ontario have also documented recent declines.  There are likely multiple factors involved in the observed declines including climate-related stresses on health and reproductive status, diseases and parasites, predation, and changes in habitat.  Moose in Voyageurs experience all of these factors, including the brainworm parasites and high densities of wolves and bears.  It is unclear if population dynamics in the park are indeed different from those in adjacent areas or if the park, at the western and southern edge of these other populations, will experience similar declines in the near future.  Park biologists are continuing studies to understand the complex relationships that drive moose population dynamics in the park.

The National Park Service will continue to monitor the Voyageurs National Park’s moose population on an annual basis.  In addition, Voyageurs National is investigating other aspects of moose ecology in collaboration with University of Minnesota-Duluth, Bemidji State University, Lakehead University, and other partners. Other studies include how moose behave in response to high temperatures and other weather events, how and why moose use wetlands for foraging and temperature regulation, and the interactions of moose, deer, beavers and wolves.

The 2014 Voyageurs National Park Moose Population Survey Report can be downloaded from the NPS website:

Send us your fish tales, photos

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: May 12, 2014 - 12:35 PM


Starting this week our Wednesday Outdoors page will focus on fishing for the next four months, and we are seeking 2014 photos and fishing tales from readers.

 Here are the guidelines:

• Size of the fish isn’t important; the quality of the photo is. High-resolution JPEG files are preferred.

• Include the angler’s name and hometown and a brief tale of the catch, and send to

• You can also post your photographs on our website at


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