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.

Pheasant hunter numbers down in Minnesota, N.D., ringneck index up in S.D.

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: August 29, 2014 - 3:04 PM

Just 62,000 Minnesota 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.

Pheasant hunters will learn more about prospects this fall when the DNR releases its August roadside counts on Sept. 8.

Meanwhile, North Dakota also saw some disturbing trends last year.

The number of pheasant hunters (76,000) was down 11 percent and the ringneck harvest (447,000) was down 27 percent.

Birds bagged per hunter decreased from 7.2 to 5.8, and each hunter spent an average of 4.8 days afield.

Counties with the highest percentage of pheasants taken by resident hunters in 2013 were Hettinger, 9.6; Burleigh, 7.9; McLean, 7.9; Morton, 6.8; and Stark, 5.5.

Top counties for nonresident hunters were Hettinger, 24.8 percent; Bowman, 12.2; Divide, 5.7; Emmons, 4.8; and Adams, 4.

South Dakota's annual pheasant survey showed 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 statewide pheasant-per-mile 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.”

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."

To boost deer herd, hunters face conservative deer season

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: July 23, 2014 - 12:43 PM

As Minnesota deer hunters expected, the DNR announced a conservative deer hunting season for next fall in an attempt to boost the whitetail herd.

That means the taking of does will be restricted in large parts of the state.

Here's the DNR news release:

Hunters can expect a conservative 2014 deer season designed to rebuild deer numbers across much of the state, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said.

“Hunters should check the 2014 hunting regulations closely because only one deer can be harvested in 95 percent of the state,” said Leslie McInenly, big game program leader for the DNR. “To shoot a doe, hunters may have to apply for a permit in areas where they haven’t in the past and, in some places, no antlerless harvest will be allowed.” 

In 69 of Minnesota’s 128 deer permit areas, hunters must be chosen in a lottery to shoot an antlerless deer. Only bucks can be hunted in 14 areas. In 38 areas, hunters have the choice of shooting a doe or a buck. Bonus permits allowing hunters to shoot more than one deer may only be used in seven permit areas and for some special hunts.

“Many hunters voiced concerns about current deer densities and their hunting experiences in recent years. We heard from hunters at the listening sessions we conducted, in the online comments we solicited and by contacting us directly,” McInenly said. “This past winter only added to those concerns so this year’s conservative approach will protect more antlerless deer, reduce the statewide harvest and allow the population to rebound.”

Northeastern Minnesota hunters will feel the greatest impact from a bucks-only season. In bucks-only areas, no antlerless deer may be harvested by any hunter, including those with archery or youth licenses. McInenly said that most of these areas are now below goal and that this year’s conservative approach is consistent with the DNR’s long-term commitment to manage deer populations at established goal levels.

Hunters can enter the lottery for antlerless permits beginning Friday, Aug. 1. The deadline to apply is Thursday, Sept. 4. Hunters may apply using both their firearm and muzzleloader licenses. If hunters are selected for both licenses, they must select the one season in which they want to shoot an antlerless deer.

Deer hunting licenses, lottery applications and special hunt applications are available at any DNR license agent, by telephone at 888-665-4236 or online at Lottery winners will be notified in October.

Permit area breakdown

Bucks-only deer areas in 2014 are deer permit areas 108, 117, 118, 119, 122, 126, 127, 169, 176, 177, 178, 180, 181 and 199.

Lottery deer areas in 2014 are permit areas 101, 103, 105, 110, 111, 152, 155, 156, 159, 171, 172, 173, 179, 183, 184, 197, 203, 208, 213, 229, 234, 237, 238, 242, 246, 247, 250, 251, 252, 253, 258, 259, 260, 261, 262, 263, 264, 265, 266, 267, 268, 269, 270, 271, 272, 273, 274, 275, 276, 277, 278, 279, 280, 281, 282, 283, 284, 285, 286, 288, 289, 290, 291, 294, 295, 296, 297, 298 and 299.

Hunter choice deer areas in 2014 are permit areas 157, 201, 209, 210, 214, 215, 218, 219, 221, 222, 223, 224, 225, 227, 230, 232, 233, 235, 236, 239, 240, 241, 248, 249, 254, 255, 256, 257, 292, 293, 338, 339, 341, 342, 344, 345, 347 and 348.

Managed deer areas in 2014 are permit areas 114, 287 and 343.

Intensive deer areas in 2014 are permit areas 182, 346 and 349.

The DNR strongly advises hunters to review new deer hunting regulations, permit area designations and boundary changes before applying. Current and up-to-date information is available online at Information about deer management and upcoming deer population goal setting during the next two years is available at


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