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Finding Minnesota hunting mentors is the goal

Editor's note: From Outdoors Weekend contributor Tony Jones, who wrote here about the dearth of hunting mentors, in the Star Tribune on March 9. 

For those who worry about the steady decline in hunters and anglers in Minnesota, training this week for hunting mentors was a welcome success: Fifty people registered for a program in two days. Co-hosted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, the training was held Monday at the Uptown VFW Post 246 in Minneapolis. The main speaker was James Burnham, the DNR’s hunter and fishing recruitment coordinator. In a Star Tribune Outdoors story last month, Burnham said that there were more people in Minnesota who want to learn to hunt than there are mentors. He repeated that Monday, as well as his conviction that new participants are more likely to come from nontraditional channels (people of color and millennials). Those are positive trends, Burnham said. Women are the one segment of Minnesota hunters that is growing.

Among Burnham’s other points were that new hunters will likely be more into putting meat in their freezers than trying to drop a buck with a large rack, and he encouraged mentors to avoid insider-jargon, such as “APR” (antler point restrictions), with novices.

The crowd was notably young, a reflection of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers’ core, with many in their 20s and 30s. Burnham told the prospective mentors that he expects them to take a novice hunting this fall and to help newcomers with buying gear, scouting, and planning. Burnham offered to help pair the mentors with novice hunters and even to help them find land to hunt.

Burnham said that more mentor trainings are in the works, but first he’s got another task — coordinating the mentors for Gov. Tim Walz’s first Governor’s Wild Turkey Opener on April 27.

Bluebird Recovery Program is in season

More bluebirds are on the scene this early spring (the males usually arrive first), and they are top of mind, too, for a dedicated group. The Bluebird Recovery Program of Minnesota, which is in its fifth decade of supporting the small thrush, has its annual expo Saturday at Cannon Falls (Minn.) High School.

Marlys Shirley, the group’s secretary, said people who maintain and monitor bluebird nest boxes as part of the group’s mission usually step up to help again each year. “Those who try it out and faithfully follow it, get hooked on it,” she added.

The group takes great care, too, in tracking the species’ recovery, Shirley said. In 2018, group members tracked 4,558 bluebird sites. Nearly 87 percent of the laid eggs (12,595) hatched, with 11,969 of the birds fledging. The bluebird population in Minnesota declined substantially from the 1930s to 1960s, owing to insecticide use, habitat loss and competition from other cavity-nesting birds, such as the nonnative starling and house sparrow.

In its 41st year, the bluebird recovery program has about 200 members across Minnesota and from neighboring states. It also has a big weekend: The group’s annual expo features speakers, exhibits and more. Star Tribune Outdoors Weekend section contributor Jim Gilbert is one of the speakers. To register for the expo, go online to the group’s website at bbrp.org/expo-2019. (To include lunch, call Jeanine Mortenson at 1-507-332-7003.)