Minnesota's bear hunters appear to be heeding requests not to shoot radio-collared research bears.

Just one bear -- collared by Department of Natural Resources biologists in northwestern Minnesota -- has been shot and killed since the bear season opened Sept. 1.

"Probably by this time we'd have four [killed] in a normal year,'' said Dave Garshelis, DNR bear research biologist. The DNR is monitoring about 35 radio-collared bears, most in the northwest.

And Ely bear researcher Lynn Rogers also said none of the 13 bears he has collared in the Ely-Tower area have been killed either.

"All of our radio-collared bears are accounted for as of yesterday,'' Rogers said Friday. "We are appreciative of any hunters who might have passed up a radio-collared bear.''

Hunting pressure typically declines dramatically after the first two weeks of the bear season, when 82 percent of the harvest occurs, Garshelis said. Letters went out to most bear hunters in areas of collared bears and the media devoted more attention to the issue, which might explain the lack of bear shootings, he said. And a group is offering $5,000 in a drawing to hunters in the Ely area if no collared bears there are killed. It's not illegal to shoot a collared bear.

Garshelis said bears the DNR collared also have large, colorful ear tags, but the hunter who killed the male collared bear in the northwest said he didn't see the bear's head when he shot it. He reported the bear to the DNR.

The DNR won't know until later, when it tracks the collared bears to their dens, how many actually are killed this season. "In the past, some people have shot bears and tossed the collars in the woods,'' Garshelis said.

Meanwhile, bear harvest remains down; as of last week, hunters had shot 1,581, compared to 2,699 all of last season.

Youth waterfowl day

About 5,000 youngsters likely hunted last Saturday on Minnesota's Youth Waterfowl Day -- nearly the same as last year.

Though the DNR has no way to know for certain how many kids participated in the 16th annual event, it issued 5,320 free youth small game licenses with HIP certification -- needed to hunt waterfowl -- through midnight Friday. Since last year, the free licenses are required for hunters age 15 or under.

For years, officials had thought upwards of 25,000 youngsters participated in Youth Waterfowl Day, but last year the DNR began requiring free small game licenses for youths. That gave officials a more accurate picture, though it's still unknown how many of those licensed young hunters actually hunted on Saturday, or how many others might have hunted without the free license.

How was hunting?

Some youths saw and shot very few ducks; others did quite well.

Eleven kids bagged 22 ducks and eight geese at a special mentored youth hunt in the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in the Bloomington-Shakopee area.

"There was a phenomenal number of birds,'' said Brad Nylin, executive director of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association, which sponsored the hunt with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

At another mentored hunt at Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge near Detroit Lakes, eight young hunters shot 19 ducks and two geese. At Montevideo, many youths bagged limits of wood ducks. And on a day that hit 84 degrees, DNR conservation officer Matt Loftness of Marshall saw one youngster wade out about 30 yards into a slough, sans hip waders and shirt, to retrieve his first goose.

Second earliest date

This year's Youth Waterfowl Day on Sept. 10 was the second-earliest duck hunt in state history, since hunting seasons were established. The earliest duck hunting date was Sept. 7 (in 1915, 1916 and 1918). Other early seasons: The state offered a special teal season beginning Sept. 11, 1965, and Youth Waterfowl Day fell on Sept. 14 in 2002. Also, the regular duck season opened on Sept. 15 in 2001 and 2007.

Walk-in maps

Signs have been posted on more than 9,500 acres of new walk-in-access hunting lands in Minnesota, and hunters now can view and download maps of those areas. A free online atlas is available, too. Go to the DNR's website at www.mndnr.gov/walkin. Many hunters have long sought such a program, popular elsewhere. The landowners are being paid to allow public hunting access to their lands in a three-year pilot program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. No motorized vehicle traffic is allowed. Trapping, trap shooting, fishing, dog training or other activities outside of hunting are prohibited.


Where are moose?

Conservation officer Darin Fagerman of Grand Marais was checking bear baits recently in areas usually full of moose sign. "Many of these areas are now void of any moose sign,'' he reported. He said he has seen just two cows with two newborn calves and a small bull all summer. "Deer tracks are replacing moose tracks in inland areas where one would rarely see a deer,'' Fagerman said.


Cornicelli promoted

Lou Cornicelli, DNR big game program leader for the past nine years, has been promoted to wildlife research and policy manager. Cornicelli, 45, will oversee the agency's three wildlife research groups: The farmland group at Madelia, the forest group at Grand Rapids and the wetlands group in Bemidji. Because the deer season is fast approaching, Cornicelli will do both jobs this fall until the deer season ends.

Doug Smith • dsmith@startribune.com