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BLACKJACK

Good read

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Goto the Star Tribune webpage and read Dennis Anderson's column concerning duck and goose hunting. A couple of his main points are that the DNR should create resting areas for ducks by eliminating hunting on public lands from noon til sunset, which will help keep them around longer. His second point is to elimate the Youth Waterfowl Day, which he says helps drive ducks out of the state. Its a good read if you like duck hunting in MN.

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Here's that article....

DUCKS & GEESE . . .

Limiting the daily duck limit to four is not enough to improve the population in Minnesota. More proactive action by the DNR and by hunters is necessary if hunting here is ever to improve.

Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune

Last update: August 12, 2006 – 11:11 PM

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Dennis Anderson

DUCKS & GEESE . . .

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The issue most important to ducks and duck hunting in Minnesota no longer is whether hunters should be allowed six birds daily or four -- four is what hunters will get this year, as they did last -- but rather why the Department of Natural Resources doesn't begin to limit hunter access to birds here.

This is the big deal up and down the Mississippi Flyway: the availability of resting areas for ducks that are evermore under gunning pressure from the time they leave their breeding grounds in the north until they reach the Gulf of Mexico, or thereabouts.

Minnesota duck managers know this, or should, and, for the sake of ducks that remain in Minnesota in the fall, and their hunters, the DNR this year should have begun to restrict hunting each day from noon until sunset, if only on state wildlife management areas.

If there is to be anything resembling good hunting in Minnesota again, such a restriction will have to be enacted.

• • •

U.S. and Canadian wildlife services reported this summer that spring continental breeding populations of six of the 10 most common duck species were up significantly.

Only scaup, pintail, canvasback and wigeon numbers were reduced from a year ago.

Based on this upswing in breeding birds, and the fact mallard numbers were stable (or slightly up) continentally, and the fact also that prairie Saskatchewan and Manitoba were extremely wet -- laying the groundwork for a good nesting season -- a "liberal" hunting- season structure was set again for U.S. hunters this year.

"Liberal" means 60-day seasons (at least), with six-bird daily limits.

But in Minnesota in recent years, "liberal" has not meant good duck hunting. Some of the poorest seasons for hunters here in recent times have occurred when duck hunters elsewhere were enjoying reasonably good success.

The question then becomes: What is going on in Minnesota -- traditionally home to more duck hunters than any other state -- and what can be done here in the near- and long-term to improve conditions for ducks, and for duck hunting?

• • •

What do we know for sure about ducks and duck hunting in Minnesota?

We know we haven't been able to stop wetland drainage.

Curb it, yes -- to a degree. But stop it? No.

Nor have we been able to manage growth and development in ways that ensure the cleanliness -- and therefore health -- of our lakes, rivers and other waterways.

Nor have we acted swiftly enough to manage hunters and hunting in the face of dramatic habitat changes, and the poor hunting and declining duck numbers that have followed.

Result: More and more Minnesota waterfowlers are giving up on their home state and moving to greener hunting pastures elsewhere, such as North and South Dakota and prairie Canada.

• • •

Here's one version of events that helps explain Minnesota's duck woes:

• Vast areas of wetlands in the state's southern, western and northwestern farmlands -- more than 90 percent of those that existed before white settlement -- have been drained.

• Wetlands and other waterways that remain in these areas are severely degraded. Farmland tiling and runoff are big problems. Water level "bounces" after heavy rains and spring melting are another. So, too, the resulting lack of sego pondweed, wild celery and other vegetation favored by ducks and other wildlife. The proliferation of carp that has occurred since their introduction to the state in the late 1800s also bodes ill.

• Additionally -- and these are issues of the Legislature's and DNR's making -- many wetlands that remain are licensed to minnow dealers for use as rearing ponds. Also, aerator permits in recent times have been issued willy-nilly to fisherman-patrons of small ponds and shallow lakes, preventing winter freeze-out in these of carp, minnows and other foreign critters.

• In an historical context, these changes occurred in a blink of an eye, about 100 years. But it hasn't been until the past 20 years or so that ducks and duck hunting seem to have changed so dramatically for the worse in Minnesota.

• This falloff primarily is due to the above landscape changes. But complicating matters for Minnesota ducks and duck hunters have been the long (60-day) seasons with liberal (six ducks daily) limits set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since the late 1990s.

• These restrictions probably were the correct ones for the Dakotas and certain other states, some even, like Minnesota, in the Mississippi Flyway. But here, our hunters, as many as 120,000 strong, essentially have had three species of birds of late to kill -- the mallard, wood duck and blue-winged teal.

• Contrast this with the Dakotas, which spread their six-bird limits and long seasons over (primarily) five or six species, including (in addition to mallards and the various teal species) relatively abundant gadwall.

• The relationship of high limits and long seasons to the number of ducks available might be particularly vexing in Minnesota this fall. Granted, due to recent poor seasons, Minnesota might put only 80,000 to 90,000 hunters in the field beginning Sept. 30. But, according to the DNR's spring breeding duck survey, we have only half as many mallards in the state as we did two years ago.

• Meanwhile, as is popularly believed among Minnesota hunters, the flyway that in autumns past routed many Canadian ducks over Minnesota seems to have moved west. And why not? The habitat is sufficiently poorer here than there, and sufficiently scarcer as well. Additionally, except for this spring and last, prairie Manitoba and Saskatchewan have been dry, making them poor duck producers and the Dakotas, in turn, relatively good producers. And Dakota ducks seem less likely to fly over Minnesota than some Canadian ducks.

• Ironically, in the face of all of this, the Minnesota DNR has in certain instances attempted to dig the state out of its duck hole by giving hunters additional opportunities to kill ducks, not fewer. Case in point: The season typically has opened in Minnesota at noon in an attempt to mitigate what can be a significant opening-day kill, thereby increasing the chance more Minnesota ducks will remain in Minnesota longer in fall. Now the season opens at 9 a.m., not to benefit ducks but duck hunters. And the period during which shooting must end at 4 p.m. -- a restriction again intended to keep Minnesota-bred ducks in the state longer -- has been shortened by about half. (The DNR gets credit for restricting spinning-wing decoys during the early season.)

• Meanwhile, elsewhere in the flyway, real acknowledgement has been made that hunter pressure is -- in the context of present-day factors affecting ducks -- a very, very big deal. Take Illinois and Missouri, both of which have labored long, hard and well in recent years to plant habitat that will hold ducks in their states. And part of that "holding" involves not only limiting hunter access on prime public lands (at least) but limiting also the time each day hunting is allowed.

• This is only common sense; anyone who has ever hunted ducks knows they respond foremost to hunting pressure. And in the context of the landscape changes that have occurred across the land, particularly in Minnesota, hunting pressure is among key factors affecting ducks and duck movements. And one of the only ones we can accomplish near-term.

• Yet in Minnesota, not only hasn't the DNR sought to restrict hunter access and shooting hours, even in a limited fashion, it still labors under the bizarre notion that its "Youth Waterfowl Day," set again this year for mid-September, does nothing to dissuade ducks from hanging around in Minnesota until the real opener two weeks later.

• • •

Here's what needs to be done to bring ducks and duck hunting back to Minnesota in something resembling past norms:

• The way ducks (and other fish and wildlife) are managed in Minnesota needs to be changed. The DNR needs not to report to the state's governor but to a citizens commission empowered by statute or constitutional fiat to manage the state's resources in their best interest. The agency also needs a constitutionally dedicated source of funding so legislators can spend their time productively -- such as imagining conversations with state supreme court justices -- rather than hamstringing the will of the people in their attempts to conserve the state's woods, waters and fields.

• When the above comes to pass -- and it will, sooner rather than later -- conservation in Minnesota can begin in earnest.

• Until then, the DNR needs to get ahead of the duck-management curve, leading and developing hunters' educated opinions, not bending to their two-bit whining. The keystone here for the DNR will be to make a strong case among hunters for the creation of safe areas for ducks so more of these birds can reaffirm and re-establish traditions of nesting and/or migrating through the state.

• For four reasons, this won't be easy. One, the DNR lacks a tradition of acting proactively, and especially experimentally, in behalf of ducks. Two, state and federal waterfowl managers seem now to want to whack Canada goose populations pretty hard in an attempt to reduce their numbers, a notion that runs counter to establishment of restricted-hunting areas for ducks. Three, before either of the above can occur, Youth Waterfowl Day needs to go away, to be replaced by an event of equal importance to participants but diminished effect on the resource -- and the DNR seems unwilling to do this. And, four, too few duck hunters and other conservationists have shown a willingness, to date, to apply the kinds of political pressure needed to see these changes come to pass.

So, sure, go ahead, enjoy the duck season.

But until duck management in Minnesota is changed, and management also of the state's other resources -- and until hunters show a newfound willingness to ensure these happen -- the chances that duck hunting will grow worse in the state, rather than better, are really quite good.

Dennis Anderson danderson@startribune.com

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I agree that we need dedicated funding but ending youth waterfowl day doenst seem like thats the answer to this states problems, actually seems kind of selfish to me. and honestly what is the difference between starting at 9 and noon? I really think that a bag limit of 4 isnt going to solve anything either, especially when those good ol' boys down south are plugging six a day, it makes more sense to me to have a 6 bird limit up here and a 4 down there.

A citizen advisory board would help things along. Getting Dean Johnson out of the equation would also help to get that dedicated funding passed, thats the starting point this state needs to get things going in the right direction. But untill then, I guess a guy will just have to do a little more scouting to have successfull hunts, it's not like there are no ducks here, I did fairly well last year. The days are gone where you can just go out to a random pond and expect to limit out, were not in Arkansas or Louisiana.

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I don't like getting rid of Youth Day

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I thought the data always shows that hunter harvest has very little to do with the overall population...especially when compared to factors like weather, habitat and predators. Seems to me that the "answer" lies in habitat, not bag limits. Plug those drain tiles, put more land in CRP or similar idle-acres and we should see more birds. The overall numbers of birds look all right (according to the recent survey) just not in MN. Sounds like a habitat issue.

I can see that hunting pressure does affect birds, but don't other states have Youth Day? I guess I would be fine with getting rid of it, if you're planning on taking your kid hunting you're going to take them a lot more then just on Youth Day. I just have a tough time thinking it's a big factor.

Closing hunting after noon all season? Admittedly, that would only limit about 10% of my duck hunting, but what about when you go on a trip? Spend time and money to go on a duck hunting trip and only go out in the a.m.? Would be tough to adjust to unless you had fish or pheasants to chase in the afternoon.

I don't know what to believe, you get a different story from everyone involved. I think Dennis Anderson has good intentions, but he's a little too "doom and gloom" for me. I think he should find a new duck camp instead of writing about how he only sees 3 ducks each opener and it "used to be great." Do what everyone else does...scout and find the birds!

That's my vent!

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I disagree with getting rid of the youth day as well. . . .every year somebody starts a thread about whether or not the youth day should exist and the only people that dont like it are the ones that have never been able to experience it as a kid or someone who has never taken a kid out. . .i hunted the youth day for 5 yrs and it was always one of the most enjoyable and memorable days of the season. . i will be taking a buddy of mines little brother out this year and i know that it will be a great time, whether we are successful or not we will have a lot of fun because thats what its about. . .

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We all know that waterfowl hunters are usually older. Not too many youth are involved nationwide. Personally I hunted when I was 12-17 with my father, but stopped when started college and working full-time. Because of memories as a kid I came back to waterfowl hunting.

Start youth off with special hunts and you will create memories which will drive them in the future. Besides, one day of hunting will not drive the ducks away.

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I sent him this e-mail. I know not everyone would agree with me but he irritates me sometimes.

1. The DNR can offer any limit they want. If a hunter can never get a limit what is the difference. On the rare occasion a hunter is able to have a good day and shoot his limit of 4 birds is that a problem? We have fewer hunters, smaller limits and fewer ducks being shot, yet you bring up the notion that part of the problem with duck numbers is the duck limit..... I see nothing wrong with a 4 bird limit with 1 hen mallard.

2.

"Minnesota duck managers know this, or should, and, for the sake of ducks that remain in Minnesota in the fall, and their hunters, the DNR this year should have begun to restrict hunting each day from noon until sunset, if only on state wildlife management areas."

Good idea. Lets restrict hunting on land that was paid for, for the most part by the very hunters and outdoorsmen and women that use it. Lets make sure they can only hunt during the better hours of the day in areas where the ducks aren't around. Heck, we waterfowl hunters don't like getting up early in the morning anyhow. That way people that have access to private land will have better shooting opportunities. All of the sudden this areas that have been hunted on for years are part of the problem. Not everyone can afford to lease land or even drive far to hunt.

If you have ever been to a wildlife management area (When is the last time you've written an article about duck hunting in a wildlife management area close to the cities?) the biggest problem I see is the road hunters that line the road that separates the refuge from the rest of the land. There should be a buffer zone.

3.

We know we haven't been able to stop wetland drainage.

Curb it, yes -- to a degree. But stop it? No.

Nor have we been able to manage growth and development in ways that ensure the cleanliness -- and therefore health -- of our lakes, rivers and other waterways.

Additionally -- and these are issues of the Legislature's and DNR's making -- many wetlands that remain are licensed to minnow dealers for use as rearing ponds. Also, aerator permits in recent times have been issued willy-nilly to fisherman-patrons of small ponds and shallow lakes, preventing winter freeze-out in these of carp, minnows and other foreign critters.

I agree.****************THOSE ARE THE BIGGEST PROBLEMS.*****************

4.This falloff primarily is due to the above landscape changes. But complicating matters for Minnesota ducks and duck hunters have been the long (60-day) seasons with liberal (six ducks daily) limits set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since the late 1990s.

Most duck hunting is done during the early part of the season anyway. It has always started around the same time in October. I do not support a early teal season.

5.The season typically has opened in Minnesota at noon in an attempt to mitigate what can be a significant opening-day kill, thereby increasing the chance more Minnesota ducks will remain in Minnesota longer in fall. Now the season opens at 9 a.m., not to benefit ducks but duck hunters. And the period during which shooting must end at 4 p.m. -- a restriction again intended to keep Minnesota-bred ducks in the state longer -- has been shortened by about half. (The DNR gets credit for restricting spinning-wing decoys during the early season.)

Yes, the opportunity to shoot more ducks on opening day increases with a 9 am start. No, it won't help to keep ducks in Minnesota longer to have a 12 pm start. The noon start was a tradition in the beginning not anything to do with duck management or keeping the ducks in Minnesota longer. Maybe 1 day longer since it's 1/2 hr before sunrise the next day.....

Spinning wing decoys: The first 2 years of restrictions, they were not allowed the first 2 weeks of the season on public waters. It was ok on PRIVATE waters. They only get credit from me only after the first two years when everyone gets treated the same.

6.Yet in Minnesota, not only hasn't the DNR sought to restrict hunter access and shooting hours, even in a limited fashion, it still labors under the bizarre notion that its "Youth Waterfowl Day," set again this year for mid-September, does nothing to dissuade ducks from hanging around in Minnesota until the real opener two weeks later.

I agree it should be ended. I can guarantee it only gets abused.

We do have rallies at the capital for the past 3 years now. It grows every year I have been to them.

There is too many goose hunting opportunities effecting our ducks.

Waterfowl hunters donate a lot of time and money through non-profit organizations and license fees. Where are the articles about the organizations out there building dams, clearing dikes, and numerous other projects being done in the middle of summer when its 90* outside.

Calling waterfowl hunters whiners is a pretty low blow when you are sitting behind a desk pointing fingers at everyone else. Look in the mirror.

I will enjoy my Minnesota waterfowl season with my son and our dog.

I will look forward to reading another of your stories about hunting in Arkansas with 3 spinners going and a guide service. Or maybe fishing in Mexico. Or how about what a great job you did in help raise money for a helicopter in Louisiana. Didn't you get a award on your mantel for that?

Ron Z

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Although I'm not always Anderson's biggest supporter, I agree with his article here...

I have taken friends kids, new kids, and nephews out on Youth opener. BUT LETS NOT HOLD IT BEFORE REGULAR OPENER ANYMORE! It sucks, these kids would have a blast on any duck trip I took them on. Regular opener used to be just as fun for everyone. Including kids...

Now after Youth Opener, and early goose (water hunting), its amazing there is even ten ducks left on a wetland anymore...

I'm all for encouraging every kid to hunt, resting wetlands(it works in all the other states I hunt), and we definately need to rehab and save what wetlands we have left.

We need to quit fighting amongst ourselves over 4 vs 6 when the real effort needs to be providing BETTER HABITAT!!!!

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You had me untill the Youth Waterfowl Day point. But other than that good letter, I hope you get a response, when you do make sure to post it up.

There may be some people who abuse Youth Waterfowl Day, but for the most part I think it only helps the young hunters apprecieate duck hunting more. Give them a good chance at some good shooting and they will be hooked for life.

As far as DA's point that it drives ducks out of Minnesota, that is a load of bull, maybee they relocate to another nearby pond but I dont think they would start the migration early just because they got shot at once.

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I take kids waterfowl hunting with me 95% of the time that I go. We have a good time everytime we go. I've seen on 2 occasions adults shooting at ducks when I did go on the youth day. A special day for kids is great but something other then what is done now. Most of the time its hunters that have kids that are for the youth day. Hunters without are normally against it. I've take both my kids and other kids after mine were too old. It's fun for them, the dog and myself but it doesn't seem right. It just seems odd.

I would like to see some statistics showing an increase in youth hunters since the inception of it.

After all, that is the reason for it.

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