Waterfowlers report above-average success on opener

Staff Writer

Ortonville, Minn. Waterfowl hunting reports varied greatly from
the opening weekend of the 2003 season. Limits of ducks were the
exception, but there were a few regions of the state that provided
some good shooting.

The west-central and extreme western regions of the state
provided some of the best reports. Duck hunters from Alexandria to
Ortonville, and up to about Fergus Falls fared well.

Despite low water levels near Big Stone Lake on the South Dakota
border, hunters found more birds than they expected, according to
Greg Rassett of Bud’s Bait and Tackle in Ortonville. Rassett found
most duck hunters to be pleasantly surprised with the variety of
ducks in this region.

“It was a good opener, even though there’s less water than most
years,” Rassett said. “If you found enough water to hunt, it seemed
to provide consistent shooting.”

Unlike many opener spots, wood ducks and blue-winged teal were
not the most common bird in the Ortonville area. Mallards, wigeon,
and gadwalls filled most bags, Rassett said.

Conservation Officer Mike Sheldon also encountered many
successful hunters between Alexandria and Glenwood. Most common
birds in the bag were wood ducks, mallards, gadwalls, and the
occasional pintail. Hunter participation was high and most groups
had ducks.

“It was a better opener than the past few years,” Sheldon said.
“I was somewhat impressed with the number of birds taken here.”

He wasn’t impressed by two hunters on Saturday, though. He cited
two men for possessing 21 ducks, and they were still shooting. The
duo was five mallards and four wood ducks over their limit by 2:30
in the afternoon. Other than that, compliance was good, Sheldon
said.

Farther north, near Lake of the Woods, areas such as Zippel Bay,
Rainy River, Swift Ditch area, and Northwest Angle held lots of
ducks. There were even a few snow geese harvested near Warroad,
while several rafts of bluebills provided excellent shooting at the
Northwest Angle.

Mallards, teal, pintails, and wood ducks also were abundant in
this region.

The Kimball, Annandale, and Starbuck areas in central Minnesota
were holding ducks. Conservation Officer Brian Mies checked duck
hunters from Kimball down to Maple Lake and found plenty of puddle
ducks in most hunters’ bags.

“I saw more ducks than I expected,” Mies said. “There were a lot
of happy hunters, and most harvested enough to stay satisfied.”

Reports near Grand Rapids and Leech Lake indicated lots of
hunters and an acceptable number of woodies, ringnecks, and
blue-winged teal. While limits were rare, most hunters had a duck
or two each day.

Fergus Falls area Conservation Officer Gary Forsberg said the
opener was spotty. He witnessed few limits and thought about two
birds per hunter was average around Fergus Falls.

Wood ducks and mallards were most evident, but there were a few
redheads, scaup, gadwalls, and wigeon, too.

The farther south one hunted, the fewer birds they found.
Reports from Dodge and Steele counties were very poor. Duck numbers
near Rochester, La Crescent, and Winona were dismal by most
accounts. Rice Lake, a popular duck hunting spot in southern
Minnesota, held a minimal number of birds.

Rochester-area CO Dean Olson figured he saw one harvested duck
for every three hunters on Rice Lake. He also said he didn’t see a
mallard in a bag.

“There’s no question this was the poorest opener in this area in
several years,” Olson said. “I don’t know where all the ducks went,
but the majority of guys never fired a shot.”

He expects the area to improve later in the season as migrant
birds make their way south.

DNR Wetland Wildlife Group Leader Jeff Lawrence heard good
reports from the Thief Lake and Swan Lake areas. On Thief Lake,
green-winged teal were abundant. He also said that some of the best
reports came from western Minnesota.

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