Savage, Minn. — A year ago, youth waterfowl hunters and those adults with them drove to lakes and marshes for the one-day youth hunt with air conditioners cooling them prior to arrival at their destinations. Weather conditions for the youth-only duck hunt this year were considerably more like regular-season waterfowling, according to Brad Nylin, Minnesota Waterfowl Association executive director.
This year’s youth-day waterfowlers – many of them just getting their feet wet in duck hunting – found temps around 40 degrees and, in some cases, fog, as they set out last Saturday. The ducks? In some cases they cooperated; in others, they did not.
“I’m glad it was cool – that was different for a youth waterfowl day,” Nylin said.
But the duck supply in the portion of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge where he guided youth hunters was slim – unlike when he’d scouted a few days earlier.
“I was on the lake on Thursday and saw a tremendous amount of ducks,” he said. “Saturday morning, we didn’t see nearly the (number of) ducks we saw on Thursday.”
Dense fog may have played a role in how many ducks actually came into view. In fact, Nylin said, when the group packed up to leave, a small flock of ducks got up in the middle of Fisher Lake, west of Savage in the south metro, where they were hunting.
The mentored youth waterfowl hunt was part of MWA’s Young Waterfowlers Program, a program now in its 38th year, which actually pre-dates the special youth waterfowl hunt. Through the program, youth go through a series of coursework, and can be certified in firearms safety. They’re also offered the opportunity to partake in the duck hunt.
Come that waterfowl hunt, participants – and their parents and guardians as observers – are allowed to hunt in places in the refuge not otherwise open to hunting, according to Nylin. Each is accompanied by a mentor, thus, in some ways, parents, too, are trained in the art of waterfowling.
This year, about 15 youths shot about 20 ducks and a goose. Most were teal, but there were mallards and wood ducks in the mix.
“Overall, it was very comparable to past years,” Nylin said. “By having the mentored hunt, I think we’re creating waterfowlers. I have no doubt about that.”
Steve Cordts, the DNR’s waterfowl specialist in Bemidji, said the youth hunt attracts an estimated 5,000 young hunters. Given that low number spread across the state, reports from the hunt are few, he said.
“I heard a few reports, but there’s just so few people out, it’s hard to get more than a few anecdotal reports,” Cordts said.
He said he’d heard of a few youth hunters – four groups – at the Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area who took about four ducks apiece.
State conservation officers saw varying degrees of youth waterfowling activity.
Jeff Johanson, of Osakis, reports “several groups of youngsters were seen bagging a few ducks on the youth duck day.”
CO Rick Reller, of Buffalo, called the youth waterfowl hunt turnout “good,” with blue-winged teal providing action for the hunters.
In the Marshall area, bluewings, mallards, and wood ducks were in the bags of youth hunters.
September goose hunt
The September goose hunt, which runs Sept. 6-22, is off to a relatively slow start, according to Cordts.
“I haven’t heard a lot,” he said. “The people I’ve talked to have said it’s been kind of slow, with not a lot of (hunters) out.”
Part of the reason for limited hunting, he added, might be the delay in the harvest of small grains in parts of the state – or the fact that other, later-harvested crops, like corn and soybeans, are more prominent on the landscape.
Cordts reminds hunters that unlike last year, when the September goose season transitioned without delay into the regular season, this year, there’s a break (due to the timing of the regular waterfowl season) between Sept. 22 and the regular opener, Sept. 27.
Between the early August goose-hunting season and the current September hunt, goose hunters usually shoot around 100,000 Canada geese, Cordts said. That’s about 40 percent of the annual goose harvest of about 225,000 to 250,000 in the state, he said.
Ruffed grouse hunt begins
Along with rabbit and squirrel hunting, as well as archery deer hunting, grouse hunters, too, began their season Sept. 13. It was a mixed bag in terms of success, according to COs. But almost everyone was affected by existing vegetation and leaves still hanging onto trees in the northwoods.
Brice Vollbrecht, of Bemidji reported this: “Grouse hunters were surprised by the amount of birds observed during their hunt, but found it difficult to shoot with the tree foliage.”
Another positive report came from ATV/Recreation Officer Colleen Adam in northern Minnesota: “Some grouse hunters struggled to bag birds, but were encouraged that the population may be seeing an increase due to hearing more birds in the woods.”
And Marty Stage, of Ely, noted the past winter’s “deep, non-crusted snow” likely was good for ruffed grouse. “There are grouse around and it could be a good season once the leaves come off,” he wrote in his report.
On the flip side, Troy Fondie, of Orr, reports, “The grouse opener was the worst he has seen in years; no birds and the fewests number of hunters he has seen.”