Last week was a combination of good news and bad news! Under bad news I missed a golden oportunity to harvest a rooster Tuesday west of Litchfield hunting alone. On Wednesday I decided to go grouse hunting before the deer hunters took to the woods on Saturday. I should have checked the weather more closely, but I thought I would drive out of the drizzle by heading north to Blackduck or Northhome. I checked into a motel in Northhome and the proprietor commented he saw a covey of three while cutting wood for his outdoor furnance. That was good news, but the drizzle was still coming down. Vanna and I got in a couple hours of hunting on the Porter Ridge trail, saw three grouse, shot at one and missed. We slept in the next morning with the rain pattering on the roof. The rain would come in squalls and we finally ventured out about 9 a.m. and talked with a gas station owner who said there was a good grouse population earlier, but extensive hunting and ATVs had thinned them out.
A synopsis of hunting pheasants in North Dakota’s oil patch country this year would be it wasn’t as good for us as a year ago, but it still was a good time. Each of the three dogs, Vanna, Lucky and Bella, made their handlers, myself, Mike Muller and Daryl Hennen, proud. That being said we left Maple Lake at about 4:30 a.m. Sunday and arrived in White Earth (about 8 miles east of Tioga) at 2:45 p.m. staying with Ken Muller, who operates a foam insulation business there. We hunted some of the same parcels as a year ago, but found the pheasants scarce. Hennen had the first and only bird for the few hours we hunted on Sunday and was the $1.00 winner. On Monday we hunted west of Alamo and Muller wounded a rooster, but none of the dogs could come up with the bird, despite a diligent effort. He also had the second bird along with two more before the day was over. Hennen and I each had one.
I gave pheasant hunting locally my best effort on Tuesday of last week and blew a golden opportunity to harvest a two-bird limit when I didn’t connect on an adult rooster which Vanna pointed well. She also pointed the first bird which was small and one of this year’s hatch. To summarize my last two outings, 1 - 4, which is almost enough to tell me it’s time to hang up the 12 gauge. But being something of an eternal optimist, I plan to give pheasant hunting a try in North Dakota starting Oct. 26 with Mike Muller and Daryl Hennen. We plan to hunt the northwestern part of that state with Mike’s son, Ken, who lives in White Earth, west of Tioga. . . Mike and I tried a couple of spots west of Milan last week Thursday and found the birds scarce. We hunted a Wildlife Management Area first where two roosters and one hen flushed well out of range.
Tuesday Vanna and I headed toward Litchfield on a pheasant scouting mission. We didn’t come across any birds until we crossed over into Renville County. We spotted two pheasants on the edge of a standing cornfield and chose a Wildlife Management Area (WMA). We flushed a hen, and later, shot at one rooster which flushed ahead of Vanna. I missed and to add insult to injury the rooster flew into a tree. We started walking toward the tree line with an attempt to get into range, but hadn’t taken ten steps when the wily cock flew out of the tree into the swamp. Later in the day we flushed 7-8 hens out of a WMA during the ‘golden hour’, but no roosters. . . On Wednesday we teamed up with Daryl Hennen and Coco for an afternoon hunt west of Madison. We didn’t find very many birds which leads us to believe there just aren’t very many. Toward evening Hennen and Coco put up a pheasant which flew behind me. I couldn’t see any color and didn’t shoot, but he said it was a rooster.
I had to choose between chasing roosters or making another attempt at ruffed grouse hunting last weekend and grouse hunting won out after I heard the warm weather reports that predicted temps in the 80-degree range for Saturday in southwestern Minnesota. I got kind of a late start, about 7:30 a.m., and took along plenty of water for Vanna and myself. My eventual destination was the Paul Bunyan State Forest north of Akeley and we stopped enroute northeast of Leader at a trail we have hunted in previous years. We had three flushes and I shot at one grouse twice when it busted its way out of the brush and flew across the trail behind me. From there we headed toward Backus for a look at the Foot Hills State Forest. Apparently that area is a haven for 4-wheelers, and believe me, they were enjoying themselves ripping down the shoulder of the county highway before taking off down another trail. I figured that was no place for Vanna or myself so we got back on Highway 64.
Vanna and I gave grouse hunting our best effort on Saturday even though the few reports I had were not good. We started hunting north of Pillager in the Meadow-brook Wildlife Management Area we had hunted before. It looked good, but the only game bird we put in the air was a woodcock shortly after we got started. Our next stop was north of Staples in another WMA where we harvested the grouse shown with Vanna. We had one other opportunity, but never got a shot off. We didn’t hear much shooting which is a pretty good indication of the lack of birds. All in all it was a good day for hunting and Vanna got hot a few times, but didn’t point any birds. . . I convinced Daryl Hennen to go with George Palmer for an afternoon of sunfish angling last Wednesday. We found out they were still biting on Indian Lake and after about three hours we had 16 sunfish and one crappie in the live well. Hennen and Palmer each caught a couple of bass which were of the catch-and-release variety.
Sunday night’s blood moon was interesting to watch as it moved into earth’s shadow. I went outside about 8 p.m. and it had only started to lose some of its edge. An hour later there was just a sliver left and it was hidden behind some clouds, but would show itself periodically. The moon’s closeness to earth made this year’s eclipse more dramatic, but if you missed it there will be another one in about 15-16 years.
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George Palmer and I tried fishing in the strong south wind on Indian Lake last week Tuesday afternoon and the biggest problem we had was holding the boat on a spot we wanted to fish. We got out about 2:30 p.m. and fished the south shore when the wind gusts were just too strong on the west end of the lake. We caught sunnies there, but mostly small ones in the shallow water. About 4:30 the wind seemed to have gone down a little and we headed for the west end and anchored in about 15 feet of water. It took several more anchoring attempts to find some weeds to help keep us from blowing off the spot. The bite wasn’t fast, but we had 15 between us when we started discussing whether we wanted to fillet them or release them for another day. We both have fish in our freezers and releasing them won out! That wasn’t the first time we have released our catch, but it makes sense if you don’t really need them.
It was good to hear the pheasant population in Minnesota is up 33% statewide. The DNR had this to say about pheasants in Minnesota. “Favorable weather conditions led to a 33-percent increase in the number of Minnesota pheasants compared to last year at this time. However, the 2015 pheasant index is 39 percent below the 10-year average and 59 percent below the long-term average. Habitat loss continues to be the main factor in a long-term decline of the state’s pheasant population, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.” It takes programs like the Soil Bank from years past or the more recent Conservation Reserve Program to provide the habitat necessary to maintain good pheasant numbers in these days of intense farming. Hunters will find more birds this fall in the southwestern part of Minnesota according to the maps the DNR has available, but they won’t be all over. I guess that’s why it’s called hunting!
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With the Labor Day weekend behind us, it’s time to think seriously about getting organized for fall activities. For me that means giving Vanna a fall hairdo to keep pulling cockleburs to a minimum. Her flowing tail is a built-in trait for English Setters, and while it’s attractive, it seems like it is a magnet for attracting burs, and two-pronged stickers (preacher’s lice), thistles and most any kind of weed that likes to imbed itself and make a tangled mess of her tail. Sometimes getting the cockleburs out, either from hunting or a walk in the park, doesn’t get done right away. When that happens she takes matters into her own hands (more likely her mouth) and pulls them out with her teeth. She’s not too fussy about where she spits them out and about this time of the year the seeds have sprouted from last fall and they have begun to grow in the lawn.