Minnesota Outdoorsman - Minnesota Fishing and Hunting Reports
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5 Extreme North American Waterfowl Hunts

If a waterfowling adventure is what you're after, here's your list

© James Rung

By John Pollmann

From frozen salt spray and divers on the Atlantic Ocean to airboat rides in tropical temperatures for Pacific Flyway ducks and geese, the following five hunts represent the extreme conditions hunters can find while pursuing waterfowl in North America.

Layout Boats and Diving Ducks on the Great Lakes

Peter Wyckoff started hunting diving ducks in the Great Lakes to extend the number of opportunities during Michigan's waterfowl season. As it turns out, decoying redheads, bluebills, canvasbacks and long-tailed ducks from a layout boat on Lake Huron, Lake Erie and Lake St. Claire has become his favorite way to hunt ducks.


Divers

Photo © Michael Furtman

"The reward doesn't come without some risk," says Wyckoff, who works in Ducks Unlimited's Great Lakes/Atlantic Region office in Ann Arbor, Michigan. "You're hunting sometimes two to three miles offshore in three-foot waves from a boat that has most of your body below lake level, and the weather can change for the worse in no time. You can't ignore the danger of it all."

Safety precautions take shape in the form of specially-designed layout boats with cowling that gives precious inches of extra freeboard to keep water out, as well as standard items including life jackets, flares and a tender boat equipped with a marine radio.

"The conditions are extreme, for sure, but there is nothing like the thrill of seeing those divers right off the end of the layout boat. The excitement level is so high," says Wyckoff. "It's an experience like no other."

Body-Booting on the Susquehanna Flats

Expansive beds of submerged wild celery and widgeon grass have long attracted ducks and geese to the Susquehanna Flats on the upper end of the Chesapeake Bay. It is an area steeped in tradition and home to one of the more extreme methods of waterfowl hunting in North America – body booting.

Wearing a survival suit and standing in water anywhere from knee- to chest-deep, decoy carver and long-time body booting enthusiast Charles Jobes says the initial reaction to the experience can be overwhelming.

"There you are, standing behind your stick-up on a tidal flat sometimes a mile or two out in the water and all you can really see are the decoys on the water. It is a humbling experience," says Jobes.

Besides standing in near-freezing water for hours on end, Jobes believes that many hunters struggle with shouldering and swinging their shotguns at decoying mallards, black ducks and Canada geese.

"The survival suits have become less bulky, but the picking up the gun off the rack on the stick-up is different than picking up a gun from the floor of a blind or whatever," says Jobes, who has been body booting for close to 50 years. "Then you have the added resistance created by water pressure; it all makes it more difficult to get on a bird. But it is still just a neat way to hunt. Body booting on the Flats, you'll see and experience stuff like never before."

Late-Season Eiders on the Atlantic

January is not the most opportune time to run a boat out into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Rhode Island, explains Captain Brian Rhodes with the Swampers Guide Service, but if a hunter wants a chance to harvest a prime drake common eider it's the right time and the right place to get it done.

"The hunting conditions are very difficult. The extreme cold and wind and waves and freezing salt water spray – the experience is a real challenge for hunters and it's really hard on gear, but you have to go where the birds want to be," says Rhodes. "There is an excitement to the hunt and a sense of tradition that make it worth all of the effort."

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the hunt, Rhodes says, is actually making a shot on an eider or any of the other diving duck species that visit the rig.

"I always tell people that are planning to hunt out here for the first time to imagine getting on a carnival ride and trying to shoot trap," says Rhodes. "On the ocean, your shooting platform is in constant motion and so are the birds. But there's no place I'd rather hunt ducks. I love it out there."

Mexican Brant and Cinnamon Teal

While cutting his teeth as a hunter in Mississippi, 80-degree weather during the waterfowl season typically meant empty skies and quiet decoy spreads, says Ramsey Russell of Get Ducks wing-shooting adventures, but those warm temperatures are the norm while shooting limits of Pacific black brant geese along the Mexican coastline.

An airboat ride begins a typical morning for the brant hunts, which take place along the eastern shore of the Sea of Cortez, where the geese congregate to feed on massive beds of eel grass, their primary food source.

"These birds start their migration up in the Arctic with stops in Alaska and along the Pacific coast, but they may only stop and stay in one area or bay for a day before taking off and moving south," says Russell. "Hunters who target these birds tend to be ‘all in' on brant. They are the textbook example of a die-hard, extreme hunter and are deeply invested in the experience, and they come to Mexico because it is where the geese provide the most consistent hunting opportunities."

In addition to brant, Russell says that this area of Mexico provides hunters the opportunity to bag prime drake specimens of blue-winged, green-winged and cinnamon teal, which are decoyed over freshwater ponds often in the center of large agricultural fields.

"And it can happen all at once," says Russell. "I've seen hunters shoot three times into a mixed flock of teal and drop one of each species. Crazy things happen."

Alaskan King Eiders

Perhaps the most extreme waterfowl hunt in North America takes place on the waters of the Bering Sea, where hunters target hardy king eiders in conditions that border on unbelievable.

"From launching the boats off the beach into big breakers to dealing with the ice that builds on hunters, guns and other gear, this is probably the toughest hunting you can find," explains Charlie Barberini, a guide with Aleutian Island Waterfowlers. "Then on top of that you're trying to shoot a fast-moving duck while bobbing up and down in a small boat; it's not uncommon to shoot a box or more of shells to get one bird."

The hunting heats up in this land of cold, snow and ice off the coast of Alaska when King eiders begin to stage on the open sea, typically starting at the end of December and running through January. Hunts take place along points and reefs where the ducks will fly in to feed on mussels and small crabs.

"This can still be up to a mile off-shore in some places," Barberini says. "There you are, hunting off an island in the middle of the Bering Sea, surrounded by the beauty of Alaska; it is so different than anything else you can experience as a duck hunter."







 

What Do Americans Think of Hunting?

How many of our fellow Americans are really on our side?

What Do Americans Think of Hunting?

Like all people, hunters sometimes take things for granted that they shouldn’t. For example, just because we hunt, believe strongly in the North American Conservation Model and think that hunting is a good thing, that doesn’t necessarily mean that other Americans feel the same way. Or do they?

A 2019 telephone survey conducted by Responsive Management and the National Shooting Sports Foundation sought to assess trends in Americans’ attitudes toward hunting, fishing, sport shooting and trapping. Responsive Management has tracked public attitudes on the four activities since 1995. Overall, the study concluded that 80 percent of Americans approve of legal hunting. Approval of hunting is highest in the Midwest (86 percent approval) and lowest in the Northeast (72 percent approval). Interestingly, Americans’ level of approval of hunting has remained generally consistent over the past 25 years, with a gradual increase since 1995, when approval stood at 73 percent. 

However, depending on the stated reason for hunting, approval of hunting varies considerably. When the reasons are for meat (84 percent), to protect humans (85 percent), to obtain locally-sourced food (83 percent), for wildlife management (82 percent), and to obtain organic meat (77 percent), approval is very high. When the reason is for sport (50 percent) or the challenge (41 percent), or trophy hunting (20 percent), support drops. The species being hunted also affects approval of hunting. Hunting of ungulates and waterfowl is more accepted than hunting of predator species, while the hunting of African lions and elephants has even less approval among Americans.

The approval of hunting also depends on the technique being used, especially the extent to which the technique in question allows for fair chase. For example, more Americans approve of bowhunting (80 percent) than approve of hunting with high-tech gear like lasers or hearing devices (26 percent) or hunting inside a high fence (21 percent.) Hunting with dogs was approved by 55 percent of respondents, but using attractant scents (43 percent) and bait (32 percent) was not popular. Neither is spring bear hunting, which received just 20 percent approval.

The high level of approval of hunting for the meat mirrors other research that shows that millennials and Gen Xers are drawn to hunting if the primary purpose is to help support a locavore lifestyle. The survey also asked respondents if they had eaten wild game meat, such as venison or deer, wild turkey, boar, buffalo or duck in the 12 months prior to the survey. Less than half of Americans (43 percent) said they had, with the Midwest (55 percent) the only region where more than half the residents had done so.

The survey also found that 81 percent of Americans approve of legal recreational shooting, a level consistent with previous years’ survey results. Groups most commonly associated with approval of sport shooting are hunters and anglers, those who grew up with a family that owned firearms, those who live in rural areas, white residents, and male residents. At the opposite end, the groups most commonly associated with disapproval of shooting are black residents, those who did not grow up with a family that owned firearms, Northeast region residents, Hispanic residents, and female residents.  When asked to select a statement that best reflects their opinion of recreational shooting sports, the three statements and percentages who selected each were: Shooting sports are perfectly acceptable (65 percent); Shooting sports are OK, but maybe a little inappropriate now (23 percent); Shooting sports are inappropriate nowadays (9 percent.)
Not surprisingly, trapping is more controversial than hunting, fishing, or shooting, with just 52 percent of Americans approving while 31 percent disapprove. However, as with hunting, the stated motivation for trapping affects the approval rating. There is relatively high approval of trapping for wildlife restoration, population control, food, and property protection, but less approval of trapping for money, fur clothing and recreation. 

The survey asked about legal hunting so that poaching or other illegal activities would not be considered. Sport shooters and anglers are also more likely to approve of hunting than the average American. Other groups associated with higher levels of approval of hunting are those who live in rural areas, those who grew up in a family that owned firearms, white residents, and male residents. On the other hand, groups associated with lower levels of approval of hunting include Hispanic residents, those who did not grow up in a family that owned firearms, black residents, Northeast region residents, and female residents.

The survey also asked respondents, regardless of their personal opinion of hunting, if they agree or disagree that it is acceptable for other people to hunt, provided they do so legally and in accordance with hunting laws and regulations. Most Americans (92 percent) agree that it is acceptable, compared to only 6 percent who disagree. Given that the initial question showed that 13 percent of Americans disapprove of hunting, this followup question suggests that just over half of those who disapprove nonetheless feel that others should have the right to hunt.

These numbers are, generally speaking, encouraging, though they don’t reflect the trend that overall hunter numbers are declining as a percentage of the overall population, or why that decline is taking place — which is a topic for discussion another time. What it does tell us is that, when done ethically, in a fair chase manner, with the primary goal of obtaining meat, a very high percentage of our fellow countrymen approve of hunting, even if they don’t participate themselves.


 

5 Shooting Tips for Spring Snows

Follow this expert advice to bag more light geese this season

© Chris Jennings


The Light Goose Conservation Order provides hunters with the opportunity to decoy hundreds, if not thousands, of snow geese into close range. The sights and sounds of so many geese in close proximity, however, can overwhelm even the most experienced shooters. The following five tips offer useful advice on how to stay calm in the storm and shoot straight on spring snows.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The sensory overload created by swarms of birds decoying at close range is often compounded by the unfamiliar shooting position that hunters find themselves in during the spring snow goose season. "If you're going to invest the time and effort into a spring snow goose hunt, practice shooting from a sitting position or from a layout blind," says avid snow goose hunter John Gordon. "If you can, practice those straight-up shots that seem to be so common during spring snow goose season. And be sure to establish enough lead. Snow geese are bigger than ducks, and I think it is easy to focus on the size and not realize just how fast these birds are moving." 

Pick Your Shots

Adding a magazine extension to a shotgun is common practice for spring snow goose hunters, but veteran guide Ben Fujan cautions against trying to empty a gun with every flock. "You're probably going to be more effective with five well-placed shots than trying to squeeze off 10," Fujan says. "Just because you have those shells available doesn't mean that you have to use them. Focus your shots. Pick out a bird and stay on it until it falls."

Put Young Hunters Close to the Action

The excitement of a spring snow goose hunt is appealing to shooters of all ages. You can make the hunt even more rewarding for young and inexperienced hunters, however, if you position their blinds toward the middle of the action. "By keeping the younger hunters in the middle of the spread, I give them the best chance to shoot the birds that decoy in nice and close," says South Dakota guide Charles Hamre. "The shooters on either side are given the instruction to leave the close birds for the young guns in the middle and focus their shots on the back half of the flock."

Stay in the Zone

Before every spring snow goose hunt, New York guide Mike Bard has an important talk with the hunters about the importance of staying in their shooting lanes. "Everyone has a shooting zone that extends out from their blind at roughly 45-degree angles. My instruction is simple: do not shoot anything outside of the zone," Bard says. "This has helped tremendously in maximizing our shooting opportunities, because hunters do not double-up on as many birds."

Bard also advises hunters to start high rather than low when it comes to picking out a target. "As snow geese are flaring out of a decoy spread, they are basically going to go straight up," says Bard. "Starting at the top and working your way down makes searching out that next target just a little bit easier.

Call the Shot

Having someone designated to call the shot on every flock is a must when you're snow goose hunting. The person calling the shots should be an experienced snow goose hunter. Even more important, he or she should really know how to read the birds.

"You have to watch the wings of the geese to see when they hit what we call the wall," says Trevor Mantuefel, a veteran guide who follows the migration from Arkansas to Alberta each spring. "Steady, slow, or no wing movement is good, because it signals that the birds are going to continue to close the gap. But when those wings start to pump, they've hit the wall and are going to head out." Calling the shot at that moment can save hunters 10 to 15 yards on their initial shots. And that can make a big difference, especially on days with a big wind, when the geese can put some distance between themselves and hunters pretty quickly.

 

Migration Alert: Light Goose Conservation Order Outlook

Central and Mississippi Flyways

© Avery Outdoors

The Light Goose Conservation Order (LGCO) is set to begin soon across the birds’ traditional wintering grounds, and while the coming weeks are certain to provide challenges to hunters, there are reasons to be optimistic heading into this popular option for those looking to extend the waterfowl hunting season.

Light goose hunters in the southern reaches of the Central and Mississippi Flyways are likely to benefit in the short term from a line of ice and snow that currently extends across Kansas and Missouri, with deeper snow levels found in eastern Nebraska, Iowa and the Dakotas. These conditions should keep the geese from pushing too far north until the first real warm-up arrives across the midlatitude states.

What really has hunters excited is the apparent increase in the number of juvenile snows, blues and Ross’s geese staging on their wintering grounds.

“From the snow geese that I’ve observed this winter, I’d say that the flocks are made up of around 10 to 15 percent juvenile birds, which is a huge step up from last year,” says Trevor Manteufel with Eaglehead Outdoors, who will be based in Arkansas for the start of the LGCO. “On the negative side, the geese that are here have been here a while just hanging out. They are incredibly stale and will probably remain tough to hunt until we get a push of birds from the south. I just keep telling myself that things can’t be as bad as last year.”

The 2019 LGCO was certainly filled with challenges. Flocks comprised almost entirely of savvy adult birds combined with unfavorable weather and habitat conditions made for a frustrating spring for many hunters, including those in Nebraska, which regularly offers some of the continent’s best light goose hunting opportunities. This spring, however, Mark Vrtiska with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission believes that hunters in that state could see an improved harvest of light geese.

“We tend to stop more snow geese in the spring when we have more water on the landscape, and this year we have water everywhere, particularly along the eastern side of the state in the Missouri River valley,” Vrtiska says. “I’m really curious to see how that amount of shallow water impacts the migration, because I’ve never seen conditions like this in all my years at this job.”

Lingering snow and ice pushed back last year’s migration of light geese through Nebraska, but once again, Vrtiska is optimistic for a different outcome in 2020.

“I’m sure guessing that we’ll see an earlier migration this year, but a lot can change in the coming weeks. Last year was just so different that it’s hard to believe that we’ll see something like that again,” Vrtiska says. “What we do know is that there is decent snow pack in South Dakota, North Dakota and I believe up into Prairie Canada, too, which should hold those birds back a bit and help increase hunter harvest.”



 

5 GREAT SQUIRREL RECIPES YOU WON'T BE ABLE TO RESIST



These five of our favorite squirrel recipes are guaranteed to get your mouth watering.

These squirrel meat recipes will have you heading off to the woods to bag some squirrels for dinner!

Some would say young squirrels taste the best, but once you try it for the first time, you'll finally catch on to what the rest of us already know. These aren't the type of thing you'll find on AllRecipes all that often, so we thought we'd serve as a source.

They're simple, but if you want to cook those squirrel legs and other meat the right way, follow these directions.

We've collected some of the best squirrel recipes from all over, and wanted to offer up a variety of styles to highlight our favorite ways to cook these small but tasty critters.

1. Baked Squirrel

  • 4 cut up squirrels (use only hind legs and meaty back pieces)
  • 1 chopped green bell pepper
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 4 Tbsp. red wine
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1/4 c. vinegar
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 4 Tbsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. Adolph's tenderizer
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 1 to 1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Crisco and cooking oil
Mix vinegar and salt with water to cover squirrel. Soak 2 hours in solution. Remove pieces and shake on tenderizer and pepper. Roll in flour. Fry in Crisco until golden brown. Place pieces in baking dish.
In another skillet saute onion and pepper in butter. Add wine and soup. Mix well. Pour over squirrel. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Recipe courtesy of Cooks.com.

2. Country-Style squirrel

  • 2 squirrels
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Flour
  • 6 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 c. water
Cut squirrel into small chunks of frying size pieces, salt and pepper then roll in flour until coated well. Put in skillet of hot oil and fry until golden. Remove squirrel and most the oil, then add water and bring to boil. Place squirrel back into the skillet, turn to low heat, cover and cook for approximately 1 hour.
Serve with some large potatoes that have been baked for a great combination.
Recipe courtesy of Cooks.com.

3. Oven-Fried Squirrel

  • One squirrel
  • 4 eggs
  • bread crumbs
  • Flour
  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil/ vegetable oil
  • Butter

Pat meat dry with paper towel to remove any moisture. Dip squirrel in egg. Combine bread crumbs with flour, dip egg-covered squirrel in mix. Cover bottom of skillet with olive oil and canola oil, add butter and brown meat well (about 20 min). Put squirrel in baking dish and pour contents of skillet over meat. Bake for one hour at 375°F.

4. Belgian Squirrel

  • 3 large squirrels
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 18 pitted prunes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cold water
  1. Clean squirrels. Burn away any fur that clings. Rinse the meat though several changes of water and pat dry. Cut squirrels into serving pieces.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  3. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add squirrel pieces and fry until browned on all sides, but do not cook through. Remove the squirrel pieces to a large Dutch oven or oven safe crock. Add onions to the butter in the skillet; cook and stir until tender and browned. Pour the onions and butter into the pot with the squirrel. Fill with enough water to almost cover the meat. Mix in the vinegar and season with thyme, salt and pepper. Cover and place in the oven.
  4. Bake for 45 minutes in the preheated oven. Remove the pot from the oven and add the prunes. Return to the oven and reduce the heat to 325 degrees F. Continue baking for another 45 minutes.
  5. Remove the pot from the oven. Mix the flour and cold water together in a cup. Use a slotted spoon to remove the meat and prunes to a serving dish. Set the pot on the stove and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in the flour and water and simmer, stirring constantly, until the gravy is thick enough to coat a metal spoon. Serve meat with a lot of gravy.


5. Squirrel Country Sausage

  • 4 ½ lbs. squirrel (approx. 15 fox squirrels)
  • 1 Tbsp. sage
  • 2 lbs. fresh seasoned pork sausage (with sage)
  • 2 tsp. basil
  • 1 onion
  • 3 tsp. margarine
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 4 Tbsp. fresh parsley
  • 1 Tbsp. black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. thyme

De-bone the squirrel and chop in food processor. Mix together with fresh pork. Mince the onion and garlic (Use a tablespoon of garlic powder if you don't have cloves).

Cook the onion until transparent and add the garlic and sauté slightly. Mix together meats, onion, garlic and herbs.

To test seasonings, form a small patty and fry in a cast iron frying pan with butter. Taste and adjust seasonings accordingly.


Form into small patties to cook or grill and use with your favorite sausage recipes. Great on pizza, with pancakes or scrambled in eggs.

Recipe courtesy of MDOC.

Squirrel can be a delightful wild-game meal and will maybe make your yard a bit quieter.

Enjoy!


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