Report on the 2011 North Dakota hunt
Mid-October is the time of year that we embark on our annual North Dakota weeklong hunt. This would be my eighth consecutive trip.
Reports coming from the Dakotas indicated that the waterfowl numbers were at record highs while the upland game birds, which include pheasants, Hungarian partridge and sharp-tail grouse, had experienced declines due to a hard winter and a wet, cold spring.
Our group of eight hunters had choices to make which included the purchase of an upland or waterfowl license or both. The cost of each license was in the $100 range. Four of our group opted for the waterfowl option, while two went with both licenses. My partner, Larry, and I purchased the upland license only because we wanted to focus on pheasants which Larry's dog Briar, an English pointing setter, preferred.
Hunting in the Dakotas over the years has shown me many things but the most dramatic is that nothing is the same from year to year. Farming practices dictate the habitat while crop rotation can change a mile wide sunflower field into wheat stubble. In the vastness of the landscape, the vista is unrecognizable from year to year. Excellent hunting cover from the previous year can be transformed into miles of nothingness. Each year is a new experience and our secret hunting spots from the previous year are evaluated and reordered.
This year, because of the above average rainfall, the cattail marshes, which were huntable in previous years, were now full of water. The fields around these marshes had been plowed to the very edge of these marshes leaving only a few feet of available cover for the wildlife. There was no lack of water anywhere.
While the upland game bird hunting was challenging, the waterfowl hunting was excellent. There were ducks and geese on just about any depression that held water. The hunters that had the waterfowl licenses had no problem in filling their daily quota of ducks and geese. As in the past, Gilly, our camp's master chef, had no problem in turning the bounty into meals fit for kings. Gilly's special duck stuff, kabobs, Italian goose and grilled waterfowl wrapped in bacon made one look forward to our evening gatherings. When proper cleaning and preparation of any wild game is done correctly, there is no such thing as wild game taste for any harvested game species.
Larry, Briar and I had to work hard for our pheasants. Our harvesting was marginal but our hunting was exceptional. We managed to bag a few pheasants and I also was able to harvest my second life-time sharptail grouse. This particular sharpie acted more like a ruffed grouse which proved to be to my advantage.
Larry is an avid birder and master photographer. Much of our time was spent observing and photographing the area wildlife. I think we observed just about every imaginable species of duck and goose along with a number of shore birds not available to us in Wisconsin. I was surprised how much a common snipe looks like our woodcock. Deer, coyotes, jack rabbits and badgers plus several other species were tallied.
Aside from the wildlife numbers and variety, the physical vastness of North Dakota makes this truly a remarkable place to visit. The friendliness of the residents along with the majestic vistas makes one look forward to our return next year.
By Chris Trosen
What does almost a year of planning, partnerships between local, state and federal agencies and organizations plus the youthful thirst for knowledge and seemingly endless energy of the local scouting community equal?
Well, it equals a highly successful conservation event and in this case the event was called Conservation Day on the WPA; held on Oct. 22 on the St. Croix Wetland Management District's Oak Ridge Waterfowl Production Area (WPA).
The recent Conservation Day on the WPA Event was developed through a partnership between the Boy Scouts of America's Eagle River District, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's St. Croix Wetland Management District and Friends of the St. Croix Wetland Management District. The goal of the event was to merge environmental interpretation with hands-on invasive species management while at the same time providing Scouts opportunities to work toward fulfilling components of several Boy Scouts of America merit badge requirements.
Close to 450 Scouts and support volunteers attended this Saturday event which ran from 9 a.m. through 5 p.m. Participants arrived and were separated into groups of 40 individuals.
These groups began their day with a rather long nature walk along a mowed interpretive trail. The trail was dotted with signage identifying plant and animal species found within the tallgrass prairies of Wisconsin. The interpretive trail wound through three of the more endangered habitats of Wisconsin; tallgrass prairie, wetland and oak savanna. At the end of the trail participants use handsaws and loppers to target undesirable woody species such as buckthorn, Siberian elm and honeysuckle in an oak savanna restoration area on the WPA.
While volunteers worked, staff from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and other volunteers systematically worked from group to group providing information on the importance of oak savanna, wetlands, tallgrass prairie and management of invasive species as well as Leave-No-Trace.
From 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. participants were shuttled back to the registration area for a Wisconsin style lunch of hotdogs, brats, beans, chips, cookies and juice. While in the registration area participants had the ability to walk around to several staffed and unstaffed educational displays to learn about mammals, waterfowl, DNR's Crex Meadow's Wildlife Area, The Prairie Enthusiasts, Leave-No-Trace and several others.
Following lunch, participants worked in the field and visited with the educational staff. The event ended with a United States Flag Decommissioning Ceremony put on by the American Legion-New Richmond Post 80 Honor Guard.
"This was by far the most successful environmental interpretation event we hosted on the St. Croix WMD," said Tom Kerr, project leader. "The success of this event was not measured in the amount of habitat treated by the cutting activities but rather in the number of young adults who had the opportunity to spend time learning about what their public lands have to offer."