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Late harvest has made for a slow start to waterfowl, pheasant seasons

Pheasant hunters have found the early going tough. With all of the area's corn still to be harvested, the advantage clearly belongs to the roosters. The best success is found during the first and last shooting hours. Tribune photos by Tom Cherveny

WILLMAR -- Area hunters are hoping for better days ahead after experiencing disappointing starts to both the waterfowl and pheasant seasons.

"Pretty fair at best,'' said Minnesota Conservation Officer Ed Picht, Montevideo area, of the limited hunting success he's witnessed over the past two weeks.

His counterpart in Willmar has seen no better, and like everyone else knows why. "There's an ocean of corn and beans,'' said Jim Steffen, Willmar area Conservation Officer.

The unusually wet and cool autumn has delayed the area harvest by weeks, and it is not only farmers who are frustrated by it. The delayed harvest is adversely affecting hunting prospects like few have seen in many years.

It's almost like the perfect storm, noted Jeff Miller, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources assistant wildlife manager for an area including Kandiyohi, Chippewa and Meeker counties. An early cool front just prior to the waterfowl opener sent many of the local wood ducks and teal on their way south before hunters got a chance at them.

Waterfowl hunters enjoyed one wave of migrating ducks on Oct. 9-10, and those fortunate to be at the right place at the right time had their day, noted Miller.

Conditions are ideal again in the eastern Dakotas for waterfowl, and hunters venturing just a couple of hours west are reporting great opportunities, said Josh Kavanagh, a biologist with Ducks Unlimited.

Kavanagh is among those concerned that the late harvest will leave few open fields for the picking when the mallard migration gets underway in the area.

With all of the area's corn still there for the picking, pheasant hunting has been a big challenge too.

"Advantage rooster,'' said Matt Holland, Pheasants Forever director of conservation, New London.

Holland said he has enjoyed some success, but said it takes both hard work and good timing. Hunters walking the fields during the first and last of the shooting hours have the best prospects.

Steffen said the challenges have probably discouraged some. He was expecting to see lots of hunters last weekend when the skies finally cleared. He did not see nearly as many hunters as he would have expected, he said.

He saw some hunters who bagged birds, but limits and stories of success were limited.

Of course, hunting is much more than the harvest and many have not been troubled by this autumn's challenges. Joe Schlagel of Clara City said he and his hunting partners bagged only one bird apiece on an outing, adding: "We had to work for 'em.''

Was he discouraged? Not a bit. "It's early,'' said Schlagel.

Avid pheasant hunter Jim Tetzloff of Willmar feels exactly the same way. He said the opening days have been tough, but he also knows there are many pheasants out there. Tetzloff said is looking forward to chasing the colorful birds in the days ahead, even though he knows it only gets tougher as the birds get wiser.

Tetzloff said some of his favorite pheasant hunting memories have been made in late season when he's flushed birds with the crunch of snow under his boots.

Besides, his early season hunt has also rewarded him with the kind of memories that explain why he is so passionate about the sport. He accompanied his 22-year-old daughter as she bagged her first pheasant.

It's a guarantee that plenty of other memories will be made in the days ahead, and there are some encouraging signs out there. Steffen said a flight of geese arrived at the Lac qui Parle refuge early this week, and consequently the number of birds around for the re-opening of the West Central Zone season on Saturday should be better.

He and others hope that better duck numbers will be seen soon, too, and of course everyone is hoping that the weather will allow farmers to get the crops in.

There's already lots of speculation about how much corn might be standing at the start of the deer firearm season, and what that might mean.