Archive for the ‘The Hunt’ Category

Unbelievable!  I’m flabbergasted!  I don’t know what to say!  Except for wonder how this meat, this vital source of protein for Minnesota food shelves, is being harvested and processed.  I stopped taking my harvested deer to a commercial processor many years ago for the simple facts that, by processing the harvest myself, I could personally guarantee that 1) I was getting back the same deer I harvested and only that deer;  2) I could visually inspect any possibly damaged meat knowing where the wound channels would be;  3) there would be no bone or fat left on the pure meat minimizing the gamy taste some associate with venison;  4) how it would be handled from carcass to freezer.  Yes, it takes some time to process it myself.  I am not a professional, though I have gotten pretty good over the years.  I’ve taught everyone in my hunting party, including family and friends; it has become part of the deer hunting season tradition.  And I will continue to enjoy any wild game that is in my freezer.  But the Minnesota Department of Agriculture will only accept venison for the Minnesota Hunter Harvested Venison Donation Program from certified processors, for obvious reasons.  But now, the whole program from hunter to food shelf will have to take a look at how this food source is reaching the people who need it.  Here’s the full press release from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, April 10, 2008

Michael Schommer, MDA Communications, 651-201-6629
Doug Schultz, MDH Communications, 651-201-4993
Colleen Coyne, DNR Communications, 651-259-5023

State tests confirm lead in some venison from food shelves

Food shelves directed to coordinate disposal with MDA inspectors

ST. PAUL, Minn. – State officials announced today that laboratory tests have confirmed the presence of varying amounts of lead fragments in a number of venison samples collected from Minnesota food shelves. While there have been no reports of illness associated with the venison, the state has taken the precaution of directing food shelves to destroy any remaining venison. At the same time, consumers who have venison obtained from a Minnesota food shelf are asked to throw it away.

“The venison donated through this state program is subject to the same standard set for regulated food companies,” Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson said. “One person could eat this venison and receive a high dose of lead, whereas another person might not ingest any lead at all. Since it can’t be determined with certainty who might receive meat with a high dose of lead, we need to err on the side of caution.”

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) laboratory tested 299 samples of venison donated to food shelves through Minnesota’s Hunter Harvested Venison Donation Program. The lab tests found varying levels of lead fragments in 76 of the samples. The amount of lead varied from 0.185 milligrams to 46.3 milligrams. The high level of variability among samples means that no generalizations can be made and that additional testing is needed. However, because food shelves often serve at-risk individuals such as young children and pregnant women, state officials chose to have food shelves destroy the product.

The initial venison samples came from a custom processor in Bemidji and food banks (distribution centers) in Duluth and Rochester. Since November 2007, the program distributed nearly 78,000 pounds of venison to 97 food shelves across Minnesota. As of April 8, the food shelves had roughly 12,000 pounds of product remaining.

Samples first were examined by “X-ray” radiography at a commercial food inspection company, and the MDA laboratory conducted subsequent lead analysis. The tests examined both ground venison and whole cuts. Results varied according to the type of venison (ground vs. whole-cut) and the location from which the sample was collected. MDA tests found the lead fragments were not uniformly distributed in the meat. This made it difficult to assess an “average” dose a person might consume from a single serving.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), elevated levels of lead in the bloodstream can harm both children and adults but the exact level at which health impacts occur can depend on a variety of factors. The most at-risk groups are children under 6 and pregnant women. While high-level lead poisoning can be fatal, the symptoms of low-level lead consumption may not be obvious.

“We don’t have enough information or samples to make broad conclusions yet, but based on the available data it appears there is a chance someone could get a harmful dose of lead by eating this product,” Health Commissioner Dr. Sanne Magnan said. “We support the decision to destroy the remaining product, and we will work with MDA and DNR to address any food safety concerns moving forward.”

Most adults can tolerate small amounts of lead exposure without noticeable symptoms, but pregnant women and children face potential risk from even short-term and relatively low-level exposure. MDH recommends that people contact their doctor if they have concerns about potential lead exposure.

The Minnesota Hunter Harvested Venison Donation Program is operated by MDA in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and state food shelves. The program requires that all donated deer be processed by licensed food processors.

State officials will continue to investigate the issue in the weeks ahead. Next steps for the state will include development of a comprehensive set of processing guidelines for hunters and custom processors handling venison. While no decision has been made about the future of the state venison donation program, the goal will be to determine what safeguards are needed to prevent lead contamination of donated venison. Food shelves with this product will be contacted by MDA inspectors to coordinate disposal of remaining product.

According to DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten, hunters may have questions about what to do with their own venison in light of this announcement.

“We know that more analysis needs to be done to provide some guidance to hunters,” Commissioner Holsten said. “In the meantime, the decision to eat venison is a personal choice. I can tell you that I will continue the careful processing practices that give me confidence that my venison is safe for me to eat and to serve to my family.”


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Bull MooseJust a reminder that the Minnesota bull moose and black bear hunting applications have a deadline of May 2nd this year.  All resident hunters should apply for a moose or bear hunting license using the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) computerized Electronic License System (ELS) at one of 1,800 Point-of-Sale (POS) agents.  The moose hunt is Minnesota residents only, but non-resident bear hunters may apply through the mail using a printable application form.  Through a link at the DNR website, hunters may also apply over the phone or over the internet, but there is a $3.50 convenience fee tacked on for this service (and when I checked the link at the DNR website – it didn’t seem to be finding the connection).

For bear hunters, application in the lottery is only necessary if you plan to hunt one of the quota areas in the black bear zone.  There are 11,850 licenses allocated across 11 quota areas.  No-quota area bear hunters may purchase their license over the counter at one of the POS Agents.  In order to qualify to purchase under-subscribed, or excess, bear licenses, a hunter has to be an unsuccessful lottery applicant.  Those licenses go on sale August 4th at noon on a first-come, first-served basis at any POS agent.  New for this year is the ability to apply for preference only.  By selecting the Preference Only Area 99, the applicant will be unsuccessful in this year’s lottery, but will acquire one preference point in order to improve their chances in a future lottery.

This year’s bear season, as usual, opens September 1st and runs through October 12th.  Baiting may begin on August 15th this year.  In the thick forests of the Minnesota North Woods, baiting is a legal method in the hunt for black bears.  There are requirements, guidelines and restrictions on how you may set up a bait site and Area 22, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), requires baits or attractants to be attended at all times.  Check out the Bear Hunting page at the DNR website for more information.

As well as the moose season being open to residents only, it is also a once-in-a-lifetime hunt, unless you hunted moose prior to 1991 – then you still can apply for a tag.  The moose hunt must be applied for in parties of 2-4 persons.  Check out the Moose Hunting page at the DNR website for more information, and especially take a look at the “Wilderness Moose Hunt”, an article by Chris Niskanen that appeared in the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine for September-October of 2006.

This year’s moose season is October 4th – 19th in the Northeast Zone only and since last year has only been a bull moose hunt.  The Minnesota moose herd has seen a severely declining population in recent years which has led to closing he Northwest moose zone and restricting the remaining hunt to bulls only.

Researchers are feverishly working to find the reasons why the population has seen such a drastic decline.  Some theories suggest that warming climates leading to heat stress, encroaching exploding deer populations, and parasites like liver fluke, brainworm, and winter ticks as well as predators and habitat loss are the contributors to the decline in numbers, but so far a hard and fast reason has eluded researchers.  It may be a combination of these reasons, so researchers are intensely studying the herd looking for clues that will suggest the cause and possibly ways to help the moose fight what is threatening the herd.  Declining moose numbers are not unique to Minnesota.  When I searched the web for information on some of these threats, I found numerous sites, studies and articles that have documented some of the research that has been done all over moose’s North American range.  Below you will find links to some of the best of those findings.

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There’s somewhat of a panic surrounding donated venison.  A doctor from North Dakota screamed “lead-tainted venison” and states including, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, pulled the donated meat from their food shelves or at the very least stopped distribution of it while it could be tested for lead contamination.  The doctor’s findings were published in an article written by Associated Press Writer James Macpherson in the Bemidji Pioneer on March 30th:

“It’s alarmist and not supported by any science,” said Lawrence Keane, a vice president and lawyer for the Newton, Conn.-based National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association for the firearms and ammunition industry. “High quality protein is now taken out of the mouths of needy, hungry people.”

In this same article the doctor,  Dr. William Cornatzer, of Bismarck, North Dakota says that:

Hunters have alternatives to lead, he said. “I’m a big hunter. I’ve already purchased four boxes of copper bullets for next year,”

But wait, we’ll get back to that….

The good doctor Cornatzer, a 53 year-old dermatologist and professor at the University of North Dakota medical school in Grand Forks, claims he has been a big-game hunter since he was 13 and claims he has hunted deer, elk, antelope, caribou and musk-ox all over the world. 

The article also states that the good doctor alerted health officials after he conducted his own tests on venison using a CT scanner and found lead in 60 percent of 100 samples.  The North Dakota Health Department did confirm the results on at least five samples of venison destined for food pantries — (But five samples out of how many total and what was the level of contamination of those samples?) — and prompted the most extreme reaction to this outcry when health officials last Wednesday told food pantries in the state to throw out donated venison, saying it may have lead fragments.  The good doctor said further that he now not only lamented the feeding of venison to his own children and has since discarded his venison, but claimed that this is a nationwide concern.

This of course created a domino effect and Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa followed by asking food shelves to stop the distribution until further notice.  In the meantime, state officials have decided to test donated venison samples.  This is the proper thing to do before hasty decisions are made about throwing out a much needed prime protein source for the state and region’s food shelves.  Also, there are some serious concerns with the good doctor’s motives and methods by hunters and conservation groups, such as Safari Club International (SCI) which Sportsmen Against Hunger program donated 317,000 pounds of venison to the needy last year.  The following is an excerpt from a March 28th article by Doug Smith, outdoors writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Cornatzer said he became concerned after hearing about possible lead fragments through his membership in the Peregrine Fund of Boise, Idaho, a group that promotes the conservation of birds of prey, including peregrine falcons and California condors.

The organization says lead from bullets in the carcasses of animals is primarily responsible for lead poisoning that has endangered the condors. (In July, California will ban the use of all lead ammunition by hunters in the condor’s range.)

A lead bullet shot from a high-powered rifle “fragments into hundreds of tiny pieces,” said Rick Watson, vice president and director of international programs for the Peregrine Fund. “Usually a hunter cuts away damaged meat, but the lead sprays through a large part of the animal,” he said.

One question is where is Mr. Watson and the good doctor shooting these animals when they harvest them — by that I mean are they taking a quality kill shot or are they just spraying and praying?  Then there is the question of expansion and/or fragmentation of a bullet or slug. 

One well placed shot to the vitals is the only shot a hunter should ever need to take when harvesting an animal.  It is the most ethical kill shot for both game and hunter alike.  As a big game hunter myself, and an ethical one at that, I can conservatively claim that 95% of the countless big game animals I have harvested over the years have fallen to one shot.  I could not make this claim without preparation time spent prior to entering the field and without taking only high-percentage, quality kill shots.  A hunter, butcher, or state food shelf certified game processor would not need to worry about cutting away damaged meat if the shooter is a responsible hunter.  Now, realizing that not every hunter may strictly adhere to this code, if the result of the good doctor’s wailing is that donated meat gets tested and is held to higher standards by the hunter and the processor before it makes it to the food shelf – well then something positive was accomplished.

And remember the good doctor’s exaltation in his recent purchase of four spanking new boxes of copper bullets.  Well, he might be a little disheartened to find the inferior expansion properties of a copper bullet compared to a lead bullet.  Expansion means dispersal of greater amounts of energy and the higher likelihood of an ethical kill shot.  There is a reason why full-metal-jacketed bullets are not legal for big game in Minnesota — they do not expand fast enough, if at all, to deliver acceptable damage to an animal.  By acceptable damage, I mean enough damage to put the animal down in an extremely short time, if not immediately, in order to provide an ethically clean kill and harvest of that animal.  As far as fragmentation is concerned, I, personally, have only ever found one bullet to fragment on me in all my years of experience.  That bullet was a .50 caliber muzzleloader slug which fragmented on a boiler room shot on an average Minnesota black bear.  But according to the good doctor:

Deer killed with shotgun slugs or muzzleloader slugs shouldn’t pose a problem because those slugs don’t fragment, he said.

This should not have happened, and I went back to do more research and the practice range to find a better alternative.  My point being — fragmentation should never happen to any big game bullet, this is inferiority, unethical and unacceptable — for the ammunition manufacturer and the hunter.  If hunters are finding fragmentation of their bullets, it is up to the hunter, as likewise it is up to the hunter in placement of the shot, to find a better quality alternative.  But to eliminate the superior quality of the lead bullet from the hunter’s choices is the wrong method of action.  And, one more thing, should the good doctor’s action of throwing away his own venison (the venison he tested was not his, it was samples of the donated venison) be considered an issue of wanton waste — which, in Minnesota anyway, is a crime.

The Minnesota Hunter Harvested Venison Donation Program is operated by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) and the Minnesota Dpeartment of Natural Resources (DNR).  The MDA issued the following press release on March 28th:

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has announced it will test venison donated through the state’s voluntary venison donation program to determine whether it contains low levels of lead. Meanwhile, MDA is advising Minnesota food shelves that accepted venison through the program to withhold distribution of the meat until testing is complete.

While officials are not aware of any reports of lead in Minnesota venison, the state is taking the action as a precaution. North Dakota took similar action this week after tests in that state found small amounts of lead in ground venison.

“Minnesota sets a very high standard for food safety,” Commissioner Gene Hugoson said. “While we are not aware of complaints or reports of illness tied to lead in Minnesota venison, we are erring on the side of caution.”

“People are exposed to very low levels of lead and other heavy metals in a number of ways in daily life,” said Daniel Symonik, supervisor of the Minnesota Department of Health lead poisoning prevention program. “The question we need to investigate is whether the venison contains lead, and if it does, whether it’s at a level that requires intervention.”

MDA will collect samples of the venison from the food shelves to conduct laboratory testing. Until the results of those tests are known, MDA has asked food shelves to not distribute the ground venison remaining in their possession.

The Minnesota Hunter Harvested Venison Donation Program is operated by MDA in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and state food shelves. Through the program, deer hunters can donate harvested deer. The program requires that all donated deer be processed by licensed and inspected meat processors. The program has distributed nearly 78,000 pounds of venison to 97 food shelves across Minnesota.

That’s 78,000 pounds of donated meat that has been put into question, while Wisconsin’s more established donation program accepted 414,000 pounds of venison last year and has now been brought into question as well.  At the time of the good doctor’s findings North Dakota food shelves were told to throw out any undistributed donated venison.  That equalled around 5,000 pounds that remained from a season total of 17,000 pounds, but North Dakota food shelf surveys have shown a need for 70,000 pounds of donated venison.  However, Iowa has supplied some good news after that state was the first of the dominoes to return its test results:

Food pantries in Iowa have been given the OK to resume serving ground venison after tests showed just trace amounts of lead in two of 10 samples. Eight of the samples had no detectable amounts.

“When we look at the results of this testing and the blood data that has been collected over the years, the venison … presents no recognized risk for lead exposure,” said Ken Sharp, director of the environmental health division of the Iowa Department of Public Health.

I am eagerly awaiting to see the Minnesota and Wisconsin testing results.  In the meantime, I had to seriously question the good doctor’s methods of taking a much needed food source away from families in need  in order to further his own agenda.

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We’re #19!

OL April ‘08 CoverThe staff at Outdoor Life magazine followed a meticulous methodology as they researched the criteria, devised a sportsmen specific ratings formula and assigned the rankings accordingly.  When the votes were tallied, 200 American towns qualified for their list of best places to live for hunters and anglers.  I, like the rest of the residents of #19 ranked Bemidji, Minnesota, am one of the lucky few living the dream in Andrew McKean’s “Paradise Found.”  Andrew McKean is Outdoor Life‘s new Hunting Editor and the article “Paradise Found” appears in the April issue of the magazine.  According to Editor-in-Chief Todd W. Smith, who profiled McKean and the article in the April issue’s Editor’s Journal,

McKean was the obvious choice to author the cover story on the best hunting and fishing towns in America since he lives in a spot where great hunting and fishing are right out his back door.

This wasn’t an easy task, since we didn’t want to just list great towns for sportsmen, we wanted to rate them.

Living in the heart of the rural West, Andrew is in touch with sportsmen and the many challenges we face with public-land access, habitat loss and conservation issues.

Andrew spent months polling colleagues, gathering information, searching databases and compiling lists.  He looked at every state and in the end came up with a list of more than 200 towns nationwide where hunting and fishing come first.

200 Towns

Executive Editor John Snow, who oversees all of our gear tests, is incredible at developing mathematical rating systems.  His challenge would be to come up with a set of criteria that takes many of the most important things hunters and fishermen value into consideration.  His system is unique and, we believe, fairly rates towns based on a number of points of concern to sportsmen.

I appreciate the efforts of the Outdoor Life staff to reinforce something that I have had the chance to personally discover and come to believe in when I relocated to Bemidji five years ago.  The LPR is my own little corner of God’s Country — #19.  I was also happy to find that I have had the chance to visit several of the other towns that made the list, and happier still to find that there are many more similar places left to explore…

Outdoor Life picks Bemidji as No. 19 on ‘Best Places to Live’ list

Molly Miron Bemidji Pioneer
Published Friday, March 28, 2008

OL Top 20The sporting opportunities provided by this area’s lakes, rivers, woods and prairies won Bemidji a spot in the top 20 best places to live as judged by Outdoor Life magazine.

For an article titled “Paradise Found” in the April issue, members of the magazine’s staff profiled every population center in the United States with more than 4,000 people. They gathered data on the overall quality of life the towns offered considering factors such as the growth rate of the local economy, the unemployment rate, the degree of taxation, the time it takes to commute to work, the crime rate, housing prices, median household income and variety of cultural opportunities within easy driving distance. They rated each of these attributes on a scale of 1-10. They also rated 1-10 the fishing and hunting opportunities each town offers, the trophy quality of the sporting opportunities, proximity to land, the restrictiveness of the gun laws and whether fishing and hunting is good year-round. To complete the survey, the researchers developed a large database, weighting the sporting opportunities 60 percent of the score and the other quality of life aspects of the towns at 40 percent.

The results put Bemidji at No. 19 among 200 towns that made the “Best Places to Live” list. The researchers rated Bemidji’s outdoor potential as follows:

  • Population — 13,291.
  • Huntable species — 6.
  • Fishable species — 8.
  • Trophy potential — 7.
  • Year-round opportunities — 5.
  • Public land access — 9.
  • Gun laws — 5.

“There are a lot of outdoorsmen looking to put down roots in an area with more campsites then condos,” said Outdoor Life Editor Todd Smith. “We went straight to facts when putting this list together to make sure we got the best options. With hard data backing our rankings I know sportsmen aren’t going to be disappointed.”

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The evolution of deer hunting in Minnesota has a long history which has has led to the progression of more complex hunting regulations, especially over the last 15 years.  As a former member of the outdoors industry involved in the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, current Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) hunter education instructor, hunter, and hunting mentor, I can attest that the time has come to simplify those regulations for the good of the hunting community.  On February 12th the DNR put out a news release entitled “Simplifying deer hunting regulations is topic of public meetings.”  The release announced the list of the DNR’s meeting dates for the public to provide input on proposals that would significantly simplify deer hunting regulations.

The proposals for debate are the result of the Deer Season SimplificationCommittee (DSC) which was formed by the DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife (FAW) to assist with simplifying the deer hunting regulations. The DSC was comprised of 13 citizen participants representing various backgrounds and interests including deer hunting groups, new hunters, outdoor media, and individuals with local knowledge of deer hunting issues.  The participants were tasked to take a top-down look at statutes and rules (regulations) and make recommendations for simplification.  The DSC met twice in December 2007 and January 2008 and examined many components of Minnesota deer hunting regulations.  The committee produced a 24 page report (which can be viewed in full here) with this Summary of Recommendations:

License Consolidation

  1. Eliminate the all-season deer and multi-zone buck licenses and allow people to purchase three stand-alone licenses (archery, firearm, muzzleloader).
  2. Each license would come with one tag and bag limits would vary by permit area.

Zone Consolidation

  1. Consolidate the number of zones from six to two.  The two new zones would be structured around the traditional “A” season opener while still preserving the 3B season.
  2. The “A” season would have a standard opening date and varying closing dates based on permit area number (e.g., 100 series is 16 days).  There would be one firearm license that would be valid for the “A” season.  A separate license would be valid for the “B” (traditional 3B) season only.
  3. Eliminate Zone 4 and place it into the 9-day season structure (traditional Zone 2).

License Validation

  1. Eliminate the license validation that was instituted during the 2006 Legislative session.

Regulations Book

  1. Publish an abbreviated regulations book in the Hmong language.
  2. Organize a small group of people to review the regulations book before it is published.

Deer Registration

  1. Provide more flexibility with deer registration options.

Caliber Restrictions

  1. Change cartridge regulation to centerfire .22 or larger diameter.

On March 13th, Outdoor News Associate Editor, Joe Albert, also one of the DSC members, published an article on the newspaper’s website entitled “Zone 4 a flashpoint of simplification proposal.”  This article was in response to the fourth public meeting, held in Hutchinson, which was the first of two meetings scheduled in Zone 4.  However, before the Hutchinson meeting, officials decided to add another two meetings in the southern part of the state – one in Marshall on March 27 and another on April 8 in Worthington – both in Zone 4.  The attendance of 120 hunters at the Hutchinson meeting, quadrupling the previous top attendance of 25 in St. Paul, was anticipated and is expected for the upcoming Zone 4 meetings due to the zone consolidation proposal.

Zone 4 has traditionally been a six-day split (4A & 4B) season with two opening days on consecutive Saturdays.  Zone 4A is a two-day season and 4B a four-day season.  Any time new regulations are considered, there are concerns with how those regulations will affect the deer herd.  Zone 4 hunters are no different, and, amongst other issues, are concerned that a longer 9-day continuous season would hurt deer populations.  Albert’s article states:

Since 2003, 15 permit areas have been moved from Zone 4 to Zone 2.  That’s been accompanied by a 2-percent decrease in total harvest and a 6-percent decrease in buck harvest, according to Marrett Grund, deer researcher for the DNR in Madelia. 

Additionally, officials say Zone 4 “functionally doesn’t exist” because all-season, multi-zone buck, and youth antlerless licenses have allowed many hunters to hunt both seasons….

“The addition of three weekdays does not influence deer harvest and may spread it out and create a more ‘relaxed’ hunt,” according to Grund’s presentation at the meeting.

I can echo this last point.  I grew up hunting Zone 4 and eventually came to refer to the firearms season as “the harvest.”  It’s true that the entire deer hunting season (archery, firearm, muzzleloader) is a harvest, but this reference became less and less flattering as the years passed.  A 2-day season does not promote patience.  When lunch on Saturday spells 25% of your season has passed, many hunters begin deer drives.  A deer hunting tactic that I am not fond of, deer drives are stressful for deer and hunters alike.  This technique can be very effective, but it can also be very dangerous for hunters and others.  However, the nervous excitement of a short firearms season instilled in me a love for archery, the muzzleloader, and the passion for the hunt with both.  In recent years I’ve hunted Zones 2 and 1 without changing hunting locations.  I look forward to the firearms season much more than I use to because I do have the opportunity for more opportunities, promoting a more relaxed hunt.  The longer season has not hurt deer populations, if anything, populations have continued to increase.

All of the recommendations sound like reasonable simplifications to me, especially the license consolidation which would allow hunters to buy a tag for each individual season, with all three not to exceed the price of an all-season license.  If I only had a nickel for every hunter to whom I had to explain why they could not buy a firearm license and a muzzleloader license….

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I would like to applaud all those involved with the new Minnesota venison donation program.  Managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), the venison donation program’s goal is to provide a sought-after food source to those in need while encouraging hunters to harvest additional animals to help manage the deer herd.  A recent DNR news release stated 78,000 pounds of venison were distributed amongst 97 food shelves throughout Minnesota from hunter donations of 1,977 deer during the 2007 Minnesota deer hunting season.

Although hunters could always donate harvested deer, the new program allows hunters to make donations without having to pay for processing.  The funding for the expense of processing the harvest comes from Minnesota resident hunters who voluntarily make a donation when asked during the purchase of their deer hunting license, as well as a nonresident hunter license fee increase, and legislative appropriations.  In this way, hunters are able to contribute to the program not only by donating a harvested animal, but also by monetary donations that help defray the costs of making the harvest available to the food shelves by 72 MDA certified processors throughout the state.  Now, all that is required of a hunter wishing to donate a harvested animal is to use one of the MDA certified processors and that deer be free from signs of illness, field dressed with the hide intact, free of visible decomposition or contamination and properly identified with a DNR registration tag.

The new program has also benefited from the excessively high deer populations in many parts of the state.  The Minnesota deer herd has grown considerably due to a series of mild winters in recent years.  This has made it more difficult for the white-tail’s natural predators, like the wolf, to manage a herd that is not slowed by the usual, more considerable snow depths of a Minnesota winter.  At the same time, these mild winters have decreased the intensity of the white-tail herd’s winter kill, the natural phenomenon where the herd sustains the loss of weaker individuals due to late-season births, injury, sickness, and ultimately the starvation which accompanies a typical Minnesota winter.  To combat the rising white-tail population, the DNR has been redefining season zones making it possible to hunt longer with a firearm in many parts of the state.  Also, the number of deer an individual hunter may harvest has been increased to five or more in the areas where the populations are overly exceeding management goals.

The hunter’s part in recent hunting seasons, and now extended to the new donation program, is to harvest extra deer in areas where deer populations are above wildlife management goals.  In 2007, permit areas that allowed individual hunters to take more than one deer provided 95 percent of the donations. Nearly 70 percent of donated deer came from permit areas that allowed the harvest of five or more deer. 

“Overall, I think we had a very successful first year,” said Lou Cornicelli, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources big game program coordinator. “Most of the deer donated came from areas with overly high deer population densities, and the venison from those deer was put to very good use.”

Hunters continue to be an invaluable wildlife management tool.  This new program demonstrates not only the value of the hunter as a manager of a vital natural resource, but also describes how the hunting community has chosen to provide for those who would not otherwise be able to provide for themselves.  Our hunting heritage runs deep in Minnesota.  Now, I ask of our hunting community, can we improve upon these numbers in 2008?

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Stomping Grounds

Over break I was able to get away for a couple days, head south to a warmer climate, and party like a freshman.  Well, not really.  My big spring break trip was to the Twin Cities to visit a friend.  Not exactly an exotic location, but it does qualify as a warmer climate, and the partying like a freshman thing – let’s just say I’d make a pretty sorry freshman these days.  There were no plans for a hunt or even late season ice-fishing, just a chance to get together and visit some of my old haunts and reminisce.  Therefore I had some reservations about adding this story to my blog, after all, it’s not really outdoors oriented.  But due to the requests of friends who had heard of the pilgrimage, I thought that there might be a way to spin the story towards that outdoors slant.  I mean even a self-proclaimed outdoorsman enjoys a trip to the big city, I can clean-up not too shabbily, and these were my old stomping grounds.

Al’s BreakfastI had earmarked visits to a few places I had been known to frequent back in the day.  Where better to start than breakfast?  A good day in the field or on the water involves a starting with a hearty breakfast.  So our first stop was Al’s Breakfast, a Minnesota icon, in the Dinkytown neighborhood of Minneapolis, just off the East Bank of the University of Minnesota campus.  Fourteen stools  on 10 feet of 14th Al’s Counter ShotAvenue real estate.  I’ve probably spent time on all 14 stools at one time or another during my years at the University of Minnesota.  Hey, it was on my way to class, and I’ve never been known to turn downAdam and Eve on a Raft the “perfectly poached egg” over hashbrowns.  This was my quest this day along with a couple rafts and links in the alley and a cup of joe (or a blonde with sand to be more exact).  My breakfast companion opted for a deadeye over dogfood and a couple of yummy whole wheat rafts.  Plus, we couldn’t The Last Breakfastturn down a short stack of blues to share.  Al’s version of diner slang Tipping, Russiadidn’t go to that extent on this day, but the soup jockey did use the dogfood and short blues references (the corned-beef hash and blueberry pancakes, respectively).  That, along with a drawing of “The Last Breakfast” that hangs behind the counter, prompted this diner lingo search

A trip to the Seven Corners area of the West Bank led to the discovery that the legendary Five Corners Saloon no longer stands as such, and is now something called the Nomad World Pub.  Disappointing – we did not stop.  Back in the day, we packed into the Five Corners weekly to dance the night away with the Spaceheaters, a Grateful Dead cover band, who were packed equally as tightly into the cubbyhole of the Five’s improvised stage.  There was also the weekly rendezvous down the street at The Cabooze with The Big Wu.  Weekly, back-to-back nights of jam bands and cuttin’ a rug – good times.

 Nye’s      The Terminal      The Gasthof

Taking a stroll through Nordeast Minneapolis we revisited some old favorites like Nye’s and The Terminal, where I was introduced to my first perfect pint of Guinness, and ran up past the Gasthof/Mario’s Keller Bar and Jax Cafe, truly one of the finest dining experiences in the city.  Ultimately we decided to stop in to Tony Jaros’ Rivergarden for a Summit and a Greenie.  So many good times – I was glad to see the rest of these were all still kickin’.

Jax Cafe      Tony Jaros’ Rivergarden      The Greenie

I did get a chance to stop by my old urban hunting grounds, an area in Dayton on the banks of the Mississippi across from Cloquet Island.  The massive oak tree I use to spend fall weekday evenings in after a day’s work was still holding its ground.  I’d dash out of work to beat rush hour traffic and the sunset to gain a weekday escape from the city life with bow in hand.  Unfortunately the city has now turned the area into a park, complete with overlooks, paved trails, park benches, and a parking lot.  The island whitetail refuge seems to be, for the most part, undisturbed, but how long can that last with Home Depot’s being built in the shadow of suburban farms.

Cloquet Island      Urban Hunting Grounds      Eggie’s My Way

I wrapped up the trip the same way it started, with a trip to a favorite old diner.  This time it was Eggie’s Cafe in Crystal (seen here as #9 – Al’s is #8).  I hadn’t been a regular at Eggie’s in at least a dozen years, when, while living in neighboring New Hope, Eggie’s Eggs Benedict My Way and a side of their famous American Fries became a staple part of my diet.  The My Way is Egg’s Benedict, substitute bacon and cream cheese for the ham, add an order of their specialty fries to sop up the extra hollandaise, and accompanied by a never-empty cup of joe — oh my — comfort food heaven!  The best part of this return trip, Carol, the same waitress that worked the counter when I was a regular a dozen years ago, was still there with a smile and a quick refill.  Carol remembered me as I placed my order and let a dozen years slip to a what seemed like, for a moment, a week.  She called for Ray as he appeared to schmooze with his patrons.  Ray Hawk, the second generation owner of Eggie’s, came around the counter to tell us a few stories and offer a handshake and a “thanks for coming back.”  Class.

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