Should Minnesota’s Next Governor Be A Deer Hunter?

In just a few days Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty will be joining the throngs of orange-clad hunters taking to the woods.   For Pawlenty, the 2009 Minnesota firearms deer opener marks his 7th appearance as Minnesota’s most notable deer hunting personality.   In fact, during the six previous appearances the Governor’s track record for harvesting a deer has been 1 deer in 6 opening day attempts—that’s slightly below state average in terms of the firearms success ratio.

Gov13Well, for purposes of full-disclosure, I must reluctantly take some responsibility for Governor Pawlenty’s lack of success in the deer woods.   You see, back a few years ago Governor Pawlenty deer hunted on my farm to kick off the 2006 Governor’s Deer Hunting Opener (GDHO).   I could offer up a host of excuses why the Governor left the woods empty-handed that Saturday morning…but suffice it to say we all gave it our best effort to achieve a successful outcome.

The process of preparing for the GDHO took months of logistical planning as a host site for the event.   In the process, I discovered a lot about Governor Pawlenty and his genuine dedication to the heritage of Minnesota deer hunting.   What I discovered was not just a politician trying to put a smiling face on an activity, but instead, a man with a sincere respect for the nearly one half million sportsmen who annually enjoy the sport of firearms deer hunting in Minnesota.

Yet, this blog post is really not about Governor Pawlenty, per se.   It’s more about his eventual successor—the next individual who will someday occupy the Governor’s chair at the Minnesota State Capitol.   Not only is next year (2010) a big election year, but we now know it also marks Governor Pawlenty’s very last event serving as Minnesota’s top deer hunter.

So, what if Minnesota’s next Governor does not hunt?   How would you feel about that?   Should they be pressured into keeping this gubernatorial tradition alive for the sake of appeasing the sportsman populace?   For that matter, is the Governor’s Deer Hunting Opener really that important to the rank and file deer hunter whose main interest anyway is to put venison in the freezer?

I personally have strong feelings that no matter who occupies Minnesota’s top office next, the tradition of the Governor’s Deer Hunting Opener should be continued and experienced by our state leader.   If the person doesn’t deer hunt all the more reason they should be out there on opening morning learning as much as they can about the sport so many Minnesotans cherish.

In June when it’s Dairy Month does the Governor typically make an appearance at a farm to celebrate that industry’s contribution to our state’s economy…you bet!   If Minnesota’s medical device industry has some healthcare breakthrough is the Governor likely to show first-hand support…again, you bet they will!   Then, is it too much to ask for the Governor of our state to spend a few hours each year in the deer woods sharing a common bond with the largest segment of the Minnesota hunting industry…I certainly don’t think so!

Don’t forget hunting in Minnesota represents a huge industry that has both a large social and an economic impact to the state.   This important news deserves to be emphasized annually by Minnesota’s Governor and there’s no better way to do it than by celebrating it.

Indeed, Governor Tim Pawlenty may have started a tradition back in 2003 when he took part in the inaugural event known as the Minnesota Governor’s Deer Hunting Opener.   Yet, as Minnesota sportsmen, let’s all hope the GDHO is one important Minnesota hunting tradition that is embraced by the next several Minnesota Governors still to come.

© 2009 Jim Braaten.   All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

Pheasant Season Underway; Better Hunting Still To Come

The 2009 Minnesota pheasant hunting opener got off to an uncharacteristic start.   Never before can I remember dealing with blustery winds, a dusting of snow, combined with a wind chill factor that teased more of a November deer hunt rather than early October pheasants.

My game plan for the day was simple.   I planned to hit a few grassy ravines on my farm first and then head out for some road hunting — not for pheasants, necessarily.   Rather, I was just doing what any good Field Reporter should do.   I was out looking for other pheasant hunters so I could interview them and report on their day spent afield so far.

After logging nearly 50 miles on my truck traversing the back roads south of Northfield toward Kenyon, I made a very keen observation.   The pheasant hunters appeared to be in hiding almost as much as the pheasants.   That’s right…for 2 1/2 hours of driving I witnessed a grand total of zero pheasants and zero pheasant hunters, as well.   At one point I fumbled for the hunting synopsis just to see if I had the correct day.   Yup, page 42 confirmed it…October 10th was the beginning of pheasant hunting here in Minnesota, but from my accounting it seemed almost as though somebody forgot to tell the pheasant hunters.SLD_142

I guess what was most surprising is the fact I didn’t witness a single other pheasant hunter out and about.   On most opening days you’re bound to see some hunters anxious to get the dogs out, but not yesterday.   Indeed, in my little section of Minnesota the 2009 pheasant opener didn’t experience much fanfare…but that’s okay.

Unless you’re a hard-core upland bird hunter, I sense the opening day of pheasant hunting here in Minnesota doesn’t take on the same degree of importance as other “opening days.”   First, the pheasant season is long and most hunters recognize that better hunting is likely still yet to come.

A big factor influencing pheasant hunting involves what is happening in the agricultural zone.   This year, at least in my area between the Twin Cities and Rochester, farmers have had some slow going getting into the fields.   An extended period of moisture recently has slowed the soybean harvest.   In fact, I’d estimate that currently only about 30 percent of the soybeans have been combined with probably less than 2 percent of the corn.   Until we get some decent drying days so farmers can get back into the fields, it might be slow going for the next several days.

During yesterday’s travels I did take note of a thriving turkey population.   I witnessed no less than four flocks (between 15–20 birds each) all on woodline edges eating in unpicked soybean fields.   I also observed several instances where wood ducks are still holding on many of the small river systems of southeast Minnesota.

In closing, I’m sure the cold weather and poor prospects for decent pheasant hunting kept many hunters out of the sloughs during the opener in my region.   Furthermore, because we have fewer birds this year compared to previous years it only makes sense that hunters are waiting for more crops to be removed to concentrate the pheasants.   Fortunately, those days are soon coming and then pheasant hunting activity will surely improve.

© 2009 Jim Braaten.   All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

Weather Appeared Ducky, Yet Results Proved More Skunky

The 2009 Minnesota regular waterfowl hunting season got underway today with a great deal of anticipation.   Here in southern Minnesota it’s been rainy, miserable and colder for the past couple of days which had set the stage for an optimistic opener for many hunters.   Unfortunately, fewer “local” ducks meant the time between shooting opportunities was noticeably longer as compared to previous years.

This morning I was the guest of Jim Jirik, a rural Shieldsville, Minnesota landowner who has a series of small, private ponds established on his Rice County property.   Jirik’s land lies within a half mile of Mud Lake, a popular waterfowl hunting location, so we anticipated lots of duck and goose movement once the shooting commenced at 9:00am.

DSC01608As we parked our vehicles and slowly walked towards the pond, our optimism was running quite high as several flocks of ducks wingin’ overhead seemed to be showing interest in Jirik’s ponds.   At one point a dozen or more geese took flight from the largest pond further bolstering our enthusiasm for the fast-approaching waterfowl season soon to be underway.   A bonus sighting was watching several sandhill cranes exit the far edge of the pond lumbering to flight with their raspy, unmistakable calling.

Yet, as so often is the case in hunting, what started out as high optimism would soon evolve into a sobering dose of reality.

As our group of eight hunters positioned ourselves around the pond system we watched the clock and readied equipment.   At precisely 9am the first barrage of shooting echoed from nearby Mud Lake and the season was finally underway.

Approximately five minutes into the season the two Jirik boys, Joe and Ben, found the opportunity to salute a small flock of green-winged teal.   As the morning pressed on occasionally some individual wood ducks and northern shovelers broke the otherwise monotony of what was becoming a rather slow opener.

Dick Rost, one of the elder hunters who claims he hasn’t missed a Minnesota duck hunting opener for 60+ years (except for those years he served in the military), shook his head in disappointment.   “The ducks just aren’t flying the way they used to,” commented Rost.   Rost went on to lament how in years past this very pond has yielded far better results during most opening day hunts.

Still, as our group of hunters gathered after several hours of hunting, the frustration and disappointment gave way to an overall feeling that regardless whether ducks or no ducks…it just felt good to be back out waterfowl hunting for yet another year.   It’s easy to dwell on the fact these aren’t “the good ol’ days” for duck hunting in Minnesota, but this group of hunters remains much more positive than that.

Moreover, waterfowl hunting is a bit unusual in that every day is unique and can yield vastly different results.   Such is the nature of hunting a bird that is constantly on the move from North to the South.   When hunting is a bust one day the very next day could prove to be a boon of activity.   And thus, we file away the memories of yet another waterfowl opener realizing that the 2009 waterfowl season has only just begun.

© 2009 Jim Braaten.   All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.