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Deer-car collisions are on the rise in Minnesota

Car-deer collisions often deadly, and there are too many. These misfortunes are on the rise in Minnesota. They are most frequent in November and December, when the deer are chasing does and presumably leave caution to the wind. We are in the midst of deer-car collision season right now. And plenty of them occur right here. Heavily forested Highway 34 on the way to Ogema and Park Rapids is a particularly bad stretch of highway. No restrictions on speed except to the posted, which is so easily ignored. A collision is no small problem and it can turn deadly, especially for a motorcyclist. The financial loss can be extreme, the insurance coverage notwithstanding.

My only encounter personally occurred on an early evening in October a few years ago. I was traveling quite slowly, less than 55 or so, near the location of a former cement block plant. The deer came from my left and I saw him before my left front fender grazed his leg. He ran off quite easily, and then I saw him fall. I stopped, got out and tried to find him, but I didn't. The worst crash I've seen was one that involved a state attorney driving a state owned Ford. The car was totaled and the attorney was hospitalized here and didn't return to work for 1 1/2 years.

Nine motorists were killed in Minnesota last year. Seven of these were motorcyclists, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

In the last three years, 9,820 deer-vehicle crashes resulted in 18 deaths. Motorcycle ownership is increasing all the time and recently hit an all time high. Many of these people are very young guys with little experience in any sort of accident. Cycle ridership is now at about 225,000 now. Deer-car crashes are said to be down somewhat, but officials do say that many of the occurrences don't get reported, since the Department of Natural Resources no longer requires involvement and disposal of the carcass.

Avoiding a crash is not exactly easy to do. "Don't veer for a deer," safety experts with insurance companies advise. Veering to avoid a deer can lead to running off the paved road and into a ditch, with obstructions.

We're all doing a lot more driving with good autumn weather. And there are more deer than ever! The problem is worsening in many areas. We have about a million deer in the State right now. DNR officials have urged a greater harvest in most of the densely populated areas, where there are a lot of deer. Much of this additional hunting, by archery or shotgun slugs, is aimed at diminishing deer damage to lawns and shrubbery, but there is a continuing trend to more vehicle-deer crashes in the Metro areas than ever before. We have a lot more people too, and cars are getting into the hands of ever-younger drivers, with little concern for deer, and car speeds.

And it's not always the Metro area. Crashes are becoming more frequent at Duluth, Rochester, St. Cloud and on the Iron Range.

What can you do about all this? Buckle your seat belt. Drive at a slower speed when you see the road signs that proclaim deer hazard areas. They're out there because these are indeed locations where there are more deer in the nearby fields and woods.

Deer-proof fences have proven their worth. In the area west of St. Cloud, in particular the St. Johns University woods, where there's no deer hunting, deer collisions are down. But these 15-foot high enclosures cost money that neither highway nor conservation departments can spare. So, as a motorist, you're pretty much on your own, and you'll personally need to make adjustments.

Get out for Minnesota pheasants

The pheasant harvest has been a slow one. There was a lot of cover provided by unharvested corn, but this changed the past week, and now they're estimating 75 percent of standing corn being cut. The reduction in cover forces roosters to seek concealment in high grass, cattail sloughs, usually adjacent to the harvested cornfields. This concentration has heightened the opportunity to find the birds, often without the need to seek permission from landowners. Most of the State Wildlife Production areas (WPA) or the Federal Waterfowl Production Areas (WPA) will have pheasants. We have a lot of these areas in Minnesota.

Conditions likely for great pheasant hunting in Minnesota exist now. A full 25 percent of the annual harvest will be taken in December. We urge you to penetrate the traditional good hunting areas across our border with Iowa, but good hunting is available along the South Dakota line and as far north as Wheaton. In much of this area, farmers are through in the fields, and permission to hunt can be secured. You may have visited North or South Dakota for the ringnecks, but we have some very good upland bird hunting available, and it isn't far away. Minnesota's pheasant season runs to Jan. 3. The daily limit increases to three roosters per day for those three days in January.

The shotgun you want to take is your semi-automatic 20 gauge, loaded up with the black 3" Winchester Super X Double X with 1 1/4 ounces of #6 shot. That's a 12 gauge load, and you'll be onto your birds faster, due to lighter equipment. The 12 gauge magnum stuffed with #4s, well that ended forty years ago!

We are losing CRP lands fast

There is a slow drain on the available acres of Conservation Reserve Program acres. This is habitat for small and large game, and upland birds, songbirds, and small animals. There have been decreases in this Federal program, which pays landowners to set aside marginally tillable lands. Doing so, environmental and other benefits resulted. The cap is down about seven million acres. With grain prices higher, particularly corn, land owners did not sign up marginal lands, but elected to restore it to planted cropland.

The cumulative losses affect the Prairie Pothole Region. Much of this is in North Dakota with its native prairie. Habitat loss is going to upset a lot of duck hunters. Contract enrollment in Minnesota and North Dakota are way down, and the scenario being set up for the year 2012 is scary. North Dakota alone could lose about 800,000 acres in that year. Minnesota has about 1.65 million acres of CRP. That could change this year, with about 70,000 acres leaving the program. Our best times are probably behind us, unless there is a turnaround in economics as they effect the income of landowners. Minnesota lost 61,000 acres of CRP in 2009. Doesn't look good.

The return of Redfield

Founded in 1909 by machinist John Redfield, Redfield Gun Sight Company made great receiver sights at its Denver plant. Generations of American hunters used either Lyman or Redfield.

Telescope sights for rifles began in 1947 in competition with the lower priced Weaver and very expensive Bausch & Lomb and Zeiss. Redfield's scopes were an immediate success, as here was something superior at a sensible price. Imports flooded the market, and Redfield closed its doors in 1999. But the Leupold & Stevens Company of Oregon has bought the Redfield trademark and its plant. Leupold, of course, makes a superior line of scopes, but will put its full weight of design and marketing in force and Redfield scopes will again be available worldwide. They will be quality optics. The Redfield scope mounts are legendary and there are lots of imitators, now that patent rights have expired. If you want something a cut above the rest, Redfield is your choice. Redfield was a pioneer in providing variable power scopes, and they have returned.