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Bernie Revering column: Outdoor activities don't end in the winter

Late January doesn't mean that outdoor activities are at an end. Somewhat diminished, to be sure, but for many this is a most active time. Our outdoor clothing now features new technologies, which have resulted in very warm and serviceable fabrics. Gone are the bulky garments of the past, a lot of new names like Gore Tex and Thinsulate. They are great for all of the wintertime ventures we like to take part in.

There are times when getting out to the fish house on a local lake holds less appeal, especially when fishing is at a low ebb. But many of the Becker County sportsmen are making the half-day trek to border lakes, some into Canada. Such famous places as Lake Of The Woods, Rainy Lake, Big Winnie, and, of course, the more accessible Mille Lacs. Most times, one can find satisfying walleye activity, and worth the venture and the cost. Others will opt for a pheasant hunt at a game farm. This can be within thirty miles of Detroit Lakes or over a hundred miles away. There are some good ones remaining locally, and you'll have an enjoyable day at any of these. The cost is a real bargain when compared to a venture into the Dakotas, as many of us did last fall. And the hunting is just as sporty as with the wild birds, and they taste the same when made into your favorite casserole. Game farm hunting has become an acceptable manner of hunting, and it often provides the opportunity to take a young hunter along as well.

Northwestern Minnesota sportsmen have had a good year. We bagged a record number of ringneck pheasants. Waterfowl hunting was good for some but a bit disappointing. Deer hunting, however, was great, and there are a lot of gourmet meals of venison available in the freezers of many of us. Steady ice fishing continues to provide great outdoor adventures for a lot of local sportsmen. Not walleyes all of the time, but where can you get a better fish than the crappie, when taken through the ice in January?

Locally, Big Detroit always offers good blue gill fishing. Pull out a fish that nears seven inches and you have something that your fillet knife will turn into a tasty meal when you have a few, as our generous legal limit provides.

Blue gill activity diminishes as the winter wears on, but they're always there. In much of their lives they have been avoiding the voracious northern and other big fish. Now they're larger themselves, and if you find them over a weed bed, fishing activity can be great. Late January isn't at all great at times, but it isn't all that bad, either. Get out there and enjoy!

Proposal: Open the walleye season a week earlier.

The idea is being floated. At a recent meeting in Saint Cloud, the idea was suddenly thrust upon sportsmen in Minnesota. Of course, there are already battle lines being formed. The resort industry seems to favor the idea, providing a longer season. Some sportsmen feel the need to be at home with the family on Mother's Day, which is a holiday that would be involved if the season were advanced a week. It is always quite cold when the fishing season begins in mid-May, and it would perhaps, be more of a deterrent but not by much for most of us. Its cold in mid-May and we tolerate it. The DNR has not responded fully, but biologists say that open water angling wouldn't interfere with the spawning season. Governor Tim Pawlenty, himself an ardent walleye fisherman, has supported the idea.

The idea has some support from the legislative committee that deals with game and fish affairs. Other proposals, not concerned with the early opening date, are a deduction of the legal limit from six, down to four. And, there continues to be the continual tinkering with lengths, keepers and releases.

TIP is a very successful program

And it deserves the support of sportsmen everywhere. TIP is not a part of the Minnesota Department Of Natural Resources. TIP stands for "Turn In Poachers," but you already knew that. TIP is now 27 years old, having been active in preserving and protecting the natural resources in Minnesota. The program had 1,500 calls in the past year, which led to about 600 arrests of poachers. Since its inception, about $350,000 has been paid out in rewards to informants.

TIP has a youth education program and publishes a book about its activities. It is given out with the group's youth camps, the people usually being in the 5th or 6th grades. About 15,000 youth receive the book each year. So the TIP program has its expenses.

And it is currently asking for donations and support. TIP gets its funds only from donations, memberships, and fund-raisers. An easy way to provide continuance of this very vital activity is to put a check in the mail to PO Box 21658, Eagan, MN, 55121. Your support is needed.

Half a million pheasants.

Right here in Minnesota last season. We thought hunting the long-tailed bird was pretty good, five decades ago, when we went down to the extreme southwestern counties of our state. Most times, trips there would result in the six-rooster possession limit; sometimes it was very difficult to get a pair in a weekend of tromping. Now, the DNR estimates that the take in 2007 resulted a take of 500,000 roosters. That's the highest since 1964, when accurate counts were made. And it appears that there are a good number of hens on the pheasant range. If we don't get a lot more snow sealing off the feeding areas, or a wet cold spring, we should be in great shape for another good year.

Minnesota doesn't have as much free range hunting areas available as do both Dakotas, but there are a lot of waterfowl production area or the wildlife management areas with suitable cover for feeding, hiding, and nesting. These areas total about 600,000 acres,

Non-toxic in the uplands

The Minnesota Department Of Natural Resources is considering a plan to ban lead shot for small game and bird hunting in the agricultural regions of our state. We have had non-toxic shot and a ban on lead since 1989 with a partial ban in some of the state and federal lands where pheasants are hunted. This new one would cover a lot more area than presently.

We have all suffered through the poor performance of non-toxics, but the current shotshell products are surprisingly improved. But not all hunters are ready to accept the current all-covering proposal; saying that there is no scientific evidence that lead shot poses a threat in pheasant country.

Elsewhere in the U.S.A., similar bans on lead shot have been promoted by anti-hunting and anti-gun activists. That's not the case in Minnesota. Farmland zone hunting has seen acceptance of steel shot for use by hunters. And this has been effective. Personally, I've used a load of 3 1/4 drams of powder, to push 1 or 1 1/4 ounces of steel #4 shot. It is about equal to the old lead load of high base number sixes. The steelies will reach out for birds to the range of about 35 yards, which is a long shot in the pheasant fields. The ammunition industry and the National Rifle Association reportedly are both against the Minnesota proposal at this time.

The toxic lead shot ban wouldn't extend to the timberland where ruffed grouse are taken. Minnesota based Federal Cartridge Corporation of Anoka would not support a lead shot ban for farmland hunting of pheasants. The Federal Cartridge Corporation has, of course, traditionally been a strong and dependable supporter of the Minnesota DNR in the past. Losing support of a diminished part of this is a serious thing for the state agency to consider.

Park Rapids ice fishing contest

A Park Rapids ice fishing contest is scheduled on Fish Hook Lake, next Saturday, Feb. 2 with a dinner the night before at the Park Rapids American Legion Club rooms. With $110,000 in prizes, this is no small deal. There are a lot of sponsors, along with the American Legion, and a lot of money, a truck, and gear to be won by the participating ice anglers. The contest hours run from 1 p.m. til 3:30 p.m. This is a big one and it is nearby, so you should plan and driving over that mere thirty miles. Tickets are $30 each.