A tiff between duck hunters on the Mississippi River blew up Thursday, prompting one of the hunters to open fire.
No one was injured in the incident, but a spray of shotgun pellets shot from about 50 yards struck the second hunter's boat. The shooter, who had planned to be in a duck blind near Spring Lake Park Reserve on a November afternoon, instead ended up in jail on possible felony assault charges.
The Sheriff's Office was still investigating the case and will send the results to the Dakota County attorney to decide if charges will be filed. But shooting at another hunter is "aberrant" behavior and just plain wrong, according to Chris Niskanen, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
"There's absolutely no excuse to point a loaded weapon at someone or their boat," he said. "It's extremely dangerous."
With late fall mallards winging their way through Minnesota and Canada geese congregating on the river, Spring Lake Park tends to be a popular spot for waterfowl hunters. And on Thursday, with the close of the season looming on Sunday, hunters were out in full force. "There were a lot of boats on the water," said Dakota County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Tim Leslie said.
But getting a hunting spot is a matter of first come, first served.
"It's like going to church and someone has your pew," Leslie said. "Just like church, if you don't get there first, then someone can take your spot even though you sit there every Sunday."
But unlike churchgoing parishioners who merely move to another pew, the hunters reportedly got into a heated argument over the same spot along one of the river's islands upstream from Hastings. The group of four hunters on shore reportedly were irate with the hunters in the boat who were setting out decoys. "One of them got so involved and angered that he chose to fire his weapon at this boat, striking the side of boat with pellets," Leslie said.
But like most heated disputes, investigators got different stories from the two hunting parties. The hunter who was arrested told investigators that "it was an inadvertent shot at a duck" that ended up hitting the boat, Leslie said.
A battle over a duck blind that would prompt one hunter to shoot at another is "very unusual and very atypical," Niskanen said.
"These are public waters, so there is no 'his spot' or 'your spot,'" he said. "It's first come, first served. This kind of behavior ... is not the way waterfowl hunters interact with each other. And it's very disappointing.
"When you take a hunter's safety class or are taught by your mentors -- your fathers, your grandfathers -- they always tell you, keep a cool head," Niskanen said. "This is absolutely the wrong approach to take with your fellow hunter."
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788