Doug Smith
See more of the story

Not a huge surprise: Pheasant hunting in Minnesota last fall wasn't as good as in 2007. The 2008 harvest figures released Thursday confirm what hunters found afield.
But hold the tears.
Because they still harvested 522,000 ringnecks last season, according to DNR harvest estimates. It's the fifth time in the past six years that they harvested more than a half million roosters. That's the best hunting residents have experienced since 1931-1964, when they averaged more than 1 million birds yearly.
Because of weather and habitat losses, wildlife officials hadn't expected hunters to match the 655,000 birds killed in 2007, which was the best harvest in 40 years. But they correctly guessed that it still would be a good season and that hunters would kill more than a half-million birds.
Still, despite the healthy ringneck population, the number of pheasant hunters fell last year to 107,000 – about 11,000 fewer than 2007.
Go figure.
I'll have more in Sunday's Outdoors pages.

YOUNG WISCONSIN HUNTERS

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle today signed a bill into law that allows residents age 10 and up to go hunting with mentors starting next month without taking a safety course beforehand. Supporters say preserves the state's hunting culture by making it easier for youngsters and others to participate. Under the program, youngsters 10 and older can go with an adult who has a hunting license to try the sport. The child and adult can have only one gun or bow between them and must stay within arm's reach of one another.
Supporters say the program will get more young hunters involved and allow more people from urban areas to try hunting. Previously, Wisconsin's minimum hunting age was 12.

YOUTH DEER HUNT DEADLINE

Minnesota youths have never had more opportunities to partake in hunts designed especially for them – including waterfowl, pheasant and deer hunts this fall. But time quickly is running out to apply for the special hunts.

The DNR has more than 600 slots for youth deer hunts – both with firearms and archery – but so far only about 250 kids have applied, said Mike Kurre, DNR mentoring program coordinator. Last year, about 400 youths applied.

"I don't know if people are procrastinating or forgetting or what,'' he said. Most of the hunts are in state parks or at Camp Ripley.

Kids have only until Friday to apply for the youth deer hunts. They must apply at an Electronic Licensing System vendor by the close of business Friday. Young hunters must have completed a firearms safety course, which they could do before the October deer hunts.

Kurre is hoping the DNR gets a flurry of last-minute applications.

Meanwhile, young hunters who want to try pheasant hunting with an experienced mentor have until Aug. 24 to apply for the Youth Pheasants Forever hunt in October. And the deadline to apply for a youth waterfowl hunt at Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge near Detroit lakes is Monday. That's being held in conjunction with Youth Waterfowl Day, which is Sept. 19.

Information on these and other youth hunting and fishing opportunties is available at http://mndnr.gov/youthhunts or by contacting the DNR at 888-MINNDNR (646-6367.)

BLUEBERRY HEAVEN

I'm back from a couple weeks' vacation, including a trip to Quetico Provincial Park. It was unusually cold and blustery for a summer paddle, but walleyes and smallmouth bass were biting and the scenery, as always, was spectacular. When we returned to Ely, we picked blueberries in a patch of woods that had been logged several years ago. It was blueberry paradise. Our crew picked several gallons and will be feasting on them until next summer. It's been a bumper crop in many areas, and it's not too late for some prime picking.