Late to leave Canada, geese skipping autumn stop at snow-covered Lac qui Parle refuge



With a landscape of snow and cold, we’ve become fly-over land for migrating geese this year.

This November is already in the record books for its early and prolonged cold snap that is accompanied by as much as a foot of snow in some areas.

And no surprise, this season is likely to make the record books at the Lac qui Parle refuge too.

It’s looking like the 2014 goose season will be a bust.

The season continues until December 30, but it’s already obvious. The majority of the geese has flown by and is now somewhere south of the snow line.

Dave Trauba, refuge manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said this season appears to be a true, worst case scenario. The Eastern Prairie Population geese that primarily use the refuge stayed in Canada much later into the season than ever before. When the door slammed shut there, they just flew right over this area due to the snow and cold of our early, winter landscape.

In years past it was not unusual to count 100,000 geese in the refuge at the peak of the migration. This year’s best count was 7,000. That was the number counted on November 7, when the refuge manager noted that the vast majority of the migratory geese were still holding in Canada. Four days later, he jotted down that the geese had left Canada and had continued on to points south of Minnesota.

In previous years, as many as 100,000 geese could be counted at the peak of the migration. That’s not the case this year. It appears a count of 7,000 on Nov. 7 will be the peak.

We may see more years like this. There’s been a definite trend for geese to remain longer in Canada. It’s a changed landscape in Canada. Seed genetics and other technology improvements in agriculture have moved soybean and other crop production farther north. The geese are finding the field pickings in Canada that they used to find here.

By the time they do leave Canada, we’re already moving into winter with cold and snow. Geese will tolerate the cold better than you might think, but not the snow. When it covers the fields it prevents them from reaching their food.

There’s still some hope geese may arrive at the refuge, but it’s worth calling ahead at 320-734-4451 to find out before making the trip.

Others are already making the trip to Lac qui Parle for ice fishing. On Wednesday, the refuge manager could count 14 ice fishing houses on the lake already, and he was certain many more would be arriving by the weekend.

On the up side, the early winter means an early start to ice fishing.

Deer harvest down statewide, but area hunters see some success on opener


Hunters are not expected to match the success of last year, but there have been reports of some nice bucks taken in northern Kandiyohi County.

NEW LONDON — Firearm hunters registered 54,000 deer during the first three days of the season, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported on Wednesday.

That’s 30,000 fewer deer than were registered during last year’s season at this time.

Counting the deer taken by archery and in special hunts, a total of 67,000 have been taken, as compared to 100,000 last year.

The lower harvest is by design, according to Leslie McInenly DNR big game leader. This year’s regulations greatly limited the number of does that could be harvested.

Hunters in parts of Kandiyohi County are probably doing better than their counterparts elsewhere, although harvest numbers are not yet available.

Cory Netland, wildlife manager, and Jeff Miller, assistant wildlife manager, reported that the opening of the firearm season saw average hunter pressure in the area including Kandiyohi, Meeker and Chippewa counties.

Miller said checks with registration stations in the area indicated that the harvest was going well in the lottery permit areas.

Netland said he’s heard of some nice eight- to 12-point bucks taken in the northern part of Kandiyohi County. Some were chasing does, suggesting that the hunt is occurring while the rut is on.


Farmers have also harvested the vast majority of the corn crop, which also improves the odds for hunter success.

The new blanket to snow and January-like temperatures may reduce hunter pressure during the remainder of the season. Netland said bundling up and getting back in the field is worth it. The snow and cold will not hamper deer movement, he said.

Dennis Haaland left his signature on wildlife lands throughout Southwestern Minnesota; friends have now put his name up for all to know

During his lifetime, Dennis Haaland left his signature on wildlife lands throughout Southwestern Minnesota through his work to improve habitat and create wildlife management areas.

“A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke [of the axe] he is writing his signature on the face of the land.”  – Aldo Leopold

A conservationist true to the spirit of Aldo Leopold, Dennis Haaland left his signature on a lot of land in southwestern Minnesota during his lifetime.

He and his wife Mary Jo raised two sons on a small farm west of Clarkfield in the center of Yellow Medicine County. He is remembered as an avid hunter, an athletic director and teacher in the Clarkfield Schools who inspired young people, a small farmer who cared about the soil, and devoted parent and husband.

His passion to work on projects to protect and enhance wildlife habitat will likely be his most lasting legacy.  He recruited fellow hunters, farmers, and anyone with an interest in the outdoors to work on projects to improve habitat. They’d work on weekends to improve wildlife management lands, or to plant wind breaks and winter cover for wildlife on farm lands.  He organized farmers along a ditch in Yellow Medicine County and together they planted a four-mile long buffer strip on both sides to provide pheasant habitat.

And year after year, he’d get people together to raise the funds and convince private and public organizations to acquire land for wildlife management areas.

Dennis Haaland loved to hunt pheasants, waterfowl and turkey, but always gave back more than he took.

He was a charter member of the East Medicine Chapter of Pheasants Forever in Yellow Medicine County, and helped revive the chapter when it hit tough times not too many years ago.

He died October 18, 2010 doing what he loved most. He was on a pheasant and waterfowl hunting trip near Britton, S.D., when his heart suddenly failed him at age 73.

Friends immediately realized it was now their job to carry on his work. They made it their goal to acquire land and create a Wildlife Management Area in memory of Haaland, according to Stan Santjer, president of the East Medicine chapter of Pheasants Forever. The idea “came up very quickly’’ in the wake of Haaland’s passing, he said.

The 80-acre, Dennis Haaland Wildlife Management Area was formally dedicated on Saturday. A prairie wind whipped the long grasses as family and friends gathered to do the honors. A rooster pheasant flushed from the grasses as the short ceremony got underway. It was taken as a sign.

“He would have been thrilled,’’ said Mary Jo Haaland of how her late husband would have reacted to the idea that a Wildlife Management Area would be dedicated in his name.

The site is located along Spring Creek about a 15-minute drive southwest of Clarkfield on County Road 3. When purchased, it included about 23 acres of wetland and lowlands along the creek, 20 acres of grass lands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, and 37 acres of cropped land. Pheasants Forever contracted with Habitat Forever to seed native prairie on the tilled acres.

Dennis Haaland knew the value of protecting our wildlife lands for future generations.

The East Medicine chapter donated funds towards acquiring the land, but knew it did not have the resources to take on the whole project. Just like Haaland had done so often, the chapter reached out to others to make the acquisition possible. A sign at the Dennis Haaland WMA holds the names of the individuals and organizations that contributed towards the project. Funds from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage also played a big role in making it all possible, according to Santjer.

He was among those who lauded Haaland’s passion for the outdoors and especially, his drive to get things done. Santjer figures that Haaland knew better than most of us that our time here is short, and consequently made the most of it.

Mary Jo Haaland said her late husband’s love for hunting and conservation came from growing up on a farm.

He cared deeply about protecting the soil, and often showed visitors the fence-line that he refused to plow down on his own farm.  It stood two or more feet higher than the cropped fields, making obvious the topsoil lost to erosion.

Friends knew him as a person of strong convictions when it came to conservation, and as someone who could sit down and explain the reasons for his convictions with anyone.

He was always willing to introduce others to hunting and the outdoors, and served often as a mentor to people of all ages, said Santjer.

Dr. Roger Harms, M.D., Rochester, was among those with Haaland on his last hunting trip. Harms credits Haaland with introducing him to pheasant hunting in southwestern Minnesota, and something more.

His friend showed him how a life lived enjoying the outdoors can be greatly enriched by assuring the future of those resources for others, Harms wrote in a tribute. Haaland has made possible many places in southwestern Minnesota “to make sure that his children and grandchildren and the citizens of Minnesota would have the places available that put us in awe of the Creator,” Harms wrote.

“Today, we dedicate acres of land that will forever be one of those places. That it bears the name of Dennis Haaland is a reflection of the beauty and goodness that a person can achieve in a lifetime and stands as an example to us all,’’ he concluded.


Mary Jo Haaland and son, Corey Haaland were among those who helped dedicate the new Wildlife Management Area in memory of her late husband.


Chasing America’s fastest land animal


Chasing fast-footed antelope is a challenge on Wyoming’s open range lands.

The sign along the highway promised “cheap drinks, lousy food’’ not too many miles ahead, just across the border in Montana.

We ignored the bait and turned off the paved road. We made a long dust trail on a gravel road and turned off again. The next sign pronounced “open range’’ and we slowed and sometimes stopped for the cattle grazing alongside (and on) the road, this one hard-packed. We turned down a rutted trail into a pine woods and made camp.

We had made our way to this corner of northeast Wyoming for our first-ever try at antelope hunting.

We put on miles hiking to locations where we could spot and stalk.

Sons Ryan, Erik and yours truly were truly new to this, but we were not entirely clueless as to what we were up against. Ryan lives in Sundance, Wyoming, and had scouted the area we were to hunt ahead of time. There were antelope to spot as we drove along, and mule deer too.

We knew from reading the works of avid hunter Judd Cooney that pronghorn antelope are North America’s fastest land animal, capable of clipping along at an estimated 60 miles an hour and more. They take off like the Road Runner of cartoon fame, minus the beep-beep. Cooney advises that their eyesight is equal to that of a person using 8x binoculars. They keep to the open range, grazing in small herds with their eyes watching all directions. When spooked, they bolt and zigzag unpredictably like a flock of birds at a cruising speed of something like 30 to 40 miles per hour.

The slightest movement can send antelope running.

They’re known as “speed goats,’’ and there’s some science behind this moniker. They’re genetically related to goats, and are not part of the deer family, according to Cooney.

My first encounter with antelope had been years ago at Custer State Park in South Dakota. I was surprised then by how they seemed more curious than afraid of vehicles, and found the same true now. Yet I discovered quickly what a challenge they are to hunt. They know two-legged creatures are predators to fear and will easily spot you more than a mile away. The only way to get into a football field’s distance of them was to keep out of their sight. That meant stalking them by crawling-sometimes on your belly- to get to a ridge- or tree-line that might offer some cover. Finger and fist-sized cacti made the crawling a tricky endeavor.

Stalking required crawling over range land filled with cacti of all types, the worst with hair-thin needles.

The real trick was to figure out the antelope, and where best to intercept them as they made their way towards a watering hole or their favored grazing. Luck helped us too. We each were able to fill our tags.

Blue skies, warm weather and star-filled nights around a campfire made it the perfect adventure.

The true test came when we finished processing the meat, and daughter-in-law Felicia put the first steaks in the frying pan. I’m sure the ranchers who raise some of the world’s best, grass-fed beef on these lands look at antelope meat much like a Minnesotan would a sheepshead (freshwater drum) pulled from a lake. Sure you can catch, fillet and fry them up, but do you really want to when there are walleye available?

Felicia told our dinner companions Alexis, 12, Hunter, 10, and Avery, 9, that chicken- fried steaks were on the night’s menu. They devoured the steaks unaware of their origin, and loved every bite.

We knew the truth, and enjoyed the fare with every bit as much enthusiasm. They made for a meal worthy of being complemented with expensive drinks.

The open skies of northern Wyoming offered clear, star-filled nights.

October’s fog played part in Green Lake plane crash 56 years ago


Captain Richard Carey was flying in dense fog when his Cessna L-19 crashed into Green Lake on October 15, 1958. It was recovered in August, 2005, shown here as it is being lifted to the surface for the first time.


Fog blankets our landscape on many mornings now, especially near our lakes where summer-warmed waters give up their heat to the much cooler, nighttime air of October.

The change of seasons occurring in October brings with it many foggy nights.  This seasonal phenomenon had tragic consequences for Captain Richard Carey, 36, some 56 years ago on October 15, 1958.

Many people in the area remain very familiar with the story. Carey was piloting an Army National Guard Cessna L-19 Birddog that vanished into Green Lake in dense fog. He made his last radio call just before 1:30 a.m., stating he was low on fuel and had “hit something.’’ It’s believed the small craft had hit a seagull and went down. Capt. Carey’s body was recovered 13 days later, but the plane went missing for 46 years.

Corey Fladeboe of Willmar and Brett Almquist of Maple Grove found the plane in 40-feet of water while they were fishing for walleye at a location out from the Joseph Brown access on July 3, 2004. They spotted the plane with an underwater camera and marked the spot, returning the next day with scuba gear to see the plane and its insignia first hand.

The plane had been the focus of countless searches over the years, including by a man who made a small submarine from a propane tank for the purpose. A Burnsville man, Greg Olson, had found the plane in 1996. He had researched the crash and made repeated underwater dives in the area he believed the plane would be found. He did not make his finding public at the time.  Frustrated by all the red tape involved, he abandoned his effort to retrieve and salvage the plane.

The plane’s finding became very public when the Spicer American Legion led an effort to retrieve it. The plane was lifted from the lake in August, 2005 as on-lookers watched from boats and shore.

Many came to watch the plane’s removal from the depths of Green Lake.

There were ambitious plans to restore the plane and display it in memory of its late pilot, but tragedy struck again. Pilot and aviation enthusiast Gene Underland, 64, of Spicer, died in an April, 2007 plane crash. He was returning home from Florida with a newly-acquired, amphibious craft when its engine lost power and he attempted an emergency landing near Knox City, Missouri.

Underland’s expertise and enthusiasm were essential to the restoration project. His loss dealt the final blow to the restoration project, which was already in trouble.  The estimated costs for restoring the plane had been steadily rising beyond what anyone had anticipated.

The plane looked to be in decent shape when retrieved, but upon further review it was determined that its restoration would have been extremely expensive.