WATSON — A new era begins at the Lac qui Parle refuge this year, where hunters will no longer be required to register for any of the state blinds.
Blinds will be available on a first come, first served basis through the 2014 goose season, running Oct. 16 through December 30.
It’s one of many changes coming this year, but hunters should know that it remains a controlled hunting zone. Hunters must use designated blinds within the refuge, possess no more than 12 shells, and must unload and case their shotguns when more than 10-feet from their blind.
Refuge Manager Dave Trauba of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources believes hunters will welcome the change to a first come, first served allocations of blinds. The change, he said, “makes sense.’’
Hunter numbers at the refuge have declined for more than a decade as goose hunters find ample opportunities to pursue their sport throughout much of Minnesota today.
As a result, there are more blinds available than demand for them, said Trauba. That’s the case on weekends as well as weekdays. It is no longer cost effective to staff the hunter contact station and hold the morning and afternoon drawings to allocate blinds, as had been the case for 40 years.
The practice originally began four decades ago in an old barn at the site, when the Lac qui Parle refuge offered one of the few opportunities for goose hunting in the state. Hunters gathered under dim, incandescent lights as a pre-dawn drawing was held for blinds lining the refuge.
This year, hunters need only drive to a blind of their choosing. They can use one blind in the morning and if not successful, move to a different blind in the afternoon.
Finding the right blind will be made easier too.
The DNR is currently in the process of publishing an “everything you want to know about goose hunting at Lac qui Parle” guide, according to Trauba. It will provide a list of blinds, photos of each, even information on placing decoys at each, and lots of tips on how to be successful.
The comprehensive guide will be available on the DNR’s website late this month or in early October, and include information on geese migration numbers and dates through the refuge.
The guide will also outline the other changes coming, and they are significant.
The controlled hunt zone is shrinking. All of the area east of Chippewa County Road 32 and north of County Road 33 is being removed from the controlled zone and made part of the wildlife management area. That means the area remains accessible to hunting, but hunters will be free to locate themselves as they wish and carry as many shells as they want.
The Watson Sag, including the water blinds located there, is part of the area being removed from the controlled zone and available for hunting as part of the wildlife management area.
A fabricated blind will be added to a crop field in this area as well. It will be mandatory to use decoys at the blind, and it will only be available for use on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. The limited use should keep geese from developing a pattern of avoiding the area, explained Trauba.
He said there are also plans to remove some of the blinds now in the controlled zone. He’s reviewed years of records and staff will be removing those blinds where hunter success was very poor. Due to the changed migration patterns, there were a few blinds where no one shot geese in the last five years, either because no one occupied them or the geese no longer fly over their locations.
With all of the changes are sure to come some challenges, noted Trauba. One of the concerns will be that hunters reach blinds before shooting hours in the morning. Staff will be watching to make sure that people aren’t parking vehicles and walking to blinds while geese are flying and other hunters working to decoy them.
DNR staff will continue to be available seven days a week at the refuge and can answer hunter questions about everything from flight patterns to which blinds were hot the previous day.
Overall, the changes being implemented are aimed at providing hunters with an enjoyable and quality hunting experience, said Trauba.
The changes also recognize that the Lac qui Parle area today is much more than a goose hunting destination. Trauba said many are recognizing that a trip to Lac qui Parle can also include opportunities for everything from pheasant hunting to walleye fishing.
The changes also speak to what has been the Lac qui Parle success story. There were no more than 150 Canada geese at Lac qui Parle in 1958, when efforts began in earnest to attract the Eastern Prairie Population geese that were migrating through the area from summer nesting grounds on the tundra.
At that time, there were also fears that Minnesota had lost its population of native, giant Canada geese.
Today, Minnesota’s giant Canada geese population has grown to the level that the DNR offers a special, August hunt with a daily bag of 10. And, the Lac qui Parle refuge remains a very important resting and feeding site for the EPP geese, which arrive by the tens of thousands through the migration.