1/9/2013 9:53:00 AM Long tails, strong wings and fast flying roosters
Ron Kuecker Outdoors Columnist
About 15 years ago I wrote a column about the last day of that seasons pheasant hunt which I called a "Rooster for Each Dog," or something like that. In those days I hunted over Brittany spaniels, the two I owned then were Bubba and Jack. Or, maybe they owned me and forced me to hunt pheasants. As luck would have it happen on that day, hunting them one at a time, I watched both make excellent points, I did my job, and both made perfect retrieves. One of them was even across a partially open mid-winter stream of water. Jack's retrieves left you no doubt the bird was dead, Bubba's fetch was soft as Charmin. No such luck this year. It was partially my fault, I missed a couple over the last week or so. Didn't have to tell you that, it was just me and brown Buddy standing out there in the tall grass wondering what the heck happened. Just didn't want you blaming him for the empty game bag those days. In general, though, there were fewer birds out there compared to several years ago and they were just as smart as ever. And, when they did jump from the snow to the air they flew faster, propelled by large pectoral muscles and longer, stronger primary and secondary wing feathers. They now had two foot-long tails to steer them quickly to safety. No longer young birds or older birds just recovering from their late summer molt, these late December birds were now mature wild roosters. Their flying speed is around 30 mph compared to the October speeds of 20 mph in young wild birds or South Dakota game farm releases. And, they go from 0-30 in a time that is faster than my gun mount, safety release and shot discharge. Smart birds There is possibly no other wild game in our area that is smarter than a late season rooster. And, that includes wild turkeys, even white-tailed deer except for some really old bucks outside the brain numbing rut. They hear better than any other and they can run hidden under grass even when snow has laid it down. I also have another theory, they watch carefully and then when you turn your back to them, they flush suddenly, gaining another second in their escape to safety. Now, take those tactics, skills and abilities of roosters and combine them with an orange clad hunter, which glows brightly in the sunlight especially against white snow, and you've presented yourself with quite a challenge. This year, except for that very low bird count, has presented nearly ideal conditions for late season pheasant hunting. We had some 10" of snow in December compared to one of those recent tough winters when 30" fell before Christmas. Nevertheless, the hunting score for me on smart, late season roosters with long tails and strong wings was Ron-0, roosters about 25. Randy gets DU award It's been about 25 years now that I've known Randy Markl. He came to Windom from his home near Woodstock via college and a few other wildlife jobs. He probably got some of his early wildlife experiences building fences around Wildlife Management Areas (WMA's) for Hiram Southwick, Slayton Area Wildlife Manager. It was in 1988 that he moved into his corner office in the old tin building near Warren Lake, which at that time was better known for being the regional fisheries headquarters. Since then I've observed Randy's work as he quietly and unassumably took over the job of area wildlife manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. His is a four-county area surrounding Windom. He has steadily and consistently improved the wildlife habitat situation in that area by acquiring additional tracts for wildlife and managing them better than most others I have observed. During the course of those 25 years Randy has worked closely with other wildlife groups to preserve and enhance areas for all wildlife species. Most notable might be his long-term relationship with Ducks Unlimited as he extended a cooperative hand to that groups efforts to save a place for ducks and others. A couple of weeks ago Randy received Ducks Unlimited 2012 Minnesota Conservation Partner of the Year award. It is an award that Randy much deserves. New WMA Almost in synchrony with that award came an announcement that the Minnesota DNR has purchased from the Leland Thiessen family a parcel of land for a Wildlife Management Area (WMA). A bit over 100 acres, it will be planted to native plants and I hope some woody cover and food plots to help species that have to stay here for the winter. It also includes a seasonal water basin, much needed for flood prevention and nutrient settling as well as spring and fall waterfowl habitat. Funds came from the wildlife legacy sales tax amendment via Pheasants Forever as well as local contributions from the Cottonwood County Game and Fish League. Way to go guys and thanks, Leland!