Bird season opens with whimper, not bang

The migratory fowl hunting season in the Fort Frances region so far has been, well, for the birds.
Predictions of below-average success, blamed on the severe flooding throughout the area back in June that washed away many ruffed and spruce grouse nests, have made for slim pickings for those on the lookout for feathered prey.
Conservation officer Dave Saunders said the situation isn’t ducky when it comes to other winged targets, either.
“The wild rice areas got washed out, too, so in the traditional places, like the marshes on Rainy Lake and even in the smaller ponds in the west end, people aren’t seeing a lot of ducks,” he remarked.
Saunders added some hunters have reported sightings of flightless ducks—caused by them breeding later than usual in the year and not having had enough time to grow their feathers.
“Because they can’t leave when the other ducks leave, they’re more prone to predation,” he noted.
Still, sales of hunting supplies have been steady since the migratory bird season opened earlier this month, according to local retailers.
Mark Fontana of Rainy Lake Sport and Tackle here said 12—ga. and 20-ga. shotguns still were the preferred weapons of choice for duck hunters, while partridge hunters lean toward the 410-ga. model.
“Some people that use the 410 do use 12— and 20-ga. shells because they’re half the price,” said Fontana.
He added another big trend has been towards hunting binoculars that come with rain guards, which helps keep the lenses fog-free.
Change also has been the theme in recent years when it comes to the clothing worn by hunters, said Clendenning’s owner Scott Clendenning.
“Camouflage wear has gone high-tech,” he remarked. “It’s 100 percent waterproof and very breathable clothing, made mainly from Gore-tex or Euro-tex material.
“It’s also become odour resistant, which is a fairly new feature.”
Footwear also has evolved, with hunting boots now made with anywhere from 200-1,000 g of Thinsulate material.
“The 200-g models are for those wanting more comfort while the 1,000-g ones are more for warmth,” Clendenning explained.
Meanwhile, keeping the bundled-up bird hunters in line is complicated by what Saunders described as “not a lot of [conservation] officers” in the area.
“Mainly, the amount of activity and number of complaints [regarding a certain species] determines where we go,” he admitted.
“If there’s a lot of night hunting going on, or if there are more complaints about, say, moose hunting, we won’t get to do a lot of focusing on migratory birds.
“We can’t be everywhere.”
Saunders said some of the more common duck-hunting violations involve people hunting prior to one half-hour before sunrise and those shooting at similar-looking birds such as greebs.
He noted another frequent problem is hunters possessing guns that are not “plugged,” meaning the weapon chamber carries more than the legal amount of three shells at any one time.
“It’s a limited number because if you’ve got five or six shells and the bird is getting out of killing range [roughly 35-40 yards], then you’re just peppering them with lead,” Saunders said.
The idea is to curtail the number of wounded ducks that wind up dying and are left to rot across the region.
The practice of “running” ducks by targeting them from a moving powerboat also is frowned upon by conservation officials.
“It makes it too easy,” said Saunders, who added hunting from a powerboat is only legal if the engine is turned off. “Some of these boats are as fast as a duck.
“Hunting is supposed to be a sport.”