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Inside the Outdoors: Ready or not, autumn is fast approaching

Inside the Outdoors with Mike Rahn

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I suspect that no two people are exactly the same when it comes to the observations, perceptions and emotions that trigger their looking beyond summer to impending fall, which or many happens even when the calendar says that summer is far from over.

My wife, a now-retired public school teacher, always said she found the July 4 holiday her first marker that summer was fleeting. Even though Labor Day and the start of another school year would be almost two months away, it was after the July 4 holiday that she began to anticipate teacher workshops, the need to revisit lesson plans, and—I’m sure for her the most problematic—the end of her summer freedom.

As an adult I also developed a school-associated marker of summer’s waning. In my case it was triggered when my daughter or son began preparing to return to college from their summer break at home, which ended—in both cases—in an hours-long drive with a U-Haul trailer in tow to out-of-state destinations. The knowledge that for the next nine months they would not be within spontaneous driving distance, or home for more than holiday breaks, brought a blend of vicarious excitement for them, and a wistful sense of loss for dear old dad. Long after they had graduated and were building lives for themselves, mid-August would bring back those same emotions. I guess it’s a fortunate parent who likes being in the company of their grown child!

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Inside the Outdoors with Mike Rahn
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Inside the Outdoors with Mike Rahn
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Inside the Outdoors with Mike Rahn
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Inside the Outdoors with Mike Rahn
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Inside the Outdoors with Mike Rahn
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Inside the Outdoors with Mike Rahn
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Outdoors writer Mike Rahn shares a harrowing incident while duck hunting on Leech Lake one year
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Inside the Outdoors with Mike Rahn

Mid-August has for the past 40 years been an occasion when thousands of Minnesotans who shoot, hunt and share their lives with hunting dogs gather on one of two consecutive weekends for something equivalent to the familiar “pep rally” in athletics. Sprawling over some 80 acres in Anoka County on the northern edge of the Twin City metro area, Game Fair features six days of skills clinics and seminars, competitive events for bow and firearm shooters and dog handlers, and outfitter and gear purveyor exhibits and demonstrations. It’s hard to imagine an exposition more able to “get the blood up” for people with these interests than Game Fair.

On the bike rides my wife and I take almost every evening between dinner and dusk, it’s rare that we don’t see multiple deer grazing in the grassy understory of a thinned pine plantation, or on the edges where forest and grassy ditches meet. Some will bound off, and pause at what seems a prudent distance, while others let us pass within mere yards with little apparent alarm. We’ve been noticing velvet-covered spikes on some. These young bucks will begin to shed this soft, blood-supplying velvety covering in late August or early September to reveal the hardened antlers beneath. Not long after, the statewide archery deer season will begin in mid-September.

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Young wildlife of all kinds are maturing. On my return from a recent trout stream excursion, a dozen or so young wild turkey “poults” and several adults were seen picking gravel just off the road shoulder, their small size suggesting a late-hatched brood. An adult sandhill crane was followed by a visibly smaller offspring as they fed their way with deliberate steps across a soggy roadside field, on those characteristic stilt-like legs that suggest a great blue heron that has blundered into the wrong environment.

Short-cropped brown stubble remains where small grains have been harvested. Round bales of recently harvested hay stand scattered in fields, forming graphic repeat patterns that catch and delight a photographer’s eye.

My son recently sent a picture of my five year-old granddaughter standing next to the sunflower plant she grew from seed. It now towers over her head, as I’m sure do the fields of sunflowers grown by farmers where my duck hunting buddy and I made many memories on the marshes and lakes of Mahnomen County.

Feed corn that was “knee high by the Fourth of July” is now at shoulder height, and beyond. But of greater interest to me is sweet corn, the annual produce that I wait for more than any other. Fields in Minnesota as far north as Elk River and Rogers are being harvested, and I have begun visiting the homespun little vegetable stand on the grounds of my local gas station for it — “shipped in,” as it were — where I and the stand’s attendant are on a first-name basis. Soon, unless something dire has happened in the intervening 12 months, a local farmer who is not more than 10 minutes away will be erecting his bright yellow and green “Merv’s Sweet Corn” signs, and—with some regret—my sweet corn buying allegiance will shift.

On Saturday, Sept. 3, will arrive the second year of a statewide experimental five day early teal hunting season. This Sept. 3 date is three weeks before the “regular” duck season opens, and one week before Youth Waterfowl Weekend, when youth ages 13-17 who have passed a DNR-approved firearms safety course can hunt if accompanied by a licensed, non-hunting mentor age 18 or older.

The logic behind the early teal season is that some teal migrate beyond Minnesota’s borders earlier than other ducks, and an early season can offer opportunities that might not otherwise be available to Minnesota hunters. But many long-time, die-hard waterfowl hunters think it is a bad idea. They cite the fact that many ducks—particularly latch-hatched broods—are barely on the wing the first week of September. Also, that some hunters are not proficient enough to identify teal in the air, and accidentally shoot ducks that are not legal at this time. Third, that the cumulative shooting that will take place during an early teal hunt and—one week later—on Youth Waterfowl Weekend, diminish opportunity and success for all when the regular duck season opens, this year occurring on Sept. 24.

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Mike Rahn, columnist

The palette of colors of roadside flowering plants we commonly call “weeds” are changing, too. Maturing now are the lavender-purple flowers of thistle, who some admire from a distance, but no one appreciates contact with. This, and the warm yellows of goldenrod, which often grows in expansive, showy masses and benefits butterflies, bees and other pollinators—and thereby benefits us. Some believe that the allergic reactions we blame on goldenrod are actually caused by ragweed, and that goldenrod has gotten a bad rap!

Though we can count on a substantial number of summery hot days ahead in August, when there is a turn in the weather and you hear someone say “It feels like fall,” they’re not that far wrong.

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