How did the change sneak up on us? How did a summer that seemed still in command yield so readily to the advance guard of fall? Yet here we are. We may still be four weeks from the autumnal equinox, but to a Minnesotan that’s just a technicality. With Labor Day and September come signs and events that leave us thinking of summer in the past tense.
On August’s drizzly final Sunday I found my wife considering starting a blaze in the family room fireplace. This is the same person who in high summer is the first one to declare an AC—air conditioner—day at the first hint of humidity and an upward blip in temperature. Was it the chill air entering through half-open windows? An unconscious reaction to the changing length of daylight, or the angle of the sun? I take it as a sign, in any event.
My closest angling friend called to report the results of his latest trip to our favorite local trout stream. He went on and on about the brilliant color of several fish he had caught. In fall, when brook trout spawn, mature males change dramatically. Their bellies turn a bright reddish orange; their fins become similarly colorful. Like the breeding plumage of male ducks and many songbirds, brilliant colors are an attractor in the pairing process that leads to reproduction and survival of these species. The brook trout are proof that fall is almost upon us.
Sept. 1, the day preceding Labor Day Monday, is the start of the 2019 Minnesota hunting seasons. The first of these are the early goose season, mourning dove and bear season. The most controversial is of these the hunt for the mourning dove, which for six decades had been closed until the Minnesota Legislature in the 2003-2004 session voted to re-open it.
There have been unsuccessful attempts since that time to reverse this. Doves are actually the most hunted game bird in the U.S. But for many Minnesotans the most lingering memory of the bird is its mournful, ascending and descending five-note call, often heard in early morning in their neighborhood. Being a familiar urban and suburban neighbor has probably contributed to its being viewed by some as a songbird, rather than a gamebird. The mourning dove is an early migrant, and many will have left the state by early September. Despite its popularity in many other states, mourning dove hunting has not taken off in Minnesota as some had expected.
Less than a week after Labor Day is Minnesota’s special Youth Waterfowl Hunt, September 7-8. This is two weeks earlier than the general statewide duck and goose hunting season opener. It was conceived as an opportunity for youth 15 and under—since changed to 17 and under—to be introduced to waterfowl hunting under less competitive conditions than typically accompany the general opener. A non-hunting adult must accompany a youth hunter, who—if between age 13 and 17—is required to have a hunter safety certification, or apprentice hunter validation. The season’s general bag limit and harvest rules apply. Youth hunters age 16-17 must also have a federal migratory bird hunting stamp—“duck stamp”—and a Minnesota small game license.
Like the mourning dove season, there is a degree of controversy surrounding the Youth Waterfowl Hunt. Some adult waterfowl hunters cite the potential for the youth hunt to drive early-migrating species from the state before the general duck and goose season opens (Sept. 21 this year). Blue-wing teal are among those early migrators, and birds biologically timed to migrate can be triggered to do so by the disruption of shooting, especially if it’s widespread.
However, estimated youth participation has been in the 5,000 range, which is a small fraction of the state’s overall duck hunter population. And, given the precipitous decline in Minnesota duck hunter numbers over the past several decades, recruitment of more young hunters is more important than ever, if the license fees that fund management and participation-dependent political muscle for conservation efforts are to be maintained. The Youth Waterfowl Hunt may not be the perfect answer. But there seem to be relatively few recruitment answers, at least insofar as waterfowl hunting is concerned.
That’s just a start for September. Just over two weeks away, on Sept. 14, is the start of the Minnesota ruffed grouse, sharptail grouse, Hungarian partridge and archery deer hunting seasons. Woodcock, which are often found in close association with ruffed grouse, become fair game on Sept. 21. Sept. 28 is the start of the fall wild turkey season.
That’s just the September hunting bill of fare. There’ll be more to come—including pheasants and firearms deer hunts—in October and November. And, not to be forgotten, some of the best fishing of the year takes place in the fall. This is the annual paradox faced by those of us who are both anglers and hunters. But what a delightful dilemma to have!