Published October 07, 2012, 12:00 AM

BRAD DOKKEN: October: The best month on the outdoors calendar

The precipitation was needed, for sure — especially in fire-ravaged areas of northwest Minnesota — but did it have to be snow? Still, October is young and opportunities abound.

By: Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald

October is arguably the most anticipated month of the year on the outdoors calendar, and waking up to accumulations of wet, heavy snow like so many of us did Thursday morning wasn’t the way we wanted to start.

The precipitation was needed, for sure — especially in fire-ravaged areas of northwest Minnesota — but did it have to be snow?

Still, October is young and opportunities abound.

It was the fall of 2005 when southwest North Dakota got shellacked with a foot of snow on the opening weekend of pheasant season. The wet, heavy stuff snapped tree branches in Dickinson, N.D., and put a real damper on the hordes of hunters who had taken the field in pursuit of North Dakota’s most popular upland game bird.

The timing of the snowstorm couldn’t have been worse.

A friend and I made the trek to southwest North Dakota the next weekend, and the only signs of the storm we encountered were damaged trees in Dickinson and several younger, more vulnerable pheasants that had succumbed to the elements. We saw most of the dead birds hunkered near round hay bales where they’d tried to seek shelter.

The snow was long gone, though, and the temperature had risen into the 60s. The number of pheasants we saw that weekend was unlike anything my hunting partner and I had ever experienced.

My hope is that the snow that blanketed the region way too early for my taste soon will be just a memory, as well. Much as I like snow, I don’t like it in October when I’ve got grouse hunting and fishing trips on the calendar and outdoors projects that badly need completing.

A few other observations on a month that will pass too quickly:

- Waterfowl hunters likely are seeing an uptick in hunting success this weekend if the snowstorm pushes birds down from Canada, as I suspect it has. That will be especially good news for hunters in northwest Minnesota, where duck hunting success dropped during the second weekend of the season. Sunny skies and 80-degree temperatures didn’t help the cause.

- As you’ll see elsewhere in this section, hunters planning to take the field for next weekend’s North Dakota pheasant opener have plenty of reasons for optimism. Roadside counts showed a 59 percent increase in statewide pheasant numbers from last year, and if the weather cooperates, there’s no reason hunters shouldn’t surpass last season’s tally of 683,000 birds in the bag. This year’s outlook also is more favorable in Minnesota, where a mild winter and a warm spring aided production.

- Waterfowl hunters in the Lake Region should consider keeping the fishing rods handy this fall. Fishing on Devils Lake was good right up until the late-week storm, and there’s no reason to expect it won’t be back on track as soon as the weather improves. Some of the best reports, of late, have come from current areas near any of the bridges on the lake. Ducks in the morning and walleyes in the afternoon sounds like a great combination to me.

- While I was busy pounding nails in the middle of a project at the family getaway recently, I got a text message from a friend who said he’d pounded walleyes that morning on Lake of the Woods near Long Point. Good reports have come from several areas along the lake — at least on the days when wind conditions allow access.

- Fishing reports also are improving along the Rainy River, a sure sign of fall. Some years are better than others, but the Rainy traditionally draws walleyes from Lake of the Woods this time of year in pursuit of shiner minnows. I’ve heard reports of anglers doing well, and catching the occasional big walleye, near the mouth of the river. Fishing should only improve as fall progresses.

- Reports from Department of Natural Resources conservation officers indicate ruffed grouse hunters in northern Minnesota are having better-than-expected success this fall, despite a substantial decline in spring drumming counts.

- Low flows were expected to result in a smaller run of “greenback” walleyes from Lake Winnipeg into the Red River near Selkirk, Man., this fall, but a few anglers have reported success. A friend emailed me a photo last Saturday of a big greenback he’d released near the mouth of the river. He said he didn’t measure or weigh the walleye, but it easily weighed 8 pounds.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1148; or send email to bdokken@gfherald.com.

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