Dick Herfindahl: More walk-in land is made available to hunters

Published 11:49 pm Friday, August 25, 2017

Woods & Water by Dick Herfindahl

This nice cool down that we have been experiencing lately has literally been a breath of fresh air. I always seem to get a little extra jump in my step when the weather is cool, sunny and less humid. I am a fall season sort of guy anyway so this just gets me pumped for what lies ahead.

This late summer early fall-like weather also brings about thoughts of hunting which goes hand in hand with the season. I cannot think of a better way to introduce our youth to the sport of hunting than small-game hunting. Rabbit and squirrel come to mind when mentioning small game. For years’ access to good hunting land has been dwindling, but in recent years thanks to the Walk-In Access program there are many more acres being made available to the public.

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Beginning Friday, Sept. 1, hunters can access 26,700 acres of private land across 46 counties in western and south-central Minnesota through the Walk-In Access program.

“Finding land for hunting can be a challenge,” said Scott Roemhildt, Walk-In Access coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “Walk-In Access allows hunters to access high-quality private land and makes it easier for landowners to allow that access.”

The Walk-In Access program pays landowners to allow hunter access. Hunters with a $3 Walk-In Access validation may hunt during legal hunting hours, during open hunting seasons from Sept. 1 to May 31. No additional landowner contact is necessary. More than 230 sites across 46 counties are available through the program. Bright yellow-green signs have been placed on Walk-In Access boundaries.

Hunting seasons open Sept. 1 for mourning doves, crows, snipe, sora and Virginia rails. Hunting seasons open Saturday, Sept. 16, for several small game species including squirrels and rabbits. The Minnesota pheasant hunting season opens Saturday, Oct. 14.

Maps of all Walk-In Access sites are available electronically at mndnr.gov/walkin. Printed atlases can be found across the 46-county area at DNR license agents, DNR wildlife offices and county soil and water conservation district offices. Atlases are also available by calling the DNR Information Center at 888-646-6367.

“Walk-In Access works because hunters respect the land and that respect encourages landowners to enroll their land,” Roemhildt said. “We are glad to talk with landowners who are considering the program. We hope to grow the program to 30,000 acres by 2018.”

Parcels enrolled in the Walk-In Access program must be at least 40 acres in size with high quality cover. Most land is also enrolled in private land conservation programs. The next enrollment period will begin in January 2018.

The Walk-In Access program began in 2011 and is currently funded through 2018 with a three-year grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Other funding sources come through a surcharge on nonresident hunting licenses, a one-time appropriation from the Minnesota Legislature in 2012, and donations from hunters.

Although there are no walk-in acres currently listed for Freeborn County there are 13 WMA’s in Freeborn County that are open to public hunting. You can find these listed on the DNR website under WMA’s.

As a youth growing up in the country I had access to many acres of hunting land, mainly because everyone pretty much knew everyone and would allow hunting without any hassle. We respected the land and didn’t abuse the privilege or overstay our welcome. We didn’t have formal gun training back then but our gun training was our common sense. Gun safety was impressed upon me by my dad, my uncles and my cousin Tom. I was taught about crossing a fence, always keeping the gun pointed toward the ground, identify what you are shooting at and not shooting if there was a building or people in the background. Like I said, pretty much common sense stuff. I didn’t really need to identify all of the different types of waterfowl because my hunting was for rabbit, squirrel and pheasant. Yes, those days were pretty simple and uncomplicated and landowners respected you if you followed those few simple rules.

Until next time, take some time to sit by a lake just to enjoy a sunset. Or you can, take a drive in the country with windows down to enjoy the feeling of the evening dew as it engulfs the foliage of the countryside.

Please take some time to honor those who have sacrificed so much for the freedoms we enjoy today. Also, take a little extra time to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, those who served and those troops serving today.