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YEAR IN REVIEW: From state record walleyes to entangled bucks, a look back at the outdoors in 2018

Neil Leier of Bismarck found himself in the spotlight in May, when he landed North Dakota's new state record walleye on the Missouri River in Bismarck, topping a record that had stood since 1959. (Photo/ North Dakota Game and Fish Department)1 / 4
Jake Cosley of Pembina, N.D., was snowmobiling on the Red River in February when he came across a buck entangled with the rock of a long-dead foe. Cosley was able to free the racks, and the living buck ambled away. (Photo courtesy of Jake Cosley)2 / 4
Dustin Seamands of Bismarck (left) drew a once-in-a-lifetime tag to shoot this new North Dakota record book ram Nov. 3, 2017 on the opening day of North Dakota's bighorn sheep season. The ram's horns scored 177 1/8 after the mandatory 60-day drying period in January 2018 and also qualified for the Boone and Crockett Club's record book. The man on the right wasn't identified. (Submitted photo)3 / 4
Kyle Heim of Bismarck caught this 27-inch, 7-pound zander June 6, 2018, on Spiritwood Lake northeast of Jamestown, N.D. Stocked one time in 1989, zander -- a European cousin to the walleye -- occasionally are caught in Spiritwood, but it's pretty rare. (Photo courtesy of Kyle Heim)4 / 4

From state record fish to chronic wasting disease, 2018 offered plenty of news in the world of hunting, fishing and the outdoors. Here are a few highlights from across the region.

January

Two North Dakota rams shot in November 2017 qualified for the Boone and Crockett record books based on their horn measurements. Dustin Seamands of Bismarck shot a ram that measured 177⅛ inches after the mandatory 60-day drying period, and Brian Ham of Alice, N.D., shot a ram that scored 176⅝ inches. Rams have to score at least 175 inches to qualify.

Longtime Lake of the Woods fisheries biologist Tom Heinrich left the Department of Natural Resources' area fisheries office in Baudette, Minn., to begin a new position working on Mille Lacs Lake in central Minnesota.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department said it would offer 502 any-deer archery licenses to nonresidents in 2018. The number is set at 15 percent of the previous year's mule deer license allocation.

Observers counted 52 bird species during the 57th Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Christmas Bird Count, and three more species were counted during count week, bringing the tally to 55.

February

Another incident of a buck dragging around the entangled head of a dead foe occurred on the Red River south of Pembina, N.D. Jake Cosley of Pembina was snowmobiling on the river and was able to free the living buck from the antlers and what remained of the dead deer. A similar incident was documented near Walhalla, N.D., a few weeks earlier, and two more encounters would be documented in northeast North Dakota before month's end.

The winter of 2017-18 hadn't been too tough on deer and other critters, but wildlife managers said prolonged cold spells could cause problems if they persisted too late into the season, and thick ice also would create potential fishkill issues.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department said it was planning an elk research project beginning in the winter of 2019 to learn more about the animals' distribution in the southwest part of the state.

March

Bighorn sheep hunters had 100 percent success, moose hunters had 92 percent success and 58 percent of elk hunters filled their tags, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department said in reporting results from the 2017 "Big Three" hunting seasons.

Beth Siverhus of Warroad, Minn., received the Conservation Award from the Minnesota Chapter of The Wildlife Society for her work as a citizen scientist, wildlife photographer and wildlife advocate.

April

Bighorn sheep populations in North Dakota were down 11 percent from 2016 and 9 percent below the five-year average, the Game and Fish Department said in reporting results from its 2017 sheep survey. Wildlife officials attributed the decline to lingering effects from a bacterial pneumonia outbreak first detected in 2014.

A total of 1,403 students were participating in the spring season of the North Dakota State High School Clay Target League.

North Dakota pronghorn hunters had 75 percent success in 2017, the Game and Fish Department reported, and 410 license holders shot 275 pronghorns—264 bucks, 10 does and one fawn.

May

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department was expecting banner walleye fishing on Lake Sakakawea, driven by an uptick in walleye numbers and a booming population of smelt, a primary forage fish.

Genetic testing confirmed a 51-inch muskie that Ryan Getz of Bismarck caught Feb. 24 on New Johns Lake in Burleigh County was a pure-strain muskie. The fish, which weighed 41 pounds, 5 ounces, would have topped the record of 44.8 inches and 40 pounds if it had been a hybrid tiger muskie.

Neil Leier of Bismarck landed North Dakota's new state record walleye May 18, when he reeled in a 15-pound, 13-ounce walleye on the Missouri River in Bismarck. Leier's walleye measured 32½ inches, breaking the 15-pound, 12-ounce record from Wood Lake in Benson County that had stood since 1959.

Mule deer populations in western North Dakota, at 2,540, were similar to 2017 and 45 percent above the long-term average, the Game and Fish Department said

June

Minnesota's spring mallard breeding population was estimated at 295,000, up 38 percent from 214,000 in 2017 and 30 percent above the long-term average since 1968, the DNR said. Total duck abundance was estimated at 693,000, up 9 percent from 2017 and 12 percent above the long-term average.

Johnnie Candle and Duaine Ash, both of Devils Lake, were among the year's inductees into the North Dakota Fishing Hall of Fame.

The DNR was proposing a reduced winter walleye-sauger limit on Lake of the Woods and catch-and-release only walleye fishing from March 1 through April 14 on the Rainy River and Four-Mile Bay in an effort to maintain fishing quality amid rising angler pressure. Both proposals eventually were approved and set to take effect March 1, 2019.

Kyle Heim of Bismarck caught a 27-inch, 7-pound zander on Spiritwood Lake near Jamestown, N.D., confirming the continued existence of the European walleye cousins from an experimental stocking in 1989.

July

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department was offering 1,075 pronghorn licenses in 10 units for the 2018 hunting season, more than double the previous year's allocation of 410 tags in five units.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department stocked nearly 10 million walleye fingerlings in more than 140 waters across the state, officials said.

North Dakota's fall duck flight was expected to be up 12 percent from 2017, the Game and Fish Department said, reporting results from a mid-July waterfowl production survey that dates back to the 1950s.

August

Gary Johnson of Humboldt, Minn., was featured for 50 years of service as a volunteer firearms safety instructor.

The new Willie Walleye statue in Baudette, Minn., was set to be dedicated. City leaders and others opted to replace the original 60-year-old statue, which was showing severe wear and tear, with a new fiberglass version that would hold up better to the elements.

Walleye pro Dylan Nussbaum, 20, of St. Marys, Pa., was gearing up for the Cabela's National Walleye Tour championship on Lake of the Woods after becoming the youngest pro to ever win a national walleye tournament earlier in the summer on Devils Lake.

September

Minnesota had an estimated wolf population of 2,655 wolves and 465 wolf packs during the winter of 2017-18 within the state's wolf range, an estimate that was statistically unchanged from the previous winter, the DNR said in reporting results from its winter wolf survey.

More than 1,000 antlerless whitetail deer gun licenses remained in three southwest North Dakota units—3F1, 3F2 and 4F—after the Game and Fish Department's second lottery drawing, the Game and Fish Department said.

DNR wildlife officials were hedging their bets on prospects for the upcoming ruffed grouse season after record drumming counts in the spring of 2017 failed to translate into birds in the field that fall. Drumming counts were down 29 percent from 2017.

October

The Minnesota DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completed a land swap in Beltrami Island State Forest that improved access for ATVs and other off-highway vehicles by opening a section of trail that had been off-limits to the vehicles under federal ownership.

Some last-minute wrangling saved the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association's Hides for Habitat program when MDHA reached an 11th-hour agreement with a Wisconsin buyer to purchase salted hides for a reduced rate in the wake of plummeting fur prices and China's decision to no longer allow hides to be tanned in the country.

Walleyes had a decent spring hatch on Devils Lake, but the number of "keeper"-size fish in the 15- to 20-inch range was slightly below average, results from two separate Game and Fish Department surveys showed. Walleyes in the 10-to 15-inch range were the most abundant adult fish sampled, biologists said.

November

A study commissioned by the Manitoba Wildlife Federation and several partners showed 100,000 adult anglers fished Lake Winnipeg and its southern tributaries in the past two years, contributing $221 million in direct spending, adding $102 million to the province's Gross Domestic Product and $44 million in wages, supporting more than 1,500 jobs and $52 million in taxes. By comparison, the big lake's commercial fishing industry contributed $29 million to the GDP and supported 696 jobs, $20.5 million in wages and $8 million in tax revenues.

A 45¼-inch northern pike caught in May by Matthew Swanson of Woodbury, Minn., was recognized as the new catch-and-release record in the pike category, the DNR said.

December

Minnesota hunters shot fewer whitetails during the firearms deer season than they did in 2017, preliminary DNR numbers showed. Hunters registered 148,019 deer through Nov. 18, down from 160,962 during the same time frame in 2017.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department confirmed a likely positive case of chronic wasting disease in a mule deer buck from Unit 3A1 of northwest North Dakota, marking the first time the brain disease fatal to deer, elk and moose had been found in that part of the state.

Tourism representatives from Lake of the Woods and Devils Lake announced the "Walleye Wars" fish-off between Joe Henry of Lake of the Woods Tourism and Tanner Cherney of the Devils Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau, who will face off to see who can catch the most fish from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 3, 2019, on their respective lakes.

Elk hunters in northwest Minnesota had a 75 percent success rate, filling 17 of the 22 available elk tags.

The number of darkhouse spearing participants in North Dakota set a record in 2017 at 3,717, the Game and Fish Department reported.

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