He’s coming home without a deer this time, but David Guenther said being outdoors and reliving stories made opening weekend worthwhile.
Guenther, a fisheries and wildlife biology senior and intern for the Department of Natural Resources fisheries and wildlife department, left Eagan with his father and uncle Friday evening and headed for their property in Sturgeon Bay, two hours north of the metro, for the Saturday deer-hunting season opener.
Guenther has been hunting for the past nine years. He remembers killing his first deer, a six-point buck, while sitting in a tree stand with his father early in the morning.
“The first time I shot a deer it was actually kinda sad. I mean, you do get a little sad after you shoot one, but your adrenaline totally takes over,” he said.
This time around, Guenther didn’t kill any deer, but that is likely to be rare this hunting season.
Based on a series of mild winters and deer density in the state, conditions are set for a reasonably high deer harvest this season, said Lou Cornicelli, DNR big game program coordinator and University doctoral student.
“From a management perspective, we’re kind of at a crossroads. We’re in a situation where we have an overabundant deer population,” he said. “In a lot of respects, the opportunities that we’ve offered have been exhausted.”
Cornicelli conducts statewide hunter satisfaction surveys to determine where hunting regulation changes need to be made to effectively manage the deer populations and meet Minnesota’s environmental and social needs.
A 2005 DNR hunter survey shows hunter support for three new policies in effect around the state, including early antlerless seasons, antler point restrictions and “Earn-A-Buck.”
The policies allow extended deer hunting seasons while implementing hunting programs that require a doe or antlerless deer be taken before a buck. Buck antler size is influenced by age, nutrition and genetics.
According to DNR regulations, a legal buck is a male deer having one antler at least three inches long. An antlerless deer is one without an antler three inches long.
Policies and practices will not be effective unless they are supported by hunters and meet the needs of hunters and the environment, Cornicelli said.
“Hunting in this state is a huge tradition. It’s something that’s been brought along in the families Ö it’s just been passed on from generation to generation,” he said. “The satisfaction with hunting is being with family and friends, enjoying the weather, being at the cabin – not so much killing something.”
Last year, approximately 60,000 registered deer hunters were between the ages of 19 and 25, according to the DNR.
Ryan Bronson, DNR hunter recruitment and retention supervisor, said participation rates are lowest among college-age hunters, but bounce back after age 26.
“Since hunting is very dependent on traditions, when life is disrupted, (such as) moving away to college, it makes it more difficult to carry on that tradition,” he said.
Bronson said the same is true of noncollege hunters ages 19 to 25 who move away from home.
Hunting is a rush, but more importantly it’s a family tradition that involves Friday night frozen pizza, a camper full of hearty conversations and hours of cribbage followed by a church-sponsored meatball dinner Saturday night, Guenther said.
“You don’t go out just to kill something,” he said. “You go because you enjoy being in the woods.”
Guenther said there is a sense of sadness in taking an animal’s life, but when the long, cold morning ends in a successful shot between the shoulders, pride offers some solace.
“I’ve never experienced something that gives you such a sudden rush at one point in time because you don’t expect it. You don’t know what’s coming,” he said.
Guenther said his routine hunting strategy consists of drenching himself in cover scent, going out before sunrise to set up his portable tree stand, being as quiet as possible and listening for the snap of a branch or the grunt of a buck calling to a doe.
Cornicelli said the DNR advocates hunters use common sense, ethical hunting practices, safety measures and that they respect private land and the environment while in the woods.
“Don’t strap your deer to the front of your Geo Metro; you’re going to just upset people,” he said. “You don’t need to display it for the world to see. That reflects badly on hunting.”
According to DNR regulations, hunters can shoot for big game one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunrise.
Hunters can use rifles, shotguns, muzzleloaders or handguns that meet the DNR’s size and ammunition regulations for taking deer.
Guenther might go out again next weekend, but if that doesn’t happen, going without a kill makes the year-long wait more worthwhile, he said.
“I would rather shoot a big buck,” he said. “You wanna see a big buck. It’s like a trophy.”