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Hunters gear up for Minnesota firearms deer opener

John Kingsley of Duluth looks over blaze-orange coats, hoodies and jackets as he picks up a few last-minute items for the Minnesota firearms deer season at Mills Fleet Farm in Hermantown on Thursday morning. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com1 / 2
Skip Akervik of Duluth, who plans to hunt on the Iron Range on the opening day of the Minnesota firearms deer season, tries on blaze-orange gloves at Mills Fleet Farm on Thursday morning. With rain in the forecast, Akervik was looking for waterproof gear. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com2 / 2

Skip Akervik of Duluth pulled one pair of blaze-orange gloves after another off a display rack at Fleet Farm on Friday morning. He was looking for something waterproof for Saturday's Minnesota firearms deer opener.

"We're gonna have a lot of rain this weekend," said Akervik, 74. "I'm gonna try and stay dry."

Akervik and about a half-million other deer hunters across Minnesota will venture into the woods and prairies this weekend for the opener. They'll head for family homesteads, cozy shacks, humble cabins, listing trailers and canvas tents. They'll haul four-wheelers, mountains of clothing and way more food than anyone should eat in three or four days.

It's the deer opener, the most significant undeclared holiday of the year for throngs of the blaze-orange brethren and — new this year — the blaze-pink sisterhood.

"I hunt up on the Range, near Embarrass," Akervik said, pawing through more gloves.

How long?

"About 60 seasons, I suppose," he said. "Now, I got my son and grandson coming up. And a great-grandson, too, but he's pretty little yet."

Deer hunters are bringing more optimism to the hunt this year than they have for a couple of years, especially in the north. The deer herd is rebounding from a series of five moderately severe to severe winters across Northeastern Minnesota. The past two winters have been mild, and fawn production has been good, state wildlife officials say.

As a result of the increasing deer herd, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has issued more antlerless deer permits this fall than in recent years. Akervik has one.

"If it's brown, it's down," he said with a chuckle.

He's right about the weather forecast, too. Hunters can expect some rain, some snow, possibly some freezing rain. And for the first time in several years, many of them will have snow on the ground where they hunt. "Tracking snow," they call it in deer season. Snow makes it much easier for hunters to see deer in the woods and to track them after a shot.

Dave Foster and Tammi Hage were leaving Fleet Farm in Hermantown on Friday with a new pair of boots for for Foster and some water repellent spray. They live in Twig, "where there are no deer," Hage chirped. She was wearing a blaze-pink camouflage sweatshirt.

Foster, 64, has been hunting with a crossbow during bow season, which opened Sept. 16.

"Slow," is how Foster described his hunting so far.

"There are lots of does," Foster said. "I haven't seen too many bucks. But rutting season is supposed to be this weekend. We'll have to see."

University of Minnesota Duluth student Brady Dulian, 20, of Chippewa Falls, Wis., and his friend Lea Ruddle, 19, of Hastings, Minn., were leaving the store with a hunting cap, gloves, rifle ammunition and hand warmers. Ruddle is headed to McGrath, Minn., near Mille Lacs Lake, to hunt.

"My uncle is dragging me along," she said. "I'm not a huge hunter."

Dulian will hunt at Canosia Wildlife Management Area near Duluth. "I've heard it's a good place to hunt," he said.

While Minnesota's firearms deer season runs for 16 days, the average Minnesota hunter puts in five days in the deer stand, according to the DNR. Seventy percent of the deer harvest typically occurs during the first three or four days of the hunt, wildlife officials say. The DNR anticipates the 2017 deer harvest will be in the 200,000 range, similar to the most recent 20-year average of nearly 206,000.

Minnesota firearms deer season

The season: Saturday through Nov. 19 (100 Series areas, Northeastern Minnesota)

Shooting hours: One-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset

The outlook: The deer population across much of Northeastern Minnesota is increasing after a couple of mild winters, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials say. More antlerless deer permits were available this fall than in recent years.

The weather: Hunters can expect to see a mix of rain and snow both Saturday and Sunday, with highs in the mid-30s. Lows will drop into the teens on Sunday and Monday nights.

New this year: Blaze-pink clothing is permitted along with the traditional blaze orange. Also, boundaries have changed for some deer permit areas. Check regulations for other changes.

Hunter numbers: Again this fall, about 500,000 hunters are expected to take part in the firearms deer hunt statewide.

Questions? The DNR information center now has extended hours, through 8 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. Call (888) 646-6367 or send an email to info.dnr@state.mn.us.

License fee increase: The cost of a Minnesota resident deer hunting license will increase from $30 to $34 effective in 2018.

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