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Minnesota hunters prep for Saturday firearms deer season opener

Rob Deyo was among the people testing their rifles at the United Northern Sportsmen Club’s rifle range on Thursday. Nearly 500,000 hunters are expected to take to the field during Minnesota’s firearm deer season, which opens Saturday. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com1 / 2
Amanda MacDonald of Queensland, Australia, puts tape over her bullet holes Thursday at the United Northern Sportsmen Club’s rifle range. MacDonald, who is visiting family here, will hunt whitetail deer for the first time Saturday. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com2 / 2

Rob Deyo had a sense of purpose as he rested his cannon of a deer rifle, a .338 Winchester magnum, on a sandbag and fired three shots at a paper target.

Deyo, of Hermantown, who hunts south of Hibbing, has some specific and very large bucks on his brain which he's hoping to see Saturday morning — the first day of Minnesota's firearms deer season.

"I've got some really good ones around. I know right where I'm going to be Saturday morning,'' said Deyo. His pre-season scouting and trail cameras have revealed multiple large bucks on his deer camp's 280 acres.

That kind of anticipation will only build across the state today as people pack up pickups and SUVs and campers to head to their deer shacks, cabins, farmhouses and motel rooms — an orange-clad army nearly a half-million strong.

With Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wildlife managers predicting considerably more deer in the woods than recent years, and with hunters reporting seeing more deer just about everywhere, it's likely to be the most successful season in at least five years. That's

thanks to a string of normal and mild winters and fewer antlerless deer permits offered in recent years.

Deyo is also bringing his 13-year-old son, Jake, who is reportedly even more excited than dad.

"And he can shoot either a buck or doe this year. It's good to have more deer around," Deyo said.

That sentiment was common Thursday afternoon as people sited in deer rifles and purchased hunting licenses north of Duluth.

"I always look forward to it," said Bill McGann of Duluth, who will be hunting at his usual deer camp near Cook. At 76, McGann has been hunting for nearly 60 years and has seen the state's northern deer herd go through many ups and downs. "We've seen more sign this year. We've seen some deer while we were partridge hunting and scouting around. It's going to be fun. I'm excited. I'm optimistic."

Bruce Wiiliainen signs a bonus tag at Chalstrom’s Bait & Tackle on Thursday. Steve Kuchera / DNTMcGann was sighting in his .30-06 rifle at the United Northern Sportsman Club range near Island lake. That's where Amanda MacDonald was, too, driving tacks, as they say, with a 7mm-08 rifle.

It will be MacDonald's inaugural whitetail deer hunt and she may have the record on Saturday for being the farthest from home — some 9,000 miles from Queensland, Australia.

"I'm ready. I'm excited. I don't want to go home without one," she said.

MacDonald, 25, and her father, Duluth native Jeff MacDonald, will be hunting on a friend's property in Lakewood Township.

"They've been seeing a lot of deer out there," she said.

Jeff MacDonald left Duluth "for a little adventure" in Australia in 1984 and has lived there ever since, operating a hardware business. He has a summer cabin on Little Grand Lake west of Duluth but this is only the second time he's come back to hunt deer.

"I miss it here. We hunt kangaroos and wild pigs and pigeons. But this is going to be more fun," he said of the Minnesota deer hunt. "Besides, it's 101 degrees there now. It's so hot the roads are melting."

Keith Radke of Hoyt Lakes walked out of Chalstroms Bait and Tackle near Duluth Thursday with a gallon jug of BuckJam deer scent. He'll be hunting at his group's camp on 200 acres not far out of Hoyt Lakes.

"I'm hoping. I haven't seen any big bucks on my trail cameras yet, but I'm still hoping," Radke said.

Amy DeGeorge prints out a deer hunting license at Chalstrom’s Bait & Tackle on Thursday. Steve Kuchera / DNTSo is Seth Fromberg of Duluth, who also purchased his license Thursday at Chalstroms. He'll be hunting north of Fredenberg Township on opening day.

"I'm always excited for the deer opener," Fromberg said. "How can you not be?"

By the numbers

The 2018 Minnesota firearms deer season for Northeastern Minnesota (the 100 series permit areas) runs for 16 days, from Saturday through Nov. 18.

Shooting hours each day are a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset.

Nearly 500,000 hunters are expected to be afield statewide on Saturday and (along with archery and muzzleloader hunters) are expected to shoot more than 200,000 deer over the season.

About half the deer shot during the season are shot opening weekend. This year, that will likely be about 100,000 deer, depending on the weather. (Warmer, drier weather would mean hunters stay outside and more deer get shot.)

Wet woods

With ample rainfall lately, be prepared for a lot of water in the woods. Streams, swamps and ponds are full and many low areas are holding pooled water. That may hamper hunters' access to some deer camps and deer stands. Because temperatures have moderated over the past two weeks, after a very cold early October, there is no ice to speak of anywhere. So waterproof boots are probably a good idea.

Weather forecast: Snow, rain likely

The National Weather Service in Duluth is calling for a morning low Saturday around 30 degrees for most areas of northern Minnesota and highs Saturday afternoon of around 40. There's a 40 percent chance of snow or rain showers early and then a 60 percent chance of rain during the day. There's also good chance of rain and snow again Sunday with a high near 40.

Be safe out there

The DNR reminds hunters to follow the three tenets of safe firearms handling: Treat each firearm as if it is loaded by keeping your finger off the trigger; always control the muzzle of the firearm; and be sure of target and what is beyond. Tree-stand accidents are the leading cause of injury to hunters, so it's always important to wear a safety harness and unload your gun before going up or down in your stand.

More deer season stuff to know

A legal buck is a deer having at least one antler 3 inches long. Buck fawns, sometimes called button bucks or nubbin' bucks, are not legal bucks.

Resident firearms deer licenses are $34.

Resident hunters 84 years old and older can shoot a deer of either sex in any permit area.

A deer license purchased after the opening day of the season is valid the next day after it is issued.

Questions? DNR operators standing by

Hunters can find deer hunting information at mndnr.gov/hunting/deer. Hunting season questions can be fielded by the DNR Information Center at (651) 296-6157 or (888) 646-6367 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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