Hunters blaze a path to opener

Rodney Pelkey needed new blaze-orange coveralls. John Schweiger was trying to find .338-caliber shells for a friend. Josh Toms had found new boots, a camouflage backpack and an insulated seat cushion.

Rodney Pelkey needed new blaze-orange coveralls. John Schweiger was trying to find .338-caliber shells for a friend. Josh Toms had found new boots, a camouflage backpack and an insulated seat cushion.

All of these hunters, and hundreds more, descended on Gander Mountain in Duluth on Thursday in anticipation of Saturday's opener for the Minnesota firearms deer season.

"I've got a 10-pointer and a couple of eights out there," said Pelkey, 34, of Pengilly.

He has seen them on his trail camera, mounted in the woods.

"There are a lot of deer out there," he said.


Pelkey shot four whitetails last year and wouldn't mind shooting that many again this year, he said. He shouldn't have trouble if he puts in his time. Minnesota's deer herd is at or near an all-time high, with 1.3 million out there. And with about 450,000 hunters moving around in blaze orange come Saturday, those deer probably will be on the go.

While Pelkey was trying on all manner of orange clothing, other hunters were lined up six deep at the customer service counter to buy licenses.

"We sold 300 on Monday, 365 on Tuesday and 560 on Wednesday," said Lee Ann Anderson in customer service. "Friday, I think we'll do 700. They'll be 20 to 30 deep in two lines."

With an array of licenses from which to choose, most hunters choose the regular firearms license for $26 and add a bonus permit ($13) that allows a hunter to shoot an antlerless deer in most permit areas.

The state's Electronic Licensing System has been working well this fall, Anderson said.

Schweiger found the .338-caliber shells he was looking for. He and three generations of hunters are headed for their camp near Alborn, he said.

"It's called a male bonding weekend," said the 65-year-old Duluth hunter. "The kids and grandkids all come. We try to get them to get the deer. It's getting hard to drag them out."

Those who are retired will hunt from the opener through Tuesday, then return to town for a day. Thursday, they'll be back out there for another six days. Back to town for one more day, then out for the rest of the season.


"This is not roughing it," Schweiger cautioned. "We have a 60-inch-screen TV."

Toms, 25, of Duluth was headed for the cashier with a cartful of gear -- boots, socks, seat cushion, backpack and more. He's primed for deer season.

"It's something you look forward to all year long," Toms said. "There'll be a big group of guys at the cabin. Each of us brings one meal. I'm bringing a venison hotdish."

One thing is certain: Hunting should be good. Most hunters have seen deer or seen their sign during preseason scouting. Bucks are pawing up the forest floor and raking saplings with their antlers, all precursors of the rut -- or mating season.

"It's just getting started. They're ripping it all up," Pelkey said.

A forecast for cool weather this weekend had hunters gearing up with warmer clothing, said Peggy Pogorelec, a cashier at Gander Mountain.

"Coats, hats, gloves," she said. "And handwarmers. Lots of cold-weather gear."

The forecast calls for a low of about 19 early on Saturday, with scattered sprinkles and a high of 39 degrees. The wind will be from the east at about 5 to 10 mph.


Saturday night, the temperature will drop to about 28 under partly cloudy skies, and Sunday's high is expected to be about 46.

That should be excellent deer-hunting weather.

Bernie Gaetzke of Redgranite, Wis., is coming home to hunt again this fall. He grew up at Littlefork, near International Falls, and will hunt in the International Falls area this fall with five in his camp. He hunts Wisconsin, too, but prefers Minnesota's deer season.

"It's freedom," Gaetzke, 48, said while waiting in line for his deer license on Thursday. "It's the big woods, and you have the opportunity to get a big buck. The fact that you can go all day and not see anybody else is nice. It's not that way in Wisconsin. It's orange everywhere."

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