ALONG THE CARROLL TRUCK TRAIL — It was quiet in the woods here Saturday morning for the Minnesota firearms deer hunting season opener.
Quiet in that forecast gusty winds hadn’t arrived yet. Quiet in not many hunters around. Quiet in not many shots fired. And while an estimated 450,000 people were afield on the deer opener across the state, you couldn't tell it up here.
“I think I heard one shot way off in the distance all morning,’’ said Jim Nadeau.
Nadeau, of White Bear Lake, Minnesota, was hunting in these thick woods north of Duluth where, he and others confirmed, deer numbers have been down for the past decade or so thanks to repeated heavy-snow winters.
“And wolves. The wolves really came in about 10 years ago and it hasn’t been the same,’’ said Joel Budd of Forest Lake, Minnesota, Nadeau’s hunting partner.
Budd had at least seen two sets of does opening morning, but no bucks, which are the only legal quarry in this area due to lower deer numbers. The pair was camping out in the woods in their ice house/camper.
“It’s too nice out not to be camping. It’s great weather to sit around a campfire in your shirt during deer season,’’ Nadeau said. By noon it was already 62 degrees. “We could be back at the cabin (on Island Lake) but this is more fun.”
“We’re still going to be dragging a big one out of here sooner or later,’’ he added, expressing the optimism that most hunters have on opening day.
Just down the trail, Ed Douglass and Shaun Peterson of Minneapolis were walking out of the woods to their SUV at lunch time. They had seen a few does and a buck at a distance, but didn’t get a shot.
On a day when stocking caps and long underwear were left in the cabin, the duo were wearing jeans and light blaze orange jackets.
“We were out scouting in T-shirts’’ on Friday, when temperatures were in the mid-70s, Peterson noted.
“This is definitely the warmest deer opener I’ve ever experienced,’’ Douglass added.
Quiet was the word over at the Polish Palace deer camp on the Three Lakes Road, too.
“I maybe heard two shots far off. We haven’t seen anything yet,’’ said Tim Lustig of Esko.
By mid-afternoon there had been only one buck entered in the big buck contest at the Country Corner store in Brookston and only two at Fisherman’s Corner at Pike Lake.
But some folks did have some luck on the deer opener.
Bailey VanGuilder of Duluth tagged a nice six-point buck north of Island Lake at about 9 a.m. It was the 18-year-old's second deer ever. His grandpa also shot a nice eight-pointer Saturday morning.
“I heard it coming and had to wait a while for it to show up,’’ Bailey said, noting his trusty .30-06 rifle did the trick. “He dropped right where he was shot.”
Rocko Ericksen, 15, of Hermantown, took his first deer, also near Island Lake, at about 7:45 on opening morning.
”It just came walking in. I shot once and he moved into a clearing so I shot again and it dropped,’’ Ericksen said.
He was keeping the rack to have mounted as a momento.
Ericksen and VanGuilder’s bucks were among a rush already coming into Chalstroms Bait Shop in Rice Lake Saturday to be processed into venison. John Chalstrom was already busy with saws and knives, skinning and butchering deer as hunters tried to beat the heat so their meat didn’t spoil.
“When it’s this warm you have to get it done,’’ said Chalstrom, noting his shop will process some 300 deer before the season is over. “I’m just glad it’s supposed to cool off this week. I don’t want to see the flies come back out.
Get that deer cooled or processed fast!
If you shot your deer Saturday or get one Sunday, make sure to get it cooled or processed as quickly as possible. Cooled means refrigerator temperatures, like lower 40s.
With high temperatures in the mid-60s this weekend, deer can spoil in just a few hours, ruining a lot of great eating venison.
Temperatures should be cold enough by Tuesday to begin hanging deer outside, or in a shed or garage, with highs only in the 30s expected the rest of the week.
ATV restrictions in place during deer season
The Department of Natural Resources reminds hunters and other ATV riders that many ATV trails are officially closed during deer season, which in Northeastern Minnesota is Nov. 7 to 22.
The restrictions, which apply to state forest trails and access routes but not to state forest roads, aim to protect recreational riders from potentially unsafe riding conditions and to minimize conflicts between deer hunters and recreational riders who may inadvertently disturb them. Vehicles affected by the restrictions include all-terrain vehicles, off-highway motorcycles and registered off-road vehicles such as four-wheel drive trucks that are not being used in conjunction with deer hunting by a licensed deer hunter.
It’s also against state law to use an ATV in the woods while deer hunting EXCEPT during these times: Before legal shooting time; from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and after legal shooting hours.
Turn in poachers
Deer season is about as busy as it gets for Minnesota conservation officers. But they aren’t too busy to get a solid tip on illegal activity. See something wrong in the woods? Call the Turn in Poachers Hotline at 800-652-9093, 24 hours a day, or key in #TIP on your cell phone.