GRAND FORKS — Opening morning of Minnesota’s firearms deer season, at hunting camps everywhere, dawned with excitement and anticipation of the hunt and the potential for success.
In this nightmare of a year that is 2020, spending a few days in the field or forest was a welcome change of pace and a reminder of life the way it once was — and hopefully will be again someday.
The preseason predictions were favorable in much of northwest Minnesota, where the Department of Natural Resources offered as many as three deer tags in some permit areas. Deer herds are too high — supposedly — in some places, and the liberal bag limits were designed to bring numbers closer to management goals.
I hunted one of those permit areas where three tags were available, and in two mornings and three afternoons in the stand, I saw a whopping total of one deer about a quarter-mile away; on a full run, no less.
I didn’t hear much shooting, either. Not like a normal opener.
I think I counted every blade of grass within 100 yards of my stand.
Apparently, I wasn’t alone.
For whatever reason, hunting success on the opening weekend of Minnesota’s firearms deer season was unexpectedly low. As colleague John Myers of the Duluth News Tribune, a sister Forum Communications Co. newspaper, reported, hunting success during the first two days was down 21% from 2019 and 16% below the five-year average.
Hunters in Minnesota are required to register their deer within 48 hours, which allows the DNR to track hunting success.
The mediocre results left wildlife experts scratching their heads, Myers wrote.
“Both our archery harvest and our youth hunt harvest were up heading into the firearms season. … So that’s what we were expecting,” Barb Keller, the DNR’s big-game program leader, told the News Tribune. “Honestly, I expected the firearms harvest to be up 20% from last year, not down 20%.”
Warm, windy weather the first two days of season might have been a factor, she speculated.
On the land I hunted, trail cameras showed deer walking into the field at night, long after shooting hours had ended. Earlier this fall, when sitting in the stand armed with nothing more than a pair of binoculars, I routinely saw upward of a dozen deer in the field — even on warm, windy days.
During one afternoon viewing session, I watched as many as 20 walking around my stand.
Something changed. Big time.
I haven’t gotten back up there to see for myself, but I've heard second-hand reports that deer movement has picked up in recent days. That could improve hunting success, but the clock is ticking; Minnesota’s firearms deer season ends Sunday, Nov. 15, in 200- and 300-series permit areas and Sunday, Nov. 22, in 100-series permit areas of northeast Minnesota.
If not, it will be another year of “tag soup” for many hunters.
Weather sticks work
Last week’s column about the weather stick I received as a gift prompted a couple of replies from readers who confirmed the primitive weather forecasting devices do indeed work.
“I have had mine for many years,” said Pam Hetteen of Roseau, Minn., adding she used to sell them at Pam’s Pantry, the store she operated.
Hetteen says she mounted the weather stick on her patio wall about 6 feet off the ground so she can see it from inside the house.
“They work great. … I look at mine every day,” she said. “It is amazing that they can bend up and down and not ever break!”
When the weather stick I received as a gift arrived in the mail, I had no idea what it was so I called the sender for an explanation.
“Ever heard of a weather stick?” he asked.
Further research provided this explanation from Wikipedia:
“A weather stick is a traditional means of weather prediction used by some Native Americans. It consists of a balsam fir or birch rod mounted outdoors which twists upward in low humidity and downward in high-humidity environments. These sticks were first used by the Native Americans of the American northeast and the Canadian east and southeast, who noted the behavior of dry branches prior to the arrival of weather changes.”
Ann Zavoral of Fargo, who with her husband, Pat, has a cabin on Flag Island of Lake of the Woods, shared a photo of a weather stick that hangs on their cabin porch.
It has worked for years, she writes.
“A friend gifted us with another one a couple years back, but when opening it, it had already broken — the packaging was from a Vermont country store,” Zavoral writes. “This one has real staying and accuracy power!”