It was a good sign for hunters in this neck of the woods.
Yes, the unusually balmy weather was a plus - the sight of the sun and hunters in lightweight blaze orange.
But more than anything, another sight may help explain the spike in deer harvested in the Emily area over the opening weekend of the Minnesota firearms deer hunting opener.
"They (hunters) say they're seeing a lot more deer and a lot less wolves," said Tracy Jones, meat manager at Lake Country Foods in Emily, one of dozens of deer registration stations in the greater Brainerd lakes area.
Regardless of the reason, Jones saw a major increase over last year in the number of deer registered at Lake Country Foods.
Todd Prois of the Twin Cities walked his hunting land near Deerwood on Saturday during the state firearms deer hunting opener. Brainerd Dispatch/Brian S. Peterson » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"About 125," he said of the number of deer registered at Lake Country Foods. "That's way above normal. I'm sure the warm weather helped."
In the lakes area, the weather was warm - temperatures hovered around 60 - for opening day Saturday, but cooled off with scattered showers Sunday. As a result, Saturday was the bigger day for deer registrations opening weekend.
As of late Sunday morning, Jones said the biggest deer registered at Lake Country Foods was a 14-point buck that weighed 226 pounds dressed.
Lake Country Foods also doubles as a venison donation program processing site. It accepts healthy deer donated by hunters and processes the venison free for area food shelves. This year, Lake Country Foods is the only participating store in the area.
Justin Prois peeked out from atop his deer stand during opening day Saturday of the state firearms deer hunting season. Brainerd Dispatch/Brian S. Peterson » Purchase reprints of this photo.
According to Jones, donation numbers were down slightly for opening weekend this year - as of late Sunday morning, he said six deer had been donated.
"I expected triple that," Jones said. "I'm not sure (of the reason). But a lot of people are calling and asking about it (the program), so there might be more."
As for what hunters were reporting in the field - the number of deer they were seeing, Jones said "It's been a complete mix this year."
That was the case at most registration stations in the area.
"It's maybe a little down from last year or about the same," said Jesse Williams of Oars & Mine Bait & Tackle in Crosby.
As of Sunday morning, Williams said about 150 deer had been registered at Oars & Mine. But if quantity is in fact down, the quality of deer registered at the store has been solid.
"We've had some decent bucks," Williams said. "Not any monsters. We've had one that weighed over 200 pounds. But a lot of nice 8-pointers in the 170- to 180-pound range.
"It's been mixed results. We're seeing a few does but most everyone is shooting bucks. That's what we've been seeing."
Todd Prois walked his hunting land near Deerwood as Cody Klein (background) prepared to hunt Saturday during the state firearms deer hunting opener. Brainerd Dispatch/Brian S. Peterson » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Just down the road, that's exactly what Todd Prois saw from his stand just an hour into the opener. At 7:37 a.m., Prois kicked off - and ended - his hunt with a bang, downing a decent-sized buck from about 60 yards on his hunting property just off Crow Wing County Road 10, about 3 1/2 miles southeast of Deerwood.
Prois didn't have a doe permit, so that was it for his 2009 hunt. But he seemed more than happy with the yield - the buck appeared to have six legitimate points and likely weighed about 150 pounds.
Not bad for about 65 minutes in the stand.
"I saw a fawn and the mom following it. I didn't have a doe tag so was hoping there would be a buck. And about three minutes after that, the buck came out," said Prois, 40, of the Twin Cities, who has been hunting the property since the early 1990s. He figures he's harvested deer 12 of the 18 years he's hunted the land. "It was a little left of me - perfect for shooting right-handed. It was trotting a little bit. I was just waiting for the perfect shot.
"I thought it was bigger," Prois said of this year's buck. "But anything with horns, I'm shooting."
BRIAN S. PETERSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5864.
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