Despite all the talk about chronic wasting disease, Minnesota deer hunters took to woods in force this weekend for the firearms opener.
A late surge in license sales indicated today that many hunters waited until the last minute to buy their licenses, said Gary Drotts, DNR area wildlife manager who worked a CWD test site.
Reports from throughout central Minnesota show hunter success is running at or above last year's pace, which would indicate that DNR projections for a near-record harvest are accurate.
"Most hunters I talked to had very good luck," said Marge Hillman, manager of the Conoco station in Aitkin, where 525 deer were registered over the weekend. "We saw several 8- and 10-pointers come through. A lot of hunters said they passed up smaller deer. They were being choosy because there are so many out there."
Registrations at the Backus Corner Store also are running ahead of last year's pace, said Destery Dwire, a clerk. The store checked in nearly 250 deer over the weekend, and the Backus locker had four bucks with eight or more points in storage.
"It seemed about 50-50," Dwire said when asked how hunters were doing. "Some guys I talked to saw a lot, others not many."
The Corner Store on Highway 210 west of Brainerd checked in several nice bucks, including two 15-pointers, three 12s, an 11, two 10s and several 9s and 8s. "We had roughly 220 registrations over the weekend," said Lisa Beimert, clerk. "Overall, hunters did very well on the opener."
The Holiday station on Highway 25 in Brainerd was one of the registration points where the DNR took samples for CWD testing. On Saturday 159 deer were registered and assistant manager Eddie Moran said most hunters were good about having their deer tested.
"Anything to help is what they said," Moran said. "They got 41 test samples as of this morning. They wanted 60 so I guess they will be back again next weekend."
Cooperation was also the keyword at Oars-N-Mine Bait and Tackle in Crosby. As of this morning DNR workers needed just eight more deer to fill their CWD test quota of 60. For the entire weekend 393 deer were registered, compared to 296 on opening weekend last year.
"In Permit Area 154 there were a lot of intensive harvest tags available," said Roger Healy, store manager. "We registered a lot of deer taken that way. But I don't think we necessarily saw more large bucks. So far in our big buck contest the largest deer is an 8-pointer that weighed 185 pounds. The fifth biggest is 168. Last year the top five all weighed more than 200 pounds."
At Bob's Sports and Spirits in Emily CWD testers had a hard time rounding up enough heads, according to Scott Berkman, who was working the store for his brother Bob, who was gone hunting.
"Only two of the permit areas they're testing from touch Emily," Berkman explained. "Some people wanted to save their heads. Overall we got 285 registrations, which is behind last year's pace. A lot of hunters said they didn't hear as much shooting as usual. I didn't see as many deer come through but the weather was cold enough so a lot of people left their deer hanging. Today will tell the tale. A lot of them will head home after the holiday. Oh, and you can mention that Bob didn't get his buck yet."
Registrations are down at the Breezy Oasis in Breezy Point, where manager Robert Miller estimated the weekend count at 55.
"It definitely was lighter than normal," Miller said. "Hunting pressure was lighter than normal, too. It seems a lot of deer around here have moved into city limits where you can't shoot them."
At Petro Plus in Browerville 366 deer had been registered as of this morning, far ahead of last year's pace. But Manager Margaret Sobich attributed that to the closing of another check station nearby. The largest deer registered so far was a 10-point buck, Sobich said.
Deerwood Self Serve registered 154 deer on Saturday and 108 on Sunday. Last year on opening weekend the station registered more than 300. But down the road at Tutt's Bait and Tackle in Garrison registrations are running ahead of last year.
"We have 219 as of this morning," Joan Tutt said. "All the permits they issued have really helped. It seems everybody has a doe permit. We've had some nice deer come through, including a 14-pointer."
A similar refrain was heard at the Holiday station in Pine River, where registrations through opening weekend -- estimated between 300 and 400 -- also are ahead of last year's pace.
"The intensive harvest and management tags have a lot to do with that," Manager John Kinzel said. "Multiple registrations seem to be the trend."
In Pillager the check station at Pillsbury Junction had 229 bucks and 139 does registered over the weekend. "We're up on bucks and almost the same on does," Manager Debbie Carner said. "Last year at this same point we had 190 bucks and 140 does."
The Y Mart in Walker, the northernmost check station contacted for this story, has registered 149 deer, including 114 bucks and 35 does. "The biggest was a 10-pointer and there were quite a few smaller bucks brought in," said Mike Chosa, clerk. "We're a hair behind last year's pace. We had 160 over the first weekend last year."
The Super America in Little Falls is another check station where hunters have been asked to submit deer for CWD testing. As of this morning the station had registered 253 deer, but DNR staffers had collected just 19 of the 60 samples they want for CWD testing.
"Part of that's due to the weather," said Beau Liddell, DNR area wildlife manager. "When it's cold like this hunters just don't bring in their deer as fast. And a lot of others don't bring their deer with them when they go to register, so they see us and keep driving to the next station. If we don't reach our quota this morning we'll probably have to come back next weekend, which is frustrating because a lot of us are deer hunters too."
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