When it comes to firearms deer hunting in Minnesota, nothing is sacred, it seems.
While many out in the field this season are good, ethical hunters, the number of reports of impropriety is alarming. And a reason for concern.
The most recent DNR conservation report includes instances of baiting, shining, poaching ...
And beheading and flat-out stealing.
Nikki Shoutz, a conservation officer out of Pine River, said in her report that she "spoke to a hunter who successfully shot a trophy 10-point buck, then got off his stand to track his deer heading toward Highway 371. As he got closer, he observed a truck pulled over on the shoulder. Thinking it was merely car trouble, he thought nothing of it and tracked his deer toward the same spot. The truck then sped away, leaving only a headless deer and a bloody knife."
And that's just a fraction of the insanity that has become the firearms season. Consider some of the following reports from area COs:
Karl Hadrits, Crosby: "Seized processed venison, deer parts and a rifle from a poacher who faces wildlife restitution, revocation of hunting privileges, loss of the rifle and in excess of 20 criminal charges including multiple gross misdemeanor penalties for issues of illegal taking and transportation of big game, hunting without valid license, attempting to take overlimit of deer, covering deer taken in a lottery area with bonus tags, illegal party hunting, failing to submit firearm to inspection, shooting from road right-of-way and within 500 feet of dwellings, untagged deer and baiting.
"In another matter, some hunters received a threatening note on their deer stand on public land. Investigation revealed that a poacher who wrote the note was baiting deer nearby and was trying to scare other hunters out of the area to protect his honey hole.' The poacher had already killed one nice buck over the bait and was caught out in the woods attempting to overbag. Processed venison, deer parts and a rifle were seized."
Chad Sherack, Pequot Lakes: "Found many lottery-area firearm hunters cheating the system, taking antlerless deer without antlerless permits. Also found hunters shooting antlerless deer illegally in lottery zones and making a quick trip to the registration station to register the deer in nearby intensive or managed areas."
Brent Speldrich, McGregor: "One TIP call revealed a hunter hunting on the Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge/Kimberly WMA properties over a pile of corn. When confronted, the hunter replied, I know why you're here.' He was fined $500 for leaving property on the WMA overnight and hunting over bait. His firearm was seized."
Yes, it's gotten to the point where some hunters don't even care if they're fined. They'll do what they're doing until they're caught, pay the fine, then probably do it all over again. And not just in local permit areas, among the most heavily hunted in the state. Metro-area COs say baiting is working its way their way, too, even though the chances of getting caught are much higher in the metro area than, say, out-of-the-way reaches of the state.
But unethical hunting - and sheer stupidity in the field - isn't limited to these areas, as is evident by reports from COs across Minnesota:
Dan Perron, Onamia: "Had a hunter shoot from a motor vehicle from the road right-of-way while trespassing. The shooter didn't have a good reason why he would do what he did. He just wanted to get a deer."
Alex Gutierrez, Forest Lake: "Checked a baited deer stand in the Hugo area ... found three hunters sitting in tree stands over bait containing apples and loose corn ... One of the hunters stated that baiting was legal while hunting on private property ... informed the individuals that hunting deer over bait was unlawful, even while on private property. The individual then stated they should not be charged because the bait did not work and that they have not shot at a deer all season."
Chris Vinton, Perham: "One person shot a deer from the road and told another occupant (no driver's license) in the vehicle to drive away. The shooter remained in the cornfield until he got cold; officers greeted him. Alcohol use appeared to be a factor for all involved."
Mike Martin, St. Cloud: "Worked on several TIP complaints this past week, including a trespassing issue and a husband using his wife's firearms deer license because he already used up his buck tag (the wife does not hunt)."
Sam Hunter, Park Rapids: "Complaints consisted of hunting deer over bait, operating ATVs during restricted hours, hunters shooting from the road, shots fired after dark and rifle hunters in the State Game Refuge. Also received a call of a convicted felon, who was legally banned from having firearms, hunting with a firearm. Enforcement action was taken."
Pilot Tom Buker, New Ulm: "Two farmers were found in separate incidents, shooting deer from corn combines as the deer ran out of fields being harvested."
Gary Forsberg, Pelican Rapids: "A complaint of an intoxicated hunter lying in a field was also investigated. The hunter's BAC was .21. His rifle was seized, he spent some time in jail and charges are pending."
Joe Stattelman, Detroit Lakes: "Investigated TIP calls and hunting complaints. One call led the officer to a deer baiting site where corn had been placed under an elevated stand. The officer located two hunters in the stand who admitted to placing the corn to attract deer. They had shot one deer but were unsatisfied with their results so one of the hunters went to the store and bought and placed liquid scents, mineral blocks and mineral powders on top of the corn. Citations were issued and firearms seized.
"Complaints of shooting from the roadway and hunting without a license also were investigated. In two incidents, fathers were teaching their 12 year-old sons the wrong way to hunt."
Maybe that's the problem - older hunters are passing these unethical practices on to our younger hunters. Regardless, this culture must change. Sure, there were a few positive stories from the COs, too, and most of the hunters out there embrace ethical hunting. But countless stories of felons with guns, hunters passed out in fields, a trophy buck beheaded and blatant examples of cheating, lying and stealing are an embarrassment to the state and the many good hunters who participate in this great Minnesota tradition.
BRIAN S. PETERSON, outdoors editor, may be reached at brian.peterson@ brainerddispatch.com or 855-5864.
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