The sound you hear in the fields and woodlands in the area is music to Nikki Shoutz's ears.
Nothing but the breeze through the trees.
Or was that a collective sigh from Shoutz and her fellow DNR conservation officers?
The state muzzleloader deer hunting season opened Saturday in Minnesota, so the sound of gunfire won't fade entirely from around Pine River - Shoutz's territory - and beyond. But Shoutz doesn't expect it to be anything like the firearms season.
Not even close. Which is fine with Shoutz.
Don't get her wrong. As a CO, Shoutz is all about hunting this time of year. But this year may have been too much.
The firearms season ended in most areas Nov. 16 and in the remaining third of the state - mainly the northeast corner - last Sunday. It was a long two-plus weeks for Shoutz and DNR conservation officers.
"I'm so glad to see the end of the (firearms) deer season this year," Shoutz said. "Deer season is so stressful. Every one of us (COs) is going like crazy. And now the muzzleloader season starts."
Shoutz said that the number of incidents in her territory this season was up significantly over recent years.
"There are more desperate people trying to get deer." - Nikki Shoutz, Conservation Officer
"I think the violation rate goes up when there's a situation like this," Shoutz said, referring to the change in some permit areas from managed (up to two deer per hunter) to lottery (one deer) and even intensive (up to five deer) to lottery. "There are a lot of people violating the lottery thing.
"There are more desperate people trying to get deer."
She said the most common improprieties, at least in her territory, were hunters using bonus tags in lottery areas and baiting.
Even road kill draws a crowd.
"In my area, if I have car kills, two or more cars will pull up and say, 'Does he (the driver) want that deer. I'll take it.'"
Venison, it seems, is a rare commodity these days.
"It's been way down," Shoutz said of deer harvest numbers in her area. "People are really complaining about the lack of deer this season. The DNR wildlife guys say that's why they made the changes from managed to lottery (to protect dwindling numbers in certain areas)."
Still, the firearms season ended on a happy note for Shoutz, who saw a hunter's dream of acquiring a trophy rack realized.
"A hunter was hunting in an area in Cass County ... and needed help tracking a deer. He was having a tough time. (After shooting it) he thought it went on private property. He asked (two other hunters) if they would help. He was hunting alone. He said he really looked, but found nothing. He was bummed out. He said it was a beautiful buck.
"It was the very first day (of the firearms season), and on the last day or a couple days before the season ended they (the other hunters) were making a drive and came across what they believed had to be the deer. They could have kept it. But they called me."
"What a great ending."
BRIAN S. PETERSON may be reached at brian.peterson@ brainerddispatch.com or 855-5864.
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