Deer harvest up locally, down statewide
Each fall, the Malone sisters return to their 400-acre hunter’s paradise near Sebeka for a friendly competition to shoot the nicest buck.
The youngest of the three won this year’s contest - 22-year-old Rebecca Malone downed an 11-pointer, her largest in a decade of hunting. Her sisters ended up with does.
It’s not unusual for the sisters to slay nice bucks, and that’s not because they’re lucky; it’s by design.
“If you want to see a nice deer, let the little ones grow,” Malone said. “You can’t shoot everything you see.”
This year, she said, she didn’t see as many as usual. “The deer really weren’t moving this year, that’s for sure.”
The nine-day firearm deer hunting season ended Sunday. Although hunters around the region reported seeing fewer animals than previous season, plenty of them ended up using their tag.
According to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources numbers released Tuesday morning, hunters in two of the three zones around Wadena shot more deer than last year. In area 241, a triangular region that stretches from Detroit Lakes to Park Rapids to Wadena, hunters killed 5,775 deer, up 7 percent. In Otter Tail County’s area 240, there was a 9 percent increase (3,165 total). There was, however, an 8 percent decline (3,000 total) in area 214, a region south of Wadena that covers much of Todd County.
Statewide, hunters harvested 128,814 deer this year, down 6 percent from 2012. The numbers will tick up as final registrations are tallied, said Leslie McInenly, DNR big game coordinator. “I do suspect our final harvest will be a bit below that of 2012 but I still think it will be similar.”
“There’s been some variability across the state,” said McInenly, who hunted near Henning this year. The deer harvest was down statewide due to several factors, she said, including the hard winter, pockets of unharvested corn where deer hunkered down, and the “crummy, crummy weather.”
The weather didn’t stop Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden from spending 10 days finding solace in his nature sanctuary two hours north. For him - and many of the nearly half million Minnesotans who bought tags in 2013 - early November is one of the best times of the year. A wall in his office at M State’s Wadena campus, where he’s the business manager, features a mounted buck. This year, Wolden said, “I passed up several nice bucks and does,” but his son and daughter (her first) each tagged one.
“I just love being in the outdoors,” Wolden said. “It’s part of keeping balance.”
While Wolden left town, many people visited the Wadena area over last last two weekends due to its location at the nexus of prime hunting grounds.
“For some of our businesses it’s a great boost,” said Shirley Uselman, Wadena Chamber of Commerce executive director. Businesses that sell licenses and hunting equipment particularly benefit, she said.
According to attendents at the BP station at the intersection of U.S. highways 10 and 71 - one of hundreds of big game registration station’s in the state - tag sales kept the store busy. But business tapered off as the hunting began. Since the state introduced the system in 2010, hunters have increasingly registered their dead deer via telephone or the Internet.
As of Friday, registration wasn’t a concern for Wadena resident Jim Formanek, 42. Despite hunting for five days west of Park Rapids, he’d only seen four deer and hadn’t shot one - some of the worst hunting he’s experienced in a quarter century.
On Saturday afternoon, an eerie mist blanketed Bertha, which resembled a ghost town. That might be because most residents were out hunting, said resident Bobby Freyholtz, who estimated 80 percent of Bertha’s men and 60 percent of its women participate in the sport.
After several years coming up empty, Freyholtz shot a button buck and a 6-pointer this year. Unlike Wadena and Otter Tail, Todd County is in a management zone, where hunters can kill up to two deer.
“When I shot those two deer I was so pumped,” Freyholtz said. “I love the meat.”
As Freyholtz talked at the Long Pines Restaurant, a truckful of hunters entered the adjacent bar.
Hunting had been hit or miss, the three men reported. “We didn’t get none, that’s why we’re here,” said Jerry Denny, 68, as he sipped on a Michelob. But another member of their party was hot on the trail of a monster, refusing to even pause for lunch.
“He said he’s not giving up,” Denny said. “This is serious.”
Up the road, at Jimmy’s Wurst Saloon and Grille in Hewitt, 33-year-old Kevin South said it’s been “cold and miserable,” but he’s seen a lot of deer. He shared a cell phone photo of his nice 10-pointer he dropped east of town.
Fellow patron Shelly Krippner, 29, admitted to being a lazy hunter this year, unlike last season when she and her sister-in-law dragged a big buck Krippner shot out of the wood themselves after none of their guy friends answered their phones. Instead, she and her sister-in-law were “deer hunter hunting,” Krippner joked.
Further north, before dinner at the Hub 71 Restaurant in Sebeka, Tom Springer and Mike Haluska said they saw very few deer. The two friends drove up from the metro to hunt with their kids at nearby state land.
No matter the result, it’s been a great time, Haluska said. “Just sitting out there with the kids is good.” Halsuka’s 12-year-old son Garrett killed his first deer at the beginning of this year’s archery hunt. Garrett nodded after his dad said, “I was more excited than he was.”
What’s the best part of hunting for Mikala, Springer’s 13-year-old daughter? “Just the experience,” she said.
“You mean spending time with your dad?” Springer teased.
On the other side of town, at Sebeka’s watering hole, men and women - most sporting orange hats - watched college football and exchanged hunting stories.
Menagha resident Jon Warmbold said it had been a below-average season. “I’m just happy I got a deer,” the 32-year-old said. So did his 85-year-old grandfather.
Later that night in Bluffton, a man left DJ’s Powerhouse with a 12-pack of offsale.
“No deer, but I got my beer,” he said.
Another customer, Jill Salo of New York Mills, was able to slay her first deer, a doe, on the first day she had ever hunted. The 25-year-old said she was having fun gloating to her male friends who didn’t manage to tag one this year.
“You gotta one-up the guys,” Salo said. “It’s a competition.”
Although the firearm season is over, the archery deer hunt continues through the end of the year. And the muzzleloading season runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 15.