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Hunters, non-hunters must co-exist

The year they opened the Fergus Falls Goose Refuge to hunting, the city police department started taking calls from angry home owners near the Otter Tail River early one morning.

"What is going on?" they all demanded.

It seemed that some eager-beavers had taken a good look at the goose hunting zone and discovered there was a corridor of opportunity leading into the city limits along the river. They had seized their chance. The hunters were not shooting at the homes by the river, they were shooting into the air, but the cascade of heavy shot falling on the rooftops and all the gunfire made for a rude wake-up.

Just a few years ago a young couple put their baby in a stroller and started down a popular walking and biking trail in Otter Tail County. It was a beautiful fall day -- it was also the opening day of the Minnesota firearms deer hunting season. Perhaps they thought blaze orange was just a fashionable clothing choice. It was not until one of those orange-clad guys came out of his stand and told them that they were strolling into a nest of deer hunters that they wised up and left.

Captain Mike Hammer, the education programs coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, sets up all types of safety and training programs. He tells his friends at this time of the year who are driving after dark to "look out for the deer" and watch their speed. They are much more likely to run into deer than policemen. This is November and it is a very bad month for deer-vehicle accidents. Not only is the deer rut in progress, November is when up to 500,000 deer hunters take to the woods and fields for a nine-day season.

A 16-year-old boy was killed recently in Goodhue County when the car he was a passenger in slammed into another car that had braked because a dead deer was on the highway. A dead deer on the highway at this time of the year should not have been a surprise but apparently the driver who stopped in the middle of the highway was very surprised.

A New Ulm family had a deer come flying right through their car when it was hit by another vehicle and thrown across the lane of traffic. They survived the ordeal but all three were injured. The driver needed reconstructive surgery and investigating police officers were left shaking their heads in wonderment that they were not killed.

Two weeks ago in the city limits of Fergus Falls, a man drove straight into a herd of 10 deer that were crossing the highway. It seems that someone had decided to store a big pile of shelled corn not too far off the road. It was not a baiting site but it sure worked like one.

What these incidents all have in common is that they happened in the fall in outstate Minnesota. There is a growing number of Minnesotans who live in a condo, stop at Starbucks for a Mocha Almond Latte on their way to work and spend their day in front of a computer monitor. They do not even see wildlife but the fact remains that they are still in Minnesota, a state where people hunt and fish and spend a lot of time outdoors.

One of these city-dwelling types built a house in a nice rural setting and then realized that there was a hunting club just down the road where they shot at clay pigeons. He wanted it stopped and threatened legal action.

The attitude of most outstaters I talked to was "Well, what the hell did he expect?"

You are going to find people living outstate these days who do not care for hunting and a lot of city dwellers who are wild about it, so where people live is not necessarily going to determine their attitude about hunting. It does, however, have a profound influence on how they live.

Dick Anderson retired from his job with the DNR some years ago. He was recognized as Minnesota's top bear expert in his day. Dick loves the outdoor life and has a warm, gregarious nature that has made him many friends. We were at a hunter training session one time, watching kids learn how to handle guns safely, when he made a point that I have never forgotten.

Dick told me that he believed that there will come a day when the people of Minnesota will vote on whether or not to allow hunting seasons in the state. If the battle lines are drawn between people who hunt and those who do not hunt, the hunters do not stand a chance. For that reason, it behooves every hunter to be on their best behavior. Those kids we were watching gingerly handing shotguns to one another while they practiced going through a fence safely, would be the ones the vote depended upon.