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Hunt begins slowly

Deer hunting has been mostly slow during the first weekend of firearms season, several area registration stations reported Tuesday.

"It's spotty," said Gary Mittag, owner of Wadena Outfitters. "Either [hunters] haven't seen one or they're doing great."

Janice Tervo of Bluffton Oil said they've registered 235 deer as of mid-day Tuesday, around or a little behind the pace of last year, when they registered 485 over two weekends.

Tervo said she worked a shift Sunday and heard one refrain from hunters, "We aren't seeing anything."

It was much the same at Wahoo Valley, where owner John Long said there are fewer hunters and fewer deer this year.

"We're down about 40 percent from last year," he said of the deer registered during the 2007 hunt.

"[The hunters] are just kind of confused," Long said. "There don't seem to be many deer around. It's just a fickle type of thing."

Mittag has heard many of the same comments.

"Either [the deer] were on your land, or they were on the next-door neighbor's land," he said, describing the hit-or-miss luck of hunters.

There were a couple of theories as to why the hunt has been down this year around this area, despite the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources complaining of a deer herd that's gotten too large.

"We're hunting them 4 1/2 months a year," explained Mittag. "I think the deer are getting more nocturnal around here."

Mittag said bow hunting for deer starts in mid-September, and many hunters have bought muzzleloaders to take advantage of that season. While in the past hunters would be out in force just once -- at the beginning of the firearms season -- today the hunting season is so long, the deer are wary, or wise, once the rifles come out.

Long said he thinks a specific reason for a downturn is the lack of hunting space, especially some land owned by Potlatch that used to be hunted, but isn't anymore.

"There's not as much land," Long said. "People are going elsewhere."

In addition to a smaller harvest, most stations reported fewer big bucks brought in this year.

"We're not seeing the big, fancy racks," Long said. "The racks are smaller in general."

Wahoo Valley had one 222 pound buck registered there.

Mittag said there were three nice-sized bucks registered in Wadena Outfitter's Big Buck contest.

A 205-pound eight-pointer leads that race, brought in by Ryan Sorenson of Wadena. There was also a 198-pound eight-pointer and 185-pound 10-pointer registered there.

Bluffton Oil saw a few nice deer, but no monsters yet.

"[Monday] we had a couple of 10-point bucks, but nothing monstrous," Tervo said.

Despite a harvest that has fallen a bit short of expectations, the economic impact of deer hunting on this area is as strong as ever.

"It's been great for business," Long said.

Hunters still showed up in droves as usual on the Friday before the season opened.

"The number of licenses is up," said Mittag, whose business is near the intersection of U.S. Highways 10 and 71. "But the number of registrations is down."