From Baudette to Blue Earth, around 450,000 deer hunters, armed with high hopes and firearms, ventured into the woods for Minnesota's deer opener last weekend. Some bagged trophies. Most didn't. But all 450,000 will have tales to tell about the 2010 season. Here are four.
Paddling for whitetails
At dawn Saturday, a friend and I slipped a canoe into the St. Louis River in northeastern Minnesota, then drifted silently downstream, hoping to shoot a deer along the shore.
Steve Piragis of Ely handled a 30.06 in the bow while I paddled in the stern. We hoped the strategy would provide us access to Superior National Forest woods not normally visited by hunters, and perhaps surprise a whitetail. Drifting in a canoe would give us a stealth advantage, we hoped.
The alternative: A morning on our deer stands in an area with fresh rubs and scrapes. But the paddle would be an adventure. And just might work.
As the morning grew lighter, we glided alongside an ice-covered shoreline. Bald eagles soared, and we flushed a flock of 40 or so Canada geese. In 7 miles, we encountered three people -- hunters hunkered along one stretch of the river.
More troublesome were several boulder gardens and gentle rapids, some that we paddled and some that were so shallow we had to drag our canoe. Not exactly a stealth operation.
The only deer we saw came later, a nice buck that rocketed out of the woods, nearly hitting my truck as I drove down a dirt road from the boat landing. That afternoon and Sunday morning, we retreated to our stands, but saw no deer there, either.
Which means we likely will be among the two-thirds of Minnesota's firearms deer hunters who get to savor memories, not venison, this winter.
A long shot pays off
The odds of Glen Senske bagging the buck of a lifetime this fall definitely were stacked against him.
Senske, 42, of Princeton, broke his collarbone in four places in an ATV accident in June. After doctors put a plate with eight screws in, they told him he should forget hunting this season. The recoil from a 12 gauge shotgun slug might reinjure him, they said.
But determined not to miss the deer season, Senske rigged a .410 shotgun with a scope, sacrificing firepower for less recoil. Sunday, he went into the woods. "I sat on a deadfall. It was around 9:30 a.m., and I heard noise and saw a flicker of antlers.''
It was a monster 20-point buck. Senske fired when it was just 35 yards away.
"I shot once and missed, but with my second shot, he just dropped,'' Senske said. "It's the biggest deer I've ever shot. The [.410] did the job.'' He hasn't had the big whitetail officially scored yet.
"I've been hunting since I was 13, and I've never seen a deer this big. And then to get it with a .410 on public land. I'm still amazed.''
Monday, Senske was back at the doctor's office. He hurt a knee dragging the big deer out of the woods.
SCOTT LINDELL, HUTCHINSON
A trophy, in velvet
Scott Lindell of Hutchinson was hunting Saturday in Renville County when he shot what he thought was just a nice buck.
"I knew it was a sizable deer, but I had no idea what I was about to see when I got down out of my stand and went over to it,'' the 39-year-old hunter said. "I about fainted.''
The whitetail's 19-point rack still was covered in velvet -- a freak of nature. Whitetail antlers should have shed their velvet by now. Wildlife officials say the deer clearly had an adrenal gland abnormality. "I've looked at 10,000 deer and I've only seen three like that,'' DNR deer biologist Marrett Grund said. The deer field-dressed at 185 pounds. "It was the biggest thing I've ever seen in the woods,'' Lindell said.
DAN FABIAN, STILLWATER
Governor brings luck
There was a Big Shot in Dan Fabian's hunting camp this year.
We're not talking about Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who hunted the same farm near Little Falls for his Governor's Deer Opener and spun hunting tales with Fabian's group.
It was Fabian himself, who bagged the camp's biggest deer of the weekend -- and the biggest of his life -- a 10-point trophy. The 49-year-old Stillwater hunter was on his stand Saturday when he spotted movement around 9 a.m.
"I looked up and saw a deer working its way down the ridge,'' he said. "He stopped and looked right at me. It just looked like all antlers to me. I've never had a big buck come out like that.'' He figures the whitetail was about 50 yards away when he pulled the trigger of his 30.06.
The deer ran, but Fabian was confident he hit it. Rather than chase it off the property, he returned to camp to hear Pawlenty's hunting report. (The governor saw some does and a small buck, but didn't pull the trigger.) Then Fabian recovered his buck.
"It was one of the best years ever,'' he said. "Everyone had a good time talking with the governor. He told some good stories.''
Now Fabian has a tale to tell, too.