Was annual deer hunt a misfire for governor?

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 14, 2009 - 11:12 PM

Tim Pawlenty is taking some criticism for his handling of a wounded buck.

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Gov. Tim Pawlenty has been hunting on the Minnesota deer opener since he entered office. This year’s festivities were in Thief River Falls.

Photo: Ben Garvin, Star Tribune

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Gov. Tim Pawlenty has taken heat, particularly from online commentators, after he wounded what was described as a small buck on opening weekend of Minnesota firearms season.

Pawlenty was participating in the state's Governor's Deer Opener, which he initiated the first year he was in office. The event has been held in various communities. This year's was in Thief River Falls.

Those who have criticized the governor say he should have stayed with his hunting party until the deer was found or a determination made that it had not been seriously wounded and would survive.

Others, including many who were in Thief River Falls, believe Pawlenty did what he could to recover the deer, and that in any event his group aggressively tracked the animal, or tried to, throughout the day Saturday and on Sunday morning. Ultimately, it couldn't be found and was believed by Pawlenty's hunting mates to have survived.

Did Pawlenty err? Or was his situation not unlike many that occur in Minnesota in deer season, in which campmates search for wounded deer when the shooter for one reason or another -- perhaps work, perhaps school -- has to leave?

You decide. Here's an outline of what happened:

• Pawlenty arrived in Thief River Falls on Friday and participated in a luncheon and other festivities associated with the hunt, which is sponsored by the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, Explore Minnesota Tourism and the DNR. He also toured the area and met with various townspeople.

• The governor had previously met his hunter host, retired DFL legislator Wally Sparby, and didn't attend the event's annual "hunter-host" reception Friday night, in which visiting hunters meet their hosts and plan the next morning's hunt.

• Pawlenty stayed in a Thief River Falls motel Friday night and left the next morning about 3:30 a.m. to meet his brother, Dan, at a deer camp about 45 miles from town headed by Sparby. The camp holds about 10 people.

• Dan Pawlenty on Friday had been shown the camp's layout and the stand from which he and his brother would hunt. Dan Pawlenty is a seasoned hunter who would serve, as he has at past such events, as a mentor to his brother, who is not as experienced.

• The Pawlentys were in their stand about 5:30 a.m. Legal shooting began about 6:40.

• Just after 7 a.m., the Pawlentys saw a small buck 200 or more yards away. In a short while, the governor put the animal in his scope and fired his .25-06, a gun he is familiar with and has shot before. The deer ran off.

• The Pawlentys waited about an hour before inspecting the area where the deer was. They found blood and tracked the animal for a while before deciding, as they had agreed to earlier, to return to camp and discuss what to do next. This was about 10 a.m. The governor was due back in town by 11:45 a.m. or so, when the event's public deer weigh-in would begin. A news conference featuring the governor was scheduled for noon.

• Sparby and at least one other hunter from camp returned to Thief River Falls for the weigh-in and news conference. The others, including Dan Pawlenty, stayed in camp to track the deer. The deer wasn't found.

• Pawlenty was scheduled to fly to Iowa and left Thief River Falls in early afternoon. Sparby and others in the governor's camp told Pawlenty they would track the deer in his behalf.

• A search also was conducted for the deer Sunday morning, with no luck. The blood trail ran out and the animal was believed to have survived.

• News that the governor had wounded a deer but had left town with it unrecovered hit the Internet, creating a firestorm.

An error by the governor? A lapse in hunting ethics? Or nothing so out of the ordinary in Minnesota deer hunting?

You decide.

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