Walking out of the woods, Matt Breuer reminds deer hunters on the eve of the state's firearms whitetail season, is better than crawling out.
Crawling last fall is how Breuer, who runs a hunting and fishing guiding business in Bemidji, left a forest of aspens and pines that surrounded the stand he was taking down. The stand collapsed inward while he was on it, tumbling him to the ground about 15 feet below, where he landed on his back.
"I shattered one vertebra and cracked another," Breuer said Thursday. "But I'm doing OK. Tate, my 13-year-old son and my wife and I will be deer hunting Saturday."
Breuer's accident is a reminder to hunters that safety should be their top priority when the season opens one-half hour before sunrise Saturday.
This might be especially true for newcomers to the sport. Deer-hunting license sales are running slightly ahead of a year ago, perhaps because of the spare time afforded some Minnesotans by the pandemic, and Department of Natural Resources officials are urging first-timers, as well as veteran hunters, to hunt safely and legally.
A few reminders might aid that effort:
Gun safety: Deer hunting can be relaxing. But when a deer is sighted, excitement rules. It's then, experts say, accidents are most likely to happen. "The key," said DNR supervisor Lt. Tyler Quandt, "is slowing down. Make sure you're doing things safely. Remember the core lessons of firearms safety. Don't point your firearm toward other people. Don't transport a loaded firearm. And make sure when you aim at a deer the area around and behind your target is safe and obviously without people near."
In 2018, two of three Minnesota deer hunting fatalities occurred when shooters failed to properly identify their target or check beyond the target. Remember also: Never prop a rifle or shotgun against a vehicle. They can fall or get knocked down, and sometimes can discharge.
CWD adherence: Deer killed in CWD management and control zones must be left in those zones until a negative test result is returned. Alternatively, the animal can be quartered, deboned or otherwise processed, with the head and spinal column properly disposed of in the CWD zone of the kill. The DNR website (https://tinyurl.com/y5r32fyj) has dumpster locations in each zone. Also, the DNR this year is asking hunters to voluntarily leave heads of deer killed in CWD management and control zones, as well as those killed in CWD surveillance areas, at self-service sampling stations. Location are listed on the DNR site.
Tagging: Licenses must be validated at deer kill sites, before an animal is moved. Licenses must be notched with a knife or other object noting date and time of day a deer was killed. If multiple dates or times are marked, a tag is invalid.
Party hunting: In most years in most areas of the state, party hunting is legal in Minnesota for deer. This year, notably, it's legal for deer hunting statewide, provided it's done properly, meaning a hunter intending to tag a deer on a fellow hunter's license must be close enough to the hunter to signal him or her when a deer has been killed. The idea is to prevent hunters from being so far apart that over-limits of deer are killed.
Talking on phones or walkie-talkies: Some hunters bide their time in stands playing games on their phones or surfing the web. Both are legal, as is talking to other hunters in most circumstances. It's illegal, conservation officer Quandt notes, to use a phone to "assist in the take" of a deer. So while a hunter can tell another hunter he's cold and going back to camp, it's illegal to call a fellow hunter and say, for example, "A doe is coming toward you from the north." Or, "We will be making a drive toward your stand."
Trespass: Private land trespass is often the No. 1 violation DNR conservation officers deal with in deer season. Some trespass is unintentional; hunters wander by accident onto property where they are unwelcome. But sometimes it's intentional, which in addition to being illegal gives hunters and hunting a black eye. One solution: Download the OnX app (onxmaps.com) onto your phone. It'll tell you where you are and who owns the property you're on.
Deer drives: Less popular, Minnesota DNR conservation officers say, than they once were, they still occur, particularly in the state's farm country.
"There's definitely a right way and a wrong way to do them," Quandt said. "Most important is that hunters conducting a drive have a plan and that everyone in the drive sticks to it. Make sure drivers know where the posters are, and posters know where the drivers are. Deer don't play by rules. They run where you don't expect. In all cases, it's OK to pass up a shot if a situation isn't safe."
Tree stands: Statistics don't lie. Some years more hunters are injured or killed by falling out of tree stands or while climbing into or out of stands than are injured or killed in firearms accidents. Check stands before the season to make sure they're secure and safe. Beware of slippery steps in snowy, freezing or rainy weather. Unload your gun and use a haul line to pull it up to you after you are securely in a stand.
Blaze orange or blaze pink: Short story: More is better. Meaning jacket, cap and pants or coveralls in either color are better and safer than wearing only the minimum required. Blaze orange camouflage is legal and popular, conservation officers note, but not as visible as solid blaze.
Baiting: Illegal statewide, baiting deer by using corn or other attractants to draw them near to hunters is a major problem, DNR conservation officers say. Questions often arise about salt or mineral blocks. Outside of CWD areas, blocks that are strictly salt or strictly mineral are legal. However, many similar blocks sold at sporting goods stores have molasses or other attractants in them and are illegal in Minnesota. Also, any bait or feed used to attract deer must be gone for 10 days before an area can be hunted.