70,000 deer harvested in state last weekend

DNR official says corn fields make for ‘giant woods’

Photo by Jenny Kirk Photos of some of the top bucks harvested by Marshall area hunters this past weekend are posted at Borch’s Sporting Goods as part of their “Biggest Buck” contest. Two of those hunters include Todd Pickthorn (above) and Monte Buntjer.

MARSHALL — More than 70,000 deer were registered throughout the first two days of the firearms hunting season in Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported.

The DNR added that the preliminary number of deer harvested from the opening weekend — 70,724 — was basically the same as from 2016, though there were less bucks harvested this year. Of the deer registered this past weekend, 57 percent were bucks, compared to 67 percent in the opening weekend harvest of 2016.

“I thought the fresh snow would help a little bit, for seeing and tracking the deer, but it was tough because of all the corn still standing,” local conservation officer Matt Loftness said. “With roughly 30 percent of the corn still in, there are a lot of places for the deer to hide. It’s like giant woods for them to hide out in.”

While the total firearms harvest was up 16 percent for Zone 1 in northeastern Minnesota, the weekend deer harvest was down in the other two zone areas. The harvest in Zone 2, which covers a large majority of the state, including southwest Minnesota, was down 5 percent, while Zone 3 in southeastern Minnesota was down 20 percent, the DNR said.

“I talked to a lot of different game wardens and nobody saw as much (harvested) as we suspected,” Loftness said. “There are a lot of farmers who still haven’t harvested their corn. We’re farm country, so a lot of them are deer hunters, too. There are so many options now, too, with the muzzleloader season, so there may be many people who are thinking about doing that.”

While firearm season in southwest Minnesota continues until Sunday, muzzleloader season runs from Nov. 25 — the Saturday after Thanksgiving — to Dec. 10.

“Muzzleloader runs for 16 days,” Loftness said. “With technology increasing in the way the muzzleloaders are being created — they’re now easy to run and easy to load — it’s becoming more and more popular, which is good because it helps scatter the hunters out. The sophistication that’s coming out has helped with that.”

Jeremy Barck and Eric Buffington, sporting goods sales representatives at Borch’s Sporting Goods, said they saw a “fair number” of hunters come in this weekend to register their deer.

“A lot of it is probably due to corn being in yet,” Barck said.

Since there are two other options available to register harvested deer, it’s possible there were more deer shot than they were aware of, the salesmen said.

“More people are using their smartphones to call in their deer,” Barck said. “There’s also an online option. If hunters come in here, they’ll have to have their license and then we put the information into the computer — we enter where they shot it and whatever else.”

Barck added that it’s possible that a lot of people still have their deer hanging at home, but that some of the locker owners he talked with said their drop-offs were also lower than expected.

“I heard from a lot of lockers that they’ve been down,” he said. “The guy from the Butcher Block came in and said they only had 50 deer come in.”

Buffington said a lot of hunters specifically come in to Borch’s to register for the big buck contest.

“We have a biggest buck contest here,” he said. “People can either send us field photos or come in and we can take them. We have to measure the horns. A lot of times, we like to see them, too. I’ll always through on my coat and go see them unless we’re swamped with people in here.”

Barck said it’s fun to see the excitement on hunter’s faces, especially when they bring in a big buck.

“Some of these bucks are once-in-a-lifetime for them,” he said. “They’ll come in and still be on a high.”

Currently, Monte Buntjer holds the top spot for biggest buck, recording a score of 52. Doug DeSmet collected a score of 50.5, followed by Pat Sarazyn (49 ¾) and Jake Morawitz (49). Along with the top three, there were also photos on the wall of Todd Pickthorn and Larry Polfliet posing with large bucks they shot this past weekend.

Lonnie Schultz said he saw a lot of deer hunters out and about on Saturday and Sunday.

“I saw the most deer hunters out this weekend than I’ve ever seen,” Schultz said. “A lot of them were just driving around, though.”

The DNR projects that the 2017 deer harvest will be around 200,000. Slightly more than 173,000 were tagged in 2016.

Schultz said his 21-year-old son, Derek, had the opportunity to shoot two deer this weekend.

“The buck came out at just about dark,” Schultz said. “He was over 200 pounds — a nice 9-pointer. It’s the biggest one my son has ever shot.”

Loftness said he’s curious to see how many deer will be harvested this upcoming weekend, noting that the state volleyball and football tournaments might keep some of the hunters from getting out.

“We’ll see what this weekend brings,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff going on.”

Loftness stressed the importance of following all hunting rules and regulations in addition to just using common sense.

“Illegal road hunting, trespassing and having a loaded firearm in a vehicle were the top three violations I dealt with this weekend,” Loftness said. “You can’t have a loaded fire in a vehicle — and that includes a combine as well. You also can’t shoot at a deer anywhere within the public road right-a-way, which is telephone pole to telephone pole. You can’t shoot at them or over them.”

While the next day or two is expected to be cold, Loftness said he thought the weather was supposed to be in the 40s for the next 10 days or so. Regardless of the weather, he believes the hunters will still be out.

“There were guys out this morning and what was it — 12 degrees?” he said. “I saw a nice 8-point a guy took over by Russell. Last year, it was really warm for deer hunting. This year, it’s been cold, so we’re going from one extreme to another.”

Loftness said patience was key.

“Patience is kind of the big word coming into this weekend,” Loftness said. “Some farmers say they’re not in a hurry to get this corn out. But it’s the last hurrah for those guys who are just going to slug hunt.”