DULUTH -- The big rush was Friday, the day before the Minnesota deer hunting season opener, but even on Thursday morning, there was a steady stream of hunters coming into the Hermantown Fleet Farm store to pick up last-minute necessities.
Folks like Josh Tuorila, of Silver Bay. Tuorila was toting his 9-month-old daughter, Eisa, around in a shopping cart while checking out blaze-orange clothes and assorted hunting gear. He had picked up an extra magazine for a rifle, along with a bag of candy for the deer stand.
One thing he wasn’t buying was ammunition. There wasn’t any. Last week, a national shortage of ammo, and a national run on outdoor gear of all types, has store shelves nearly barren of many popular deer rifle calibers.
“Even in the simple loads, like .308, they don’t have anything,“ Tuorila noted.
Tuorila is part of a deer camp that hunts near Finland, in one of the areas hardest-hit by a string of deep-snow winters that have kept deer numbers down in northeastern Minnesota's Arrowhead. It will be bucks only for his group, with no doe permits available as wildlife managers try to rebuild the herd in that area.
“I shot the last buck five years ago. That’s the longest string this camp has gone without a deer since it started“ in the 1980s, he noted. “There were guys from camp that hunted up there in the 70s even and saw more deer then.”
Still, he noted, the deer camp camaraderie is worth the effort.
“It’s tradition at this point. It's a chance for the family to get together. And that’s probably more important than getting a deer at this point,“ he said.
The camp has had as many as 14 hunters in it at once, he noted. But a combination of guys aging out, and now COVID-19 concerns, have pared that to just three hunters this season.
Greg Wicklund, of Cloquet, was in the store for some last-minute items, including a new blaze-orange backpack. He’ll be hunting up by Jesse Lake in Itasca County with a big group of friends and family.
His great-grandfather homesteaded the land in the early 1900s.
“Some years it’s not so good. Others years are OK,“ he said.
While ammo is in short supply, the store still had boxes full of blaze-orange hats and gloves. And clothing racks are well-stocked. For now.
Nathan Anseth, 17, of Duluth, had a new blaze-camo parka in his cart and was trying on blaze bib overalls.
“I grew out of my other stuff,“ said Anseth, who will be hunting up by Comstock Lake. “So now it’s time to spend some money.”
Anseth said he’s optimistic about the season that starts a half-hour before sunrise Saturday. Like the other 450,000 or so hunters who will be in the woods Saturday, Anseth was hoping for the best, hoping for that big buck to come within range.
“It used to be a great area before I started hunting,“ he noted. “Then the wolves moved in. ... But we still are seeing a lot of deer. I think it’s going to be a good season.”
Deer hunters invited to share wildlife observations
Minnesota deer hunters can use an online questionnaire to report wildlife they see during each hunt. Data from the observation survey will provide a helpful comparison to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ population estimates for various species.
Using a mobile device or desktop computer, hunters can enter information on the DNR website, dnr.state.mn.us/mammals/deer/management/deer-hunter-field-log.html, about wildlife they see each day of hunting, including deer, turkeys, bears, fishers and other species. They’ll also be able to report specific information about any deer they harvest, including antler size.
Hunters are encouraged to fill out a report after each hunt even if they don’t see any deer that day.
The questionnaire will be available until Jan. 15.
About the Minnesota 2020 deer season
The 2020 Minnesota firearms deer season for Northeastern Minnesota — the 100 series permit areas — runs for 16 days, from Saturday, Nov. 7, through Sunday, Nov. 22.
You can buy your license at dnr.state.mn.us/licenses/online-sales.html, by phone at 888-665-4236 or at any license agent (stores) across the state. A deer license purchased after the opening day of the season is valid starting the next day after it is issued, but not on the day it is issued.
Shooting hours each day are a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset.
Minnesota sells about 520,000 deer hunting licenses each fall, including firearms, muzzleloader, youth and archery. Of those, about 450,000 hunters are expected to be afield statewide during the firearms season.
About half the deer shot during the season are shot opening weekend. This year, that will likely be about 100,000 deer statewide, depending on the weather. (Warmer, drier weather means hunters stay outside longer and shoot more deer.) About 70% of the season harvest occurs in the first four days of the season. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has set an annual goal of 200,000 deer shot and hunters — firearms, muzzleloader and archery combined.
Last year, 36% of all Minnesota hunters successfully harvested a deer (including archery and muzzleloader), but the success rate was 32% during the firearms season and only 27% for the 100-series management area during firearms season.
A legal buck is a deer having at least one antler 3 inches long. Buck fawns, sometimes called "button bucks" or "nubbin' bucks," are not legal bucks.
Resident firearms deer licenses are $35 in 2020, including issuing fees.
Resident hunters age 84 and older can shoot a deer of either sex in any permit area.