By Sam Cook, Forum Communications
DULUTH — Shayne Schelinder peered thoughtfully into the trigger mechanism of a Browning deer rifle Thursday morning.
“Hmmmm,” Schelinder murmured.
Minnesota’s firearms deer season opens Saturday, and a hunter was having problems with his rifle. Now it was up to Schelinder, the gunsmith at Duluth’s Gander Mountain store, to solve it. Quickly.
Some 500,000 firearms deer hunters will take to the woods and the fields starting Saturday, and some of them are bound to have gun issues at the last moment.
Schelinder is there to solve as many as he can.
“Mostly now, it’s mounting and boresighting of scopes,” said Schelinder, a Gander Mountain gunsmith for the past two and a half years.
Even deer hunters itching to get to their camps know Schelinder can’t work magic. But he’ll do his best.
“Most of them understand there’s a wait,” he said. “Most are cognizant of bringing their guns in a couple of weeks before the season, so there’s time.
“But some take their guns out just a couple of days before the season and realize —uh, oh —something’s not right.”
Deer hunters moseyed the aisles of Gander Mountain Thursday. They tried on blaze orange hunting coats. They picked up stocking caps. They laid in supplies of ammunition. They bought deer calls and deer stands and gloves.
“I’m buying some bullets and possibly a new jacket,” said Jeremy Johnson of Proctor.
Johnson will be meeting about 15 of his deer hunting buddies at the Kickback Shack near Cotton for opening weekend.
“We like to have fun,” Johnson said.
Last year, he shot a 207-pound, 10-point buck. He was shopping with friend Phil Stepp of Hermantown, who hunts from a deer camp between Floodwood and Hibbing.
“We don’t kick back,” Stepp said, chiding Johnson. “We shoot deer.”
The hype runs high in the hours before deer season.
While participation in grouse and duck hunting has dropped over the past 10 years, deer hunting remains strong in Minnesota.
Chris Balzer, assistant area wildlife manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources at Cloquet, isn’t sure why deer hunting has retained its constituency.
“It’s hard to figure why they’d choose one (form of hunting) over another,” he said. “People are busy, so they have to pick and choose something. That would be my guess. They have to let go of something.”
Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, said good deer hunting keeps deer hunters coming back.
“I think it’s because in recent years, especially, the opportunity for hunting deer has increased,” Johnson said. “There’s been more opportunity for harvesting more deer because of the abundance of deer.”
That might change a bit this fall because the DNR has committed to increase the deer population. To do so, the agency has reduced the number of antlerless deer permits available.
Gun sales have been brisk at Gander Mountain this fall, said gun sales person Robin Jendro.
“Two months ago, the guns started coming in, and the shelves were stacked to the gills,” she said. “A month ago, they were depleting faster than we could stock them. Now they’re down to a bare minimum.”
Shopping at Gander Mountain on Thursday, Isaac Holker of Remer had a shopping cart of hunting supplies —and his 5-year-old nephew Jacob Roper of Remer. Jacob will get to sit in the stand alongside Holker this fall. Holker, who hunts near Grand Rapids, is optimistic.
“We’ve seen a lot of deer. There are lots of big bucks,” he said. “We go out and sit in the woods. People are running around and scaring (the deer) to us.”
Holker hunts on 80 acres of private land on which he and his hunting partners have planted winter rye.
“It’s 6 inches high,” he said. “Deer love it.”
Minnesota’s firearms deer season continues for 16 days, through Nov. 18, across most of Northeastern Minnesota.
Wolf hunt begins, too
Saturday will mark another opener, too. Minnesota will allow wolf hunting for the first time in nearly 40 years. The state assumed management of gray wolves in January after they were removed from the Endangered Species List.
A total of 3,600 wolf licenses were available to wolf hunters who chose to hunt during the firearms deer season in the rifle zones. The wolf harvest during deer season will be capped at 200. Minnesota’s wolf population is estimated at 3,000, according to the DNR.
The wolf hunt won’t likely change deer season significantly, MDHA’s Johnson said.
“It might bring some unique enthusiasm back to some camps, the camps in wolf country,” he said. “I wouldn’t anticipate any changes other than that.”
Many people remain opposed to wolf hunting and trapping in Minnesota. Two groups, Howling for Wolves and the Center for Biological Diversity, sued the Department of Natural Resources unsuccessfully to stop this year’s hunt.
From 11 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Howling for Wolves members plan to protest the wolf hunt at Lake Superior Plaza at the corner of Superior Street and Lake Avenue. From 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, the group will honor “ma’iingan” (wolf) at the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa at the Brookston Community Center in Cloquet.