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Young bucks aplenty for opener

Tomorrow morning, close to 500,000 Minnesota deer hunters will tip-toe through the woods in the dark with great anticipation as the firearms opener gets under way.

All will be picturing a big buck presenting them with a perfect shot. That will happen for some, but what most will find is that there are plenty of yearlings and small bucks in the woods this year.

That was the popular consensus held by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources coming into this fall. A mild winter would likely lead to a great survival rate, especially among last year's fawns that are much more susceptible to harsh Minnesota winters. Healthy deer would also mean more fawns being born this past spring.

I can say that is exactly the case after bow hunting through the past five weeks. I have spent more than 10 days in the woods and seen more young deer this year than I ever remember seeing in the last five seasons.

I watched more than a dozen deer move through the woods on my first morning out on September 29. All but one of them was either a spike or fork buck or a doe with twins at her side. The lone exception was a young eight pointer that I decided to let walk because I didn't want my season to end after 45 minutes.

That deer came over a dike into a dry-river bed below me with a fork buck just after first light. They playfully locked horns and fought intermittently for about 10 minutes. The eight-pointer eventually made his way up from the dry-river bed and proceeded to lick the rungs of my ladder stand.

He presented me with shot after shot, but I decided to wait for an older buck. I never had anything bigger within bow range over the next four weekends.

My morning and evening hunts since then have been filled with a lot of the same. I had plenty of opportunities on spike and fork bucks. Does and fawns have also been plentiful.

The pictures on my trail camera told the same story. I have captured more than 60 photos since the last weekend in September and only three have been of bucks that I would say are at least three and a half year-old deer.

There are obviously still plenty of nice bucks out there. Their movement will increase as the chasing portion of the rut comes into full swing, which tends to fall between the first and second week of November. That might mean firearm hunters will see more natural movement of big bucks heading into the second weekend of the season if the deer aren't already being pushed all over the place.

Until then, I would think hunters should see plenty of young deer as they sit in their stands tomorrow morning. That might not mean much meat for the freezer, but it's good news for those who were disappointed in overall numbers during the past few years.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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