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First deer hunt goes better than expected south of Kensington

Thalen Zimmerman took down a 7- point buck south of Kensington an hour into opening day on Saturday, Nov. 5.

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Our hunting party on the morning of Saturday, Nov. 5. I was a little overzealous with my bandolier. It wasn't that I expected to use all my slugs, but I made sure I had them if I needed them. From left, Thalen Zimmerman (myself), Trent Koloski, Blake Koloski and Andy Koloski.
Joanna Koloski / Contributed photo
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KENSINGTON – Sleep escaped me most of the night, but by 5 a.m. I was wide awake; ready to go.

I laid in bed thinking about how the day might turn out, waiting for the rest of the party to wake up.

Around 6 a.m. I got out of bed and went for my blaze orange pack at the foot of the bed and put on my camo followed by my matching blaze orange vest and beanie.

It was Saturday, Nov. 5, deer hunting opener for the firearm (A) - 100 series. It would be my first deer hunt in over 15 years. My first one where I would be in a tree by myself with my own gun waiting to shoot my first deer.
My prior hunting experience consisted of my sitting in a stand with my mom's ex-husband Andy Koloski — when he was still married to my mom — with my brothers when they could hardly hold a gun.

I wasn’t too interested in hunting then. I was only in it for the jerky and I usually fell asleep right away.

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I have also stalked deer in the northeast woods of Minnesota’s arrowhead with my actual dad, but I was just there for extra eyes.

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A deer drag is tied around the antlers and shoulders of a 7-point buck so it could be dragged to an easier access point for a truck to haul it away.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

I have also went waterfowl hunting with Koloski once and bagged one duck. I also got a grouse with my dad and grandpa in those same northeastern woods on the Grand Portage Indian Reservation.

For this hunt, I was back with Koloski, along with my brothers, his sons, Blake and Trent Koloski. Andy was more than willing to allow me to hunt with them, which I am grateful for.

I made my way downstairs, I met with Andy and the boys who were already set to go. They left not long after that as their spots were farther away than mine.

I made small talk with Andy’s wife, Joanna Koloski, over coffee while I waited.

About 10 minutes to 7 a.m. I loaded my slugs into my shotgun and headed out. My less than a half-mile walk from the house to the tree stand set at the edge of a cornfield on Andy's property south of Kensington was illuminated by my headlamp. The air was cool enough to freeze your fingertips but I was too amped to care.

Getting into the stand was an irritating process. Every time I settled in, I dropped something. Three times I had to climb down and back up to retrieve a fallen item but eventually, I figured it out.

As I waited, I took in my surroundings. To my right was the edge of the cornfield with a nice opening. To my left was a wide-open prairie. Below me was a dried-up creek bed that snaked from corn to prairie. I felt confident about the spot.

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I waited in the dark anxiously checking the time, waiting for opener to truly begin. It felt like eternity.
Finally, 7:35 a.m., shooting time.

Early birds began their songs as the first light cracked the horizon. Some made their way to my tree and pecked into my tree's bark. They were barely awake and already on the hunt, but I guess, so was I.

At the same time, a few pheasants were periodically taking flight, their vibrato flutters cutting through the cool air.

While it was fun and peaceful to witness, it was also annoying.

Every sound had me shifting my head hoping it was a deer.

I scanned my surroundings hoping for some movement, any movement, but nothing.

Once or twice I could have sworn I heard a buck’s grunt. While that may have been my imagination, the gunshots ringing out every few minutes or so – seemingly from all around – definitely was not imagined.

Even though the shots verified deer were around, it made me a little impatient as I wasn’t seeing anything.

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Thalen Zimmerman stands next to a 7- point buck taken down hours prior. It is hung up to bleed out and cool down.
Blake Koloski / Contributed photo

I know it was only the first hour, but I was excited I wanted my first deer and bad.

Then, my phone buzzed. At 8:33 a.m. Andy sent my brothers and me a message in our hunting group chat.

“I just killed a nice buck and doe,” he texted.

Good for him. Both Blake and I replied that we hadn’t seen a thing.

Just over five minutes after I sent my message, however, I saw movement to my right.

Creeping up along the far right, between the creek bed’s edge and the corn over the still-frosted ground, making still and careful movements was a buck. A decent-sized one, too.

I was hyper-focused watching it make its way to that sweet spot opening in the corn.

I drew my shotgun and found him in my scope. I followed as he did indeed enter the opening.

I released the safety.

“Hey, I yelled,” just like Blake told me to.

“They're dumb and will stop to figure out what made the noise,” I remember him saying.

Sure thing, it stopped and looked.

In a second, I had my crosshairs just above its front shoulder and fired.

It jumped straight up and took off. Then I heard it rustle in the corn.

“Did I miss?” I questioned myself, expecting him to drop like a ton of bricks.

I took one step onto the stand’s ladder and decided to jump the rest of the way. I didn’t realize how high up I was. I landed on my butt. Thankfully, it was a soft landing and I scrambled to my feet.

I made my way down and up the creek bed’s bank and sprinted toward the corn. I went where I thought it went in but saw no trace of blood.

My heart sank. If I did hit it, I was about to spend a long time combing the rows of corn.

As I looked to my left, however, I saw a good amount of blood on some corn about 20 feet over. I made my way over and found a lot more blood, and I mean a lot.

Not far from that, was the buck, dead. It was a clean kill, through the heart I guessed with the amount of blood — later when we gutted it, we found I did indeed hit the heart. Split it nearly in two.

The blood pulsating through me had me giddy with child-like excitement and shaking.

At 27 years old, I got my first deer. Better late than never, right?

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A clean shot to the heart made for a quick and efficient kill.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

After calling the boys and my wife, and my grandpa and mom, and grandma (I was super happy, don’t judge me) I began dragging the deer to an easier access point for the truck. I regretted this when I had to drag it out of the creek bed – the son of a gun was heavy.

Before the party arrived, I thanked God for blessing me with food for my family. While it probably seems cheesy and maybe a little cliche, I meant it. That’s what this hunt was all about – providing without relying on anything but my own patience and capabilities. I have nothing but respect for the buck.

Not too much longer the party arrived and a friend of Andy’s taught me how to field-dress.

As I said, when I was younger, I had little to no interest in hunting. For a while, I told myself I didn’t even have it in me to kill something.

So what changed?

Well, it was a few things. I think what led me onto the path of wanting to be more self-sufficient was the pandemic.

During the early days, when stores were at limited capacity and shelves were running bare, I began asking myself, "Why am I not trying to be more self-reliant? Why not grow my own produce and hunt for meat?"

Then my daughter was born, which magnified the internal need to provide. It felt instinctual. My daughter and wife’s needs are greater than any guilt I might have about killing a deer or any other wild game.

I regret not getting into hunting earlier in life, but I am thankful for the friends and family that have been there to help me get out there.

For me, it's not about killing the animal. It is about using what God has provided for us.

"Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything," English Standard Version, Genesis 9:3.

I can definitely say I have developed an itch for hunting since getting that deer. I even got a bonus tag and hope to bag a doe this weekend. I've even talked with my brothers about taking hunting trips across the country... I'm going to need a bigger freezer.

Thalen Zimmerman of Alexandria joined the Echo Press team as a full-time reporter in Aug. 2021, after graduating from Bemidji State University with a bachelor of science degree in mass communication in May of 2021.
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