Anecdotal evidence seemed to suggest that a Nov. 9 firearms opener was good to a lot of deer hunters this past weekend, but there’s a funny thing about this time of year. What we consider the peak of rut can be going like crazy in front of one hunter and seemingly not even on a couple miles down the road.
My Facebook and Instagram feeds were full of some great bucks being shot around the Alexandria area and across the state. That had me feeling like hunters must have appreciated a later-than-normal firearms opener this year.
The Minnesota opener generally falls on the first Saturday in November. There are going to be some bucks chasing does during that time period, but I thought a week later opener would mean more does getting closer to estrous and bigger bucks behind them.
That assumption was based on a couple things. Studies show that the rut is largely controlled by photoperiod, the hours of light in the day, so when does actually come into heat tends to be pretty consistent from year to year in an area.
Years of bow hunting in early November also had me confident that time period was closer to the second week of the month in areas I hunt. I have seen a lot of young bucks chasing in the first few days of November, but most of my personal experiences with seeing more mature bucks on does has been later into that first week and early in the second week.
I saw more good bucks late last week than maybe any other time I have hunted Minnesota leading up to the firearms opener. I saw a huge buck on my Friday morning sit on Nov. 8 at about 9:30. He was through the trees at about 40 yards and never did provide a shot. I had another good buck chasing a doe and fawn the morning of Nov. 7.
Things heated up a lot this past Sunday for the hunting group I belong to. My father-in-law shot a good buck before 8 a.m. that day that was most certainly impacted by the rut. That buck came out into a wide-open combined bean field with a few does in the area taking his mind off any danger before one shot put him down. Another member of the hunting party shot an eight-pointer, and a couple more good bucks were spotted.
I reached out to a few hunters I know well from the Alexandria area to see how their opening weekend went, and it’s interesting the mixed reports I got.
Mark Nohre, the Region 7 Director for the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, might have summed up hunting this time of year the best when I talked to him on the morning of Nov. 11.
Nohre and his group of 11 total hunters had gotten just one deer after the first two days of the season while hunting in Hubbard County. That deer was a buck that was right on a doe, but activity was very slow for the party other than that.
“I don’t have a clue (what the reason was) because one group from Evansville just north and west of us -- they’re four miles north and three miles west -- they shot five for nine on Saturday and backed off,” Nohre said. “They said they didn’t want to shoot anymore because they wanted to stick around and hunt for a few more days. They said they could have filled out Saturday. They’re in the same stuff that we are.”
A friend of mine who hunts some great habitat near Osakis saw a whole bunch of deer over the weekend but not many mature bucks moving. Not near as many as last year when the firearms opener fell on Nov. 3. Standing corn was also a factor for their party this year, with nearly 300 acres still in the fields over the weekend.
The report was much different from Osakis’ Shad Schmidt, who had an opener with his family that they won’t soon forget. Their group went 4-for-4 hunting different properties by Lake Ida, Clotho and Belle River.
Three of those were great bucks. Schmidt credits some of that to passing up smaller bucks in the past, but he was confident the later opener played into their good fortune.
“I believe the big buck movement was better than I have seen,” Schmidt said. “The week of November 4-8, our cameras revealed a lot of movement from mature bucks during daylight and bucks we had not seen before showed up on the camera.”
Schmidt said his cameras did not show one buck he considered mature on his land he recently purchased until Nov. 6.
“Prior to that, it was young bucks, does and fawns,” he said. “We also benefit from getting to move between four properties so we can make decisions based on wind and hunting pressure. I would say overall the later opener was critical to seeing more and bigger bucks though.”
So did the later opening weekend play into hunters’ favor in Minnesota this year? Like every year in hunting when trying to determine the success of a season, it depends on who you ask.