Cliff Knutson and Vince Thoma were two men who really enjoyed their deer hunting experience Saturday in the Fergus Falls area.

Knutson played guide to a couple of first-rate hunters who happened to be members of a hunting party headed by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz.

Knutson, a resident of Sophus Anderson Road, was a hunter-host for Tom Claycomb and Bob Johnson. With Knutson’s help, both men tagged deer. Claycomb had a trophy buck within an hour. The sportsman also dressed out a couple deer. Knutson took Johnson up to Maplewood later on Saturday where he also shot a buck.

Knutson, who was lauded by Walz Friday morning at the 17th annual Minnesota Governor’s Deer Hunting Opener, has hunted deer every season over the last 75 years.

Guiding for two members of the governor’s party was “very rewarding” according to Knutson.

Knutson told both of his hunters that it was his mission to make sure they had a chance on Saturday. His own hunting excursion comes this week as the nine-day season continues and he celebrates his 85th birthday.

Walz, who taking part in his first deer opener as governor, hunted with a party that included Fergus Falls Mayor Ben Schierer, his son, Leo. His hunter-hosts were Vince and Mark Thoma. Rounding out the group were Nate Gibbons and Matthew Bryne, Vince’s sons-in-law.

Walz sported a 1903 Springfield as he posted up 12 ½ miles north of Fergus Falls for his first morning hunt. Walz did not bag a deer during his 3 ½ hour hunt but he saw three whitetails.

Thoma was nevertheless very impressed with his distinguished guest.

“He knew how to handle firearms,” Thoma said. “What really impressed me about him is what a family man he was.”

Walz had two deer race past him so fast he could not get his rifle up in time. The third whitetail did not come out of a stand of pines and Walz, mindful of safety, let it go.

“He wanted a clean shot which is exactly what you are supposed to do,” Thoma said.

Setting up the hunt for Minnesota’s highest-ranking state official took a Herculean effort by many people, according to Thoma. Walz was traveling with an executive protection unit responsible for his safety. Special rules were laid out before the hunt.

Handling the details of his visit took a dedicated team effort.

“When you see all of the people working together it makes you want to give 1,000%, too,” Thoma said.

Ironically, the only two members of the Thoma hunting party to bag deer Saturday were Vince and Mark. Both shot 4-pointers. Vince shot his buck Saturday afternoon from the same blind Walz sat in on Saturday morning.

Hunting reports from other parts of the area were spotty.

Todd Finkelson of T and B’s Short Stop in Ashby heard plenty of good hunting news.

“I think it was danged good if you weren’t hunting near corn, that is what made it challenging,” Finkelson said. “I haven’t talked to anybody who didn’t see deer.”

Hunters in the Henning area did not see their usual high number of deer according to a source at Denny’s Food n’ Sport Shop.

“Most of it was down because most of the deer were hiding in the cornfields,” said a spokesman from Denny’s.

The Henning area is swimming in corn as the week begins but deer hunting is expected to improve by the second weekend as work at the Henning elevator Monday was brisk, indicating that farmers were back in the fields.

Holiday store manager Mike Osborne in Fergus Falls talked to deer hunters who felt the first weekend of the nine-day firearm season was “a little slow” due to the amount of standing corn and the weather, which saw snow fall on Saturday and very cold air arrive on Sunday.

A new Department of Natural Resources website reported Monday afternoon that 81,158 deer had been harvested around the state.

Some of the top kill blocks in west-central Minnesota included 241 (3,644), 213 (3,236), 240 (2,513) and 239 (1,892). Licensed hunters in all four of the kill blocks could purchase bonus tags according to the Department of Natural Resources.

The total registered harvest of Minnesota whitetails in 2018 was 188,706.

The firearms season goes through Sunday in the Fergus Falls area.

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