Staredown

A white-tailed deer paused to look back before heading into some dense Otter Tail County cover on a June evening.

It is extremely doubtful if the Department of Natural Resources will ever get a consensus on the proper size of the state's white-tailed deer herd.

If you are a hunter you want more, a farmer you want less and the owner of a brand-new car, none at all.

But give the whitetail their due. These beautiful game animals were here before cars, trucks and motorcycles were invented. They were here before two- and four-lane highways were built. They were here before homeowners started planting gardens and flowerbeds. They were here before we had cities and towns. They were here before farmers settled the land.

They have not joined us, we have joined them.

Yet when someone suffers damage to their car or when they find their gardens and fields have been raided, it is understandable if they regret the area having so many deer. We humans like to think that we should have it all our own way.

It just so happens that Otter Tail County is perfectly suited to court a large population of the species known as Odocoileus virginianus. We live in an area where forests, wetlands and fields mingle to create an ideal habitat for the whitetail. The acres of corn and soybeans that are turning the countryside green again are a treat for Otter Tail’s deer herd.

What are they good for? They enhance the scenery and they give us good sport.

Whitetail bowhunters I have talked to over the years have told me stories about how much fun it can be just to watch deer from their stands. It is very special about being in touch with something wild.

The DNR has taken it upon itself to manage the state’s whitetail herd. It has not made them wildly popular. Long ago they found the short but popular either-sex deer hunting season they offered did not lend itself to good herd management.

As they have tinkered with limits, permits and kill blocks the hoops that modern day hunters have to jump through have changed almost every year. The season is longer but you cannot shoot a deer and then buy a license afterward. Some hunters have to apply for permits but there are others who can purchase bonus tags. Hunters can register their deer online if they choose, but that convenience has hurt business at registration stations. Wearing red is not good enough anymore. Blaze orange is the color.

By and large they have done a good job. It has all added up to a mountain of money being spent on deer hunting along with a ton of effort. Through it all the basic strategy behind deer stand hunting has remained the same - be early, be patient, be quiet and be alert.

My son and I have been building a deer mecca of our own. We have planted fruit trees and bushes and planted food plots. I try to keep salt blocks out for them to visit. We keep adding to our deer habitat every year and it has paid off. We have found more and more deer beds, deer trails, deer track, buck scrapes and deer on our property each year. With the help of our neighbors we have increased the size of the local herd to the point where we can afford to be picky if we want. 

My wildlife camera has taken many pictures of deer at night and during the day. They sometimes show a great deal of interest in the camera. I have shots of them staring at it and even nosing it. We have learned a lot about them.

If there is anything dangerous about what we are doing it’s how buddy-buddy we are getting with those rascals.

A couple seasons back I was in my stand at dusk when I realized a deer was behind me. I dropped down in the box, turned around as quietly as I could and stood up fast. The safety was off and my finger was on the trigger. Standing about 15 feet away was a nice spike buck.

Instead of bolting away he just cocked his head to one side and looked straight at my 12-gauge slug barrel.

I put my gun down and told him to scram. I am still waiting for a bigger one to come along.

Brian Hansel is a reporter for the Fergus Falls Daily Journal.

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