MONTEVIDEO -- "I'd rather be lucky than good," says Darren Augeson of Montevideo.
Augeson had both luck and some good, old-fashioned preseason scouting on his side when he harvested an 18-point buck north of Montevideo on Nov. 9.
"It was one of those that grew instead of shrunk when you got to him," said Augeson, who was surprised at how many tines he counted on his biggest buck ever.
Augeson had seen the buck on two occasions prior to the season, and so had others. A friend of his saw the buck the very night before the firearms opener.
Augeson said he'd spotted the big buck frequenting a farm grove north of Montevideo, and that's where he posted himself on the morning of Nov. 9, the fourth day of the nine-day firearm season. Sure enough, the buck stepped out of the grove in the early morning light and Augeson took his shot.
Augeson said he'd known it was a large-antlered buck, but didn't have any idea the rack sprouted that many tines.
His story is one of many from what is being called a good firearm deer season in the region. New options for registering deer makes it difficult to compare this season's harvest to previous ones based on the numbers at local registration stations. Many hunters simply used their phones or the internet to register their deer, and didn't take them to registration stations as in previous years.
Still, anecdotal evidence and the number of deer brought to popular registration stations suggest it was a good year. "It sounds like it went well," said Jeff Miller, assistant wildlife director with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources office in Sibley State Park. He checked with registration stations ranging from Skindelien's in New London to points both westward and eastward, and heard good reports.
The DNR's intranet site listed 1,561 deer registered during the firearm season in zone 277 north of Willmar, but last year's numbers weren't available for comparison.
Just down the road at Pete's Surplus, owner Troy Haverly saw 176 deer registered through the nine-day period, as compared to 230 last year. This year's deer includes some very nice trophy bucks, and Haverly said hunters reported seeing lots of deer. He is among those who believe that this year's final tally will show the hunt was a good one.
One of the first bucks making it to Pete's Surplus was a 12-pointer belonging to Russell Hokom of rural New London. Hokum scored his trophy around 8 a.m. on opening day. He only had to make about a four-minute hike from his home to his favorite hunting spot to do it. He had taken a nice, 10-point buck at the same location one year earlier, but believes this one is a bit larger.
Hokom had a trail camera out before the season, and, looking through the photos afterward, said he believes this particular buck only made one appearance on it.
Hunting was much improved from one year ago in the area west of Kandiyohi County, according to Lynn Koenen at D.J.'s Sporting Goods in Montevideo. He said hunters had registered a very impressive collection of trophy animals there.
Greg Melges and his staff at Mel's Sporting Goods, Spicer, were equally impressed by the number of trophies found this year. "Lots of nice stuff," said Melges.
One of those nice bucks belonged to Kelsie Rauenhorst of Pennock. Her 11-point buck is a personal best and trophy destined for her wall. Rauenhorst was out in the sloppy mix of snow and sleet around 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 13 east of Eagle Lake when her opportunity came. She was facing right into the wintery blast when the buck emerged from a field of corn.
"We had seen several other smaller bucks all season, but nothing this big. This is the largest whitetail I have taken," she wrote.
She was not the only hunter to show patience in waiting for the right buck.
Tim Mulder was hunting on land in north-central Kandiyohi County on the fifth day of the season. Mulder said he'd seen the nine-pointer he would shoot -- as well as other nice, large bucks -- on trail camera images overlooking the game trail he was watching in an afternoon drizzle.
He had already passed on opportunities for smaller bucks, including one that had stood about 10 or 15 feet from him and shook the rain water off him like a dog.
The nine-pointer was striding down the trail when he presented Mulder the perfect opportunity at about 25 yards.
Mulder later learned that virtually across the road, Roger Strand had harvested a similar, nine-point buck. It has more than a few people wondering at Pete's Surplus if the two deer are related, said Haverly. Strand's nine-pointer sported a very thick, heavy antler and by all appearances could be one of the more mature bucks taken in the harvest. Speculation has put its possible age at 4½ to 5 years old, he said.
Chris Mork had reason to do some speculating of his own after his son Austin, a high school sophomore, took a decent six-point buck near the Lac qui Parle River south of Dawson on Nov. 9. It was towards evening when the deer presented itself, but as they field dressed the deer in the dark both father and son wondered if this buck wasn't unusual.
Once they had it under the brighter lights in a shed on the farm, they knew. It was a mule deer.
It's the first either had ever spotted. Like so many deer taken this year, it's now the fodder for stories that should last right until the opening of the 2011 season.