WILLMAR — Colton Henjum was settled in his hunting stand south of Belgrade on opening morning of the deer firearm season when the first does appeared right on schedule at legal shooting time.
A short while later, another, larger doe appeared. And then, another, giving him hope that a buck was responsible for this parade of does. And sure enough, he showed up, pushing two more does into a thicket near Henjum’s stand.
“He was on an absolute mission,” said Henjum. The buck was in such a hurry that the hunter didn’t even have a chance to get the jitters. “I barely had any time to get a shot lined up,” said Henjum. “He stopped in a little opening I had and I was lucky enough to get a shot at him.”
The 13-pointer he dropped beat out his previous best, an eight-pointer. “He takes the cake,” said Henjum.
His trophy is headed to the taxidermist, and so are many others. Reports from the 2019 firearm season indicate that hunters in this area fared well both in the number of deer harvested — and the number of trophies among them.
As of mid-week, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported that 155,641 deer had been harvested, or on pace with last year’s numbers. In permit area 277 north of Willmar, the harvest count was 2,693. That puts the permit area on track to top 3,000 deer, according to Cory Netland, area wildlife manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in New London. The black powder season is still ahead, and archery continues until year’s end.
Netland said the harvest data show that 69 percent of the deer harvested in the permit area were bucks. The area is a hunter's choice area, where hunters can harvest one deer of either sex. “People have made their choice,” he said. “When it’s hunter’s choice, they are going to shoot antlers when they can.”
No doubt about it, as picture boards at both Mel’s Sports in Spicer and Pete’s Surplus at the intersection of Highways 71 and 9 near New London prove. Here’s a sampling of some of the big bucks featured at the two locations and the stories the successful hunters can tell:
Raelin Setrum was hunting in the morning on Sunday, Nov. 10, in the Glenwood-Sedan area when her opportunity showed up. “All of a sudden I see antlers coming toward me,” she said.
The nine-point buck was cautious, and looking toward the hunter.
Setrum said she had to freeze three separate times, moving her gun to line up a shot in stages, waiting for the right opportunity. Her heart pumping hard, the buck finally got close enough and turned, giving her the shot she wanted.
The nine-pointer is her personal best. The buck should have been a 10-pointer, but a tine is missing. Nonetheless, it’s a beautiful rack, with tree bark from rubbing trees still covering parts of it.
Dale Hegstrom of Little Crow Gunworks in Spicer was running late when he got out on the morning of Friday, Nov. 15. Because of the late start, he decided to go to his nearest stand instead of the one he intended to reach. He was hunting north of Sibley State Park, but things were quiet.
Eight o’clock came, and Hegstrom said he started to debate whether to head to the shop and work. “I decided to stick it out a little longer.”
And that’s when the 10-point buck happened to come along. Hegstrom dropped him at about 40-yards using an AR15 pistol.
It’s the best buck he’s taken from the family’s farm property, but not his personal best. An avid hunter, he hunts Wisconsin and other locations as well.
Val Brown was hunting on land south of Lake Andrew on Wednesday, Nov. 13, with a goal of bringing home the venison, not necessarily a trophy. He was in a stand his uncle used to harvest a nice buck on Sunday.
Suddenly, it was his turn to see antlers. “I was not expecting that one,” said Brown. He dropped the big-tined, 11-pointer at about 30 yards with a Winchester SXP 12 gauge. The larger tines measured over 10-inches, he said. Yes, it’s at the taxidermist.
Brothers Gage and William Dahl kept a running competition alive as to who could get the bigger buck. This year’s honors go to William with a 10-pointer, but Gage gave him a close run by bagging a nine-pointer.
Gage struck first. Hunting on family land near Sunburg, Gage stayed put in his stand on opening day. “He’s pretty patient that way,” said the brothers’ father, Mike, in telling the story. It was about 2 p.m. when Gage spotted his nine-point buck and leveled a Savage 220 to strike him at what his dad estimated to be 160 yards.
In the excitement of it all, Gage forgot his dad’s advice to stay put in his stand and instead came running over a hill to tell his dad and brother about the shot. They joined him in recovering the buck in a thicket about 40- to 50-yards from where he had been hit.
William’s turn came the very next day, and with the very same shotgun. William and Gage were returning from hunting spots on a four-wheeler when they spotted two bucks and watched them bed down.
Father and sons turned to stealth, spending about an hour to silently maneuver near where they believed the bucks to be bedded. Mike tried a couple of grunt calls to see if one of the bucks would get up as William kept the shotgun ready. Nothing happened.
Gage and Mike began making coyote calls to see if that might shake one of them up. Nothing. At this point they thought the bucks may have slipped away, according to Mike.
The trio took about four, quiet steps and the 10-point buck stood up. A thicket stood between the buck and William. He attempted to pull the trigger, but the safety was on. The buck saw the movement and moved about 10-feet down the hill, and by so doing gave William a perfect shot at 40 yards.