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The Minnesota Governor’s Deer Opener: A Unique Event

By: Tom Claycomb

This will be my third year to attend the Minnesota Governor’s Deer Opener. I was raised in Texas where deer hunting is king and have since lived in Colorado and Idaho where it is also a big event.

But through the grapevine I had heard about how big of a deal deer camps were up North. In fact, if you’ve ever read any local publications, you’d have to classify them as legendary. But after attending my first Minnesota deer camp, I’d almost put them in the cult-like following classification. But after further consideration, cults are probably a little milder!

Here is how the event shakes out: It is put on by the Minnesota Deer Hunter Association. The locale for the event bounces around the state every year. In 2017, it was in Hinckley, MN, 2018 in Grand Rapids, MN, and this year it is being held in Fergus Falls, MN.

This year it kicked off on Thursday, Nov. 7th. They put it on at a casino. They set up a huge tent/canopy outside that will host a lot of activities. The first year there was a meat cutter that had a booth and showed us how to bone out a whole deer side in one piece. Local businesses also have a few booths, and Cabela’s had a Youth Archery range set up.

At the same time, on the inside there are seminars going on. Last year Riton Optics had me do a “Glassing for Big Game” seminar and Knives of Alaska, and Smith’s Consumer Products had me do a Knife Sharpening/Choosing the Proper Knife seminar. A game warden gave a talk, and DNR gave a couple. There were some interesting seminars going on.

The bad thing about conducting seminars is that you don’t get to attend the other seminars. I like going to seminars, as I always learn something. Like I stated above, there is always an old meat butcher named Bill Hesselgrave who puts on interesting boning seminars there. He bones his deer out, leaving the whole side intact. I’ve never seen it done like that before.

As the seminars conclude, everyone gets funneled into the big dining area. Along the perimeter there will be raffle tables set-up. Various companies donate items, such as Smith Consumer Products, which donates some knife sharpening stones, etc.

The first year they served us our meal on white cloth tables, but last year they served a multitude of Hors d’oeuvre’s. I enjoyed this format since it allowed us to browse at will and leisurely hit all of the exhibit booths, raffle tables, and mingle. During the dinner, there are guest speakers.

The first year, every speaker got up and before speaking, they prefaced their speech by telling about their fond memories of growing up as a kid in their family’s deer camp. I thought it was pretty humorous. The governor at that time, Mark Dayton, who I later found out was a big liberal, gave a funny introduction before his actual talk.

He got up and said something to the effect that unlike everyone else in attendance, he hadn’t grown up in a Minnesota deer camp. But hey, I’m a politician, and when I heard that there were 500,000 deer hunters in Minnesota (potential votes), I figured that I’d better get involved!

They also had an amusing “Hunter’s Orange” contest. Some guy showed up in a fluorescent orange suit with an orange tie and using an orange drink holder. Surely he won the contest. After a fun night, the evening finally drew to a close after the drawings.

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The next morning, they have a breakfast starting at 5:30. There were 11 booths set-up for Outdoor Radio stations to conduct interviews. That’s one unique thing I’ve noticed in Minnesota. They have a ton of outdoor radio stations. I don’t see them that prevalent in other states, but outdoor radio stations are alive and well in Minnesota. Although my buddy Bill Olson does own a big outdoor radio station in Houston, Texas named Texas Outdoor News.

Last year at breakfast I was lucky enough to be seated by a woman named Leslie who is with the Minnesota DNR. It was very interesting talking to her about what they’re doing to combat CWD (Chronic Wasting Disease – an epidemic affecting deer and elk) and the challenges they face. Not an easy battle. Doesn’t look like to me that there are any easy answers to solving the CWD problem.

After the breakfast and radio interviews wrap up it is time to head out to your deer camp. Bri Stacklie, the MDHA Event & Publication Coordinator who works tirelessly to set up and organize the event, has lined up writers with local landowners who take them deer hunting. Sometimes you will stay in their actual deer camp, and sometimes you’ll stay in town and go out early the next morning to hunt on their farm. But either way, the hosts always want you to come out Friday afternoon and check out your hunting spot.

Well, the hunt is coming up soon. I can’t wait!

Tom Claycomb III is a product tester for outdoor manufacturers, hunter, and outdoor writer, writing from Idaho.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Gunpowder Magazine.