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Hunters have deer season in their sights

Andy Tembrock squeezed off a shot from his .30-30 rifle and checked the target through his scope. He liked what he saw.

"I'll hit him," said Tembrock, referring to the deer he hopes to see when Minnesota's firearms deer season opens Saturday.

Tembrock was part of a steady stream of hunters at the United Northern Sportsmen's shooting range near Island Lake on Thursday morning. All of them had come to make sure their deer rifles would shoot straight during the hunt that continues through Nov. 18 in Northeastern Minnesota.

The deer, including one that ambled across the shooting range Thursday morning, are out there. An estimated 1.2 million roam the state, and most management units across Northeastern Minnesota are at or above population goals. In some units, hunters can take up to five deer with the proper permits; four of them must be antlerless deer.

More than 475,000 firearms hunters are expected to go afield this fall, and each goes with his or her own personal goals.

Tembrock, 22, will be hunting for the first time, probably in the ditchbank area south of Cloquet. He doesn't care whether he shoots a buck or a doe.

"I just want to fill my permit," he said.

At the other end of the spectrum is Ted Johnson, who was assisting shooters at the range. He hunts at his own property near Island Lake.

"I've been hunting probably 45 years," Johnson said. "I've shot about 34 deer in my life."

Whether or not he shoots one this fall doesn't matter, he said. "If the right one comes along, I'll shoot it," Johnson said. The "right one" would have to be a 10- or 12-point buck, he said.

Gene Knudsen of Duluth would like to shoot a few more deer this fall. He already

has shot a buck and a doe with his bow.

"For me, it's a meat thing," Knudsen said. "A lot of people call it sport. Sport is something you do for entertainment. I don't consider shooting animals entertainment."

Knudsen plans to hunt about six days in Rice Lake Township. He sighted in two rifles Thursday, one for himself and one for his son, Edward.

Through the morning, shooters came. The range resounded with gunshots. The range masters cleared the firing line. Shooters walked down range to check their targets.

John Cook of Proctor finished up and cased his .30-06. Cook, 60, takes his deer hunting seriously.

"The important part is nature and how we're all one in this whole thing," Cook said. "It's what nature provides for us."

Cook said he "hunts" deer all year.

"I'm out there looking around, seeing what's going on," he said. "I have a real close kinship with the outdoors and how I feel part of it when I'm out there."

Over the years, Cook has killed his share of whitetails.

"I don't think there's ever been a deer I shot that I didn't walk up and say, 'I'm sorry. Thank you for providing for me.' "

Cook hopes to shoot two or three deer this fall.

"I can't remember the last time we bought meat," he said.

Finally, there was Carl Oveson, 80, of Duluth. He had sighted-in his rifle, but he's not sure whether he'll buy a license and hunt deer this fall.

"It used to be the highlight of my year," he said.

Many of Oveson's old deer-hunting friends have died.

Oveson shot his first deer at age 16. That was 64 years ago. He shot a 10-point buck in 2005.

Oveson will visit friends at a hunting camp north of Island Lake whether he hunts or not. And he has always known why he hunted deer.

"I usually go to church," Oveson said. "But I don't ever feel closer to God than when I'm sitting in the woods."