Governor Tim Walz celebrated the state firearm deer opener this past weekend in the Lanesboro area. The governor’s deer opener has been held for 21 years at various locations around the state. This opener is a joint effort of the Department of Natural Resources, Explore Minnesota, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Bluffland Whitetails Association, Minnesota Conservation Federation, and Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center.
Walz hunted Saturday morning from a treestand on Jim Vagts’ property in rural Lanesboro. At the post-hunt brunch at Eagle Bluff, Walz shared that, from 7:30 a.m. and on, he saw deer non-stop, but never had one come close enough for a shot. Chuckling, he said they’d seen a nice one by their truck from the tree stand.
Other hunters had similar experiences – Colleen Foerhrenbacher, executive director of Eagle Bluff, reported she’d seen a “nice buck” at 100 yards, but that was too far to take a shot. Fish and Wildlife Deputy Director Pat Rivers saw a buck and five does, but didn’t get a shot either.
Deer weren’t the only wildlife Walz sighted; he was enthused about the multitude of turkeys he had a chance to see. A return trip appears to be in the offing for turkey hunting for the governor.
Walz commented, “With its focus on community, conservation, and the multi-million dollar impact on our state’s economy, the Deer Hunting Opener highlights the best of Minnesota and our rich outdoor recreation traditions.”
He continued, “Thank you to the Lanesboro community, Eagle Bluff Learning Center, and our partners for hosting an outstanding kick-off to the deer hunting season. As thousands of Minnesotans across the state are gathering with family, friends and neighbors to take part in this time-honored tradition, I wish everyone a safe and successful hunting season.”
After sharing both brunch and hunting stories, Walz regretfully departed Eagle Bluff to continue his busy schedule. “I’d have loved to spend the whole day out there!” he declared.
Events leading up to the hunt included a deer processing demo early Friday afternoon by Kerry Swendson formerly of Deer Dummy. A seventh generation meat processor, Swendson has been teaching hunters how to butcher their own deer since 2006 using the follow the bone technique. He emphasized the importance of getting the deer clean while dressing it to keep the meat clean while butchering.
The first step was to cut the tenderloins, the best cut of venison right after dressing. Swendson encouraged cooking it whole with olive oil and salt, searing it for a couple minutes on each side to keep the meat tender.
Swenson went on to cut the shoulder following the air pocket and bone to peel back the shoulder. He demonstrated how he removes outside tallow and silver skin as he cut roasts, stew meat, and trim and sausage meat.
As he cut the back strap, he called it the “Cadillac piece.” Butterfly chops were one of his favorite cuts of the meat. Sirloin tips, top round, and top sirloin were quickly cut from the carcass. Swendson recommended that hunters freeze meat for an hour or so before cutting their jerky to firm up the meat and help cut thin, uniform strips.
He closed his session declaring, “Everything will be tender if cooked right!”
A listening session was held Friday mid-afternoon at Eagle Bluff. DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen introduced the session, commenting that the invited assembly was a diverse group with
each having a different way in which they connected to deer hunting. Pat Rivers facilitated the conversation.
A representative of Capable Partners shared the wealth of hunting and fishing experiences offered to disabled people in Minnesota. He encouraged more able bodied volunteers to help in the hunts.
Several of the hunters attending the session referred to themselves as “adult onset hunters,” people who began hunting as adults. The mentor/mentee programs available were credited by several for their success. Brad Gausman called the programs “a way to pay it forward.”
When Commissioner Strommen asked the group for ways the DNR could help hunters, Scott Taylor, a Lanesboro businessman, said they need to help potential hunters understand where the areas are that they can hunt. Colleen Foehrenbacher of Eagle bluff agreed and said using local tourism to get the information out in printed form would be helpful. She also shared that allowing special mentor/mentee hunts on public land would be helpful.
A local 4-H leader commented that learning the unwritten rules of hunting was essential. A training by the DNR for a conglomerate for the many organizations was suggested. A solution to encourage new hunters could be to have the DNR serve as a home base community. Humanizing the DNR rather than regarding it simply as an enforcing agent would help new hunters. Making hunting more inclusive and celebrating all types of appreciation of nature, conservation, stewardship, and hunting rather than the current hierarchy with deer hunting at the top is needed to improve the quality of everyone’s experiences.
Improvements to hunter safety programs were called for. While many people have trained to become instructors, they are not teaching because they haven’t been connected with classes.
The final topic, CWD, was introduced by Jim Vagts, former appointed member of the Minnesota Board of Animal Health and a founder of Bluffland Whitetails Association. Vagts urged the group to rally behind the DNR and support them in controlling CWD in Minnesota. He noted that there has been a lot of pushback from people who think the special CWD harvests will destroy deer populations – statistics show that this has not been the case.
Governor Walz arrived following the listening session, just in time for the venison sampler. After the governor greeted the assemblage, chef Yeng Moua described the dishes he’d prepared for the event. Hmong influenced dishes such as venison
egg rolls, laab salad, and a cucumber drink were served. Following the appetizers, the event moved to Sylvan Brewery for pint night and more conversation before retiring for the night to their lodging at various B&Bs.
The 2023 Governor’s Deer Opener in Lanesboro was a well-planned, successful celebration of Minnesota’s hunting tradition. Lanesboro can be proud to have hosted the event.