Chris Kolbert: No telling what you'll see in the woods
A heavy-beamed 10-point buck raked his antlers against a sapling, pausing only to look down the valley at a couple does that were watching him pensively. The old buck finished his work and then strutted toward the girls, grunting deeply as he walked.
My son, Jason, and I were sitting together in the treetops along a wooded ridge on the opening weekend of Minnesota's zone 3A firearm deer season. Fortunately for us, a west wind was blowing our scent back up the ridge and away from the action going on in the valley below.
Jason cradled in his lap a 20-gauge pump, while I sat empty-handed, having filled my archery tag earlier this fall. The old buck stayed well out of shotgun range but provided us with a great show as we watched him chase the does across the valley.
As the sun began to set, the old buck bedded down within hearing distance of his harem. But minutes later, a competing buck arrived on the scene, forcing him to leave his bed to maintain control over the does.
It didn't take long for the old boy to chase off the younger buck, and the herd soon moved down the valley and out of sight. We sat there, thoroughly entertained, watching classic rutting activity in all its glory, though Jason never fired a shot.
For a deer hunter, the rut is a wondrous time to be in the woods. Whitetail bucks tend to focus less on their safety while their libido takes control over their actions.
To a nonhunter, this activity is usually observed when a buck runs directly in front of a car that is careening down a highway — and there have been plenty hit on area roads in recent days. The animals seem oblivious to the car and their surroundings because they are focused on locating a doe in heat.
But for whitetail enthusiasts in general, the rut is also a great time to simply observe deer habits. In a single evening, we watched many of the classic rutting activities — bucks chasing does, making rubs and scrapes, and even fighting for the attention of the females.
It's things like this that really enhance the experience of deer hunting, which is so much more than just harvesting an animal.
But sometimes there are deer other than whitetails roaming the woods of southeastern Minnesota, as Dave Golish of Utica found out on opening weekend. While doing a deer drive through a woods near St. Charles, Golish shot a strange-looking buck that was standing 40 yards away from him.
Upon closer inspection, he found that the animal was no whitetail. Golish reported the animal to the Minnesota DNR, and the carcass was picked up Saturday evening for testing.
According to DNR Wildlife Research Manager Lou Cornicelli, the strange looking creature was actually a sika deer, which is a native of eastern Asia. Also known as a spotted deer, the males can weigh from 90 to 240 pounds, depending on the subspecies.
It wasn't the first time DNR officials had heard about the animal. In October, another hunter captured an image of the deer on camera and sent it to Conservation Officer Mitch Boyum. Given that sika deer are not native to Minnesota, DNR officials asked the hunter to shoot the deer if given the chance.
"The deer had no identifying tags, so at this time, we don't know where it came from." said Cornicelli.
"Deer of this kind are not protected," he told Golish, "If they are not whitetail or mule deer, they are not protected by law."
"There's really no concern with interbreeding", he continued, "The likelihood of a population becoming established is low, so the greatest concern about having non-native deer in the wild is the potential for disease transmission."
So what happened to the deer after it was tested? "They gave it back to me", said Golish, in a phone interview later. "I hear that they're better eating than whitetails. I'm just waiting to get the results of the CWD test."
Chris Kolbert is a freelance outdoors writer from St. Charles.