Three's a charm for the Vinje brothers
Maybe it was beginner's luck or perhaps Pappa Bill was watching over them, but brothers Mason and Dylan Vinje both shot their first bucks - both eight pointers - on opening morning within 20 minutes of each other.
Mason, 11, was sitting with his Uncle Joe Vinje in his stand while Dylan, 10, was with his dad, Jon Vinje, in a different stand on the family's hunting property near Willow River.
Both boys dropped their bucks with one shot.
Mason said his buck came out chasing a doe, then went into the woods, and came out into another shooting lane and stopped, twice.
"I took the opportunity and I shot," Mason said. "Its tail was down so I knew I hit it. It ran about 20 yards into the brush and that's where we found it."
Mason said he was excited and had "buck fever."
"We feel that their Pappa Bill must have been watching down and helping them out," said their mom, Shari Vinje, explaining that William "Bill" Vinje (now deceased) was very active with getting both kids involved with wildlife management after the family bought the hunting property.
The story doesn't end there, however. The boys went out the next day, knowing that they were not allowed to shoot again unless it was an even bigger buck.
Well, Dylan saw a 9-point buck and shot, taking a second good-sized buck (courtesy of Jon's license).
"Yeah, my friends are jealous," said Dylan when asked if he'd shared the news with his buddies at Esko's Winterquist Elementary School.
While the number of hunters has declined across much of the United States, Department of Natural Resources Area Wildlife Manager Chris Balzer said Minnesota is different.
"License sales remain very steady in Minnesota, especially with deer hunting," Balzer said.
As young boys and girls can shoot with a parent in the stand as young as age 10 (and alone at age 14 if they've passed their Hunter Safety Course), young people like Dylan and Mason are part of the reason those numbers haven't fallen.
The Vinje boys are bucking the deer harvest trend this year, which is leaning toward fewer bucks and an even more dramatic drop in the number of antlerless deer taken. Shari said Dylan used a 410 slug with open sights for both deer. He shot both deer at 60- and 45-yards with just one shot apiece. Mason used a 243 rifle and his deer was at 85 yards with one kill shot.
Perhaps it's just a good year for young hunters.
According to WCCO-Minneapolis, 12-year-old Dylan Beach of Motley, Minn. dropped a 28-point buck at 100 yards with one shot on opening weekend.
Other area hunters haven't even seen a buck, let alone taken a shot at one this season.
"Pretty much everything around Cloquet is down so far, anywhere from 2 percent to over 20 percent," said Balzer, looking just at the zones that abut the city of Cloquet.
However, in Series 100 permit areas, which cover all of northeastern Minnesota, the DNR announced after 10 days of hunting that the buck harvest was even with last year's buck harvest, but the antlerless harvest was down 29 percent from 2011.
It's no surprise that the antlerless deer harvest is down, Balzer said, because the DNR issued fewer permits "in an attempt to let the population stabilize or even grow a little bit," he said.
Minnesota's firearms deer hunt opened Nov. 3 and will continue through Sunday in northeastern Minnesota.