It’s the equivalent of a two-week state holiday.
The Minnesota firearms deer hunting season.
During the main season, from Nov. 7 through Nov. 22, rural Minnesota is ablaze in blaze orange – as of opening day, more than 400,000 licenses had been sold this year. Just a month and change before Christmas, for many, the firearms deer season is the most wonderful time of the year. It’s a great time to be an outdoorsman (or outdoorswoman).
Unless you’re an outdoors enthusiast who doesn’t do the firearms deer-hunting thing. Then, it can be two weeks of laying low.
In Minnesota, firearms hunting zones encompass many areas in which outdoors types can enjoy numerous other activities – at state parks and recreation areas, wildlife management areas and biking and hiking trails. State parks that double as hunting areas during the firearms season usually are open to both hunters and regular visitors, including Itasca, Minnesota’s oldest state park. Visitors are urged to wear blaze orange, but many choose to stay away from the state parks during the firearms season.
Same goes with many wildlife management areas, including Uppgaard near Crosslake, where a sign at the entrance reads “WARNING – this WMA is OPEN to hunting. For your safety, please wear blaze orange during the firearms hunting seasons!”
Then there are the biking and hiking trails that run through deer-hunting country. Most of the nearly 300-mile Superior Hiking Trail in northeastern Minnesota is closed during the firearms season. And in central Minnesota, the world-class mountain bike trails within the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area near Crosby and Ironton – usual a popular spot during the firearms season – annually close for the entire deer-hunting season.
Minnesota can see inclement weather this time of year, in which case laying low is no big deal for non-firearms-hunting outdoors types. But this year, the weather has been ideal for hitting the trails or state parks and the like.
Like most in this area, Cycle, Path and Paddle, a store in Crosby that sells and rents equipment for all that the rec area has to offer, knows the magnitude of firearms season. But with the nearby trails closed down, business is obviously much slower at the store these two weeks.
An employee at the store said as much Friday. It was a bright, sunny day in the area, but slow in the store, at least by late afternoon. The employee added that, recently, a man drove all the way from Texas just to ride the trails, only to be turned away because of the trail closures.
But it’s for the best – “Bikes and bullets just don’t mix,” said a post on cuyunalakesmtb.com announcing the closing of the trails for the firearms season. And it’s also for the best that, traditionally, state parks all but shut down during this time.
But this year, very soon after the firearms season, Minnesota’s state parks and rec areas will be on display in a big way.
On Friday, the Minnesota DNR announced that, on Black Friday – Nov. 27, the day after Thanksgiving – entrance fees to all 76 state parks and rec areas will be waived for “Free Park Friday,” as proclaimed by Gov. Mark Dayton during the news conference with the DNR on Friday.
According to a news release from the DNR, research shows that spending time outdoors benefits children and adults, including improving mood, enhancing creative thinking and problem-solving, promoting a conservation ethic, and improving physical fitness. It went on to say that, on Thanksgiving Day, the average American consumes around 4,500 calories, and that a brisk walk can burn about 300 calories in one hour.
“There is a Minnesota state park within 30 miles of almost everyone,” said Erika Rivers, director of Minnesota State Parks and Trails. “So no matter where you live or celebrate Thanksgiving, the restorative power of nature is always nearby.”
And, on Nov. 27, no blaze-orange required.