Published November 05, 2010, 12:58 PM

Deer hunters hungry for Saturday's opener

Every year, deer hunters gather in Clint Deraas’ shop to relive hunts of the past and anticipate the coming season

By: Sam Cook, Northland Outdoors

GNESEN TOWNSHIP — Under a wall of impressive mounted bucks, a man held an imaginary deer rifle in his hands, aiming it carefully in midair as he told a deer-hunting story.

That wasn’t the only deer tale retold at this annual gathering of deer hunters and their families in Clint Deraas’ immaculate workshop Thursday night. Nearly 40 people milled about, sharing stories, looking at photos from years past and talking about the upcoming season.

Some 500,000 hunters will go into the woods and fields on Saturday when Minnesota’s firearms deer season opens.

Deraas started this pre-season gathering and potluck about 10 or 12 years ago. Nobody remembers for sure. Now, nobody wants to miss the event.

The room buzzed with conversation and laughter. Young boys sat at a table, poring over a deer-hunting photo album. Hunters browsed on chili and venison sticks and venison meatballs.

Over the door, a wooden sign proclaimed, “There’s No Place Like Deer Camp.”

The event is just what the assembled hunters need, said Scott Cooke of Gnesen Township.

“It’s that build-up to Friday night before the season,” Cooke said. “The anticipation that everyone has been waiting for.”

“You get to see people,” said Dale Sohlstrom of Duluth Township. “It’s once a year. You see guys you don’t see the rest of the year.”

Above Deraas’ neatly organized tool benches, 11 handsome mounted bucks gazed down on the proceedings.

“All of them were over 200 (pounds) field-dressed,” he said.

The largest was brother Mike Deraas’ 255-pounder from 2007.

“I’d like to see one of those,” said Bob Walters of Minneapolis, who had dropped in for the event.

On another wall, 27 sets of respectable buck antlers were mounted on wooden plaques. The antlers were nice. But they weren’t nice enough for a shoulder mount.

Michelle Carlson of Normanna Township has been witnessing this pre-deer-season frenzy for years. She’s Mike Deraas’ twin sister, but she’s not a hunter herself. She notices a change in the behavior of hunters in her family as they count down to Saturday’s opener.

“It’s the single-mindedness,” she said. “That’s all they can talk about. They eat, sleep and breathe it. I don’t get it.”

Young Jack Leneau, 13, gets it. He was one of the boys hunched over the photo album. Last year was his first year of deer hunting. He shot a seven-point buck and a doe with his dad, Bill, sitting beside him.

What does he like about deer hunting?

“Sitting out there early in the morning,” Leneau said. “A little snow on the ground so you can see ’em better.”

Then he raised his imaginary rifle, shaking both hands in a nervous quiver.

“And waiting for that moment,” he said.

His goal for this year is clear.

“Just a decent buck,” he said. “Over six points. That’s my goal. And one doe.”

Somewhere among the Deraas clan roamed Melvin Deraas, 74, the patriarch of the family. Everyone seemed to know him. Easy-going and modest, he’s happy the way his boys took to deer hunting all those years ago.

“He started us all when we were 12 years old,” Mike Deraas said.

The boys have done a good job of grooming the herd where they hunt, not far from Duluth, Melvin Deraas said.

“One year, Clint will say, ‘Guys, we need to thin out some of these does,’ or ‘Let’s let some of these bucks grow up,’” the elder Deraas said.

Then he said something that old guys in every deer camp must be thinking this time of year, but few put into words.

Melvin Deraas said: “These guys are all a part of me, and I’m a part of them.”

And that’s what deer hunting means in thousands of families where hunters will rise in the dark early Saturday morning, layer on the blaze orange and move quietly into the woods.