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MINNESOTA DEER OPENER: New hunter joins the fold

BELTRAMI, Minn. - The prairie was dark and quiet Saturday morning when Max Mosher and his dad, Bruce, dutifully took their place in a deer stand at the edge of a shelterbelt.

BELTRAMI, Minn. - The prairie was dark and quiet Saturday morning when Max Mosher and his dad, Bruce, dutifully took their place in a deer stand at the edge of a shelterbelt.

For Max, 12, getting up more than an hour before dawn on this cool November morning wasn't a problem. That's often the case the opening day of deer season, but when it's your first time carrying a gun as an official member of the hunting crew . . . well, that takes the anticipation to a whole new level.

And Max, in the low-key way of 12-year-olds, admitted as much as he stood with his dad in the morning darkness, waiting for a deer to wander into view.

"I'm excited that I might hit one and nervous that I won't," he said.

Days of preparing


Being out here on this cool Saturday morning with his dad marked the culmination of several days of preparing - building deer stands, sighting in guns, shooting at targets.

And learning. About safety, and all of the responsibilities that come with being an official member of the hunting crew.

"We've been working on stands every day, and doing this and doing that," Bruce said before the hunt. "With targets, he's fine, but a live deer is a whole different ballgame. It gets the old heart pumping. Who knows what's going to happen?"

It's a big crew, this Mosher clan, nearly 20, in all, an orange-clad army of dads and grandpas, brothers and uncles, cousins and in-laws - with a couple of family friends thrown in for good measure - from as far away as the Twin Cities.

For most of them, deer opener is a family reunion, of sorts, one of the few times of the year when they're all together.

The significance of that isn't lost on Max, a seventh-grader at Fertile-Beltrami school, and that's part of the reason he says he likes deer hunting.

"The family comes up and you have a big get-together," he said. "Some of the family, you only see them during deer hunting."

Familiar routine


The routine on this opening-day morning is familiar to the crew. They start "on post," scattered across an area of about three square miles, set up in strategic spots where deer are likely to travel.

After about two hours, they'll gather for the first of several "drives," a run-and-gun style of hunting that works well in this open country. Part of the crew will push thickets and fields while the rest of the hunters stand on post, again in strategic spots, hoping for shots at deer that will erupt from the cover at warp-speed.

Bruce says he hopes their morning in the stand serves up a nice, easy shot for Max to get him started.

"You know how hard it is to hit a deer on the run," Bruce said. "I'm just hoping something will come walking by within 100 yards and stop."

He gets his wish before the cover of darkness has even lifted from the prairie. Scanning the countryside with his binoculars, Bruce spots a deer standing in the tall grass less than 100 yards from the stand.

It's a picture-perfect shot - the deer is broadside, standing still - but there's one problem: It's not a buck. Max wants to shoot a buck with his rifle tag and save the doe for bow and arrow.

"What do you think?" Bruce says, encouraging his son to take a shot.

"I don't know," Max says as he peers through the scope. "It looks pretty small to me."


It might be his first time carrying a gun, but this young man has been around the crew long enough to know what can happen if you put in your time.

There'll be other deer.

The big chance

An hour passes, and the inevitable boredom that comes from waiting in a deer stand is beginning to set in when two does wander into view from a tree line to the west. They're out of range, but at least they're deer.

The excitement meter raises a couple of notches when a third doe appears, with a small buck in close pursuit. A second buck - this one considerably larger than the first - follows moments later, and hearts begin pumping a little bit faster.

The bigger buck pushes its smaller rival aside and spends the next couple of minutes chasing the does. They're well out of range, but they help pass the time.

Then, it happens.

One of the does turns and heads toward the stand, the largest buck right on her tail. They come closer. And closer.


Now, hearts are really pumping.

This buck is big, large of body with eight points that extend well past the ears. When it stops broadside less than 100 yards away, the moment of truth is at hand - a moment Max and his dad won't soon forget.

Max raises the scope on his .243 Remington and pulls the trigger. . . .

It's a frantic moment, a nervous moment.

"Yeah, I wish I would have hit it," he says later, "but it just makes me think I'll see a bigger one."

Plenty of action

Two does and a buck - but not the buck - hang from the meat pole after the second drive of the morning. There's no shortage of activity, no lack of shooting opportunities, but seeing a deer on the run and hitting a deer on the run are two different things.

Next up on this opening day is a grove that surrounds a farmyard. It doesn't look like much, but it holds at least eight deer - including one wide-racked buck that eludes the best efforts of Max's uncle, Kory Mosher, of Prior Lake, Minn. Kory will redeem himself by shooting a nine-pointer later in the day, but for now, he must endure the inevitable jeers of good-natured ribbing from the rest of the crew.


"It was like 5 inches past the ears," Max says. "That was the biggest buck I've ever seen in my life. That was bigger than the one I shot at this morning."

He might be the newest member of the crew, but he catches on to this ribbing stuff pretty fast.

Sergei Zemlianski, a family friend from Savage, Minn., who's on his second hunt with the crew, fares slightly better when he "rolls" a buck that busted through the opposite side of the thicket during the same drive. It's down for a few seconds, but then gets up and heads for a tree line more than half a mile away.

It's definitely hit.

Bruce and Max are among the hunters who head for the tree row to help Zemlianski roust the buck from cover. It doesn't take long, and the buck runs out of a nearby patch of woods.

And wouldn't you know it - Max just happens to be in the right place at the right time.

At his dad's insistence, Max carries a 20-gauge loaded with slugs when he's walking, and on his final shot, he manages to connect; the wounded buck falls, this time for good.

Said Bruce: "He's shooting and shooting, and then he said, 'Dad, I hit him.'"


In keeping with the tenet of "first blood gets the deer," Zemlianski tags the buck, an eight-pointer with a broken front leg, but that doesn't matter to Max. He's got a story he won't soon forget.

"I wasn't really nervous," he said. "I didn't have a chance to be nervous."

But was it fun?

"Yeah," he says, in that understated way of 12-year-olds. "Fun."

And so it went on the opening morning of Minnesota's 2006 deer season, a morning in which a new hunter officially was welcomed into the fold.

Reach Dokken at 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 148, or bdokken@gfherald.com .

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