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Dan Coleman sharpens the blade of a hunting knife Saturday. This weekend he will be participating in the firearms deer opener. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Hunting opener results in fewer permits

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A shrinking deer population, combined with a local one-deer limit, could pack a one-two punch to the region's deer-fueled economy this weekend.

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Hunters may be tempted to go elsewhere. Or stay home Nov. 7 when the rifle season opens.

Monday morning, a customer in Delaney's Sports Center may have foreshadowed what will come - he was seeking directions to areas where there are multiple deer permits available.

That's not here, but could be as near as Sebeka, where a five-deer limit has been imposed by the state Department of Natural Resources.

After years of deer management to cull the population and on the heels of a tough winter that claimed anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the herds in the region, the DNR is coming under criticism from local hunters and merchants from the Park Rapids and Osage regions where the one-deer limit prevails.

"It's controversial, no doubt about it," admitted Kevin Lempola, owner of Delaney's.

"Our archery license sales were down about half and I think we could see increased license fees for next year," he said. "We've had customers in here cursing the DNR up and down."

He worries the agency might lose millions in revenues on the one-deer and lottery rules that could result in some hunters not going out at all this season.

"Usually customers come in to buy a muzzleloader, archery and rifle permit," said Kevin's wife Debbie. "But if they get their one deer with a rifle, they won't be back to buy a muzzleloader or archery permit."

Last year's deer hunt was down 19 percent from 2007, but still was the ninth consecutive year more than 200,000 deer were harvested, the DNR indicated.

But those five-deer limits are designed to lower the population further, big gaming officials say.

"People are kind of established with their hunting camps, their hunting grounds," Kevin said. "They don't want to lose that. What's going to hurt the opener more is the economy. We haven't seen the fall tourism from the Minneapolis people like we have" in past years.

Lempola said Twin Cities visitors and seasonal residents usually come to the region each fall weekend to hunt. "The small game, the archery opener and the waterfowl hunts have all been down," he said. A lot of the trades people from the Minneapolis area "are working off one paycheck" due to the building industry decline, he theorized.

Miserable weather could also be a factor. Last year's opener was just such a subdued event.

And a wetter than normal October has made trails and minimum maintenance roads a mess, Hubbard County road officials say.

The Natural Resources Management department issued a plea for hunters in Hubbard County to "use common sense and good judgment when traveling on open roads and trails."

ATV and foot travel are the preferred methods to minimize damage to soupy, mushy roads, the department said.

It is a sentiment echoed by the DNR, which asks hunters to stay off soft roads throughout the state if they are traveling in heavier vehicles.

But one local hunting enthusiast is ready for the season, and spent the past weekend helping others get ready.

Dan Coleman is a professional knife sharpener from Park Rapids. Before the hunting and fishing openers, he sets up his sharpening tools at Delaney's and in Menahga to make the blades of fillet and hunting knives razor sharp. The finished product can cut paper into confetti.

"I'll do close to 200 today," he said Saturday. He charges $3 apiece or two for $5 for hunting and boning knives. For kitchen and paring knives he charges anywhere from $1 to $4, depending on the size.

But this weekend, he'll be tiptoeing to his deer stand in the dark. He won't take on any more work. The sharpener will be put away.

He's methodically prepared his area, setting up an imitation scrape line in the woods where he's seen deer rutting, and lacing it with scent.

He'll rake the last 200 yards leading to his deer stand so he can get into it without crunching on leaves and scaring off his prey. He's excited.

"It will be an interesting Friday to see how many people come up," Kevin said.

"They normally come heck or high water," he added. "Even if they can't afford to come, they come."

And for local merchants who are struggling in the difficult economy, they're all hoping the doomsayers are wrong and that the area rings with the sounds of rifle fire and cash registers.

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