PIERZ, Minn. If timing is everything, the place to be just before dawn on season-opening Saturday was in a deer woods just about anywhere in Minnesota.
As Venus and Jupiter faded from the night sky, as the gray of a new day oozed through the treetops, a record-high population of whitetail deer awaited the opening of the state's firearm deer season.
Perfect timing Corey Giles.
The 14-year-old from New Prague, Minn., was present for his inaugural deer hunt on a day that began with near perfection. Not too cold. Not too hot. Not too windy. Not too wet. Not too dry.
Giles, who was hunting with his grandfather, Robert Schara, of Hutchinson, Minn., saw a few deer and spooked a few more in the season's first hours. He discovered that an estimated 1.2 million deer doesn't mean easy hunting.
"Very exciting," the young hunter said.
"No, it was just fun being out there with grandpa."
It won't be his last opener, but perfect opening days in November don't come around that often.
The whitetail deer were performing their own reality show. It's X-rated. And it's called the rut. Bucks were on the move and were seen chasing does in search of females ready to breed.
Dawn had barely arrived when white flags erupted west of my deer stand. Had I spooked them? No, the wind was in my favor and not a squeak was I making.
Gray deer bodies bounding through gray brush followed by another gray body was evidence the reality show was heating up.
From his tree perch, hunting partner John Larson of Burnsville, Minn., watched a 6-pointer put the run on a buck fawn. Mature bucks in the rut want no competition.
Brother, Rick Schara, of Fergus Falls, Minn., also was on a deer highway but couldn't spot antlers.
Similar X-rated episodes also were observed by hunting companions Scott Larson of Minneapolis and Don Gonse, of Ramsey, Minn.
In each case, the passionate bucks were allowed to continue undisturbed.
If you seek to hunt in the company of mature bucks, smaller or lesser bucks must be allowed to grow older. It's a hunting choice we've practiced for many seasons.
It's also a hunting luxury these days. These being the good ol' days of Minnesota deer hunting.
In Grand Rapids, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty launched his second annual Governor's Deer Hunt before a sold-out banquet crowd, including many members of the Minnesota Deer Hunter's Association.
Talking about the high deer count, the governor also reminded the audience about the 1971 deer season. There wasn't one. Deer were too scarce to warrant a hunt, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources decided.
Severe winters had decimated the herd. In 1968, hunters around Grand Rapids brought starved deer carcasses to the steps of the capitol in St. Paul. They called themselves Save Minnesota Deer.
At the banquet Thursday night, Wayne Jacobson and Milt Stenlund, both of Grand Rapids, were recognized for their tireless efforts on behalf of deer nearly four decades ago.
Tears welled up in Stenlund's aging eyes. They were happy tears, no doubt.
"Did you ever think Minnesota's deer population would exceed a million animals?" somebody asked Stenlund, a retired Department of Natural Resources deer expert.
"Never," he said. "Never."
On a personal postscript, another memorable tale of deer hunting was added to my nearly 50 years of hunting whitetails.
Truth be told, I have chosen to hunt hard over the last decade but to pass up all whitetails, bucks or does, except Mr. Big.
For the last eight deer seasons, I've never fired a shot. Oh, I've seen Mr. Big. Every deer season for the last eight years, huge whitetail bucks have appeared before me but only for fleeting moments. Luck, it seemed, always sided with Mr. Big.
Yesterday, it was my turn.
Mr. Big is the largest whitetail buck (antlers wide with a 9-inch spread and heavy) I've ever taken.
And he was worth the wait.
Ron Schara may be reached at email@example.com.
Schara's 250-page book, "Ron Schara's Minnesota Fishing Guide" (Tristan Outdoors; $19.95) is available by clicking here or by calling 888-755-3155.