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Chris Kolbert: DNR fights thankless battle — with a smile

November 28, 2018

Kelsie LaSharr and Lou Cornicelli of the Minnesota DNR were among many researchers who worked at deer sampling stations throughout southeastern Minnesota during the firearms deer season. Testing is still taking place, but least a half-dozen deer have tested positive for chronic wasting disease this fall — and the problem appears to be spreading.

A mature whitetail doe picked her way through the woods, occasionally looking toward her back trail. A light rain was falling, and as she slipped silently underneath my stand, another doe came into view, following the same path.

I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t buck that was following her trail. I’d filled an antlerless tag with my bow in September and was now looking for a decent buck. Still, I enjoyed the show as both deer passed by me.

Moments later, a forkhorn buck ran through the clearing, grunting loudly as it followed the does. The youngster wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but it provided some great entertainment nonetheless. The does bolted immediately and ran up the ridge into a dense stand of brush. The buck followed, hot on their trail.

This is the kind of rutting activity that’s to be expected on the opening morning of Minnesota’s firearm deer season.

It had been well before first light when I hiked through the rain across a picked bean field toward a trail that led to my deer stand. The tack trail that I had placed in the woods years ago still glowed brightly as the light from my headlamp hit each pin.

I climbed into the stand and tied myself off with a safety strap before pulling my 20 gauge shotgun up with a rope. Then I turned off my headlamp and settled in for a long morning wait.

Two trucks drove through a field across the valley from me. As a safety precaution, I turned on my headlamp again to let them know that I was hunting on the adjacent property.

A ray of light appeared on the horizon, and several minutes later, the first of a dozen deer filed by my tree stand.

Later that morning, I heard from my son Jason. He was hunting property several miles away, in the CWD permit area 603.

He’d shot a buck and needed help to get it out of the woods. Given that the deer was in the CWD area, I knew that meant we would be quartering the deer in the rain, either in the woods or at the DNR check station.

When I arrived, the smile on his face told the whole story. It was a good buck — and he wanted to get a shoulder mount.

After loading the old buck into the back of the truck, we headed for Chatfield’s Strongwell parking lot, one of the locations the DNR had chosen to conduct their CWD sample extraction. When we arrived, DNR Research Manager Lou Cornicelli was teaching a successful young hunter and his dad how to quarter a deer so they could take the meat home while awaiting the test results.

Cornicelli and his team of DNR employees and graduate students have spent countless hours extracting samples, monitoring results, and otherwise working to support Minnesota hunters. Sometimes, it seems like a thankless job. There are some folks who do not support their efforts to contain CWD.

But then there’s an opportunity to connect, to teach a young hunter how to quarter a deer. I could tell by the look in Cornicelli’s eyes that he was thoroughly enjoying himself, and the gratitude on the faces of the kid and his dad indicated they appreciated his efforts.

Since the Minnesota DNR first started testing for CWD back in the early 2000s, I’ve watched with admiration the dedication and work ethic of these folks. At a time when Minnesota’s deer herd is facing its greatest threat since the inception of modern conservation practices, these hard-working professionals give me a glimmer of hope that CWD can be managed.

Jason registered his deer online, and we began the painstaking process of caping out the buck so that it could be tested without cutting the hide. Then, we too had to quarter our deer, placing the portions into meat bags that I’d brought along in anticipation of our success.

When it was over, all that was left was a rib cage and spine.

“Just leave that on the ground and we’ll take care of it for you”, Cornicelli offered.

I was glad for the help.

As for the head and cape? A DNR employee offered to drop them off for us at local taxidermist who lives nearby in the CWD permit area.

That kind of support comes from someone who is dedicated to our natural resources and the outdoorsmen and women who use them. It’s a lifestyle for these folks — and for that, I am thankful.

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