Deer hunters quit governor’s opener over Walz’s stance on gun control and wolves

The governor’s fishing opener just hasn’t been the same since Tim Walz took office. The governor missed the 75th anniversary of the once highly touted public event a couple of weeks ago, bowing out due to his daughter’s college graduation in Bozeman, Montana on May 12, the day before the opener in Mankato. Prior to that, Walz cancelled the 2020 opener due to the pandemic, ducked out of the 2021 event in Otter Tail County the following year because of protesters and kept the location of his appearance at last year’s opener in Itasca County under wraps until the last minute, presumably to avoid similar embarrassment.

KARE-TV gave the governor the benefit of the doubt nevertheless.

Last year’s governor’s opener also broke from tradition due to the pandemic, making it difficult for officials to plan for the big event. It was held over several weeks and in multiple locations in the Chippewa National Forest region and Leech Lake Reservation. In 2021, Otter Tail County hosted the event after being postponed in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Now it appears the governor’s deer opener faces a similar fate. The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association board recently voted unanimously to cut ties with the event the group helped to start some 21 years ago. The state’s largest and most influential deer hunting advocacy group laid the blame squarely on Walz’s support for gun-control measures that passed the legislature, as well as opposition to a hunting season to manage the growing wolf predation problem, according to the Star Tribune.

With about 14,000 core members, the group has been an organizing partner of the celebratory event since its 2002 inception. It is by far the biggest deer hunting group in a state where more than 400,000 people hunt deer.

The Grand Rapids-based group said in a public announcement that Walz’s “continued attempts to ban wolf hunting” and his support of “anti-gun legislation” are in direct opposition to its mission.

“Until our governor represents the interests of wild deer and deer hunters around the state, we cannot, in good conscience, support the 2023 event,” the group said.

The Department of Natural Resources said the show will go on as planned for the Governor’s 2023 Deer Hunting Opener at a location yet to be determined.

Dave Olfelt, director of the Fish and Wildlife Division of the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said the agency still plans to hold the opener.

“We have one partner on board and are talking to a couple more,” Olfelt said. “We do not have a location selected yet.”

The DNR said last week that the annual event is critical to highlighting the importance of hunting, fishing and conservation.

The DNR may well round up a backup group to attempt to salvage the governor’s deer opener. But it will never be the same without the support of the MDHA and its supporters statewide.

[MDHA executive director Jared] Mazurek said the board’s decision followed complaints by organization members as gun-control legislation advanced at the Capitol and as lawmakers considered a DFL-backed amendment to ban wolf hunting even if federal protections against the animals were lifted.

“The overwhelming majority of our members are in support of this decision,” he said.

The politics of wolf hunting, which often separate along rural and urban lines, and also pull in moose advocates, are strongly involved.

The governor’s fishing and deer hunting openers have traditionally been nonpartisan events aimed at supporting the state’s outdoors traditions and tourist industry. But that legacy may be endangered as the current caretaker in the governor’s office falls further out of step with Minnesotans who embody it.