MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Nearly 500,000 hunters sporting blaze orange clothing are expected to take to the field Saturday for the opening of Minnesota’s firearms deer season.

Last year, hunters registered 186,634 deer out of an estimated statewide population of about 1 million.

The deer population has grown by as much as 4 percent over last year, said Leslie McInenly, big game program leader for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

“In most of the state, folks can expect a few more deer, given our population estimates,” McInenly said. “I think the harvest will look similar to last year, maybe a little bit higher than last year.”

Hunters may not fare quite as well though in parts of northern Minnesota, where last year’s harsh winter took its toll on the deer population.

“From early reports, hunters are not seeing as many fawns with does as they typically would be seeing,” said John Williams, regional wildlife supervisor for DNR in Bemidji. “That could be a direct result of the long winter.”

This year’s annual Governor’s Deer Opener is being held in Fergus Falls. Dayton was scheduled to appear at ceremonial events Friday and announce the location of next year’s event, but he’s not a deer hunter and didn’t plan to be out with the crowd Saturday.

One in eight Minnesotans are deer hunters, about twice the national average, according to statistics from Dayton’s office.

It’s a cherished family tradition for many, passed down from generation to generation, and increasingly to the women in the family.

“I’m going to be hunting with my daughter,” said Mike Olson of Duluth. “I enjoy being out with her. She likes to get out; hopefully we’ll see something.”

Olson said hunting, for his family, is not really about shooting anything, it’s more about being in the woods and enjoying nature.

“I love it; I’ve always loved it,” he said. “My father taught me that way. I taught my kids that way. Hopefully someday they’ll have kids to teach that.”

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