By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Thousands of Minnesota hunters are getting ready for deer rifle season, which opens Saturday morning across the state.

Minnesota has been better than most states in keeping hunting a priority.

“You can miss birthdays and holidays, but if you miss deer season you’re in trouble,” said hunter Jesse Keenan.

It’s a tradition that has spanned more than a century and a half in our state.

“Bring the kids out. You get to enjoy the outdoors — see the outdoors and all the wildlife and everything,” hunter Jake Rule said.

The problem hasn’t been what’s outside, it’s been what’s keeping kids inside — cellphones, electronics and video games have caught the attention of some young hunters and kept them from chasing a trophy buck.

Attracting younger hunters to the sport is a yearly challenge. The state sold 4 percent fewer youth deer licenses between 2016 and 2017.

The numbers have gone down a bit each year since 2013. The DNR said the key is to show kids the benefits at an early age.

“I’m big-time happy. I’ve never been in the stand or been the one to go look for the deer,” said 10-year-old Blake Ardoff.

With the help of his dad, Blake is hoping to shoot his first deer this weekend. They will be staying at their hunting camp. Fred Ardoff believes showing kids that there is more to the sport than just hunting could go a long way toward getting the next generation involved.

“My boys talk about deer camp more than they talk about just about anything,” Fred said. “They’ve got more memories of that than anything else.”

Experts believe activities like trap shooting and archery in schools can also help recruit young hunters. The Wisconsin gun season opener is Nov. 17.

John Lauritsen