Minnesota Deer Hunters Association to Skip 2023 Governor’s Deer Opener

Minnesota Deer Hunters Association to Skip 2023 Governor’s Deer Opener

For the first time in two decades, the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association (MDHA) will not take part in the 2023 Governor's Deer Opener due to Gov. Tim Walz’s positions on key conservation issues, despite being an organizing partner since the event’s inception in 2002.

In a statement posted to its Facebook page, MDHA explained, “MDHA will not be participating this year. In a unanimous decision, our Executive Board voted not to support the Governor’s Opener due to [the governor’s] continued attempts to ban wolf hunting and [support] anti-gun legislation within the state, which are in direct opposition to our mission. Until our Governor represents the interests of wild deer and deer hunters, we cannot, in good conscience, support the 2023 event.”

The Governor’s Deer Opener is held in conjunction with the opener of the November deer gun season. Attended by Minnesota legislators, the media and outdoor industry representatives, the Thursday-through-Saturday event celebrates deer and deer hunting while educating the public on the importance of deer conservation and hunting.

“There would be a welcome dinner on Thursday evening, and a field day on Friday to explore the host community and hunting grounds,” explained Jared J. Mazurek, MDHA’s Executive Director. “On Saturday morning [opening day], our hunter hosts would host the Governor and any legislators attending and allow them to hunt on their property. There would be an afternoon press conference where the Governor and DNR [Department of Natural Resources] Commissioner would speak, with a closing dinner that evening.”

However, while the event promotes the deer hunting traditions cherished by the MDHA, the MDHA is very involved in legislative issues that pertain to hunting, conservation and wildlife management and act on a legislative agenda set by MDHA members.

“This past February, our members voted for MDHA to take a stance opposing any advancement of gun legislation within the state,” said Mazurek. “Therefore, as an organization, we have a member-given mandate to take on this issue along with our more traditional deer hunting and conservation-related legislative agenda.”

The MDHA membership—20,000 strong—voted to oppose any gun legislation that would infringe upon an individual’s constitutional right to keep and bear arms. That infringement has been promoted by Walz in the past and was very apparent in 2023 Minnesota legislation.

On May 10, Walz signed into law the Public Safety Omnibus Bill, also known as the “Kitchen Sink” gun control bill. The bill mandated redundant universal background checks for firearm purchases, as well as a “red flag” law, which could potentially strip people of their Second Amendment rights without due process. Walz worded these measures “common-sense, life-saving legislation.”

In its report, Minneapolis’ noted, “Republicans steadfastly opposed the bill, asserting that criminals and those intent on carrying out mass shootings will still find a way to get their hands on weapons.” Fortunately, though not until the end, the article noted, “But Republicans and gun rights groups said those “’red flag’ bills only address the firearm instead of the person who is considered mentally unstable.” This is why House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth (R-13A), during a debate just before the bill’s passage, explained, “This is a bad bill that coddles criminals and infringes on the rights of law-abiding gun owners.”

It was telling that former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, head of the anti-gun group Giffords, was not only in attendance for Walz’s signing of these gun-control measures but loudly praised the legislation. A Giffords press release noted that Ms. Giffords’ organization had “worked closely with [Minnesota] lawmakers to craft the background checks and extreme risk protection order bills [red flag laws] that were signed into law today.”

Giffords has also endorsed Walz politically. Meanwhile, the NRA has graded Walz, now in his second term, with a solid “F” for his anti-Second Amendment positions.

The issue of timber wolves and deer conservation is also a concern to MDHA members. Minnesota has the nation’s second largest wolf population after Alaska with approximately 2,700 of the smart predators roaming the state.

Originally, a provision in the larger Minnesota environmental and natural resources bill would have specifically prohibited a wolf-hunting season even if and when wolves were removed from federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections. In fact, wolves were hunted and trapped in Minnesota from 2012 to 2014 when the state took over management of the recovered species from the federal government. The current wolf management plan, created by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, would allow for highly regulated hunting and trapping if the wolves were no longer listed under the federal ESA.

Walz is on record opposing a wolf hunt even if the predators are no longer listed under the ESA.

Fortunately—and due at least in part to the pressure put on state representatives by MDHA members—the final language of the recently passed Environment, Climate and Energy bill did not include any language prohibiting future wolf hunting—a win for MDHA and deer conservation in the state.

About the Author contributor Brian McCombie is a field editor for the NRA’s American Hunter and writes about firearms and gear for the NRA’s Shooting Illustrated. He is a member of the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Brian enjoys hunting hogs, shooting 1911s, watching the Chicago Bears and relaxing with his two cats, Peanut Morgan and MikaBear.