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Minnesota National Guard
Gov. goes out with - and without - a bang

Although he never fired a shot Saturday, the future of the event that Pawlenty started appears to be secure

LITTLE FALLS - To say that Gov Tim Pawlenty wanted nothing more than to bag a deer in his final Governor's Deer Hunting Opener would be a bit off the mark

Sure, the outgoing governor would have loved to go out with a bang in the event that he started But he never fired a shot Saturday He left that to other participants in the eighth annual event Most notably, the younger hunters

For Pawlenty, that's what's important That's the legacy of the GDHO And that was evident again in the 2010 event, held in the Little Falls area

"The importance of this to Minnesota we need to do all we can to keep this tradition moving forward with the growth of women hunters and youths," Pawlenty said at about noon Saturday after coming in from his hunt at an undisclosed location somewhere near Little Falls

That said, Saturday's GDHO spotlight was on 13-year-olds Steven Hasslinger of Eagen and Erin Staples of Brainerd Steven shot his first deer Saturday morning, a spike buck Erin didn't get a deer in the GDHO hunt, but "helped" dad Chris Staples bag an eight-point buck Saturday morning

"My dad said, "'look down, it's in your shooting lane,'" an excited Steven said of his hunt "He was saying, 'now, now'"

Erin didn't get a shot Saturday morning, but planned on hunting Saturday afternoon with her dad in the Crosslake area, where the family usually hunts

Chris Staples, 35, said he's been hunting in that area for about 25 years Saturday he and Erin hunted near Buckman

"It (hunting in an area for the first time) was kind of weird," he said "There (in the Crosslake area) I know where the deer are"

But Staples, who served two tours in the Iraq war as a member of the Minnesota National Guard, wanted to participate in the GDHO, which this year - with Camp Ripley's proximity to host Little Falls - was a sort of tribute to the military

Staples said he and Erin were fortunate to draw a host guide who knows a thing or two about hunting white-tailed deer - Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, which along with Explore Minnesota and the DNR, helped put on the event

"He put us on a great spot," Chris Staples said

"I got it at about 8:15 (am) and was out at about 6:45 That's the best luck I've had," he said of his quick work Saturday morning

He said it was the only deer he saw Saturday morning, but there were numerous deer sightings by GDHO hunters And several nice bucks were brought into the parking lot at the Cabin Fever restaurant - host of Saturday's post-hunt festivities - throughout the morning and into the afternoon

The governor, too, probably could have taken a deer, but decided against it

"We saw some deer early on," Pawlenty said "At about 8 (am) they came through the shooting lane to me - a spike buck, a doe and a fawn But I was looking for something a little bigger"

Pawlenty reportedly shot a small buck last year, only to have it get away He, along with most others associated with the event, are confident the next governor will continue the GDHO tradition

But Saturday was about a different future for the GDHO

"The kids are ruling today," Johnson said

BRIAN S PETERSON may be reached at brianpeterson@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5864 To follow him on Twitter, go to www.twitter.com/brian_speterson

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