Deer numbers look good for Saturday’s gun opener
Deer hunting should be good when Minnesota’s firearms hunting season opens Saturday, November 9.
That’s the word from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), whose biologists report deer populations are stable across much of the state.
“Minnesota’s deer population is largely stable in the southern half of the state because of mild winters and generally conservative deer management,” Leslie McInenly, the DNR’s big game program leader, said in a statement issued by the DNR. “Mild winters result in more survival of adults, more fawns being born, and more deer in the state’s fields and forests the following hunting season.”
Numbers may have even risen slightly through much of Douglas, Pope, Traverse, Stevens and Grant counties, according to Glenwood Area Wildlife Manager Kevin Kotts.
“I think in general in our five-county work area, deer herds have grown a bit from last year,” Kotts said.
Permit zones in the area range from management to lottery and hunters’ choice areas. Management areas, which allow a hunter to take two deer but only one buck, are in areas 218, 215, 214 and 240. Areas 273, 213 and 239 are hunters’ choice zones and those south of that are lottery areas.
Kotts did get reports of some young deer dying as a result of this past winter. But fawn production has been good for adult does that came through the winter just fine.
“I know there are some singles, but I’ve seen quite a few doubles, too,” Kotts said of what he has seen in the woods himself from bow hunting this fall. “We did have a little bit of mortality late last winter, but usually those were young deer. Those would be the ones you would expect to die before the end of a long winter. We weren’t hearing reports of adult deer dying.”
Hunters may find farmland conditions more challenging due to this year’s later corn harvest, which results in a substantial amount of standing corn. Last year, Minnesota’s nearly 500,000 deer hunters harvested 186,000 deer. A similar harvest is expected this year.
“I think people will have a decent opener,” Kotts said. “It’s always hard to predict. A lot depends on whether there is standing corn or not. Although I know farmers are working hard to get their corn harvested.”
McInenly said deer permit management designations that limit hunters to one, two or five deer largely are the same as last year statewide. The limits reflect the department’s interest in rebuilding or maintaining the deer herd in certain portions of the state by managing the harvest.
Based on 2013 population estimates, almost 80 percent of permit areas are at population goal. Antlerless and bonus deer permit availability decreases as overly abundant populations are brought into line with department goals.
Minnesota’s deer harvest has varied widely over the past half century. In a historical context, too many deer were taken during the 1960s, forcing the closure of the deer season in 1971 and a rebuilding of the deer herd from the 1970s through the 1990s.
The highest deer harvest occurred in 2003, when 290,000 deer were taken as part of an effort to reduce the deer herd. Today, the DNR manages the deer population based on goals established with public input.
“As the state’s deer population has been reduced to meet goals, more consistent and moderate harvests are anticipated,” McInenly said. “That said, population goals in some places were established nearly 10 years ago and the DNR is initiating a public process to revisit goals for permit areas statewide during the next few years.”
This year’s opener is later than most years in Minnesota. That means the chances of finding whitetails in the rut should be better as hunters take to the woods with anticipation on Saturday morning.
“I think, kind of across the board, not in each and every permit area, but in general, I’m thinking there are more deer out there,” Kotts said. “So now we will find out how people are doing.”