Whitetails: Are local numbers too low?
The complaints from hunters across Minnesota that the deer populations are too low in certain areas of the state have become loud enough that the Department of Natural Resources had to act, or at least listen.
That’s what the DNR will do all over the state when they hold listening sessions with the public later this year. These sessions, which will be co-sponsored by the DNR and the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association (MDHA), will allow hunters a chance to voice their opinion on the deer numbers in their area.
Statewide, the harvest numbers in Minnesota dropped for the third straight year since 2010, but preliminary numbers from Glenwood Area Wildlife Manager Kevin Kotts show that the harvest increased in areas 213 and 273 near Alexandria.
Those numbers aren’t official and could change when the final reports are posted on the DNR website. It does seem to indicate, though, that population numbers stayed steadier around here than they have in other areas.
Harvest numbers are down from where they were five years ago, but those numbers indicate that there is still a strong population where there remains good habitat. Permit area 213 had the 11th most deer harvested by firearms of any area in Minnesota in 2012. A total of 3,271 deer were registered through the archery and firearms seasons that year. Those numbers drop to 794 deer registered in area 273, which sits west of Alexandria.
“It’s a zone with a lot of deer habitat and typically has pretty good deer numbers,” Kotts said of 213. “To the west, I think we hear some from hunters [that deer numbers are too low], but not as much in this area.”
Gus Gustafson is a board member for the Viking Sportsmen’s group in Alexandria. He owns 300 acres of private land in area 213 and says there is no doubt that numbers are down from when he and his brother bought their property in 2004.
He said it was common to see 25 deer a day in the stand that first year, but Minnesota was coming off a record harvest of 290,000 deer in 2003. Gustafson bow and firearm hunts and says he still often sees between six and 10 deer a day. He’s happy with those numbers, but he knows not everyone has that same experience.
“I talk to a lot of guys at the banquets, around the area, and very few people are as successful or happy as I am,” Gustafson said. “It’s more because they are on those 40-acre private spots or hunt public land where you can’t control as much. You throw a dart and talk to hunters, and they’re going to say, ‘I want to see more.’ ”
TARGET NUMBERS TOO LOW?
The harvest numbers in permit areas 213 and 240 are higher than most in the state, but they have lowered considerably from four seasons ago.
The 3,271 deer registered in area 213 in 2012 is down from 5,490 deer harvested in 2010. Opinions on why deer numbers have dropped statewide range depending on the area, but tough winters and over harvest are popular themes.
Kotts said that most permit areas in their work zone are now near target deer densities that were set in 2007. The DNR got those numbers by going through a goal-setting process and meeting with groups of people that included hunters and non-hunters alike.
The consensus from those was that deer numbers were too high in many parts of the state. That led to liberalized regulations that allowed hunters to take up to five deer in certain areas.
Now some hunters in the state are arguing that those numbers were set too low and that they weren’t represented well enough during the goal-setting process. Kotts was at many of those meetings and says that wasn’t the case.
“I think the whole point of having those groups coming together is we’re getting opinions from a variety of folks,” Kotts said. “The [meetings] I was at, I thought hunters were pretty well represented.”
Alexandria’s Shad Schmidt has three pieces of private land that total about 100 acres in the area. He bow and firearm hunted this past season and saw plenty of young deer, but not a single mature buck the whole season.
Schmidt said he doesn’t expect numbers to be like they were when the state was setting records for harvest. He would like to see them increase, though, and also be managed to produce more mature deer, both does and bucks.
“I think pushing the gun season back a little would help,” Schmidt said. “I also think eliminating party hunting would help a lot and only allowing one deer per person. I think with party hunting, people are willing to shoot deer they normally wouldn’t want to put their own tag on, knowing that someone else at camp would.”
“IT’S ALSO UP TO US”
That’s where hunters themselves come into the equation.
Alexandria’s Dean Revering is the creator, former president and a current board member of the local Prairie to Woods Whitetails chapter based out of Parkers Prairie.
Revering said the club has almost 400 members that focus on quality deer management (QDM). Their goal is to produce biologically and socially balanced herds on their property. That typically means not shooting young bucks and taking a certain number of does in order to maintain a healthy population.
Most who practice QDM track the deer they see while in the stand to compare numbers to prior seasons. Revering said the numbers on his land were down a little bit this past fall from the year before, but that he is happy with where the population is at.
He hunts in a group of 20 people on a private piece of land that totals 1,100 acres north of Parkers Prairie. He knows not every hunter has that kind of land, but says everyone has the final say on whether or not they pull the trigger.
“Even if you hunt public land and the deer are not showing up like they should, you still have the ability to control whether or not you shoot,” Revering said. “If you think your numbers are too low, don’t go shooting every deer that’s out there.”
Schmidt tries to manage his own land in a similar fashion, but says it’s difficult on smaller parcels. Their party has their own set of rules where no one but young, first-time hunters can shoot an animal unless it is a mature deer.
“I think hunters have to decide what it is they want,” Schmidt said. “It’s going to come down to hunter responsibility. If they want the population to get better, they’re going to have to take some of it on themselves.”
Hunters will often try to take as many deer that are allowed by law. That is why some are calling on the DNR to tighten regulations. That may happen after the DNR hears what hunters have to say around the state. Ultimately, though, hunters will always play a role.
“I would say it’s 50/50,” Revering said. “I don’t think we should all rely on the state to take care of what goes on. The DNR can control that with doe tags and the extensive harvest tags that are allowed, depending which area you are in. But I think the most important part is we still have the ability to not pull the trigger. It’s not all up to the DNR.”