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Sizing up the local deer herd

A nice buck in permit area 213 near Alexandria finds its way in front of a game camera in August of this year. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)1 / 2
The 2017 Minnesota deer hunting permit areas. (Minnesota DNR)2 / 2

When the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources released its license structure for deer permit areas this past summer, hunters in the Alexandria area were once again afforded the opportunity to take multiple deer in many local zones.

On the surface, that seems to be a sign of a healthy herd. Permit area 213, for example, consistently ranks near the top areas in the state in terms of harvest numbers. For many here, having the chance to take an extra doe is justified.

Area 213, which encompasses a large portion of this region all the way north toward Fergus Falls, had the second most deer harvested in the state last year with 5,434 registered. Only area 241, north of Bluffton and Perham and west toward Detroit Lakes, had more kills at 8,273.

Area 241 is an intensive zone, meaning hunters can take up to three deer with the purchase of bonus permits. Area 213 is a management zone where hunters can take up to two deer. Other local areas in 240 and 218 fall under that same management category, while area 214 and 215 to the east are intensive zones. All these areas feature pockets of high deer numbers, but even those areas can have their discrepancies.

"If you talk about zone 213, you can go from the east side to the west side and there's a significant difference in deer populations," Bruce Lien said. "The east side of 213 is quite populated. I live on the east side and I know my population of animals is a lot more than it is by Battle Lake or the Fergus Area."

Lien is the president of Prairie to Woods Whitetails, the local branch of the Quality Deer Management Association based out of Parkers Prairie.

He owns nearly 200 acres in between Miltona and Parkers Prairie that has ideal habitat - agriculture, CRP fields, trees, food plots and water sources.

"My specific area is overpopulated," Lien said. "We saw so many deer this past year it's unbelieveable."

A lot of those are does and fawns, he said. The QDMA's mission statement centers around an attempt to have well balanced, healthy deer populations. The organization encourages the protection of most one-and-a-half year old bucks, though they note that hunters who have never killed a buck should be able to choose any buck that makes them a happy hunter.

That selective harvest of young bucks is combined with an appropriate harvest of does, when necessary, to maintain a healthy population based on both age structure and doe-to-buck ratios. That's where a lot of these areas fall short in reaching their potential, Lien believes.

"We can always get better," he said of the doe-to-buck ratios. "Each area is really specific on how that landowner or cooperation does it. My area I hunt in, I'm seeing a lot more does and fawns than bucks. I think the ratio is OK. It can get better. There again, geographically it's really specific to the areas."

Mature bucks within a herd are a part of QDMA's mission of creating a healthy deer population, which can in turn lead to a better hunter experience, they believe.

More mature bucks lead to a more apparent and intense rut. Rubs and scrapes are more common with more competition, and calling techniques can be more effective.

The harvest of bucks in Minnesota doubles that of harvest of does in the state. Of the 173,213 total deer registered in 2016, 100,920 fell under the adult buck category. That's compared to 49,460 adult does taken. The age structure of bucks and does killed is not recorded.

Lien would like to see more mature bucks in the 3.5 to 4.5-year-old age group in the local herd, but he understands that term is always subjective with hunters.

"That is the number one thing you do hear is that a lot of people have a different perception of what a mature buck is," Lien said. "If it's got four points on it, that's to some people a mature buck. To me, that's not a mature buck. Everyone is so different. I think that ratio is very low. I don't think there is enough mature bucks out there. There's a lot of immature bucks."

Minnesota, including local permit areas, do produce some big bucks almost every season. In articles released during the summer of 2016, listed the top 10 states in terms of Boone and Crockett whitetail entries since 2010, along with Pope and Young entries. Minnesota was eighth on both lists.

There are areas with big deer out there, with ideal habitat conditions often playing a vital role.

"I have seen some nice mature bucks," Lien said. "I've seen three already this year that I would consider mature. Your 10-point plus. That 3.5 and 4.5-year-old area. That's what we look at as far as our group. We look at the age structure versus the rack size."

Overall, Lien believes Minnesota has fallen behind in terms of what it could be as a deer hunting destination. Locally, though, he feels hunters around this area do have better opportunities than many portions of the state.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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