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Morken: Hunters get their chance for more deer input

Eric Morken

Minnesota DNR big game program leader Adam Murkowski led a listening session in Alexandria in February that drew hunters who were eager to have their voices heard.

The session was part of the DNR's attempt to get a feel for what hunters would like to see in a deer management plan that the agency hopes to have completed later this year.

Many hunters wanted more transparency from the DNR on how decisions were made. A better doe-to-buck ratio and age structure within the herd were popular talking points. Perhaps more than anything, though, hunters there that night wanted to be a bigger part of the process when it comes to how the DNR gets information on the deer herd.

"I think about all the challenges facing the future of deer and deer hunting, and we need hunters to be leaders there," Murkowski said in an interview with the Echo Press after that meeting. "To some degree, I think the DNR needs to help facilitate that happening. I think folks have all this energy. We need to do a better job of putting it to work."

The DNR is now putting those words to action. I got an email leading up to bow hunting season asking me to take part in a survey from the opener on Sept. 16 through Nov. 3, the day before firearms opener in Minnesota. I was selected at random based on the fact that I have bought an archery deer license each of the last three seasons. The survey went to 17,000 bow hunters to ensure a representative sample from across the state.

The agency is asking all of those hunters to log the deer they see each time they head to the woods. Information collected includes the exact day of the hunt and the permit area hunted in, and it goes deeper than that. The survey is looking to pinpoint the deer activity within those permit areas on a much smaller scale, something hunters were very vocal about wanting at that public meeting earlier this year.

Hunters must select the town nearest to where they are hunting and approximately how many miles they are from the town and in what direction. Survey participants can even enter the location down to the exact GPS coordinates.

I hunted for the first time this season on Sept. 19 and was eager to take part in the survey.

Four deer came within 20 yards of me. Two smaller does that looked to be a 1.5-years old showed up at about 6 p.m. A nice doe and a fawn then walked under my stand at last light.

The survey asks hunters to list the number of deer they saw in four categories - antlered buck, adult doe, fawn (male or female) and not sure. It also asks hunters to report any sightings of wild turkeys, black bears, coyotes, bobcats, gray wolves, fishers, gray fox and badgers.

The DNR is partnering with the University of Minnesota on the project. Their plan is to post the results online and conduct this survey on an annual basis.

Many hunters have questioned the accuracy of the DNR deer counts. This survey can help monitor trends in deer populations and pinpoint what people are seeing on a smaller scale within permit areas.

Hunters wanted more input. Now it's on them to take part. My worry is that a good portion of those asked to participate will brush it off or forget to enter their data.

So often, people voice their frustrations about the state of the deer herd, and the DNR tends to get the finger pointed at them. We're not going to get anywhere with that mindset. Working together is the best path forward for whitetails and hunters in Minnesota.

This survey is a good step in the right direction.

Ready for late October

I earmarked this past weekend as a chance to get out in the stand back home in southwestern Minnesota.

Waterfowl opener would take precedence in the morning, but that evening would be my first chance to sit in a new spot overlooking a corn field that I set up this past summer. Mosquitoes and thunderstorms threw a wrinkle into those plans.

Heavy rains were in the forecast starting at about 6 p.m. on Saturday, so instead of hunting, I spent that early afternoon getting one final set ready for the pre-rut period.

I've listened to a lot of podcasts this off-season with successful whitetail hunters talking about hunting doe bedding areas during the rut. I had always hung stands outside of these areas in the past, but I want to be a little more aggressive this season.

Aggressive, but not stupid. I needed to figure out how I could make this work for my particular setup. That generally means being a lot more serious in how I approach things.

The stand I set this past weekend is in the southwest corner, where deer like to bed, of a piece of woods that requires a person to cross a river to get to. For three years, I've hunted the northern edge of this piece, but the deer just weren't getting to me often enough. There's really nothing to pull them that direction, particularly no food source.

I've wrestled with how to approach this, and I hope I have the solution. My new setup is only for a north wind. I can slip across the river in waders and walk less than 50 feet to the tree. I am set up 25 yards from a primary trail that cuts through some really thick cover. It's perfect for bucks looking to scent check for hot does.

Getting there undetected means trying to beat the deer there and getting to the stand at least an hour and a half before daylight. I'm planning on it being a stand for an all-day sit if need be.

I can't wait to test this out. All I need is a north wind in late October.

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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