Archery hunters looking to fill deer tags around the Alexandria area are already in the woods, and hunters will again have an added chance to fill the freezer with venison during an early antlerless season this October in local deer permit area 213.

The addition of an early antlerless season in the west-central Minnesota DPA of 213 (along with DPAs 214 and 215 that border to the east) drew mixed reviews when it was introduced as a way to try to lower the deer populations in those areas in 2020.

The antlerless-only season was put in place after a deer population goal-setting process in the winter of 2019-20 that included public-input meetings. Through both in-person meetings and online communication, many landowners voiced concern that deer populations were too high in parts of the habitat-rich areas of DPA 213.

“There’s certainly some people who don’t like it,” former Glenwood DNR wildlife supervisor Kevin Kotts said of the early antlerless season in an interview with the Echo Press before his retirement on Sept. 7. “But I was very pleasantly surprised when we found out how many antlerless deer were taken last year. We still have a lot of deer in 213. I’m glad we have a second year of EA hunting. No matter what we do, we’re going to frustrate somebody, but I think allowing people to take antlerless deer with firearms in the early season, it doesn’t really interfere with the guys who are trying to shoot bucks in November. I don’t think there’s a lot of carryover into the regular firearms season.”

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This year’s early antlerless season again coincides with the statewide youth season. It runs from Oct. 21-24, with the regular firearms “A” season set for Nov. 6-14 in Minnesota.

“There’s never a perfect time to have a season,” Kotts said. “But having it coincide with the youth hunt, with the proper licensing those kids can take extra deer too. Kids get a chance to hunt, and they’re not competing with every adult hunter out there.”

Those who participate in the early antlerless season can take up to five deer with the proper permits, which is in addition to the statewide bag limit of three deer in areas 213, 214 and 215. Hunters must possess an archery, firearm or muzzleloader license. Bonus permits can be used, but hunters must have at least one early antlerless permit to participate.

"Adding the (early antlerless) season, we listened and tried to respond to those complaints. You never know for sure if it’s going to work, but I think what we’re doing has the best chance to reduce the deer herd. Then when we think the numbers are starting to fall, then we can back off on hunting."

- Kevin Kotts, recently-retired Glenwood DNR wildlife supervisor

That five-deer bag limit during that 4-day season in addition to the regular-season bag limit drew concern from some hunters.

“The gist I got from talking to different people around here is they didn’t really care for it,” Alexandria’s Mark Nohre, Region 7 Director with the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, said of the addition of the EA season locally. “They said five deer is too many. Around here, we had an opportunity to shoot eight deer last year, and that’s too many. Personally, if I shot two it would be great plenty. But some people will take advantage of it. Not a lot.”

That is a point that Kotts mentioned in the past -- while hunters can legally shoot up to five deer during the early-antlerless season, not many actually do. The liberal bag limits give those who will a chance to help bring deer populations into goal levels.

“The downside with the five-deer limit is a lot of people are shooting fawns,” Nohre said. “You can’t tell buck from does when it comes to fawns. They’re hurting the buck herd by shooting the male fawns, and they’re the same guys who will turn around and say, ‘Where are all the big bucks at?’”

The total number of male fawns shot across all hunting seasons in 2020 was up in permit area 213 to 823 registered last year. That’s compared to 563 in 2019. The total number of does (both adult and fawn) registered in area 213 jumped to 3,766 in 2020, compared to 2,795 in 2019.

“We don’t make everyone happy when we do things like that, but on the other hand I think it was entirely effective last year,” Kotts said. “I wouldn’t say the deer population is where we want it, but at least we’re harvesting more antlerless deer.”

Kotts said the DNR will continue to monitor deer populations going forward, and that the local early antlerless season is not something that is guaranteed to last in the future.

“We’re trying to make sure the population isn’t still growing and then you tip it over at the top and start a downhill slope on the population. When we see that, then I think the EA seasons will go away,” Kotts said. “At the input meetings two years ago now, we heard from a lot of land owners that said there were way too many deer. I think we had to do something more than what we had been doing.

“Adding the EA season, we listened and tried to respond to those complaints. You never know for sure if it’s going to work, but I think what we’re doing has the best chance to reduce the deer herd. Then when we think the numbers are starting to fall, then we can back off on hunting.”