Changes for deer hunters to be aware of locally
Early antlerless season, CWD surveillance part of new-look 2020 season around Douglas County.
Anyone following along throughout the past year to what was going on in the whitetail world in this area of west-central Minnesota knew the 2020 hunting season might look a little different.
Some sort of surveillance was bound to take place in the area as it relates to Chronic Wasting Disease after a captive deer on a farm in Douglas County tested positive for the disease in late 2019. Local deer permit areas were also part of a deer population goal-setting process over the winter, where the Department of Natural Resources determined through public meetings, surveys and feedback from area managers that deer numbers were considered too high in many zones around the Alexandria area.
With the 2020 regulations now set, hunters know exactly what this upcoming deer season will look like, and it includes plenty of opportunity to shoot does and voluntary sampling for CWD.
Mark Nohre, regional director for the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, goes to almost every public meeting on deer in the area.
He heard from a vocal group this past winter that wanted to see deer numbers drop, in some cases by a lot, so Nohre knew a new management plan to do that to some extent was likely coming. He just didn’t know how extreme it would be.
“I was surprised at the number (of deer hunters are allowed to take),” Nohre said. “I thought it would be more leaning toward three, four at the max.”
Deer-permit areas 213, 214 and 215 were added to the list of zones where hunters can take part in an early-antlerless season this year. It coincides with the statewide youth season that is set for Oct. 15-18. During that four-day season, hunters can shoot up to five antlerless deer, which is in addition to the statewide bag limit of three deer allowed to be taken in 213, 214 and 215. So hunters in those areas can legally shoot up to eight deer total this season.
“People will see that and there will be many who say, ‘That’s going to wreck the deer herd,’” Glenwood DNR wildlife manager Kevin Kotts said during an interview in July. “The reality is very few people even shoot two deer, let alone three even when they could. There will be a handful of people who take advantage of all those numbers. It will result in some more antlerless deer killed, but I don’t see one year of early antlerless decimating the deer herd.”
Nohre agrees that most hunters won’t shoot near that eight-deer limit, but he was still surprised to see that high of a number being allowed.
“I think it’s a little excessive at this time,” Nohre said. “I would have liked to see two or three, not eight. I think out of 100 people who might hunt that season, maybe one will shoot eight deer. I think the rest will be two or three, but I think it will thin out some of the deer.”
Hunters shot 2,312 adult does in permit area 213 last year. That’s up from 1,514 in 2018 and 1,392 in 2017. DNR staff will evaluate the data after this year to see how the new early antlerless season affects those overall numbers.
“Then we’ll see if we think the deer herd is starting to drop,” Kotts said.
Hunters needed for CWD surveillance
Local deer-permit areas 213 and 273 are a part of the new west-central CWD surveillance area this year, meaning CWD has been found in a captive deer but not in the wild deer herd.
The DNR announced on Dec. 10, 2019 that CWD was found in an 8-year-old doe from a small, 2-deer captive facility in Douglas County. The doe was at the farm for less than a year, and the site of the farm is in an area of Douglas County that is not considered to have the high deer numbers that are seen in some portions of the area.
“We’re hoping it’s an extremely low probability that we had any infection transfer from that farm into the wild deer herd,” Glenwood DNR assistant wildlife manager Jason Strege said. “We’re hoping we’re not going to find it.”
Hunters are being asked to help out in answering that question more definitively. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all CWD sampling in Minnesota is voluntary this year.
Hunters in the west-central surveillance zone can drop off the heads of adult deer (1 year or older) at self-service sampling stations any time of day at multiple locations (listed below) starting on Oct. 15. The sampling will be done until a goal number (862 points in DPA 213 and 385 points in DPA 273) is reached on a weighted point system.
Each deer is assessed a point value based on age and sex, with deer such as older-aged bucks that have been shown to be more likely carriers of the disease due to their age and rutting behavior being assigned a greater point value.
“I like their testing program. It’s a good start,” Nohre said. “I know us guys at (the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association), we’re supporting them. I hope hunters are cooperative with this. I haven’t had five guys rush up to me and say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to do this.’ But I’d like to see a good turnout for this.”
A group of area taxidermists and meat processors (listed below) are also helping by taking samples throughout the whole deer season. Hunters interested in taking a deer to a taxidermist or meat processor listed should contact them ahead of time to make sure they are available.
“This sampling technique is new for the Minnesota DNR,” Strege said. “It’s been tried in several other states as a different type of sampling, just because the last number of years now it’s basically been every DNR employee has gone all hands on deck on this. It is taking a tremendous amount of staff time and resources to sample with our traditional sampling locations where it’s a staffed area and we extract samples.”
The meat processors and taxidermists will get about $10 per sample, or $5 if they are just collecting the head of the animal and not doing the lymph node extraction.
“That kind of sounds like a lot of money when you start dealing with a couple thousand deer, but I think we sampled something like 18,000 deer in the 2019 season,” Strege said. “If you start putting in fleet cost, employee wages, hotel bills, all that stuff makes it significantly less cost per sample than our traditional way of sampling.”
With sampling being voluntary, hunters’ willingness to help out is a very important part of the process in trying to find out if there is any chance CWD was transferred into the wild herd. Chronic Wasting Disease is a slow, progressive disease that is always fatal in deer but can incubate for 18 months up to three years before clinical signs start to appear. Because of that, hunters are reminded that CWD positive deer may look entirely healthy.
“The more testing we do, the sooner we find out, the sooner we can lift the feeding bans and that sort of thing too,” Nohre said.
WEST-CENTRAL CWD SURVEILLANCE AREA INFORMATION
(Consists of Deer Permit Areas 213 and 273)
What can hunters harvest: All regular season rules apply. There are no special restrictions or exceptions in this area.
Carcass movement: There are no deer carcass movement restrictions for deer taken in the surveillance area.
Deer feeding ban: Douglas and Pope Counties are a part of a deer-feeding ban that includes the counties of Carlton, Chisago, Isanti, Kanabec, Pine and Stearns. Attractants have not been banned in these counties.
Deer feeding includes the placement or distribution of grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, hay or other food that is capable of enticing deer.
Deer feeding and attractant ban: Todd County is a part of the counties under a deer feeding and attractant ban. Deer attractants are considered natural or manufactured products capable of attracting or enticing deer, including salt, minerals, liquid food scents or any products that contain cervid urine, blood, gland oil, feces or other bodily fluid.
2020 sampling stations (city, location): Hunters can drop off heads of deer 1-year old and older any time of day at the following locations starting on Oct. 15 until goal is reached.
ALEXANDRIA - Bear Paw Taxidermy; EAGLE BEND - Shirley’s Gas and Grocery; ELBOW LAKE - West Central Skulls; GLENWOOD - Cenex; KENSINGTON - Crossroads Convenience Store; LONG PRAIRIE - Long Prairie Fleet Supply; OSAKIS - Head of Lakes Resort, Lake Osakis South Public Access; SAUK CENTRE - Big Sauk Lake Highway 71 Public Access; STARBUCK - Cenex; VILLARD - Cenex
Taxidermist and meat processor information for sampling: Hunters can drop off deer for sampling at the following taxidermists and meat processors throughout the season. Contact them ahead of time to schedule an appointment.
ALEXANDRIA - Randy Schoeneck (507-327-7607); Matthew Nygaard (320-808-0913); Bear Paw Taxidermy (320-759-0703)
BROOTEN - Jenniges Meat Processing (320-346-2414)
DALTON - Natural Images Taxidermy (218-589-7502)
ELBOW LAKE - West Central Skulls (218-770-8990)