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What you need to know about 2022 Minnesota firearms deer season

There's more deer in the south, central and northwest, and fewer deer in the Arrowhead.

A buck stands in the woods near Gordon
A buck stands in the woods Oct. 16. Minnesota's firearms deer hunting season begins Nov. 5; Wisconsin's starts Nov. 19.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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DULUTH — Minnesota’s firearms deer season starts Nov. 5 when more than 400,000 hunters are expected to be afield, with more deer this year for hunters in central and southern portions of the state and another lean year expected in the Arrowhead.

Another deep snow winter in 2021-222 — the sixth out of the last 10 years — continues to impact deer in Northeastern Minnesota, especially north of Duluth, with some deer perishing outright due to the conditions and fewer fawns born this spring.

“It seems like the deer up in your area just can’t get much of a break as far as winters,” said Barb Keller, big-game program leader for the Minnesota DNR. “We’re seeing a growing population in parts of the state continue, but not in the northeast.”

Not only do more deer succumb to the elements during those deep snow winters, but they also become more vulnerable to predation by wolves.

Deer winter snow
A string of deep snow winters, including six of the past 10 years, has held down deer numbers in Northeastern Minnesota. Deer don't do well when snow is difficult to move around in. The Minnesota DNR is continuing conservative deer harvest regulations in 2022, with bucks-only hunting in some areas and few doe permits in others.
2008 file / Duluth News Tribune

Because there are fewer deer on the landscape in the Arrowhead, and fewer than goals set by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the agency has imposed conservative harvest rules again this year, with ongoing bucks-only hunting in several northeastern deer permit areas and limited doe permits in others.

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Because they can’t control the weather, controlling how many does are shot each year is the primary tool for DNR wildlife managers seeking to either build or reduce the local deer population.

deer harvest 2021.jpg
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

Keller also noted that basic nutrition is simply better for deer in areas with a mix of woods and fields, and especially where agricultural crops are available. Short of corn and oats, the next best thing for deer is a young forest with many edges and openings. Deer do not do well in thick, older northern forests. (In fact, deer weren't present in northern Minnesota forests until after extensive logging began.)

In and around the Orr area, for example, state conservation officer Troy Fondie this week reported that deer have become harder to find.

“Those hunting the Orr area should plan accordingly, as deer numbers appear significantly down from previous years,” Fondie noted.

Statewide, Keller expects about the same harvest this year as 2021, about 185,000 deer. But that depends largely on hunter participation and effort, which tend to depend on the weather. If it’s rainy, windy, unusually cold or snowy, more hunters will spend less time in the woods actually hunting. If it’s fairly mild and dry, hunters will sit in their stands longer and shoot more deer.

“The weather opening weekend is one of the biggest factors in our harvest level each year,” Keller said.

Keller said the archery harvest is up a bit across much of Minnesota, which can sometimes be an indicator of the firearms season, but not always.

The DNR has a longstanding official annual goal of 200,000 deer harvested. But, even if deer numbers increase statewide, it’s unclear if there are enough hunters remaining in the state to reach that harvest level. The state sold about 467,000 deer licenses last year, down nearly 11% from the 522,000 sold in 2012.

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deer hunting.jpg
More than 400,000 hunters are expected to head into the woods Nov. 5 for the start of the 2022 Minnesota firearms deer hunting season.
File / Duluth News Tribune

2022 Minnesota deer season by numbers

  • The 2022 Minnesota firearms deer season for Northeastern Minnesota — the 100 series permit areas — runs for 16 days, Nov. 5-20.
  • Shooting hours each day are a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset.
  • Minnesota sold 467,413 firearms deer hunting licenses in 2021, including firearms, muzzleloader and youth. That was down 2% from 2020. Another 104,711 archery licenses were sold.
  • In 2021, all types of deer hunters registered 184,698 deer — including archery, firearms, muzzleloader and youth hunters — short of the DNR's annual harvest goal of 200,000 and down 6.4% from 2020.
  • In most years, about half the deer shot during the season are shot opening weekend. This year, that will likely be about 100,000 deer, depending on the weather. About 70% of the harvest occurs in the first four days of the season.
  • Adult female white-tailed deer weigh about 145 pounds on average and males weigh about 170 pounds. The biggest white-tailed deer ever recorded in Minnesota was a 500-pound buck.
  • A whitetail's home range is about 1 square mile in forested areas.
  • If you don’t get a deer, you aren’t alone. Only about 1 in 3 Minnesota hunters do. In 2021, 33.8% of all Minnesota hunters successfully harvested a deer (including archery and muzzleloader) statewide. But the success rate was only 24.1% for the 100-series management areas in Northeastern Minnesota during the 2021 firearms season.
  • The average hunter spends five days afield during Minnesota's firearms deer season.
  • A legal buck is a deer having at least one antler 3 inches long. Buck fawns, sometimes called button bucks or nubbin bucks, are not legal bucks.
  • Resident firearms deer licenses are $35 in 2022; nonresident licenses are $185. You can buy them at dnr.state.mn.us/licenses/online-sales.html , at 888-665-4236 and at retail stores across the state that are license agents.
  • Resident hunters age 84 and older can shoot a deer of either sex in any permit area.
  • A deer license purchased after the opening day of the season is valid starting the next day after it is issued, but not on the day it is issued.
Nontoxic ammunition, copper bullets
A new box of Federal Premium Trophy Copper ammunition in .308 Winchester, a popular caliber for Minnesota deer hunting. The Minnesota DNR is moving to require nontoxic ammunition in special hunts in state parks and SNAs bit continues to rebuff broader efforts to ban toxic lead ammunition.
Contributed / Federal Premium Ammunition Co.

Nontoxic bullets required in parks, SNAs

A new regulation this year: Hunters who are participating in state park hunts, or hunting in state Scientific and Natural Areas, are now required to use non-toxic ammunition. Bullets, slugs, muzzleloader ammunition and other single projectiles must be made entirely of non-toxic material approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, such as copper. The regulation is part of a larger movement away from lead ammunition to keep spent lead away from eagles and other critters and to prevent lead fragments from contaminating venison consumed by people.

The Greaney, Minnesota, resident has shot 75 deer and counting over 61 seasons, many on his own land.

Top 10 Minnesota deer season violations

There’s one surefire way to avoid getting pinched by a Minnesota conservation officer during the deer hunting season: Don’t do anything illegal.

Here is the list of the 10 most common violation citations issued by wardens during the 2021 Minnesota deer season, according to the DNR’s Enforcement Division:

  1. Hunting over a baited area.
  2. No valid license/registration/permit.
  3. Transporting uncased/loaded firearm in motor vehicle.
  4. Failure to validate deer license/tag.
  5. License/permit not in possession.
  6. Failure to register.
  7. Untagged deer.
  8. Lend/borrow license.
  9. No blaze orange.
  10. Feeding in a chronic wasting disease zone.

Lose your deer? Call in the dogs

111321.O.DNT.deertrackingdogC2
Chris Neutz, of Esko, with his deer-tracking yellow Labrador, Ivy, and a doe that Ivy tracked after the hunter lost its trail.
Contributed / Chris Neutz

Minnesota deer hunters who lose track of a wounded deer now have the option of calling in trained tracking dogs to find the animal.

There are more than three dozen trackers across the state who have trained their dogs to find downed deer and bears.

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You can find one close to you by going to minnesotatrackingdogs.com . Most trackers offer their services for free but accept donations to cover expenses like gas. Others charge $50 to $100 per recovery.

Minnesota lawmakers in 2019 passed a new law that allows the use of trained dogs, on a leash, to find wounded game.

A Minnesota law change in 2019 allows the use of dogs to find wounded deer.

Local rifle ranges open for deer rifle sight-in

United Northern Sportsmen's Club rifle range is opening the range to the public for deer rifle sight-in before deer season starts Nov. 5 in Minnesota.

The rifle range open dates for the public are Oct. 29, 30 and 31 and Nov. 1, 2, 3 and 4. The cost is $5 per gun. The range is open from 8 a.m. to a half-hour before sunset. Check in at the club house before shooting. There will be range officers present at all times.

The club is normally open only to members except during the deer rifle site-in. If you want to join, and shoot anytime, annual dues are $35 per person or $62 for a family. The club is located about 20 miles north of Duluth on Island Lake along County Highway 4.

In Superior, the George Constance Sr. Memorial Rifle Range on Douglas County Highway Z is now open to the public seven days a week until deer season from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 715-395-5691.

Trophy Room wants your deer, wild game photos

The News Tribune Trophy Room had a banner year for open-water fishing photos, with dozens of anglers sending in photos of happy people with big fish. Now we’re looking for photos of your big buck, or maybe a brace of grouse or mallards or an elk you shot in Montana.

Send those trophy photos to outdoors@duluthnews.com and we will post them online in our Trophy Room slideshow and publish some in print each Saturday in the News Tribune’s Northland Outdoors section.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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