With the firearms deer season less than a month away, I found myself scouring through some of the harvest numbers from the 2018 season.
October usually reminds me to take a close look at these reports, and I always find the numbers interesting. What they say year after year is that this area of Minnesota is one of the best deer hunting destinations in the state.
Permit area 213 is consistently top five in terms of total deer harvest. There were 5,860 deer registered from 213 in 2018, third most in Minnesota. Hunters shot 6,388 in area 184 around Bemidji and 8,365 in area 241 north of Perham and Wadena.
The 2017 harvest was 5,373 in area 213 and 5,434 in 2016.
“Between 213 and 240, they are some of the highest deer populations we have in the state,” Minnesota DNR regional wildlife manager John Williams said when I talked to him in early October. “Both of those areas were intensive (harvest zones with a three-deer limit) last year. What we saw is around the 2014 time when we had to cut back because deer populations were lower than what people were expecting, they did get above (goal levels) and we’re having to put pressure on them again. There are farmers in some of those areas that feel they have an excessive number of deer.”
I chatted with Williams, who is based out of Bemidji, because he oversees a big chunk of the 200 series in Minnesota. The 200 series runs from the south, through central Minnesota and into the northwest, encompassing a huge chunk of the state.
In our conversation, Williams and I talked about the best deer hunting areas in Minnesota and what makes them good. Obviously, habitat is the common denominator.
There is a big part of the landscape in areas 213, 240 (4,650 deer registered in 2018) and 214 (4,456 registered in 2018) around this area that have tree cover surrounded by grass or swamp land intermixed with agriculture. That’s a recipe for food, water and security cover -- everything a deer needs to thrive.
Broken down into deer registered per-square mile of the permit area, area 240 is sixth highest in the state (7.24). Area 214 is fourth (8.04) and area 213, one of the larger permit areas in the state at 1,057 square miles, is 14th (5.54).
I have experience hunting two different regions of Minnesota for about five years now. I grew up in southwestern Minnesota and that is still where I do a lot my bow hunting. Since moving to Alexandria, I have also hunted some small private parcels and have really started hitting some of the public areas harder in recent years.
On paper, the deer population in the southwest and this west-central area of Minnesota are a long ways apart. The numbers say I should be seeing way more deer where I hunt around Alexandria, but that’s not the case in most instances.
Good habitat is the driver of where the deer are, regardless of where it is in the state. That quality habit can be in places where there is nothing to offer deer a mile down the road.
I hunt river-bottom areas in the southwest. The permit area as a whole had just 1.6 deer registered per-square mile last year.
Anecdotally, I see more deer hunting in that region than I have in west-central Minnesota. I believe the specific land I hunt could handle being a managed zone where hunters can take an additional doe. I also know that will likely never happen due to the numbers for the area overall.
This area along the Minnesota River was changed to a hunter’s choice (either sex) zone from a lottery area a couple years ago. That has taken a few more does off the landscape, but my cameras and time in the stand consistently show a doe-to-buck ratio that heavily favors does.
This leads to what I have always viewed as a less intense rut. Bucks do not need to travel far to find does, so I don’t see a lot of mature bucks actively seeking. When I see them, they are often behind a doe that is ready to be bred soon. Sign making of rubs and scrapes are existent, but not consistent from year to year with less competition for breeding.
This used to bother me. I wanted to see everything you read about from the rut -- buck fights, scapes everywhere, chasing all over the woods in November. I wanted Iowa, or Kansas, those traditional big-buck states. I have gotten over that in recent years.
Places like Iowa are classic trophy states where pressure is low with fewer hunter numbers. Non-residents need to apply for an archery tag through a lottery system instead of having over-the-counter opportunities. Those low hunter numbers sound appealing, but that also means having less of a voice in fighting for outdoor projects through the political system.
There’s something to be said about opportunity states like Minnesota -- areas where hunters can buy a tag and hunt every year. I still see deer almost every time I’m in the stand, and there’s something to be said for that.
It’s impossible to agree on what we all want from a hunting experience, but we’re lucky to be in a state that for the most part still places a high priority on wildlife and wild places.
Minnesota might not be Iowa as it pertains to offering a chance at the biggest bucks. There’s still mature bucks that are shot in this state every year. There’s also opportunities for hunters to find deer in different terrain features from all corners of the state. That’s pretty cool.
SEND IN YOUR HUNTING STORIES
With the pre-rut and rut portions of the season about to kick in for whitetails, we would love to tell your hunting stories as things heat up in the woods.
Send photos and details of the hunt to outdoor editor, Eric Morken, at firstname.lastname@example.org.