The Minnesota DNR released its 2020 deer-season regulations Monday, and the opportunity is there around Alexandria and across the state to take more deer this fall.
The biggest change in west-central Minnesota comes in the form of an early antlerless season Oct. 15-18 that is open to all hunters. That season coincides with the statewide youth deer season that will take place again after it was changed to encompass all of Minnesota last year.
Permit areas 213, 214 and 215 are included in the early antlerless season, which also includes areas 341, 342, 343, 344, 604, 605, 643, 645, 646, 647, 648, 649 and 655. To participate, hunters must possess an archery, firearm or muzzleloader license and at least one valid early-antlerless permit.
The addition of an antlerless-only season locally comes after a recent population goal-setting process. Through public meetings, surveys and say from area wildlife staff, the DNR set goals to manage permit areas 213, 214, 215, 218, 240, 276 and 277 toward decreasing deer numbers by 25% over the coming years.
“It wasn’t quite universal, but the big message with 213, 214 and 215 (during public-comment periods) was that there’s a lot of deer and way too many deer for a lot of people who are trying to farm for a living,” Glenwood DNR wildlife manager Kevin Kotts said. “This early antlerless season is the new opportunity here. We’re hoping people take advantage of it.”
Hunters can take up to five deer during the four-day season with the use of bonus permits, and that is in addition to the statewide bag limit. Areas 213, 214 and 215 are all intensive zones where hunters can take up to three deer as their normal bag limit, meaning hunters could legally shoot as many as eight deer in those areas throughout the whole year.
“People will see that and there will be many who say, ‘That’s going to wreck the deer herd,’” Kotts said. “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.”
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.
CWD surveillance locally
The DNR expanded the does-only season to include more central and southeastern Minnesota zones where deer are above population goals, but also due to the risk of Chronic Wasting Disease spreading in some areas. Permit area 213 falls into both of those categories.
The popular zone that starts west at Fergus Falls and goes as far east as Long Prairie is now a CWD surveillance zone, meaning CWD has been found in a captive cervid but not in the wild deer herd. Permit area 273, which is a hunter choice zone with a one-deer limit, is also part of the new west-central surveillance area.
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.
“I would say it’s moderate,” Kotts said of deer densities around the site. “There’s certainly deer in the area. Area 213 has higher deer densities in general, and 273 isn’t bad either. There would always be some risk that those deer would transfer it to the wild deer, but we’re thinking it’s a relatively low risk.”
The DNR needs hunters' cooperation to answer that. All CWD testing will be voluntary this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but hunters in CWD surveillance, management and control areas are encouraged to submit deer they shoot over a year old for sampling.
Instead of staffing locations, the DNR will provide self-service stations where hunters can mark, tag and drop off deer heads. The heads will be picked up. The lymph nodes, which are located right behind the jaw bone, will be removed and sent in for testing.
Exactly where those locations will be in Douglas and Grant Counties has not been released yet, but they will be available online and through print ahead of the Sept. 19 archery-season opener.
Kotts said the Glenwood staff is also working with area taxidermists and meat processing businesses to gather even more samples.
“Some of those meat processors handle hundreds of deer from the permit areas we’re interested in,” Kotts said. “We’re hoping that by working with them, we can get a lot of samples.”
The goal is to collect as much data as they can on deer of all age classes to say with confidence one way or another if CWD is in the wild herd in areas 213 and 273.
“We’re really hoping we don’t find any wild deer that are positive,” Kotts said. “Typically, we’ll run the testing for three years and if we don’t find it, we’re done. That gives us confidence. It’s not mandatory, but we would sure like that information. We’ll try to keep it as simple as possible for the hunter.”
Harvest opportunity up overall
Hunters should check the interactive map on the DNR’s deer page to see the exact bag limits and regulations for the deer permit area they hunt. Permit area 281 in southwestern Minnesota along the Yellow Medicine and Minnesota Rivers is an example of a zone that has long had a one-deer limit that was moved to a two-deer management area for this season.
“Hunters in general will see more chances to harvest deer,” DNR big game program leader Barbara Keller said in a release. “These opportunities are due to increases in deer populations in much of the state and as part of our response to chronic wasting disease in southern Minnesota.”