DNR plans ‘conservative’ deer hunt to rebuild state’s population; Licenses go on sale Aug. 1

Published 9:28 am Thursday, July 24, 2014

By Dan Kraker

MPR News, 90.1 FM

Minnesota hunters will find it harder this fall to bag a deer.

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The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said Wednesday that it will put rules into place to create a hunt this fall designed to rebuild deer populations across much of the state.

The agency said it will be Minnesota’s most conservative hunting season in more than 20 years.

Among the regulations that will be in place this fall:

• Only one deer can be killed in 95 percent of the state. That’s a major change from past years, where in many areas hunters could harvest up to five.

• It will also be much tougher to hunt a doe. In about half the state’s permit areas, hunters will have to enter a lottery for a permit to shoot a doe, and in some places, including all of northeast Minnesota, only bucks can be shot.

• In 69 of Minnesota’s 128 deer permit areas, hunters must be chosen in a lottery to shoot an antlerless deer.

• Only bucks can be hunted in 14 areas

Hunters in northeast Minnesota will feel the greatest impact from a bucks-only season, the DNR said. No hunters, including those with archery or youth licenses, will be allowed to kill antlerless deer.

The tighter rules will slash the deer kill, said Steve Merchant, the DNR’s wildlife populations and regulations manager.

“It’s not going to be a gradual decline, it will be significant,” he said. “It will be as low of a harvest as what we’ve seen for a long, long time, possibly below 150,000, it could go as low as 120,000 deer.”

That compares to nearly 173,000 deer killed last year, and a peak of 290,000 back in 2003.

Those higher harvests, coupled with severe winters the past two years, have reduced deer populations.

Minnesota hunters have expressed concern to the DNR about the state’s deer populations. In February, for the first time in several years, DNR officials approved emergency spending to feed white tail deer in northeast Minnesota.

Given last winter’s harsh condition and concerns raised from hunters about deer numbers, DNR felt the need to act. “We clearly heard from hunters, they had some real concerns about the deer population,” Merchant said.

While hunters will have a harder time stocking their freezers with venison this fall, they’re generally pleased with the new limits, said Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.

“They’re expecting short term pain for long term benefit,” Johnson said. “I think that’s the way we all need to look at it.”

The most short term pain will be felt the worst in the Arrowhead region, where the tough winter took a toll on deer numbers and where hunters will only be allowed to shoot bucks.

Still, Grand Marais hunting guide Kelly Shepard agrees with the new regulations and was already planning to cut back on his client numbers this fall.

“The last couple of years I’ve seen the deer numbers go down drastically,” said Shepard, owner of North Shore Outdoors. “People are complaining about the lack of deer sighting. I think it’s a good step.”

Shepard, though, believes there should be some exceptions to the bucks-only rule. Kids, he suggested, should be allowed to take a doe.

“Let the kid shoot a doe,” he said. “The kids are our future, but there’s less kids hunting, so I don’t see why it’s such a big deal to take the doe away from them.”

Deer hunting is big business in Minnesota.

The DNR estimates the annual fall pastime injects $400 million into the state economy. Much of that comes from $30 deer hunting permits.

In past years, hunters could buy extra permits in areas with higher deer populations. For the most part those won’t be available this year.

That will have an impact, said Johnson with the deer hunters association.

“There’s going to be a lot less revenue coming into the DNR even if they have the same number of hunters.”

More deer on the landscape means more happy hunters. But there are also social and ecological concerns. More deer can result in more car crashes. And too many deer can have negative impacts on forests.

The DNR has launched a multi-year effort to re-evaluate the deer population goals it sets around the state. It’s a balancing act, said Merchant.

Hunting licenses go on sale Aug. 1