MN: No jump for final deer hunt
Muzzleloader kill mirrors slow start to firearms season
St. Paul - Muzzleloader deer hunters killed fewer animals this season than they had since 2002, and the 7,018-deer take was off 22 percent from last year.
The kill was similar to 2009, and "this turned out to be about an average muzzleloader year," said Lou Cornicelli, wildlife research manager for the DNR.
The 16-day season closed last Sunday.
"As is usual, the last weekend was the best weekend, and Sunday was the best day of the year," Cornicelli said.
The number of resident muzzleloader licenses sold - about 54,500 - was up by more than 3,000 from last year, but many muzzleloader hunters likely couldn't access spots they typically hunt during the season.
"The muzzleloader harvest is highly influenced by what's frozen (which allows people to access areas they couldn't during the firearms season)," Cornicelli said. "Nothing froze over until probably the second week of the season."
Like the muzzleloader kill, the total kill for the 2011 deer season will be down from last year, when hunters killed more than 207,000 deer. Cornicelli expects it will be in the low 190,000 range.
Before the season, he projected it would be somewhere between 200,000 and 210,000.
"We should have come close to what we took last year," Cornicelli said.
There are several reasons for the decreased kill: "Deer densities are down, and that's on purpose. We had a significant winter in some areas last year and we probably lost some fawns. And we've got real and perceived wolf issues across the northern half of the state. All of those work on deer densities. And on top of that, it's just been a weird year."
In the northwest region, the total firearms kill - just more than 54,000 - was down from last year by 8 percent.
The "wind hurricane" during the opening two days of the season played a role, according to John Williams, DNR assistant regional wildlife manager in Bemidji. But in some areas, the decline is a reflection of deer-population goals being met.
"I suppose as we approach goal, things get pretty difficult to balance," he said.
In most areas across the state, "the deer densities that we have now are a reflection of that giant public input process we did four to six years ago," Cornicelli said.
Cornicelli recently was promoted to his current research position, but for years was in charge of the DNR's big game program. His replacement likely will be hired in coming months, and Cornicelli expects one of the first things on that person's to-do list will be re-evaluating deer-population goals in some parts of the state.
"We're pretty much where the public told us to be" as far as deer densities, Cornicelli said. "I said there probably would be buyer's remorse when we got down to where we wanted to get."
The total kill in Zone 3 was up about 2 percent from last year. While the antlerless deer kill was down slightly from last year, the buck kill was up nearly 11 percent.
"That's going the way it should be going," Cornicelli said.
The kill was down last year, which was the first year the DNR instituted antler-point restrictions that prevented hunters from shooting bucks unless they had at least four points on one side.
Many of those deer were big enough to be killed this year.
While more people continue to move to the A season in the southeast, the overall number of hunters has remained stable.
"We have not lost people as a result of the antler-point restrictions," Cornicelli said.