North to see big jump in doe permits

Associate Editor

Grand Rapids, Minn. In just five short years, mild winters have
brought antlerless deer hunting permits from non-existent to near
record levels in parts of northern Minnesota.

The DNR announced last week that in many areas of Zone 1, which
includes the northeast part of the state, the number of permits
issued will dramatically increase in many permit areas. In some
cases, hunters may have “management tags” available to them.

Two hard winters decimated northern Minnesota deer herds during
the mid-1990s. But consecutive easy winters have rebuilt them.

“We’ve gone through yet another mild winter,” said Mark Lenarz,
DNR Wildlife group leader in Grand Rapids. “We’re getting to where
we need to take control of the situation. We don’t want to get in a
situation like that of Wisconsin and Michigan where the population
is out of control.”

The DNR announced last week a partial listing of the number of
antlerless permits that will be available in permit areas 107, 115,
122, 175, 178, and 181. In 1998, none of these areas had available
antlerless tags. During the fall of 2002, permit area 107 will have
5,000 antlerless permits available, up from 4,000. Area 115 will
have 6,000 available, up from 4,500. Area 175 doubles last year’s
permits, with 7,000, up from 3,500. Area 178 also will have 7,000
available, up from 4,000 last year. Area 181 increases from 3,000
to 5,000 antlerless permits for 2002. Area 122 remains unchanged at
500.

The number of antlerless permits for the rest of Zone 1, and the
remainder of the state, will be announced soon, Lenarz said.

The availability of management tags depends on the number of
applicants, Lenarz said. They become available when the number of
applicants is less than the number of permits available, he said.
When hunters apply for antlerless permits, they’ll be asked if
they’d like to be considered for a management permit. If they
answer “yes,” their names will be put in a lottery for the
management tags that would allow them to kill an additional
antlerless deer.

Lenarz said such permits only have been previously offered for
Zone 1 along the southern fringes of the zone near Hinckley.

Lenarz said the northern deer population is following a trend
similar to about 10 years ago. During the late 80s, the number of
antlerless tags available was “conservative,” and the deer
population increased, peaking in 1991 and ’92.

“The intent in 1992 was the same as it is this year,” he said.
“We want to stabilize the population or bring it down a bit.”

Though last winter was considered “moderate,” this winter, as
well as those of 1998-99 and 1999-00, was considered “mild.” In
fact, the winter severity index (WSI) was the second lowest it’s
been since 1971, according to the DNR.

Lenarz said one site that records WSI Poplar Lake on the
northern end of the Gunflint Trail reached 93. The WSI combines
snow depth and temperature to determine how severe a winter is for
wildlife. A WSI of 100 is considered to be the benchmark for where
a severe winter begins. The Poplar Lake site, however, was far from
the norm. The Tower station recorded a WSI of 59, while Eveleth
came in at 35. The Brainerd station only reached a WSI of 25, while
Aitkin scored 15.

Lenarz said the emergence of chronic wasting disease in
Wisconsin wasn’t factored into the DNR decision to increase
antlerless tags. In that state, wildlife managers want to eradicate
up to 15,000 deer in an area where 14 deer were found to have the
fatal brain disease. It was found in three deer shot near Mt. Horeb
in south-central Wisconsin during the 2001 hunting season. The rest
were found in deer that were shot recently and tested for CWD.

“The decision to stabilize or decrease the deer population is
based on the numbers as we see them,” he said.

The DNR, Lenarz said, determines the number of antlerless
permits to issue using a model that takes into account additions to
the deer herd, along with mortality from hunting, winterkill, and
predators.

Lenarz said the deer herd goal is something the Wildlife
division would like to revise. He said officials are attempting to
create a roundtable discussion involving the DNR and other
stakeholders to set population goals for deer.

Zone 3 changes?

A group of DNR officials that reviews deer seasons and licenses
has recommended changes be made for Zone 3 in southeast Minnesota.
However, if the recommendation subject to public input is followed,
those changes wouldn’t occur until at least the 2003 hunting
season.

Chris DePerno, DNR Wildlife research scientist in Madelia, said
the group a “subgroup” of the DNR’s internal deer management
committee will recommend shortening the 3A season to five days and
moving a small number of “either-sex” tags into that season,
normally reserved for bucks only. Also, the 3B season would be
lengthened and would include two weekends.

The change would allow managers to potentially accomplish two
objectives, Deperno said protect young bucks and harvest more
antlerless deer.

Furthermore, he said, restructuring the seasons would benefit
muzzleloaders by placing a “buffer” of days between the 3B season
and muzzleloader season.

Steve Merchant, DNR Wildlife program leader in St. Paul, said
the current system of awarding “antlerless” tags in 3B makes little
sense. Anyone who has applied for an antlerless tag the past
several years has received one.

“We need to streamline the system to more easily get (antlerless
tags) in people’s hands,” he said.

Other possibilities for 2003

DePerno said changes also could be made in Zone 4, though they
haven’t been discussed with all wildlife managers in the area. He
said he believes the hunt could be improved by increasing the 4A
season from two to four days, and maybe increasing the 4B season
from four to six days.

The short, two-day season, he said, decreases hunter selectivity
and sometimes leads to a “frantic” hunt and a
shoot-the-first-deer-you-see mentality.

When it comes to types of deer licenses and special permits,
DePerno said the subgroup believes some of the terminology to be
confusing, not to mention inaccurate.

That’s why, he said, the group wants “antlerless” tags to become
“either-sex” tags, since with the such tags, hunters may bag either
a doe or buck.

The group also would like to discard the term “intensive harvest
permit,” leaving just “management permits” tied to certain permit
areas.

One thing new this season will be the two-deer license. It
allows a hunter to purchase a $75 license to hunt the archery,
regular firearms, and muzzleloader seasons and to tag a buck and an
antlerless deer.

DePerno said the group may recommend eliminating the $6.50 youth
license. Youth may buy that license, which comes without a tag. A
deer taken by the youth must be tagged by a member of the group
with a valid tag. DePerno said such a recommendation would be made
in the name of simplification.

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