By Joe Albert Staff Writer
St. Paul — As a project to assess and control the state’s deer
population continues, the results of an extensive survey give
insight into the way hunters feel about certain regulations.
In one part of the project, the DNR is using public input to try
to come up with deer population goals in various parts of the
In another part, alternative hunting regulations – like
earn-a-buck and antler-point restrictions – are being tested in
state parks to gauge their effectiveness in increasing pressure on
antlerless deer. (An early season on antlerless deer also was held
last fall, as it will be this fall.)
And finally, a survey that asked hunters to rank their
preferences for regulations – rather than just asking them whether
they liked the regulations or not – will help as DNR officials in
coming years look at implementing any of the alternative
DNR officials this week still were evaluating the survey, but
Lou Cornicelli, DNR big game program coordinator, said the early
results are telling.
Among the early results: hunters like the opportunity to hunt
for deer in October, and they also like being able to hunt for
bucks, meaning a lottery for buck licenses isn’t something most
hunters would go along with, Cornicelli said.
The survey was sent to 6,000 deer hunters in four areas of the
state (1,500 hunters in each area got a survey): the northwest,
central, east-central, and southeast parts of the state. In those
areas, the potential for using alternative regulations to manage
deer herds is highest.
Hunters in the northeast and southwest parts of the state
weren’t surveyed, as most of the permit areas are either lottery or
There was a good response, Cornicelli said, as about 3,300
hunters responded to the survey. About 200 of the surveys were
“It had 14 pages of questions,” he said. “It was a long survey
so we were a bit concerned that response might be a little
The DNR has surveyed deer hunters on other occasions about their
regulatory preferences, but this survey was the most extensive and
forced hunters to decide between a suite of options.
But like other surveys, it showed that hunters would prefer to
see more mature bucks in the field. Hunters in previous surveys
never have agreed on how to reach that goal, though.
“It’s frustrating that a majority of the people say they want
more mature bucks,” Cornicelli said. “But no regulation has ever
gotten 50 percent support, even though 50 percent of the people
want more mature bucks.”
The survey, sent last fall and winter, was broken into three
parts. One section asked hunters for some baseline information,
such as how satisfied they are with the hunt and whether they use a
stand or not. Another asked them whether they wanted to see more
mature bucks and which regulations they liked. The third and final
part was the meat of the survey, Cornicelli said.
Hunters were given five scenarios, and then had to rank the
three regulatory options on their survey.
The survey, for example, said the deer population in a given
area needed to be reduced by 25 percent.
“So we need to come up with a regulation that gets us down 25
percent,” Cornicelli said. “If we were simply to ask people if they
like antler-point restrictions or not, that’s not going to tell us
if it’s going to work.
“We’re doing this as ‘which option is most palatable to
While many hunters call and tell Cornicelli just to institute a
buck lottery to accomplish deer reduction goals, the survey showed
that people want the option of killing a buck.
“There are other options that are better than (the buck license
lottery),” he said. While that may be most effective in knocking
down deer populations, “It may also revolt the masses. So is it
worth doing? Probably not.”
By contrast, the early antlerless season – which will be held
this year Oct. 14 and 15 in permit areas 209, 210, 225, 227, 236,
252, 256, and 257 – received a lot of support.
“The early antlerless hunting floated to the top under all
scenarios,” Cornicelli said. “It’s going to be the least intrusive
(to hunters). The buck lottery is going to be more restrictive. (If
you didn’t draw a permit) You wouldn’t be able to hunt a buck that
In addition to the social aspect of the survey, harvest data
from the state parks will be used to show which regulations are
most effective. Those hunters also are being surveyed.
The following state parks had special deer regulations last
fall, and will again this fall:
- Antler-point restrictions (at least one three-point antler on
one side) in Itasca and Savanna Portage state parks;
- Antler-point restriction (at least one four-point antler on one
side) in Forestville State Park.
- Earn-a-buck (must harvest one doe before taking a buck) in St.
Croix, Maplewood, Wild River, and Great River Bluffs state
“We’ll know in a couple of years which of those regulations
gives us the most dramatic decreases in deer populations,”
That biological data then will be looked at in terms of where
deer population reductions need to occur, which will be matched
with what hunters have said they prefer.
“If we need to drop a population by 25 percent, (we’ll know)
what regulation we should use,” Cornicelli said. “You may see some
of (the alternative regulations) in 2007.
“I can’t say that you won’t.”
The DNR still is in the process of setting population goals in
the forested part of the state, and is looking for input via a
public input page on its website.
About 1,300 people so far have taken the survey, and it will be
kept on the site until about the end of August.
The survey is located at: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/deer/dgs/index.html.