More hunters, more dead deer during early season

St. Paul – Last weekend wasn’t just one for the birds.

It was pheasant opener, yes, but some hunters – probably about
24,000 of them – instead opted to hunt for deer during the early
antlerless season.

Those hunters bought about 28,000 licenses and harvested about
6,100 deer. Once paper stubs are tabulated, the total kill likely
will be about 6,500 deer, said Lou Cornicelli, DNR big game program
coordinator.

This was the third consecutive year early antlerless seasons
have been held, and both harvest and license sales were up. There
also was more opportunity for hunters, as 23 permit areas – as
opposed to eight permit areas the past two years – were opened for
early season hunting.

In 2005, the state’s first foray into an early antlerless
season, about 6,000 hunters bought 6,800 licenses and shot 1,600
deer. Last year, about 6,350 hunters bought 7,700 licenses and
killed 2,200 deer.

&#8220It can best be viewed as a good start because we know
at some level it is going to add to the antlerless harvest,”
Cornicelli said.

For the past couple of years, the early season has been held in
the metro area and the northwest. An early season was offered in a
number of new areas this year, including the southeast part of the
state. Permit areas 349 and 346 both were open.

Don Nelson, DNR area wildlife manager in Rochester, said there
was quite a bit of interest in the season.

&#8220We’ve been trying for probably 15 years to get deer
numbers down in those permit areas,” he said. &#8220We just
haven’t had a lot of success.

&#8220What we have found is that the early antlerless season
appears to be additive mortality. What we have found with intensive
harvest and even managed seasons is that people are only willing to
shoot so many deer during a season.”

There were plenty of hunters in the northern part of the state,
too.

In Terry Wolfe’s area – he’s the wildlife manager in Crookston –
the early season has been in place each year it’s been offered.
This year, like the last two, he saw &#8220a part of the orange
army out there.”

&#8220I kind of think our deer numbers are going down, but
it’s not going to be an overnight thing by any means,” he said.
&#8220We should be tilting the breeding herd a little more
toward bucks.”

Around Bemidji, there was some concern about how the early
season would affect grouse hunters, but there seemed to be little
conflict.

&#8220I asked quite a few of the registration (stations) if
they heard any grumbling from grouse hunters at all, and they have
not,” said Shelley Gorham, DNR area wildlife manager in
Bemidji.

While it was somewhat patchy, she said overall success seemed
pretty good in the area.

Here are conservation officer reports from elsewhere:

Roseau/Karlstad: Not many hunters in the field.

Thief River Falls: Participation was about average, but harvest
rates were low.

Baudette: A good harvest was reported.

Perham: Many hunters were in the field and pressure on public
lands was high.

Moorhead: Few hunters were in the field, but those who were saw
a lot of deer and had good success.

Malmo/Isle: There were plenty of hunters, but they didn’t see
many deer.

Pierz: Public land had lots of hunters, while private land did
not.

Metro: While participation seemed low, those hunters in the
field were successful.

Winona: Very few deer were shot.

Rushford: Participation was high, but hunters had limited
success as they reported deer were not moving.

La Crescent: State forest land had a lot of hunters, who didn’t
have much success. There wasn’t much hunting activity on private
land.

Once again, the DNR will survey 1,000 of the hunters who took
part in the early antlerless season to get a sense for how it went.
Based on previous surveys, hunters seem to like the opportunity,
Cornicelli said.

But they shouldn’t get used to it.

&#8220This is an add-on for population control; don’t expect
it every year,” he said. &#8220Early antlerless should not be
part of a regular, routine management strategy.”

Venison donation

Hunters who have purchased deer licenses so far have donated
about $20,000 to the state’s new venison donation program. That’s
good, officials say, but could be better.

The problem: When hunters buy their licenses, some of them
aren’t being asked if they want to donate.

&#8220That’s the linchpin of this whole thing,” Cornicelli
said. &#8220The big problem is clerks not asking the question.
A mailing is going out this week reminding them to ask the
question.”

When they’re asked, hunters seem willing to donate money to the
program, he said. Still, Cornicelli noted that it is a new program
and that most hunters in the state haven’t bought their deer
licenses yet, and, thus, haven’t had the chance to donate.

&#8220The question has yet to be asked to three-quarters of
Minnesota deer hunters,” he said.

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