St. Paul — A trend in the state toward fewer permit areas in which deer hunters may shoot more than one animal continues this year.
Nearly 80 percent of the 127 permit areas are in the lottery or hunter choice designations. In lottery areas, hunters must apply for an antlerless permit, while those in hunter choice areas may shoot one deer of either sex.
Last year, about 57 percent of permit areas were in lottery or hunter choice designations. Compare that to 2008, when just under 40 percent of the permit areas where lottery. (The hunter choice designation didn’t exist until last year.)
“People shouldn’t be surprised by (the number of areas in which they can shoot just one deer), especially if they want more deer,” said Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager. “Without a doubt, harvest this year is going to be lower than it has been in the past.”
Hunters last year killed a total of 192,331 deer, which was the lowest kill since 1999.
Given that just less than half of the state’s permit areas are in the lottery designation this year, hunters must keep in mind the Sept. 6 deadline to apply for antlerless permits. Those who hunt in hunter choice areas may buy a license over the counter and shoot either a buck or a doe.
Joe Cannella, of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, thinks many hunters are in for a surprise this fall when they buy their licenses. People who in the past have been able to shoot more than one deer – one with a bow, one with a rifle, for example – will find themselves able to shoot just one this year, regardless of the weapon they use.
“I believe we’re at a turning point in this state with deer management,” he said.
Under the current system, hunters must abide by the bag limit for the area they hunt. Even if they have an archery, firearms, and muzzleloader license, they still may shoot just one deer if they’re in an area designated as lottery or hunter choice.
“This is unique to Minnesota – this one-deer concept,” Canella said.
In Wisconsin, for example, hunters may buy an archery license and shoot a deer with a bow, and still buy a firearms license and kill a deer with a gun.
Cornicelli points out that even if hunters typically hunt in areas where they can shoot just one deer, they’re free to go hunt in areas where the bag limit is higher. (There are 23 managed and six intensive harvest areas this year.)
“The system was designed to not force people to quit,” Cornicelli said. “Now, you may not have the ability to move around, but the regulations do provide the opportunity for hunters to go anywhere they want. It’s hard to argue with opportunity, even if you’ve got to work a little harder for it.”
During the mid-2000s, the DNR conducted a goal-setting process for deer populations. There was broad agreement to reduce deer populations in many areas, which led to an increased number of areas where hunters could shoot multiple deer.
Now, as deer populations are near – or in some cases, below – goal levels in those areas, the DNR has instituted more conservative regulations to grow deer numbers. And that means lottery and hunter choice.
“All of the sudden, hunters are waking up and saying ‘whoa, whoa,’ and the DNR is saying, ‘this is where you told us you wanted to go,” Cannella said. “I think we need to have an honest, heart-to-heart, come-to-Jesus meeting about what hunters are looking for.”
Cannella worries some hunters will decide to stop buying one license type, which would result in lost license revenue to the DNR. Or, they will decide to cheat.
“I predict you will see an increase in sales of archery licenses for women,” he said. “And that’s purely because guys who cheat the system will say, ‘Oh well, I guess my wife is getting a bow tag this year.’”
Under that scenario, the wives wouldn’t actually hunt, but the husbands would use those tags for deer they killed.
In Cannella’s mind, many deer hunters want to kill at least one deer, and then have the opportunity to try for more. A system that allowed them to buy an archery license and shoot a deer, and then a firearms license and shoot another deer, would accomplish that, he said.
Deer populations in some areas, he acknowledges, couldn’t withstand such pressure. But some could, he says.
“You can’t tell me that in some of these areas that are lottery or hunter choice, that allowing archery hunters to shoot a doe would have a big impact,” Cannella said.
Cornicelli, on the other hand, notes archers have a much longer season than anyone else, and they can move all over the state if they choose. Plus, he notes, Minnesota is one of the few states in the nation that allows party hunting for deer.
As a result, a system that allows hunters to buy multiple licenses – and shoot a deer with each – likely isn’t in the immediate offing.
“I don’t see us doing it in the near future,” Cornicelli said.