Whitetail hunt: total kill down, antlered harvest up

Brainerd, Minn. — Hunters have experienced a little bit of everything during the firearms deer hunt that began Nov. 3.

Cold and warm.

Rain and snow.

Thunderstorms and wind.

“There’s been some kind of bizarre weather,” said Gary Drotts, area wildlife manager for the DNR in Brainerd. “(Harvest) is probably a little under where we thought it would be.”

But not by much.

Drotts said harvest in his work area has been similar to the trend from elsewhere in the state. Through last Thursday, hunters had killed just more than 91,000 deer across the state. (Harvest numbers from the second weekend weren’t available earlier this week, due to the Veteran’s Day holiday Monday.)

The total kill is about 5 percent below where it was at the same time last year, said Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager.

The buck kill is up about 9 percent from last year, while the antlerless harvest is down 21 percent. DNR officials expected that, given that hunters this year have fewer opportunities to kill antlerless deer.

The season in the 200 series of permit areas and in southeastern Minnesota’s 3A ended Nov. 11. In the 100 series of permit areas, the season continues through Sunday. The 3B season opens Saturday and runs through Nov. 25.

Reports from around the state indicated an increasing amount of buck-chasing activity during the middle of last week. In the Brainerd area, for example, “with that earlier opener, we had a good run of bucks,” Drotts said. “But I didn’t see many bucks with huge necks (which would indicate animals in the rut) until Wednesday through Friday.”

Southeastern success

Like it is elsewhere in the state, the antlerless deer harvest is down in the southeast. But the buck kill is up about 13 percent from last year, Cornicelli said.

Hunters in that part of the state, of course, can’t shoot a buck unless it has at least four antler points on one side.

“It’s made it a lot different hunt down there,” Cornicelli said. While hunters still have to pass on yearling bucks, reports indicate they are seeing and shooting more mature bucks than they have in the recent past.

“I realize that’s not what drives people, nor should it – the quest for big antlers,” he said. “But my gut tells me it’s been a positive change.”

A survey of hunters in that part of the state was set to go out late last week or early this week, and DNR officials will use the results as they decide whether to ask lawmakers for their permission to extend the regulations beyond this season.

“We’ll let the data drive what we decide,” Cornicelli said.

St. Croix State Park

Cornicelli last weekend worked a check station at St. Croix State Park along the state’s border with Wisconsin. He was there to collect samples to test for chronic wasting disease, but also talked with hunters who took part in the hunt.

This was the first time since the mid-2000s that hunters weren’t hunting under earn-a-buck regulations that required them to take an antlerless deer before a buck.

While deer densities in the park are down, there’s a higher proportion of mature bucks in the population, Cornicelli said.

“I think earn-a-buck, in a more subtle way, did a lot of the same things that antler-point restrictions did,” he said.

Disease update

Since 2005, the DNR has had a heavy presence each deer season in northwestern Minnesota’s bovine tuberculosis area.

Agency officials have collected samples from thousands of deer and had them tested for bovine TB. But now, if everything goes as planned, this will be the final year of TB sampling there.

The plan was to collect 500 samples from hunter-harvested deer this fall. While the agency fell short of that – it collected 325 during the nine-day season that ended last Sunday – none of them showed obvious signs of having the disease.

“This just sort of cleans up our commitment to ensuring the whitetail herd is healthy up there,” said Michelle Carstensen, DNR wildlife health program supervisor. “Assuming that everything is good, that ends our surveillance effort up there.”

TB was first found in a wild deer in 2005. The last deer that tested positive for the disease was in 2009. TB samples have been sent to the lab and the results should be available in a couple of months.

Other disease-testing efforts in the state are ongoing, but the results have been similar.

During the first weekend of the firearms deer hunt, the DNR collected samples from permit areas 159, 183, and 225 in east-central Minnesota. The agency decided to collect samples and test them for chronic wasting disease after a CWD-infected deer was found in northwestern Wisconsin.

More than 1,000 samples were collected during opening weekend and sent for testing. The agency collected another 100 or so samples last weekend from deer killed at St. Croix State Park.

Those test results should be available in a couple of weeks, Carstensen said.

Finally, the agency continues to collect samples from the CWD area (Permit Area 602) in the southeastern part of the state. As of earlier this week – including animals taken via archery and firearms – hunters had submitted 828 samples for testing.

So far, 634 of them have tested negative. Test results on the other 194 are pending.

The DNR’s goal is to test 900 adult animals from the CWD area. It is mandatory for hunters who shoot deer in that area to submit samples for testing. The agency likely will exceed that number, as it will continue to collect samples until all deer seasons are done at the end of the year.

The deer that triggered the intensive CWD testing in the southeast was killed late during the 2010 deer-hunting season. Despite aggressive efforts to kill and test more deer – including a special winter season and the use of federal sharpshooters – a second CWD-positive deer hasn’t been discovered.

Joe Albert has updated numebrs on his most recent blog, available here.

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