Final deer kill down 5 percent from 2011
St. Paul — When it’s all said and done, deer hunters in 2012 will have killed about 5 percent fewer deer than they did in 2011.
As of the middle of last week, the total kill stood at 183,363 deer. (That number will rise, as the archery season ran through Dec. 31.) The final tally in 2011 was 192,331 deer.
“Overall, it was a pretty good season,” said Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager.
Through last Wednesday, archery hunters had killed 20,318 deer. Cornicelli expected them to register several hundred more by the end of the season, bringing the total above what they killed in 2011 (20,444).
It marks the tenth season in a row that archery hunters have killed more than 20,000 deer. Their highest kill was in 2006, when they shot 25,360 of them.
“Archers can shoot a deer of either sex, anywhere in the state,” Cornicelli said. “They get 100-some days to hunt, and their harvest has been reflective of that.”
Muzzleloader hunters ended their season having taken 7,488 deer, which was slightly more than the 7,416 they killed in 2011.
As expected, the kill during the firearms season dropped from last year. Firearms deer hunters, including youths, those hunting with disabled permits, and those hunting in parks, killed 155,758 animals.
That’s down just more than 5 percent from the 164,471 they killed in 2011.
Though the archery and muzzleloader kills were up, the harvest for the whole season likely would have been up, too, but for the fewer number of antlerless permits available.
The total kill was higher than some expected. Before the season began, some agency officials figured hunters would kill fewer than 180,000 deer.
“You look at the increase in the buck harvest, and that’s a good indication that the population was higher (than in 2011),” Cornicelli said. “The entire reason the harvest this year didn’t exceed 200,000 is that we limited antlerless harvest.”
The total harvest is the lowest since 1999, when hunters killed 180,569 whitetails. And it’s well below the number hunters were killing in the early and mid-2000s.
The high-water mark was 2003, when the total harvest was 290,525 deer. And the kill exceeded 250,000 in each of the four seasons after that. Cornicelli notes the earliest of those seasons came on the heels of severe winters in the 1990s that decimated deer populations.
Officials believe the population was higher this year than last, and that there were a lot of fawns in the population this fall. Given the mild winter so far, it’s likely many – if not most – of those fawns will survive. And it’s likely some of them are pregnant, Cornicelli said.
“The next step is deciding how conservative we want to be coming out of this winter and going forward,” he said. “The cautionary note is not to let deer populations get out of control again. The big concern as a manager is that you don’t want to be too conservative, because at some point you will reduce the value of deer yet again. I don’t think anybody wants to go back to where we were in the mid-2000s.”