St. Paul — Despite a cold, windy, and rough start to the firearms deer season, harvest is down, just not as low as it was heading after the opening weekend.
Preliminary harvest for the season, which closed Nov. 16 in the 200 and 300 series areas but continues through Sunday, Nov. 23, in the 100 series area, was projected to be 102,000, down 23 percent from the same point last year, which was about 133,000.
But that was actually a rosier picture than the start of the season, which saw the kill down 36 percent during the first three days. During that three-day period, hunters registered 54,000 deer, which was about 30,000 fewer than during the same period in 2013.
“I was a little surprised,” Leslie McInenly, DNR big game project leader, said of the preliminary numbers Tuesday. “I thought it might be lower given some of the weather conditions out there. … Some of the snow conditions in the middle of the state I thought might influence some participation during the week.”
License sales were down about 10 percent on the Friday before the opener, but improved through the weekend of the opener, leaving them down less than 4 percent at that point, with 429,538 sold compared with 445,385 sold at the same point in 2013.
McInenly said the conservative regulations, following a pair of brutal winters that brought down deer numbers in parts of the state, likely influenced license sales.
“A big part of that is just the news about our regulations and our anticipated harvest being so much lower than previous years,” she said. “That certainly played a role.”
As for the kill, the 300 series areas in the southeast actually saw an increase of about 11 percent, but McInenly cautioned that it’s a small area, and that it was influenced by the intensive harvest regulations in areas 346 and 349.
“It’s such a small zone,” she said. “It is interesting (to see an increase) given most of those permit areas were a bit more conservative than they were last year, but those intensive zones drove things up a bit.”
In that area, where antler-point restrictions are in place, McInenly said buck harvest was down about 6 percent.
There is also a late firearms B season in the southeast, which runs Nov. 22-30.
In the 100 series permit areas, McInenly said harvest was down about 42 percent, but that is about what was expected with this year’s conservative regulations.
“A lot of it is being driven by antlerless harvest being down about 70 percent,” she said. “Half of it is bucks-only, and the buck harvest is down 25 percent as well.”
Following are conservation officer reports from around the state:
•In the Warroad area, the firearms deer season continues to yield a less-than-expected harvest, with hunters reporting scarce sightings of both bucks and does.
•In the Thief River Falls area, total deer numbers were lower than recent years but the rut was in full swing during the season, with many large bucks taken in the area.
•Hunters in the Perham area reported an active deer season with low temperatures and spotty hunting. It was either feast or famine with many hunters.
•Overall, the harvest was down in the Osakis area, but most hunters saw deer and had to pass on does and fawns.
•The second weekend of deer firearms season was similar to the first weekend, with very few deer being seen or taken in the International Falls area.
•In the Ely area, deer-hunting activity slowed significantly on the Echo Trail, with only a fraction of the hunters seen last weekend. Deer activity seemed to be up, but very few hunters were successful in the cold and wind.
•Limited success was had in the Grand Rapids area by deer hunters, with low temperatures and deer numbers being down.
•Numerous live deer were observed in the Garrison area going into the second weekend, but snow and cold weather appear to have lowered hunting ambition.
•As the season came to a close, most parties or hunters in the Sauk Centre area reported seeing or taking a few deer.
•In the Montevideo area, 12 inches of snow changed both the landscape and outdoor recreation rapidly. Deer hunters appeared to trade their blaze orange for portable fish houses, as about two dozen were seen on the ice.