St. Paul — When the curtain goes down on the 2014 deer season, hunters likely will have killed between 130,000 and 140,000 animals, the fewest in decades.
While that’s a far cry from the number they’ve killed in recent seasons, it’s in line with preseason prognostications.
“Seeing where the numbers are lining up with where we anticipated them to be – that’s better than having a big surprise,” said Leslie McInenly, DNR big game program leader. “People knew this was what we were expecting.”
Through Sunday (the second day of the 3B season), firearms hunters had killed about 111,000 deer, which is about 21 percent fewer than at the same time last year. (The harvest in the 100 series of permit areas was down 41 percent; it was down 7 percent in the 200 series, and up 17 percent in the 300 series.)
“The big change is in the antlerless harvest,” McInenly said.
Hunters in most areas of the state had fewer antlerless tags available to them this year. And in 14 areas in the northeastern part of the state, they could shoot only bucks. While regulations were more conservative in the 300 series of permit areas in the southeast, there were two intensive harvest areas – 346 and 349.
Since the archery season opened in mid-September, hunters have killed about 127,000 deer.
The 3B season runs through Nov. 30. The muzzleloader season runs Nov. 29 through Dec. 14, and bowhunters have through Dec. 31.
McInenly said some area wildlife managers have wondered about hunter movement this year and whether some hunters who typically hunt in the northeast, for example, opted to hunt elsewhere because of the bucks-only regulations.
“We’ll certainly take a look at that, but so much of it is about tradition and going back and spending time in your traditional hunting area,” McInenly said.
Through Monday, the DNR had sold 454,154 deer licenses. That’s down from 472,074 at the same time last year. And it’s the lowest since 2009, when sales through the Monday after the third weekend totalled 451,769.
Muzzleloader harvest likely will be down
It’s hard to predict how Minnesota’s muzzleloader season, which opens Saturday, will go both from a participation and harvest standpoint.
While the total harvest through all seasons remained down, participation was up even through downright cold and windy conditions during the regular firearms season, McInenly said. Harvest during the firearms season could have been even worse, she said.
“I was surprised at some of the harvest results on the second weekend given some of the snow conditions around the state,” she said.
One theory would be that with fewer deer to kill, and with most hunters around the state able to kill only one deer, that will drive down participation in the muzzleloader season. An opposing guess would be that hunters that didn’t pull the trigger already on a deer, and were willing to deal with the cold weather already, still want to put deer in to the freezer.
Or maybe hunters of both stripes will just cancel each other out and leave muzzleloader harvest roughly on pace with the rest of the season.
“It’s hard to look into that crystal ball and think about what hunters are deciding to do,” McInenly said. “If they still haven’t got a deer, they still might want to get out.”
She said harvest will probably be down from last year, as all seasons have been following regulations being set conservative this year.
As of Monday, muzzleloader licenses sales were at 9,826 (including resident, youth, lifetime and nonresident varieties). That’s down more than 1,000 licenses from the same point last year. McInenly said a lot can change, though, in the days leading up to Saturday’s opener. And keep in mind that, by the end of last season, 51,092 muzzleloader licenses had been sold.
“It’s hard to say,” she said. “So many of those licenses roll in right before the season.”
McInenly noted that last year’s muzzleloader season was snowy and cold, but that’s typically the case. So muzzleloader hunters are generally more willing to suffer through more frigid conditions.