St. Paul — Hunters killed just more than 139,000 deer during all seasons in 2014, the fewest in any year since the mid- to late-1980s, according to the DNR.
Deer license sales were down in 2014, too, totalling just more than 488,000. That compares with nearly 513,000 sold in 2013, when hunters killed about 173,000 deer.
“It went the way we anticipated,” said Leslie McInenly, DNR big game program leader. “We definitely took a really conservative approach, and we are seeing a conservative harvest. I think our message got out to folks, so they weren’t totally surprised.”
In most parts of the state, hunters in 2014 could shoot just one deer. Some hunters could shoot only bucks because they weren’t successful in the antlerless lottery, or because they hunted in one of the northeastern permit areas where antlerless deer enjoyed total protection.
In the 100 series of permit areas, the total kill was down 40 percent from last year (antlerless harvest down 64 percent, buck down 22 percent).
The kill was down 13 percent in the 200 series of permit areas (antlerless harvest down 26 percent, buck down about 1 percent), and up 2 percent in the 300 series of permit areas (buck kill up 8 percent, antlerlesss down 2 percent).
Before the season, DNR officials projected hunters would kill somewhere between 120,000 and 140,000 whitetails. McInenly said she was relatively surprised the kill came in where it did.
“Based on what we were looking at, it turned out to be a good season, relative to the number of licenses we put out,” she said.
Still, the total kill is the lowest in nearly three decades. Hunters killed 139,723 deer in 1989 and 138,230 in 1986. The current harvest figures are preliminary and will be finalized in the coming weeks.
The last time the total kill was in the range of 140,000 was in 1997, when hunters killed 143,327 deer. Six years later, they killed 290,525, a record high.
As they move forward, DNR officials say they want more stability as it relates to deer harvest. That likely will be a discussion topic as the agency works with stakeholders to set deer-population goals, McInenly said.
“That’s what everyone is looking for – that we avoid that roller coaster or peaks and valleys in terms of our harvest, and find a middle ground somewhere,” she said. “I do hope that’s something that comes out in our discussions – how do we find that middle ground?”
When the agency set the 2014 deer regulations, the idea was to use conservative regulations to help grow the deer herd. But the extent to which that will occur depends, in part, on the severity of the winter. The index in most parts of the state right now is negligible, but that could change.
“I’m happy every time I see real low (winter severity index) numbers coming at me,” McInenly said.
In addition to the population goal-setting going on around the state this year, the DNR also plans to survey populations in permit areas in central and southeastern Minnesota. The surveys are planned for January through March, as long as there are suitable snow conditions, according to the agency.
“We use aerial surveys to help monitor deer populations in portions of Minnesota,” said Gino D’Angelo, DNR farmland deer project leader. “These flights provide data to improve our understanding of how deer populations respond to management, which helps us to make decisions about future deer-hunting season regulations.”
Deer will be counted during daylight hours at an altitude of about 200 feet. These counts are used to estimate deer numbers in deer permit areas. A representative sampling of 1-square-mile areas within the permit areas are flown that allows for a statistically valid representation of the population in a given area.
“The goal is to complete deer permit areas 214, 215, 218, 219, 221, 223, 224, 229, 241, and 248 in Becker, Benton, Cass, Hubbard, Meeker, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Otter Tail, Pope, Sherburne, Stearns, Todd, Wadena, Wilkin, and Wright counties; and deer permit areas 341, 343, 345, 347, and 348 in Dodge, Fillmore, Goodhue, Mower, Olmsted, Wabasha, and Winona counties,” D’Angelo said. “Successful completion of the surveys requires continuous snow conditions over the survey areas in order to complete them all.”