Positive signs for deer hunters

St. Paul — When the firearms deer season kicks off Saturday morning, hunters likely will see more whitetails in the fields and woods than they saw last year. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be able to shoot them.

For the second year in a row, the DNR is offering conservative deer regulations that mean many hunters won’t be able to pull the trigger unless a buck walks by.

“We had a really mild winter last year, following a really conservative hunting season, so I’m quite confident there will be more fawns on the ground that people will see,” said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife population and regulation manager.

At the same time, antlerless deer aren’t an option for many of the state’s nearly 500,000 deer hunters.

“A lot of people are just going to have to enjoy seeing deer, but not be able to take one,” Merchant said.

He expects the firearms kill to be higher than last year, when firearms hunters harvested just fewer than 117,000 deer, the lowest total in more than two decades. (Last year’s total deer kill was 139,442 animals.)

Some permit areas have moved from the lottery to managed designation, while there likely also are more deer on the ground.

“I do suspect that we will do better than last year, but not by a lot,” Merchant said. “If the weather is good and people are seeing a few antlerless deer, that encourages people to stay in the woods a bit longer” and increases the possibility that a buck will walk by.

“I think it’s shaping up to be a pretty good deer hunt,” he said.

Craig Engwall, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, echoes that sentiment.

“I think there’s reason for more optimism this year,” he said. “People are seeing more deer up here where they had been hit hard the previous winter, and are seeing more does with twins. We’re still rebuilding the herd, but I think there’s encouragement.”

Season details

While the majority of the state’s permit areas are designated as lottery areas where hunters had to apply in early September for antlerless permits, there are a number of hunter choice areas in the southeast, through the state’s transition area, and into the northwest, where the bag limit is one, but hunters may shoot an animal of either sex.

The three intensive harvest areas, where hunters can shoot as many as five deer, are in the southeast (permit areas 346 and 349) and around Duluth (Permit Area 182).

The most conservative regulations are in the northeastern and far northern parts of the state, where hunters may take only bucks, and in three permit areas in the southwestern part of the state – 234, 237, and 286 – where only youth hunters are allowed to take antlerless deer.

“We’re remaining conservative so that next year can be even better,” Merchant said.

The firearms season in the 100 series of permit areas runs Nov. 7-22. In the 200 and 300 series of permit areas, it’s Nov. 7-15. The late season in the southeast part of the state runs Nov. 21-29.

Archery harvest

Through Sunday, Nov. 1, archery hunters had killed 7,827 deer, which compares with 5,815 for the same time period in 2014. That’s an increase of 35 percent.

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