Overall deer kill at Camp Ripley up 41 percent in ’15

Little Falls, Minn. — Overall, the deer kill during the two annual bowhunts at Camp Ripley was up 41 percent compared with last year.

The DNR has been catching heat over the management of the special hunt, which has produced a number of trophy bucks over the years. 

This year, for the first time ever, the previously highly sought-after lottery hunt did not sell out, a fact that has provided fodder for those critical of the DNR’s deer management.

But hunters killed 115 deer during the second weekend of the hunt, held Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, bringing the total harvest to 204 deer, a major bump up from last year, said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife population and regulation program manager. 

That was a 64-percent increase over last year’s second hunt. The total kill during the first hunt, held Oct. 15-16, when 89 deer were taken, was up 19 percent.

“It tells me a couple of things – that the deer population is up, for one,” Merchant said. “I am assuming that is due to an increase in the number of deer that are there, and perhaps hunters were more efficient this year. One interesting statistic is the buck harvest is higher than average.”

Merchant noted that 67 percent of all of the deer that were taken in the second hunt were bucks, a number that took both adult bucks and yearling bucks into account.

“All it takes is one year of conservative harvest and a mild winter and our deer numbers are back on the increase,” Merchant added. “I think this was expected. Was it expected to be up this much? I am not sure. … It’s good news, that’s for sure. I think it does demonstrate that things aren’t as dire at Camp Ripley as some think.”

Merchant referred further comment to Beau Liddell, the DNR Little Falls area wildlife manager, who was not available for comment before press time. A DNR press release regarding the Camp Ripley hunt was also expected the day after press time for this edition of Outdoor News.

But Brooks Johnson, president of Minnesota Bowhunters Inc. – despite the spike in harvest numbers during the two Camp Ripley hunts – continued to be critical of the DNR. 

The DNR coordinates the hunts with the Department of Military Affairs, which manages the 53,000-acre military reservation.

“The numbers are up,” Johnson said. “When you look at the long-term trends, though, the average buck kill is what they say is their primary herd-monitoring tool, and this year’s kill of about 75 adult bucks is about half of the 25-year average.”

Johnson noted that the 25-year average adult buck kill is about 150 deer per year, and that the peak adult buck harvest, achieved back in 2000, was 228 adult bucks. 

Johnson said the way the Ripley hunt has been managed is a reflection of how the DNR has managed the deer herd statewide.

The past two seasons, however, regulations have been set at conservative levels after the population bottomed out following two extremely cold winters that took a big toll on deer numbers throughout the state.

“In my opinion, this is just where the DNR wanted to be, half of what it was at the peak,” Johnson said, pointing to annual deer goals that have slowly chipping away to gradually bring down deer numbers. “But they never told the public that. … What they did in Ripley is the same thing they wanted to do in the rest of the state. They wanted to knock the deer herd down in half.”

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