2015 Minnesota deer opener has few surprises

Virginia, Minn. — The 2015 firearms deer opener shook out like most have during the past couple of years: Some groups didn’t find much to shoot at; others were pleasantly surprised with the opportunities they had.

All told, according to the DNR, hunters killed 68,401 deer during the first three days of the season. Final numbers from the first three days show that the number of deer registered rose 6.3 percent from 2014. Buck harvest during the first three days of the firearms season was up 8.5 percent from last year.

Total firearms harvest in Zone 1 was up 8.2 percent, Zone 2 was up 5.9 percent, and Zone 3 was up 3.2 percent.

While hunter success varied greatly across the state, anecdotal reports indicated that most hunters saw more deer than a year ago during this year’s warm and windy opener. But with a limited number of antlerless permits available and bucks-only designation in many areas, finding a deer to shoot in some cases proved difficult.

That seemed to be the case in most permit areas across the northeastern part of the state, according to Jeff Hansen, of the Lucky Seven General Store in Virginia. Although he registered a handful of mature bucks, hunters in this region experienced a tough start to the season.

“The people I’ve talked with just didn’t hear a lot of shooting, but they did see more does than last year,” Hansen said. “We didn’t register many spikes or forkhorns, so it’s been slow; in my opinion, deer numbers are still really down.”

Registrations were up at Buck’s Hardware in Grand Marais, but hunter success was better toward Lake Superior than it was in the deep, forested areas along the Gunflint Trail. Many of the bucks registered here were big-bodied animals, highlighted by a couple that weighed 243 pounds and 252 pounds, respectively.

John Muhich, of Buck’s Hardware, said he was surprised by the uptick in registrations, and despite the fact he talked with a number of hunters who didn’t see many deer, overall, opening weekend wasn’t that bad.

“Our reports were mixed, and the guys tucked back in the woods didn’t see much,” Muhich said. “The bulk of the deer we’re seeing are coming from just outside of town toward the lake.”

The big picture

Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife populations and regulations manager, said the overall harvest during the first three days of the gun season wasn’t surprising.

“That’s about what were predicting,” Merchant said. “It’s a good indication that we have more deer on the landscape.”

Carl Adams, of Timberline Sports in Blackduck, said opening-weekend results in his area followed suit with the statewide harvest. Generally, hunters saw more deer, which meant more opportunities to kill bucks.

He said that quite a few small hunting parties filled out by Sunday afternoon, and the majority of large groups all had a few deer in their possession with a handful of large bucks mixed in with the forks or basket-rack bucks.

“From what I heard, the deer population is better than the past couple of years and people sat longer with the nice weather,” Adams said. “It looks like everything is going pretty good – better than expected.”

CO reports

Conservation officer reports reflected a wide range of hunter success. Here’s a sample of what officers observed.

• CO Ben Huener (Roseau) reported hunter success appeared to be fair, with most hunters seeing many deer.

 • CO Angie Warren (Detroit Lakes) said opening weekend saw many hunters in the field, and those checked commented on seeing many does and fawns.

• CO Rhonda Friese (Long Prairie) reports an overall successful harvest, and that very few people saw no deer.

Enforcement action

Conservation officers dealt with numerous baiting violations throughout opening weekend. Maj. Greg Salo, of the DNR’s Enforcement Division, pointed out that it was the primary violation again this deer opener.

During last year’s deer season, 150 tickets were issued for baiting deer; in 2013 there 159 tickets, and in 2012, 168 tickets were issued. Salo expects this year’s total to be in that range again.

“Baiting was our biggest violation, and it’s a simply a conscious effort to cheat,” he said. “We see it everywhere – even where deer numbers are high – and it takes up a lot of our officers’ time.”

Hunting accidents

As of Tuesday morning, Salo was aware of two hunting accidents, both non-life threatening. One hunter was accidentally shot near Holloway in Swift County when a deer ran between him and other members of his hunting party. A party member began shooting at the deer and one of the slugs fired struck the man in the abdomen.

The other involved a hunter being shot in the leg while deer hunting in Meeker County. The accident was still under investigation at press time. 

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