Deer hunters shoot for better prospects this season

As Minnesota deer hunters head into the woods this weekend they will be facing better prospects than last year according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The 2011 deer hunting season was a fairly slow one in Minnesota, with only just over 192,000 deer harvested among nearly 500,000 registered hunters. But according to Chris Balzer, the Minnesota DNR area wildlife manager in Cloquet, the winter that followed it helped set the stage for what is looking to be a much better year.

“The mild winter last year allowed for a high survival rate among the deer population, particularly with does and fawns,” Balzer said. “With the newborn fawns surviving along with some of the older ones, we can expect to see a lot of young deer out there this year.”

The number of deer may have increased for this year, but with new limit restrictions put on more hunting zones, the total number harvested won’t necessarily be rising with it. These restrictions are putting a limit on the number of antlerless deer, meaning does (female deer) and fawns (young deer), that can be taken in certain areas of the state.

“We want to keep a lot of those does and fawns out there,” Balzer said. “That way the does can reproduce and the fawns can continue to grow, helping the deer population beyond just this year. Hunters will probably see more deer this year, but they will be a bit more limited on how many they can take.”

The restrictions to do this are making almost half of the zones in Minnesota “lottery” zones for antlerless deer, according to the DNR. What this means is that in order to receive a permit for antlerless deer, a hunter has to apply for it and hope to be selected for one. If they are chosen, then the permit allows them to take one antlerless deer that season.

These lottery zones are primarily in southeastern Minnesota and northern Minnesota, spots where the deer population isn’t quite as high. Martha Minchak, the DNR assistant area wildlife manager here in Duluth, says that the lower population in the north reflects the fact that they had a harsher winter than most of the state last year. This led to a lower survival rate than in the areas that had a more mild winter. She went on to say the limits on antlerless deer will have an impact, but not one that will be seen right away.

“It’s a type of strategic management known as adaptive harvest,” Minchak said. “It’s a plan more focused on the future. We were lucky to have a more mild winter in most of the state, so we want to take advantage of it and help keep the population strong, and this is especially important in areas like the north where the survival rate was lower.”

Minchak also says that poor and harsh weather conditions don’t only take a toll on the deer, but much like last year, also affect the hunters.

“The weather during last year’s season was pretty crummy, which caused hunters to not stay in the woods as long,” she said. “When they’re not out hunting in the woods, then they can’t get any deer. This happened a lot last year.”

Though there are more limitations for this year’s hunting season, the deer population numbers show hope for a good turnout. However, only predictions can be made at this point.

“We’ll just have to wait and see in the next few weeks,” Minchak said. “If the weather has the deer moving this year and keeps hunters in the woods, it really could turn out to be a good year.”

BY: Lance Boedigheimer

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