According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, rifle hunters in Minnesota this season harvested 111,000 deer, which is 31,000 less than last year’s tally of harvested deer.
Hunters, meanwhile, are conjuring up factors that could be responsible for the decline. Here are some of the most likely contributors to the low number of deer harvested this season.
One major factor a lot of hunters are overlooking is the fact that, this year, there were less tags given out to hunters, and many areas where hunters are used to having their choice between taking either a buck or a doe were made buck-only zones.
Retired DNR officer and nature writer Ralph LaPlant has spoken with many hunters following the deer rifle season and reported that many of the disgruntled hunters are knee-jerking the notion that the growing population of the gray wolf is solely responsible for the lower number of deer harvested this season.
Once listed as an endangered species, the gray wolf has fought its way back into existence in the wild. It is Minnesota’s apex predator, meaning that, besides humans, it has no natural predators.
On average, a male gray wolf will weigh somewhere between 70-110 pounds and measure approximately six feet in length.
It is estimated by the DNR that a Minnesota wolf will consume about 20 adult deer per year. The DNR also estimated that this year’s wolf population consists of 2,423 wolves, which is up 212 from last year's population. Together, these wolves comprise the 470 wolf packs found in Minnesota’s wolf range.
With the rising population of wolves, it is easy to just blame the subpar deer season on wolves. However, this is not an entirely fair assumption to make on behalf of the hunters who are concerned about the deer population, as their population is being monitored very closely by the DNR, hence the opening of a wolf season in Minnesota, which began in 2012.
This year’s wolf season is aiming for a total of 220 wolves to be taken by hunters who must acquire a tag. The wolf season is not designed to cut down the population but to maintain the current population.
But LaPlant is not convinced that the gray wolf is solely responsible for the decline in harvested deer.
“It’s hard to pinpoint the cause for the lower number of deer this year. You obviously have to acknowledge the fact we had a rough winter last year that brought lots of snow into the woods along with cold temperatures,” LaPlant said. “I also think dead winter crops played a big part in deer survival and ... to a lesser degree, the abundance of gray wolves and the occasional bear taking a fawn.”
So, should deer hunters be concerned about the down year?
According to LaPlant, no.
"We need to understand where the DNR is coming from," he said. "As much as people want to disagree with how they have handled the season, they know much more about what is going on than we know.”
Overall, there is more than one factor that has gone into this year's lower numbers. With a good winter, the numbers might go up for next year's hunt. But many other factors contribute to the survival of deer in the wild.