Bowhunters in Minnesota and Wisconsin start their whitetail deer hunting seasons Saturday, Sept. 18, including within the city limits of Duluth, where more hunters took more deer in 2020 during the pandemic push to get outdoors close to home.

The 2020 Duluth bowhunt, the 16th straight season the city hunt has been held, included 305 hunters, up 8% from 283 hunters in 2019. The 312 deer harvested was up 34% from 233 in 2019.

That was the first increase in participation in several years after the number of hunters peaked at 391 in 2013. Of the 305 hunters in 2020, 50 participated in the city hunt for the first time.

“Many of our new hunters are hunters that have newly moved to the area,’’ said Brian Borkholder, secretary of the Arrowhead Bowhunters Alliance, which organizes and administers the city hunt. Borkholder said the COVD-19-related change in people’s work schedules and outdoor interests also may have spurred a few more new hunters.

Borkholder said the hefty increase in deer harvested in 2020 isn’t likely from a larger deer herd — the herd is estimated to be down in recent years after 16 seasons of hunting within the city — but because hunters during the pandemic spent more time and effort seeking a deer.

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“Probably the most likely reason would be folks that were either out of the workforce due to COVID-related closures, or folks working from home with flexible work hours that allowed for more time in the woods,’’ he said.

The number of deer harvested peaked at 604 back in 2010 and had been steadily dropping, in large part because the hunt did exactly what it was supposed to do: Reduce the number of deer in the city. The hunt was initiated in 2005 because the city's urban population of whitetails had exploded out of control, causing headaches for homeowners and gardeners and becoming a danger on city roads.

Few predators, ample food from gardens and yards and plenty of plowed paths to get around on in winter all allow for more deer in the city. The urban deer don't seem to see much impact of harsh winters, either, chowing on bird seed and illegally placed deer feed (all deer feeding is banned in the city.).

Since 2005, nearly 7,000 deer have been taken out of the city by hunters.

Pre-hunt certification required

Not any bowhunter with a hunting license can hunt within the city limits. All city hunters must register early each summer, enter a lottery run by the Arrowhead Bowhunters Alliance and be assigned a zone to hunt in. They also must pass an annual archery proficiency test.

Hunters need permission from private landowners to hunt but can only hunt in designated areas where there are adequate woods. In more developed neighborhoods the association also will assign hunters to harvest deer in "hot spots" where deer seem overly plentiful, but only if neighbors ask for deer reduction. (Residents who feel there are too many deer in their neighborhood should contact the city and ask to be declared a deer “hot spot’’ that would allow the Arrowhead Bowhunters Alliance to send in hunters.)

Rules require they stay away from homes and pack out any gut piles from the deer they arrow.

To keep the focus on population reduction and not trophy hunting, city hunters must also shoot an antlerless deer before they can harvest a buck, at least until Thanksgiving, after which point they can take any deer. State regulations allow hunters to harvest up to three deer in Duluth, but only one can be a buck.

New this year: 200-foot setback

Bowunters certified for the Duluth city hunt will be allowed to hunt within 200 feet of a residence. In years past, the minimum distance was 400 feet, which excluded large swathes of woods, often in areas where residents wanted more deer removed.

There is no statewide rule on bowhunting distance to homes; the 200-foot rule only applies in Duluth. The shorter setback was approved by the City Council.

Seasons

Minnesota bowhunting season runs Sept. 18 to Dec. 31.

Wisconsin’s bowhunting and crossbow season runs Sept. 18 to Jan. 9.

Did you know?

There are about 4.5 million bowhunters nationwide. Minnesota has about 100,000 licensed archery deer hunters, while Wisconsin has about 200,000.