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N.E. Minn. deer harvest down about 20 percent

Lots of hunters say they just didn't see that many deer during Minnesota's firearms deer season, which ended Sunday. Registration figures back up their observations.

Lots of hunters say they just didn't see that many deer during Minnesota's firearms deer season, which ended Sunday. Registration figures back up their observations.

The firearms deer harvest was down 19 percent from last year in Northeastern Minnesota and down about 11 percent statewide, according to preliminary registrations at Electronic Licensing System stations.

Wildlife officials in Northeastern Minnesota say the drop was due to tough weather on opening weekend of the season and aggressive management that has reduced the number of deer across the region. For several years, limits have been liberal in permit areas across the northeast, and this fall an early antlerless deer hunt Oct. 11-12 was added to trim the herd.

The buck harvest was down 18 percent in Northeastern Minnesota, according to Department of Natural Resources figures. Minnesota's firearms season ran from Nov. 8 to Nov. 23.

The weather was cold and windy on opening weekend. That made it difficult for hunters to stay on their stands for extended periods. And deer typically don't like to move much in windy conditions. The harvest for the first three days of the season was down 24 percent from last year, according to the DNR.

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"Some years, upwards of 70 percent of our deer go those first three or four days," said Jeff Lightfoot, DNR regional wildlife manager at Grand Rapids. "You can't recover if there's that much decline."

Lightfoot also thinks deer numbers are not what hunters have become accustomed to in recent years with record or near-record harvests. The DNR held a series of meetings with stakeholders across the region about three years ago. Consensus of those groups was that deer numbers needed to be reduced. Deer were taking too great a toll on forestry plantings, gardens and orchards, and they were causing too many car crashes, the public told wildlife officials.

"Almost without exception in every one of our permit areas, there were recommendations for 20 percent reductions [in deer numbers]," Lightfoot said.

Liberal limits have helped reduce that herd, he said. But hunters haven't fallen on hard times.

"To talk to people, you'd think we were down 30 percent," said Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association based in Grand Rapids. "Twenty years ago, we would have thought this was a phenomenal season."

"The harvest was still over 60,000 [in Northeastern Minnesota]," Lightfoot said. "That will still be in our top 10 or top eight all-time."

It wasn't a bad season, just a different season, Johnson said.

"It's interesting how, as hunters, we're conditioned to the good times," he said. "Maybe we have to spend more time appreciating the good times and accepting the times that aren't quite as good."

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It remains to be seen whether an early antlerless season will be held in any permit areas of Northeastern Minnesota next October as occurred this year, Lightfoot said.

"First, a lot of it will hinge on the winter weather," he said. "Second, we'll have to look at our population models and see where our deer densities are."

WISCONSIN'S OPENER

Wisconsin's nine-day gun deer season opened Saturday, and the harvest was down 22 percent from last year over opening weekend, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. A total of 133,828 deer were registered over the weekend.

The buck harvest was down 25 percent.

Very cold conditions greeted hunters on Saturday morning, and a later than usual opening weekend meant that hunters missed the peak of the deer breeding season.

Related Topics: HUNTING
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