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Duluth, Superior archery hunts work to reduce deer numbers

Duluth drops its requirement for hunters to take a doe before harvesting a buck.

bowhunter
A hunter sits in a stand during the Duluth city archery deer hunt. This year's city hunt begins Sept. 17.
Bob King / 2013 file / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Hunters participating in the annual city archery deer season will be able to take a buck this season without first harvesting a doe.

Officials from the city and Arrowhead Bowhunters Alliance, which manages the urban archery hunt, agreed on a one-year moratorium on the doe-first rule to see if it would lead to more deer being harvested.

The city bow hunt starts Sept. 17, opening day for Minnesota archery deer hunting season statewide. The archery season runs through Dec. 31.

In the past, in an effort to reduce deer numbers by removing more fawn-producing does from the population, city hunters were required to harvest an antlerless deer before being able to take a buck.

But since the city hunt started in 2005, the deer population has dramatically declined, at least in areas where hunters are allowed. That’s made it harder for archers to take deer, and the number of deer harvested has dropped from a high of 604 in 2010 to just 264 in 2021.

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Attenton deer hunters: Minnesota antlerless permit applications due by Sept. 8.

The requirement to shoot an antlerless deer first also has lead to an unusually high number of small bucks roaming the city, said Brian Borkdholder, secretary of the alliance.

“Hunters have been claiming that they no longer see very many antlerless deer. They only see small bucks running everywhere. We're hoping that by removing this requirement for a season, that these hunters will actually take out a good portion of the 1 1/2- and 2 1/2-year-old bucks, and bring the buck-to-doe ratio back into a better balance,” Borkholder said. “If it works, we may just see an increase in harvest for this year.”

This will be the 18th annual Duluth city bowhunt. Over the first 17 years hunters killed 7,192 deer within the city limits, in large part accomplishing the goal of reducing deer numbers. The hunt started after urban deer numbers exploded, leading to complaints from gardeners and an increase in deer-vehicle collisions on city roads.

Hunting is generally allowed only on large tracts of forested public land in the city or, with permission, on private forest land.

While deer numbers have noticeably declined in some areas since the hunt started, hunters can’t get to all neighborhoods, often because not enough forested land exists to hold a safe and effective hunt. In those areas deer numbers continue to rise with ample food for the critters and little threat from predators.

Overall participation in the city hunt peaked at 391 hunters in 2013 but has fallen to about 300 annually since then. Last year, 299 hunters participated with 165 of them registering 264 deer, including 197 does and fawns and 67 bucks.

The decline in harvest since the pack years doesn’t just reflect fewer deer and more difficult hunting, Borkholder noted, but also reflects a general decline in how many deer hunters are willing to take home each season. Several hunters also have moved on to other areas with higher deer densities, he noted. Other hunters are concerned that the city deer population is now too low to make it worth their while.

Pre-hunt certification required to hunt in Duluth

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. In addition to their state archery hunting license, all participants in the Duluth city hunt must purchase a $25 city hunting permit.

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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 veteran hunters to harvest deer in "hot spots" where deer seem overly plentiful, but only if neighbors ask for deer reduction.

Rules require hunters stay away from homes and pack out any gut piles from the deer they arrow. For more information, go to bowhuntersalliance.org .

A U of M study is looking for collision hotspots and how deer accidents can be reduced.

Got deer in Duluth? Want them gone?

If you are a landowner within the Duluth city limits experiencing deer problems, contact the ABA at infoduluthhunt@gmail.com . The Arrowhead Bowhunters Alliance will work with the city and landowners and determine if a focused bow hunt is possible and for their land to be included in the alliance’s “hot spot’’ program that allows hunting in areas otherwise off-limits if deer numbers are too high.

Landowners and our hunters need to understand that these spots are not set up to be private hunting reserves for one or two individuals. The alliance will need to be able to move multiple hunters into and out of the hot spots to maximize opportunity and harvest. Another criteria unique to hot spots is that currently they are open for antlerless harvest only.

doe, a deer, a white-tailed deer
Archery deer hunting season start Sept. 17 in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Hunting seasons held in Duluth and Superior city limits have worked to reduce high deer populations.
Contributed / Wisconsin DNR

Superior bow hunt halves urban deer population

A similar urban archery deer hunt in Superior that’s been underway for decades also appears to have reduced deer numbers substantially.

Greg Kessler, Wisconsin DNR wildlife manager in Douglas County, said archery hunters have been taking about 150 deer out of the city each season in recent years. That’s down from nearly 600 per year in 2005.

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Kessler said the urban hunt worked to noticeably reduce deer-vehicle collisions and complaints from homeowners about deer damage to gardens.
“We had some unbelievably high deer densities within the city back then and, to be honest, I don’t think anyone thought we’d be able to bring the numbers down with archery equipment,” Kesselr said. “It took a few years of those really high harvest levels, but it happened. Our deer densities in most areas now are probably half or less what they were 10 years ago.”

The number of state archery licenses in the city are unlimited for bucks-only hunting. But antlerless permits are limited and sell out quickly each August, with 300 permits available this year — 200 for public land and 100 for private land — and all of them were claimed quickly.

In addition to their DNR-issued hunting license and antlerless permits anyone hunting in the city needs a free permit from the city. Archery/crossbow hunting for deer within the Superior city limits is only allowed in certain areas in the city. Hunters must provide their state customer ID number issued by the Department of Natural Resources to get a permit. All state regulations apply.

The Superior archery hunt harvest peaked at 590 in 2005 and dropped to 135 last year, the lowest number in the past 17 seasons.

“The city deer population is down to where we don’t get complaints any more, so now it’s more maintenance, keeping the population where it is, as opposed to bringing it down,” Kessler said.

Wisconsin’s archery season runs Sept. 17 to Jan 8. For any questions regarding hunting regulations, contact the Superior DNR office at 715-392-7988.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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