EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. — Hunters shouldn’t lack for deer across northwest Minnesota, but unprecedented wet conditions and standing crops in many areas could force them to change their tactics when the state’s firearms deer season opens Saturday, Nov. 9.
"I’m thinking things are looking pretty good, deer population-wise, but hunters are going to have to account for wet conditions," said John Williams, northwest region wildlife supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Bemidji. "The other issue, I think, that’s going to be impactful unless things really turn around and farmers are able to get out there, is we have a lot of standing corn in the area, and that’s going to be a refuge for deer for the most part.
"So, between the standing corn and the water issues, I think it may be a little more difficult to harvest a deer this year, depending on where you’re hunting."
Minnesota hunters last year registered 155,975 whitetails during the firearms deer season, a success rate of 31.7%. Despite preseason predictions, the harvest was down from 2017, when hunters registered 167,500 deer for a success rate of 33.7% during the firearms season.
“I still can’t explain that, but it was still a good season,” Williams said.
This year’s wet conditions will require hunters to do “a little more homework,” he said.
“We know that in some cases, deer will go to an area that’s maybe higher but surrounded by a lot of water where hunters typically wouldn’t access it,” Williams said. “We see that in normal years; I think this year is going to be that and much more.”
Getting to that favorite hunting spot also could be a challenge, he said. The conditions will be especially significant for hunters in counties dominated by flatlands such as Kittson, Marshall and Roseau, Williams says.
“I think a person is going to have to be real cognizant of where they’re hunting and how those brushlands or wetlands are going to affect trying to get in and out of (places),” he said.
Nearly every permit area in the DNR’s northwest region has regulations and bag limits that are a “notch” more liberal than last year, Williams said. Hunters in permit areas designated as “intensive” can take up to three deer, “managed” areas have a two-deer limit and “hunter’s choice” regulations allow hunters to shoot either a buck or a doe.
Hunters in areas with “lottery” designation are limited to bucks-only unless they received a limited number of antlerless permits by lottery.
Williams is known for using a pendulum analogy to describe management efforts to keep deer numbers from swinging too low or too high.
“We’ve got a couple of places where we’re trying to kick the pendulum back toward goal — in other words, it’s too high,” he said. “(Permit Area) 105 in the Baudette and east area is one of the areas where we’ve got a little problem with deer on agricultural crops, and then we have a place down by Fergus Falls east — it’s kind of a little band there — you look at the deer map, and it’s all intensive.”
The DNR is planning extensive efforts to test for chronic wasting disease in southeast Minnesota and areas near Brainerd and St. Cloud, Minn., where the disease has been found. Northwest Minnesota remains CWD-free, but DNR staff from the region will be involved in the testing effort, Williams said.
“CWD really is occupying the entire (Section of Wildlife) staff right now,” he said. “We had some of our early training, we’re doing a tremendous amount of work to set up check stations, to set up maybe even dumpsters for collection and carcass disposal.
“We’ve got all sorts of things we’re trying to do so whatever is being harvested within those CWD zones does not move unless it is clean. That just takes an awful lot of logistics to make that happen.”
Deer season in the 200-series permit areas of the state, including northwest Minnesota, continues through Sunday, Nov. 17, and through Sunday, Nov. 24 in the 100-series permit areas. Additional info on season dates and other regulations is available on the DNR website at mndnr.gov or the 2019 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations guide.