Online, on phone, on target
Don't let the thin lines at deer registration stations fool you.
Through the first three days, this has been a successful firearms deer hunting season in the Brainerd lakes area. Probably not the type of activity that would bog down the Internet or wreak havoc with cell phones. But activity on both - and, it appears, in the field - has been brisk.
According to Gary Drotts, DNR wildlife manager in Brainerd, harvest numbers are up considerably in most of the permit areas around Brainerd through the first three days of the season, when 60-70 percent of the total harvest is typically taken, Drotts has said.
This year, 7,588 deer were harvested in the Brainerd area's five permit areas in the first three days of the Minnesota firearms deer hunting season, meaning that if Drotts' estimates are correct, the total harvest should easily surpass 2009's total of 11,025 and possibly 2008's total of 12,374 and fall somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 - closer to what the DNR is shooting for as it helps manage the deer population, Drotts has said.
Gaudy numbers have been the norm regarding the new form of registration, too - for the first time, hunters have been able to register those deer online or by phone.
"Cell phone/Internet registration has been significant," Drotts said. "It ranges from 46.6 percent in Permit Area 173 (Aitkin area) to 67.6 percent in Permit Area 246 (northwest Brainerd area)."
Count Jim Kalkofen in that new-age camp. Kalkofen, an avid outdoorsman from Baxter, shot a buck of a lifetime on opening day - he scored it at 152-7/8 on the Boone and Crockett scale.
He registered the buck from his home computer.
"It took maybe two minutes," Kalkofen said. "It was real simple. I was impressed. It saved me from standing in line. People like to get their deer processed, and I was able to register it at my leisure. I didn't have to panic about getting everything done. The online process was easy, simple and cut out the middle man."
Kalkofen said he hunted somewhere in the greater Brainerd lakes area - the same area he hunted last year. By the number of shots he heard, he figured harvest was down, at least in that area.
"I hunted the same land I hunted in 2009 and I estimated that the shots I heard were 75 percent less than last year," he said. "The shooting was way down."
But according to Drotts' figures, the harvest is way up in the area over 2009. Drotts' findings through the first three days of the season:
• "Brainerd area deer harvest is up 19.9 percent, Aitkin is up 36.5 percent (Brainerd has the same permit areas this year as last, but Aitkin's changed quite a bit. This makes Aitkin's year-to-year comparison a little less reliable, but still points to a strong increase in Aitkin County).
• "Permit Area 172: Down 15.5 percent. Antlered harvest is up quite a bit, but antlerless harvest is down significantly, expected due to the fact we went lottery here this year.
• "Permit Area 242 (core Brainerd area): Up 18.9 percent. Antlered and antlerless harvests are both up.
• "Permit Area 246: Up 27.5 percent. Antlered and antlerless harvests are both up. Was lottery this year, but may get back to the point where we can go to managed next year.
• "Permit Area 247: Up 9.4 percent. Antlered harvest is up, antlerless down, expected due to the fact that this permit area is lottery and we decreased permits here.
"Permit Area 249 (south of Brainerd in the Garrison and Lake Mille Lacs area): Up 67.5 percent. Antlered harvest is up. Antlerless harvest made a huge jump, somewhat expected since we went from lottery to managed here this year, but the increase is even larger than I expected."
Drotts said "permit area changes for Aitkin are not trackable by individual permit areas this year due to the fact that 154 and 174 changed to 155, 171 and 173 this year. So a general statement that deer harvest in the Aitkin area is up 30-35 percent is the best we can do at this time."
In the five Aitkin area permit areas, 3,466 deer have been taken, an increase of 36.5 percent, according to Drotts' figures.
According to the DNR, the state harvest numbers through the first three days also were up, just ever so slightly - 85,163 this year from 85,074 last year, when hunters in the state took about 195,000 deer.
"Looks like we're doing a lot better than that here in north-central Minnesota," Drotts said.
Deer hunter numbers also are up this year. As of Monday, the DNR had issued 431,268 firearms licenses, up from 423,883 last year. Youth licenses accounted for a chunk of the increase, including a hike in licenses for 10- and 11-year-old hunters.