Deer Plan: Locals share hopes for state's herd management

The future of deer management in Minnesota is on the drawing board with the hope of creating the first statewide plan that could shape the future for 10-plus years.

Area residents and landowners share ideas on what should be addressed within the statewide deer plan at an input meeting Tuesday at Central Lakes College in Brainerd. Michael Johnson/Brainerd Dispatch
Area residents and landowners share ideas on what should be addressed within the statewide deer plan at an input meeting Tuesday at Central Lakes College in Brainerd. Michael Johnson/Brainerd Dispatch

The future of deer management in Minnesota is on the drawing board with the hope of creating the first statewide plan that could shape the future for 10-plus years.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is in the process of hosting 12 public engagement meetings throughout the state to gather input on the direction of that plan. A meeting Tuesday night at Central Lakes College in Brainerd included almost 50 area residents and landowners interested in hearing and sharing ideas.

Those in attendance fired away from a variety of views including lifelong hunters, landowners, foresters, crop and beef farmers and wildlife viewers. The format of the meeting allowed the crowd to break into small groups and create lists of major points related to seven topics.

Those topics included: deer health; deer population management; communication, public involvement and accountability; hunter and non-hunter satisfaction; healthy habitat; impacts of deer on other resources (crops, forests, etc.); and funding for deer management.

Subtopics of these topics were discussed and will be used to create a draft plan, which will also be open for public feedback. When complete, likely in spring 2018, the plan will identify goals and strategies for each of the topics to better manage the deer population into the future.


In addition to these public meetings, a 20-member Deer Management Plan Advisory Committee representing diverse interests also meets monthly to follow the process. One lakes area member of the advisory committee includes Dennis Thompson of Aitkin. He shared at the meeting that he was appointed to the committee by the Minnesota Forest Resource Partnership.

Thompson works as a forester and said he has a passion for deer hunting and cares about the future of the species, but his special focus in the plan was focused on herbivory, or the eating of plants, especially living ones, by deer.

"It's difficult to regenerate certain types of tree species," Thompson said.

An overpopulation of deer or a high-concentration of deer can lead to a loss of certain plant species. And as Minnesota DNR's big game program leader Adam Murkowski explained, the removal of native plants can lead to an increase in invasive species filling the void and in many cases, those invasives are not part of the deer diet.

"There are thousands of dollars spent on protecting trees," Thompson said.

Thompson was glad to be on the committee and hopeful he could create a change to improve the chances for deer and the forests.

"I think with any plan you write, whether timber harvest or walleye management, there are going to be circumstances where the plan is no longer viable," Thompson said.

Even so, he felt it was of utmost importance to finally put a plan together on what he said was arguably the state's most popular game animal.


Outside of plants and trees, many others that came out to speak focused on increasing deer size and abundance.

To grow the herd, suggestions included keeping tag limits to one deer per person; party hunting should be reconsidered as ethical actions were in question; allowing all hunters to use a crossbow and use scopes on muzzleloaders in order to limit injured deer; state management of wolves; more research on effects of wild turkey on deer numbers; avoiding negative effects of Lyme disease spread by deer; and funding for deer wintering areas to name a few out of many.

Deer size needed to increase in order to increase hunter satisfaction, some said.

Suggestions included implementing a four-point restriction, meaning bucks must be four points or larger to be shot. Increasing education about proper land management that would give deer the nutrition needed to grow large was also recommended.

Education, communication

Others in attendance drove home the need for better education beyond firearms safety. One group spoke at length about the need for the current and future generations of deer hunters to better understand the biology of deer and what makes for great deer habitat.

One local hunter, Wade Miller of Baxter, was concerned about the lack of education and hoped to gain some new information from the meeting.

"I think the DNR must do a poor job of educating their hunters because of the varying degree of information provided at this input meeting," Miller said. "I think if the DNR did a better job of educating, I think citizens would have more valuable input. Because there is too much contradiction going on here."


He added that his main desire for the state was good deer health and stewardship opportunities.

Another attendee Todd Gabrielson, who owns land between Pillager and Pine River, agreed that education was needed to create more hunter satisfaction.

"I'd like to see the DNR do a better job at outreach programs, educating hunters and educating fishermen on the realities of resource capacities, and adjusting our harvest expectation to match those resource capacities," Gabrielson said.

Gabrielson feared the mindset was that everyone should be able to go out and bag a deer. His opinion was that hunters are more numerous and are better at harvesting deer than they ever have been. He felt that mindset needs to change.

"I'd like to see the state do more in terms of managing the quality of the buck herd," Gabrielson added.

He, like many others, mentioned putting in a statewide antler restriction.

"Because I think the quality of the hunt is as important as the fact that we are able to go hunt," Gabrielson said. "If you want to bring the young hunters in, there is nothing more exciting than getting a chance at a nice animal or having a chance to see one."

Murkowski explained that the deer plan and these engagement meetings are focused on hearing and understanding what the public hopes to see come out of the deer plan. In this way the DNR hoped to increase communication and transparency with those passionate about the deer herd. He also said this plan could help shape what future generations get to enjoy.


"If you think about the next generation of hunters ... the next generation is much more likely to be female, is much more likely to be diverse," Murkowski said. "The reason why they hunt may be different than our average hunter now.

"We want to make sure that we have a plan that is meaningful going forward," Murkowski said.

Comments will be summarized in March and shared with DNR staff and advisory members. A second comment period will be offered once the draft plan is written.

Visit to learn more about the deer plan, including notes from advisory committee meetings or about deer plans from other states.


Be heard, regarding the herd

Comments can still be submitted to the MN DNR through March 5. Here are three ways.

• Send email to,


• Mail a letter. Attn: Adam Murkowski, Deer Plan 500 Lafayette Rd, Saint Paul, MN 55155,

• Fill out online questionnaire at

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