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Minnesota firearms deer harvest down 11% statewide, 16% in the northeast

Lower deer numbers in the far north and bad weather during season combined for poor hunter success.

deer hunters
Deer hunters have had a tough time of it during Minnesota's firearms season so far, with registrations down 11% statewide and 16% in the northeast. Several days of bad weather likely kept some hunters out of the woods.
John Myers / 2011 file / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Deer hunters across much of Minnesota have had a tough firearms season so far with registrations down 11% statewide from a year ago and 17% below the five-year average.

The 110,435 deer registered through Tuesday is the lowest at this point of the season since 2014, said Barb Keller, big-game program coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

In the 100-numbered permit areas that include all of Northeastern Minnesota, the harvest so far of 25,218 is down 16% from 2021 — a low-harvest year on its own — and 35% below the five-year average.

A combination of lower deer numbers in the far north, coupled with unusual weather during the season across parts of the state — heavy rain, strong winds, snow and ice storms — apparently combined to reduce the amount of time hunters were in the woods and the number of deer they saw and shot.

“Certainly we didn’t expect to be down, or even, in the 200 or 300 areas. We thought we had more deer … and I think you can attribute that decline to the weather” during the first days of the season, Keller said.

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Cooler but drier weather the second weekend, coupled with the Friday Veterans Day holiday for some hunters, helped boost the totals in some areas, Keller noted.

The season in the 100-numbered permit areas continues through Nov. 20, but by far most of the deer harvested in most seasons are in the first nine days of the season.

In the 200-numbered permit areas that covers all of northwestern, western and central regions of the state — where the season ended Nov. 13 — the harvest of 74,258 was down 9% from 2021 and 21% below the five-year average.

In the 300-numbered permit areas in southeastern Minnesota, where the first season ended Nov. 13, the harvest of 10,959 was up 2% from 2021 but down 14% for the five-year average. The 300-numbered areas will see a second season Nov. 19-27.

Keller said the ongoing dearth of deer in the northeastern corner of the state continues to be a vexing issue. While wildlife managers are working to boost winter habitat for deer — thermal cover for shelter and browse for food — there isn’t much they can do to impact winter severity. There has been a string of deep-snow winters, including eight of the past 10, that have continued to hold deer numbers down. Not only do more deer die during deep-snow winters, but the does that survive have fewer fawns and deer are more susceptible to predators like wolves. While deer in agricultural areas get more nutrition to survive winter, deer in heavily forested areas often lack quality food.

“Harvest is our only major impact on deer numbers, and our biggest tool for that is controlling antlerless permits,” Keller said. “We have been very conservative with permits and harvest in the northeast, but the deer just haven’t responded. … We need something else. Like maybe a few mild winters in a row.”

Reports were consistently negative, with pockets of success.
Minnesota Conservation Officer John Slatinski of Ray

While reports vary across such a large state with varied habitat and weather patterns, conservation officers in the northern half of the state were especially vivid this week in painting a picture of a slow season with few hunters and fewer deer bagged.

“The end of the firearms deer season saw very few deer hunters afield and even fewer deer harvested,” noted Steve Chihak who patrols the woods and waters near Moorhead.

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“Many hunters lamented the lack of deer,” said officer Chris Vinton of Perham.

“There were significantly fewer deer hunters out in the field during the closing weekend of the season than there have been in past years,” said officer Bill Landmark of Pelican Rapids.

Officer John Slatinski of Ray reported “many hunters were contacted, with most concerned about the lack of deer and perceived abundance of predators. Reports were consistently negative, with pockets of success.”

And officer Troy Fondie of Orr said the past week “was filled with listening to complaining about the lack of deer and high wolf numbers. Deer-hunting activity remains nonexistent. Few hunters were found afield.”

Officer Duke Broughten of Aurora reported “few deer hunters were observed in the field this week. Deer hunting success is very low.”

The DNR has a rough goal for hunters to shoot 200,000 deer annually, but hasn’t hit that goal for more than a decade. Hunters came close in 2020, when 197,315 deer were registered, but haven't topped 200,000 since 2010.

The man from Greaney shot a spike buck opening morning of Minnesota’s firearms deer hunting season.

License sales down, too

According to DNR data, through Monday, Nov. 14, there were 409,724 firearms deer hunting licenses sold this season. That’s down 2% from 2021 and 3% from 2020. It’s down 11.5% from 462,365 licenses sold at that point in 2002.

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While a few more licenses might be sold for the 100-and 300-numbered deer permit areas, the season is over in the 200-numbered permit areas.

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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