GRAND FORKS — Minnesota deer hunters so far this fall have registered more than 104,000 whitetails as of Wednesday, Nov. 13, a tally that includes the archery, youth and firearms deer seasons to date, according to the interactive harvest summary the Department of Natural Resources posts on its website.
Minnesota’s regular firearms deer season opened Saturday, Nov. 9. Archery season opened Sept. 14 and continues through Dec. 31.
In northwest Minnesota, Jeremy Woinarowicz, DNR conservation officer for the Thief River Falls West station, said the opening weekend seemed quieter than recent openers. Many farmers still were harvesting crops, and a cold snap that began Sunday likely kept some hunters from going afield, Woinarowicz said.
“I just think that’s put the numbers down for opening weekend, so (deer) harvest must be down just a little bit, too,” Woinarowicz said. “And it’s way colder; some years, when it’s 60 degrees, I have a lot more folks out than when it’s -2.”
This year’s Minnesota firearms deer opener appears to have coincided with the peak of the rut, when bucks are most active in pursuing does, Woinarowicz said, sometimes at the expense of their better natural instincts.
“Boy, have we seen a lot of bucks chasing,” he said. “Everywhere we drove, I had bucks chasing does or a buck standing with the doe alone out in the middle of a field.”
The temptation was too much for some hunters, Woinarowicz said, and he wrote “more than a few” citations for shooting from the road, which is illegal in Minnesota.
Trespass complaints also were up, he said.
“When it’s cold, people can’t sit in their stands as long so they jump in their pickups, drive around and try to shoot deer from their vehicles or from the road,” Woinarowicz said. “So, unfortunately, the temperature kind of dictates how busy we are with trespass calls.”
Hunters had purchased 322,723 regular firearms deer licenses through the first weekend of season, the DNR said, down slightly from 325,434 licenses during the same period last year.
Tough to gauge
In North Dakota, hunters who ventured out for the noon opener Friday, Nov. 8, had pleasant enough weather, a pattern that continued through Saturday, but the mercury plummeted after that.
Jeb Williams, wildlife chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck, found that out firsthand when he ventured to western North Dakota to hunt Sunday and Monday.
Family commitments had prevented him from hunting Friday and Saturday.
Hunting near Beach, N.D., Williams said they encountered about 6 inches of snow, brisk winds and temperatures of 17 below zero when they started hunting.
“Conditions were tough,” Williams said. “That was as cold of an opening weekend of deer season as I could remember as far as those two days that we were able to hunt.
“Now, if you were hunting Friday and Saturday, it was pretty pleasant in most areas. But Sunday and Monday were different stories.”
The weather affected their hunting success, and it’s back to the drawing board to try and fill their tags this weekend, Williams said.
“We saw deer — we saw a good number of deer,” he said. “We were pleased with what we saw. Now it’s just a matter of going back.”
The opening weekend, in many ways, was like the entire fall in terms of miserable weather, he said.
“It’s really difficult to get any type of a read on what’s going on out there simply because of the weather,” Williams said. “It was a factor on the (opening) weekend. I noticed that, too, just as far as seeing people out and about.”
Hunting reports in North Dakota are purely anecdotal because Game and Fish doesn’t require hunters to register their deer like Minnesota does, instead relying on a survey it mails to a random sample of hunters after the season.
But if traffic at one local meat processor is any indication, North Dakota deer hunters are having a good season.
“They’re doing good — I actually think they’re up from last year,” said Becky Paul, of Weber Meats in Reynolds, N.D. “I thought it would be a lot slower because of all the crops and how wet it is, but it is up from last year so that’s good.
“And the deer are huge. We’ve maybe had a handful of smaller deer come in, but the majority of them are huge.”
North Dakota’s deer gun season continues through Sunday, Nov. 24. Minnesota’s firearms deer season continues through Sunday, Nov. 17, in the 200- and 300-series permit areas of northwest and southeast Minnesota and through Sunday, Nov. 24, in the 100-series permit areas of northeast Minnesota.
Season in the 300-series permit areas reopens Saturday, Nov. 23, and continues through Sunday, Dec. 1.