ST. PAUL — Deer hunters are likely to see more deer this fall, according to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wildlife officials. But that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to shoot a lot more deer.
A milder winter in 2014-2015 allowed more deer to survive and increased fawn production this past spring. Still, DNR wildlife managers are trying to rebuild the deer herd by being conservative in the number of antlerless permits issued during Minnesota’s firearms deer season, which opens Saturday.
Just seeing more deer is likely to raise the hopes of hunters, said Craig Engwall, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.
“I think there’s more optimism,” Engwall said. “I think that with the good — meaning mild — winter we had and the deer we’ve seen, it’s encouraging. I’ve seen so many more does with twins than I did the previous year. It’s really encouraging.”
Those does will remain off-limits in many units across Northeastern Minnesota where bucks-only hunting remains in effect, but that’s as it should be, Engwall said.
“We’re pleased that it’s still bucks-only in a lot of the northern zones that took a real hit in the winter of 2013-14,” he said.
Bucks-only regulations are important to increase the deer population in areas hit hard by winter, said Steve Merchant, wildlife populations and regulations program manager with the DNR.
“This year, (hunters) may see deer they can’t shoot, but this helps provide more opportunity in the future,” Merchant said. “We are continuing to build the deer population across much of the state, and we do that by harvesting fewer antlerless deer.”
For the 2015 season, one-deer limits remain in most of the state. This season will mark the second year of a management approach to rebuild deer populations based on goal-setting and listening sessions that indicated a desire for more deer in many areas.
After essentially a bucks-only hunting season in Northeastern Minnesota last fall, this fall’s firearms deer season will see several permit areas designated “lottery” units, where hunters could apply (by Sept. 10) for permits to shoot an antlerless deer.
Where’s buck sign?
Some hunters have said they’re not seeing much sign of buck activity — rubs and scrapes — so far this fall. That doesn’t surprise Tom Rusch, DNR area wildlife manager at Tower.
“When you have low deer densities, which we definitely have,” Rusch said, “you don’t have the competition between bucks because they’re so spread apart. Rubs and scrapes are their billboards. But they don’t have to make the rubs and scrapes because there’s no competition.”
Hunters should have one thing going for them, as they do nearly every year in Minnesota’s firearms deer hunt — the rut, or the peak of deer breeding activity.
“Buck movement should be good early in the season, as it coincides with the chasing phase of the rut,” Rusch said. “Breeding activity should peak during mid-season as the annual rutting transitions into the reproductive phase.”
Engwall, like most deer hunters, remains optimistic. It takes only one buck showing up to change a hunter’s whole season.
“Last year, I hunted the first five days of the season, and I didn’t see a deer,” Engwall said. “I saw a lot of wolf sign but no deer. With what I’m seeing now in the woods, it’ll be very exciting to have a couple does walk by. That will be plenty of excitement, even if a buck doesn’t come by, but maybe one will.”
Last fall, when Minnesota firearms hunters killed 140,000 deer, the success rate for hunters was 25 percent, according to the DNR.
Governor’s opener set for Mountain Iron
This year’s Minnesota Governor’s Deer Opener will be held in Mountain Iron from Thursday to Nov. 8. The event is sponsored by the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, Explore Minnesota Tourism, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Iron Range Tourism Bureau and other partners.
Gov. Mark Dayton will be there to welcome hunters. Media and hunting industry representatives from around the state will gather and celebrate the tradition of Minnesota deer hunting at several community events. Some events on Thursday and Friday are open to the public, including a dinner on Thursday ($35, tickets required, call (218) 259-1368) and a breakfast ($8) on Friday (pay upon arrival).
For more information on the Governor’s Deer Opener, visit mngovernorsdeeropener.com.
Buy licenses early
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources encourages hunters to purchase their licenses early to avoid lines and potential system issues associated with high sales volume.
The 2015 Minnesota firearms deer season begins Saturday. Many of Minnesota’s estimated 500,000 deer hunters wait until Thursday or Friday before the season opener to buy licenses.
“Last year we sold more than 120,000 licenses on those two days,” said Steve Michaels, DNR licensing program director. “Buying early lets you avoid the lines and spend more time getting ready to hunt.”
Deer licenses can be purchased at DNR license agents across Minnesota, by phone at (888) 665-4236 or online at mndnr.gov/buyalicense. There are additional fees for telephone and Internet transactions.
Hunters who purchase licenses by phone and Internet will receive their deer license and tags by mail, which can take three to five business days to arrive, so hunters who choose these options should allow enough time for delivery. Hunters must have a valid deer license and tag in their possession when hunting deer.