BRAINERD, Minn. — The Brainerd lakes area is bustling with activity as deer hunters make last-minute stops before heading to fields and forests for the Minnesota deer rifle opener Saturday.
The feeling seemed to be one of optimism over the somewhat dismal season of 2014, where some 400,000 hunters harvested about 140,000 deer. A mild winter and a 2014 conservative hunting season appears to have improved numbers for much of the hunting zones in central and northern Minnesota, according to Wildlife Population and Regulation Program Manager Steve Merchant of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. In order to continue that growth, hunters are allowed one deer per license throughout most of the state. Goal-setting groups in and around the Brainerd lakes are seeking population increases of 25 to 50 percent.
“As a general rule of thumb most deer permit areas that were looked at in 2015 resulted in a desire to grow the herd, thus conservative (lottery) designations are still appropriate,” Merchant said in an email.
So with numbers on the rise, hunters can hope for a better chance of bringing home some meat.
“The rut is on,” Adam Beimert said while at work Thursday afternoon at Beimert Outdoors east of Pillager, Minn. He noted he has been watching bucks chase does for almost two weeks in the Pillager area. He recommends that the latest scent attractants have been very effective in the last couple weeks for bringing in bucks.
Hunters were busy loading up on scent attractants and bullets at the area outfitter, while Beimert was busy cutting arrows, prepping bows for bow hunters and chatting with rifle hunters. While disappointed to be working during the peak of the deer rut, he was excited about the many bucks he has been seeing in his hunt area. He bow hunts in areas 248 and 246. Zone 248 is an either buck or doe, one-deer limit, while 246 is a one deer, bucks-only zone.
“What I noticed in 246 is that there are a lot of deer, but all the bucks are little and in 248 the bucks there are big,” Beimert said.
Beimert has been hunting as much as possible through the archery season for 16 seasons. He feels hunters will have a better chance in coming years as the population rebounds.
“The Minnesota deer population is really out of whack,” Beimert said.
He sympathizes with the many hunters who were frustrated with the over harvest of the state’s deer population over the last decade. He noted after just one conservative deer hunting season and a relatively easy winter in 2014, numbers are rebounding. He cautions hunters to use good judgment if they want to see that population grow to trophy deer.
“People need to realize they can’t shoot the 1½-to-3-year-old buck,” Beimert said. “If you want a chance at a trophy, you need discipline. You kill that little deer, you can’t get the big one later.”
“Minnesota needs a four-point restriction,” Beimert said referring to a restriction that would prohibit shooting deer with four points or less. “You just can’t shoot the little deer.”
Peder Lodermeier, Minnesota Deer Hunters Association Region 5 director, said he will be at the Governor’s Deer Hunting Opener with the Turn In Poachers trailer sharing news about how to stop poaching in Minnesota.
He drives bus in the area and has noticed an increase of deer roadside, alive and dead. He expects hunters will find more deer this year in the Brainerd area. Meanwhile, he’s heard reports from the Crosby area of few deer on area game cameras.
“There were fewer deer probably shot last year,” Lodermeier said. “With fewer tags issued, it should bring the population up quickly.”
Hunters and outdoor enthusiasts in general shared a feeling that numbers needed to improve in much of the central and northern parts of Minnesota. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources shared comments on what the permit changes had done to achieve those population goals throughout the state.
Northeast Minnesota/Brainerd lakes
In northeastern Minnesota, last winter wasn’t mild, but it was milder than average. However, compared to some other areas of the state, a deer population recovery in the region can be slower because of several factors, including a shorter growing season, fewer fawns per doe on average, fewer deer per square mile, winter severity and predation.
In the southern portions of the northeastern region, winter severity was not as extreme, but population numbers are still below target and are being managed for increases.
Duluth and some Iron Range communities will hold special in-town hunts to reduce the number of city deer. Permit areas around the Aitkin and Brainerd areas will generally be designated as lottery with a limited number of antlerless tags issued, and more permit areas will be restricted to bucks-only the farther one travels north. Permit areas in the moose range are designated lottery to maintain lower deer populations.
Hunters who frequent the Pillsbury State Forest in Cass and Crow Wing counties can expect to encounter active salvage logging operations and other cleanup activities throughout the fall and winter. The activity follows the July 12 supercell storm that toppled trees in portions of the state forest and surrounding area between Brainerd and Nisswa.
Hunters in central Minnesota should expect to see more deer than last year although many of the permit areas will continue to have restrictive harvest regulations in order to achieve new population goals.
An exception is hunters in the 241 and 214 areas in and around portions of Wadena and Todd counties will be able to shoot two deer by purchasing a bonus tag.
“In 241 the goal-setting team reached consensus that the population should be stabilized,” Merchant said. “The change in 241 from Hunter Choice to Managed reflects that decision because the conservative 2014 hunting season coupled with the mild winter last year has resulted in deer herd growth. So in order to stabilize, we need additional antlerless harvest.”
Deer numbers in the northwestern region appear to be up from last year. Last winter brought mild temperatures and little snow. A conservative 2014 deer season with a low number of antlerless permits issued has resulted in more does and fawns on the landscape. Hunters can expect to see more deer from the stand this year.
If you go
Saturday legal shooting may begin a half hour before sunrise, 6:37 a.m., and a half hour after sunset, 5:24 p.m, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory.
According to the National Weather Service, the Brainerd lakes area can expect mostly sunny conditions with a high near 42 during the day and a low of 32 for the evening. A west wind of 5 to 10 miles per hour will become south in the afternoon.
Sunday looks warmer with sunny skies and a high near 52 and a low of 39.
Temperatures continue to hold near 50 degrees into the early part of next week, a contrast to the heavy snow and cold experienced during last year’s opener.
The DNR strongly advises hunters to review new deer hunting regulations, permit area designations and boundary changes. Go to www.mndnr.gov/hunting/deer for current and up-to-date information.
Deer must be registered within 48 hours after the deer was taken, before being processed and before antlers are removed. Hunters can register deer they harvest by making a telephone call, using the Internet or bringing deer to a big-game registration station. Hunters need to provide accurate information when registering. It is a violation to register a deer as taken in a permit area different from where it was actually taken. Go to www.mndnr.gov/gameregistrationhelp for registration instructions for all methods. Registration is important because it provides harvest data used for management of deer populations.
The 2015 season will be the second year of a management approach to rebuild deer populations in areas below population goals. The DNR is projecting the 2015 total harvest to be between 140,000 to 155,000 deer. The 2014 total harvest, after last year’s conservative season, was just over 139,000. Go to www.mndnr.gov/deer for more information on deer management.
Stoke the digital campfire
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