- PAUL — Preliminary firearms deer harvest numbers for the opening weekend through Monday in Minnesota was 68,401, up 6.3 percent from last year, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced Tuesday.
The statewide buck harvest was up 8.5 percent and made up 68 percent of total harvest.
Craig Engwall of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, hunting near Dora Lake northwest of Deer River, was pleased to hear of the increases in the deer harvest.
“Those are sound numbers,” Engwall said. “They’re where I thought they would be and where they should be. I think it’s encouraging.”
The state’s firearms deer season opened Saturday and continues through Nov. 22. The majority of each fall’s deer harvest occurs during the first three or four days of the season, DNR officials say.
The harvest of antlerless deer was expected to be low again this season because the DNR was conservative in issuing permits that allow hunters to take those deer. The deer population is still recovering from losses suffered in recent years due to severe winters, state wildlife officials say.
Last year, the firearms deer harvest was about 140,000, the lowest since the early 1980s. Before this fall’s season, DNR officials estimated this year’s deer kill would be between 140,000 and 155,000.
Scott VanValkenburg of Fisherman’s Corner in Pike Lake wasn’t surprised that the first three days’ harvest was up.
“It seems to me there are more deer this year than last year,” said VanValkenburg, who has been out hunting.
So far, though, deer seem to be moving more before and after shooting hours than during the day, he said, making it tough for hunters. In spite of that, his shop had a good run of hunters coming in to register deer on Monday, he said.
John Chalstrom, who processes deer at Chalstrom’s Bait and Tackle, says most of the deer he’s taken in have been shot closer to Duluth than farther north. VanValkenburg, too, says areas closer to Duluth have produced more deer than areas more distant.
“The deer population around here is better,” VanValkenburg said. “But up by Island Lake, Wolf Lake (near Brimson), Pequaywan (Lake) — it’s tough up there.”
At Hugo’s Bar in Brimson, bucks registered in the annual big-buck contest through the first three days of the season are down about 20 percent, said Jody Hepola of Hugo’s. A total of 26 bucks had been weighed by midday Tuesday, Hepola said. About 450 hunters paid to enter the contest.
Despite the lack of deer, hunters are holding up well, she said.
“They’re having a good time,” Hepola said.
Weather has been generally good, perhaps even too warm, during the early season, hunters say.
Firearms deer license sales have been keeping pace with those of recent years, according to the DNR. Through Friday before Saturday’s opening day of hunting, just more than 419,000 licenses had been sold, DNR officials said. That’s up from about 393,000 at the same time last year and close to the average of 420,000 licenses sold for the same period over the past seven years.