Last fall, for the third year in a row, bowhunters in Duluth’s city bowhunt for deer averaged fewer than one deer taken per hunter, organizers said. That’s down from several early years of the hunt when hunters averaged nearly two deer each.
In last fall’s hunt, the 13th conducted in the city to reduce deer numbers, hunters took a total of 290 deer. That’s on par with recent years but far below the roughly 600 per year taken in the early years of the hunt, said Brian Borkholder, secretary-treasurer of the Arrowhead Bowhunters Alliance, which conducts the hunt for the city.
“Now, it’s more hunting and not just shooting,” said Kevin Scharnberg, the city of Duluth’s liaison to the hunt.
A total of 296 hunters were registered for last fall’s hunt. Of those, just 160 were successful in taking at least one deer, Borkholder said. The hunt was held from Sept. 16 to Dec. 31. Hunters were required to shoot at least one antlerless deer before taking a buck during most of the hunt. That requirement was lifted during the month of December.
Of the 290 deer registered, 239 (82.4 percent) were antlerless, and 51 were antlered bucks, Borkholder said.
Hunt organizers have not been surprised by the relatively modest harvest in recent years. They say fewer deer are roaming Duluth than in 2005 when the Duluth City Council created the hunt.
“The first couple of years were the gain-control-of-the-herd phase,” Borkholder said. “Now we’re in what we’re calling the maintaining portion. I think we’re going to be maintaining the harvest at this low level — less than a deer per hunter. I don’t see that changing at all.”
“I think we’re on autopilot now,” said Phillip Lockett, ABA president. “The hunters are taking a different approach to it. They’re only going to shoot what they really need. The free-for-all of shooting five deer is gone.”
The city hunt had a five-deer limit for many years. Three years ago the hunt received a “metro hunt” designation from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Under that designation, hunters could take as many antlerless deer as they wished in the hunt.
Few choose to take advantage of that regulation. In the 2017 hunt, just seven hunters shot five or more deer, Borkholder said. Still, many city hunters believe the metro hunt designation is unnecessary and should be removed, he said.
Lockett, too, believes the metro designation should be lifted.
“Only a few people are attaining more than three (deer registered),” he said. “It’s useless to have that (metro designation). On the other hand, because so few do that, it hasn’t impacted our numbers.”
The metro designation, reached after a public process, was intended as a long-term measure, said Chris Balzer, DNR area wildlife manager at Cloquet. The purpose of a metro designation is help reduce the deer population in populated areas.
“It doesn’t make a lot of difference if you look at the details,” Balzer said. “So few hunters shoot more than three to five deer. It doesn’t make a huge difference in the overall harvest or the dynamics of the deer herd.”
Many hunters in the city hunt also have expressed an interest in seeing the number of hunters reduced, Borkholder said.
“They do get frustrated,” he said. “Most of our hunters want there to be limited entry. They want fewer hunters so they can move around, follow the herd. To do that, there would need to be less hunters in the woods. That being said, a lot of our hunters are not landowners, and landowners seem to be happy with our harvest at current levels.”
Over the 13 years of the hunt, city hunters have taken a total of 6,143 deer, Borkholder said.
The most productive zones in the city hunt last fall were Zone 12B, northeast of the Miller Hill Mall, and Zone 1, in the far western part of the city.
Under a new hunt rule this year, hunters were permitted to take a buck during the month of December without having taking an antlerless deer first. Only five hunters registered bucks in December under that rule change, Borkholder said.