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Deer harvest down 36 percent statewide

By Sam Cook / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH, Minn. -- As expected, Minnesota's firearms deer harvest is down. Way down.

After the first three days of the season, the harvest was down 36 percent statewide and  52 percent from 2013 in Northeastern Minnesota, said Leslie McInenly, big game program leader for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The statewide harvest was 54,000 for the first three days of the season, which opened Saturday. That's down from 84,000 in the same period last year.

The firearms deer season opened Saturday and continues through Nov. 23.

“It’s about what we thought,” said Jeff Lightfoot, DNR regional wildlife manager at Grand Rapids. “It varies a little bit by permit area. To a large extent, the change is in the antlerless harvest. But even the buck harvest is considerably lower in some permit areas than it was a year ago.”

Those antlerless deer were not killed because the DNR had declared nearly all of Northeastern Minnesota a bucks-only hunting zone this fall. The agency wants to protect antlerless deer in an effort to rebuild the deer population. That’s what happened after the severe winters of 1995-96 and 1996-97, and the population rebounded quickly.

Many hunters, in anecdotal reports, have said they have seen few, if any, bucks and not many does. Others said they saw little buck signs, such as the scrapes and rubs bucks make during the mating season.

Opening weekend weather, cold with high winds, might also have affected the harvest in Northeastern Minnesota, but lower deer densities were also a factor, Lightfoot said. The harsh winter of 2013-2014, with intense cold and deep snow, took a toll on the deer population.

The number of deer hunters was also down about 10 percent from last year as of the Friday before opener. As of that day, about 393,000 hunters had bought deer licenses compared to about 434,000 last year.

“Any time we make forecasts, people do pay attention to the forecast,” Lightfoot said. “They don’t see a lot of deer, and they hear us talking about not a great season, they might find other things to do.”

With snow that moved into Minnesota and surrounding states, the harvest might pick up. Deer hunters prefer to hunt in snowy conditions because it’s easier to see deer in the woods and easier to track them after a shot.