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Minnesota deer harvest down by a third

Department of Natural Resources area wildlife managers Tom Rusch at Tower and Rich Staffon at Cloquet said deer registrations were down an average of 38 percent and 34 percent in their work areas, respectively.

"A decline of 34 percent -- that's pretty significant," Staffon said of his work area. "We might see 10 or 15 percent some years, but that's substantial."

The harvest dropped from 13,526 last year to 8,956 this year during the first four days of the season in Staffon's work area, he said. In the Tower wildlife area, harvest dropped from 8,623 last fall to 5,348 this fall.

Minnesota's firearms deer season opened Nov. 5 and continues through Nov. 20.

Permit areas included in the comparisons were 156, 159, 178, 180, 181, 182, 183, 199, 108, 117, 118, 119, 122, 127, 177 and 176. Some areas were down by more than 50 percent from last year.

Statewide, the harvest was down 20 percent after the first three days of the season, the DNR reported Tuesday. No breakdown was available specifically for all management units in Northeastern Minnesota, said Lou Cornicelli, who supervises the DNR's big game program.

High winds the first three days of the season may have reduced deer movement, DNR officials and hunters say. Many hunters also have noted a lack of buck sign -- namely, antler rubbing on trees and scrapes made in the forest floor -- Staffon said.

The DNR said before the season that deer numbers were down in the northern tier of the region because of recent harsh winters.

"Speaking for my (work) area, our units are at or below (deer population) goals," Rusch said. "People are saying, 'Where did the deer go?' In northern St. Louis County, three of the past four winters have been tough for deer."

Staffon also offered another hunch to explain the low harvest.

"A huge swath of our country is swamp," he said. "Deer generally avoid them when they're wet. But when we have these dry falls, they can go lay in an alder swale because it's dry. They might even be feeding and staying in those areas."