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Deer hunting should see good fortune, DNR says

Deer hunting should be good when Minnesota's firearms hunting season opens Nov. 3, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

"Minnesota's deer population is up from last year, in part, because of the mild winter," said Lou Cornicelli, the DNR's wildlife research manager. "Mild winters result in more survival of adults, more fawns being born, and more deer in the state's fields and forests the following hunting season." He estimated the deer population at about 1 million.

Cornicelli said one difference between this and last year is there are fewer areas where hunters can harvest more than one deer. This change, he said, reflects the agency's interest in rebuilding or maintaining the deer herd in certain portions of the state by managing the harvest.

"Hunters in about half of the state had to apply for a limited number of antlerless permits," said Cornicelli. "Moreover, there are fewer places where hunters can take two or more deer." These harvest reduction changes, he said, were implemented based on hunter input and also addressing the interests of private landowners, agricultural growers, automobile drivers and others. They also reflect the fact that antlerless and bonus deer permit availability decreases as overly abundant populations are brought into line with agency goals.

Last year, Minnesota's nearly 500,000 deer hunters harvested 192,300 deer.

Minnesota's deer harvest has varied widely over the past half-century. In a historical context, too many deer were taken during the 1960s, forcing the closure of the deer season in 1971 and a rebuilding of the deer herd through the 1970s, '80s and '90s. The highest deer harvest occurred in 2003 when 270,000 deer were taken as part of an effort to reduce the deer herd. Today, the DNR manages the deer population based on goals established with public input.

"The state's deer population has gone from too low to too high to fairly close to what people are willing to accept," said Cornicelli. "I don't envision spectacularly high or low harvests in the years ahead but rather moderate harvests . . . harvests that reflect the herd being managed responsibly and responsively." Cornicelli said deer hunters play an important role in deer management by helping control deer numbers.

The firearms deer season concludes in the northern Minnesota on Sunday, Nov. 18, and Sunday, Nov. 11, in all other parts of the state. A late season in southeastern Minnesota that stretches from Watertown in the north to Caledonia in the south opens Saturday, Nov. 17, and closes Sunday, Nov. 25.

Northwestern Region Outlook

The northwest region expects a good deer hunting season in 2012, barring any adverse weather conditions. This past winter was extremely mild, which resulted in good deer survival and production.

Deer populations in most permit areas are at or near goal densities. To maintain populations or increase them to goal densities, most permit area designations have dropped one level from 2011. Hunter choice areas becoming lottery areas and managed areas becoming hunter choice areas are expected to lower the overall deer harvest from last year although the buck harvest likely will be higher.

DNR will again sample hunter-harvested deer in the bovine tuberculosis management area but at a reduced effort from prior years. Samples will be collected Nov. 3-11 at six registration stations. If no deer test positive, this will mark the third consecutive year of no positives and will be the last year of sampling for bovine TB.

Conditions are very dry this year so hunters should generally find easier access to hunting areas compared to past years. In addition, the crop harvest is well ahead of normal, meaning there will be less cover available for deer as compared to most openers.

Northeastern Region Outlook

DNR wildlife managers in northeastern Minnesota are expecting a good deer season in 2012. Harvest regulations generally are more conservative than in the recent past. Following public input into our deer population goals, harvest changes were implemented that will allow the deer population to grow in most of the permit areas in this region.

The likely result for hunters is that more permit areas will have a lottery or hunter choice designation in 2012. The 2012 harvest is projected to be less than that of 2011 because of these restrictions but hunters should expect to see good numbers of young deer.

Due to the discovery of Chronic Wasting Disease near Shell Lake, Wis., the DNR will conduct surveillance in deer permit areas 159, 183 and 225 along the Wisconsin border until 300 samples have been collected from each area. CWD has not been found in those areas; however, the CWD management plan calls for surveillance when a new infection is discovered near Minnesota.

Central/Southeastern Region Outlook

Another mild winter and an early harvest of crops should lead to an outstanding deer hunting season in this region, which stretches from the northern borders of Morrison and Todd counties southeast to the Minnesota-Wisconsin-Iowa border.

The deer population overall is extremely healthy. Most of the region's deer permit areas can be categorized as hunter choice, managed or intensive. This region has traditionally boasted excellent deer hunting with harvest rates per square mile well above average in spite of heavy human development, typically accounting for close to 30 percent of the state's deer harvest. Considering that nearly three-fourths of the state's human population lives in this area, it's clear that a lot of people are finding quality deer hunting opportunities close to home.

Hunters in 300 series permit areas (southeast) can legally shoot either a doe or a buck. Bucks, however, must have at least four antler points on one side to be legal and buck cross-tagging is prohibited. The experimental antler-point restriction, aimed at increasing take of antlerless deer and producing older, bigger bucks, is in its third and final year, and will be re-evaluated this winter. It does not apply to youth hunters ages 10 to 17. Deer taken in an antler point restriction permit area must be registered at a walk-in station; telephone or internet registration is not allowed.

The Central/Southeastern Region also includes two no-limit antlerless permit areas that run for a full three weeks: 601 and 602. Permit area 602 northwest of Rochester is a special area where chronic wasting disease was discovered in one hunter harvested deer nearly two years ago. Special rules require hunters to submit deer taken there for lymph node sampling, and they prohibit carcasses from being moved out of the area until a negative CWD test result has come back. Permit area 601 encompasses the seven-county metro region.

Southern Region Outlook

The Southern region, which encompasses much of Minnesota's prime farmland, anticipates good deer hunting opportunities in 2012. This mostly open, agricultural part of Minnesota is dominated by a lottery season framework.

Corn and soybean harvest is mostly complete. The number of antlerless permits offered this fall under the lottery was decreased significantly from 2011 levels. This will provide protection to the herd and allow for herd growth where desired.

The effects of the relatively mild winter of 2011-12 has helped deer and they are in good condition. Generally, the population goals are to continue to increase the deer population, and the number of permits allotted should do just that.

Finally, the eastern portion of the region will have a block of six hunter choice permit areas where hunters can shoot one deer of either sex without first obtaining an antlerless permit through the lottery process.

Conditions are dry and hunters need to be careful toprevent wildlife fires.