Deer hunting opener an unofficial holiday up north

Deer hunting is a tradition that brings an economic boost to the area each November.

Henry Thorson, a junior at Park Rapids Area High School, harvested this doe during the youth hunting season. The DNR estimates 5,500 deer were harvested in that hunt.
Contributed / Erik Thorson
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Derek Ricke is president/CEO of the Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.

“Deer hunting in this area is almost like an unofficial holiday,” he said. “People from throughout the state and region come to our community for the hunting. It brings a ton of people to this area. They’re also taking advantage of lodging, dining and retail stores. All these things add up and make a significant economic impact on our community.”

He said hunting is both a rite of passage and a tradition in many families. “I grew up hunting with my grandpa and have some extremely fond memories of hunting with him and my parents,” he said. “Now I’m trying to pass those traditions on to my kids. It’s another way to experience the great outdoors.

“Some people are leasing county land to hunt or hunt on public land. There are family cabins and others who stay at a resort or in a hotel. The effect is the same. They’re coming here to enjoy the beautiful natural resources. At lunchtime and in the evenings they come into town to get something to eat, fill up on gas and experience all the amenities we have here in the Heartland Lakes area.”

Weekend outlook

Erik Thorson is DNR wildlife manager for the Park Rapids area.


“This area is a real hot bed for deer hunting,” he said. “I think we have some of the highest deer hunter numbers per square mile as any place in the state and a strong deer population. There are lots of places to hunt deer on public land.”

Hunting is also allowed in parts of Itasca State Park.

Thorson said deer numbers may be down slightly in forested areas due to the cold winter and deep snow last year.

“In the more forested areas, I think the population is still recovering,” he said. “In the ag areas south of Park Rapids, populations are doing pretty well. But further north and east there are fewer deer in the woods.”

The forecast for Saturday is highs in the 40s. “It’s a balance,” Thorson said. “Opening day looks decent. You want a little bit cooler temperatures for deer movement, but not so cold that hunters can’t stay in their stands. How much effort hunters put in and how long they stay in the field is probably the biggest driver for a good deer harvest.

“Deer can be moving any time of day now with the rut starting. Other hunters also move deer around. You hear from hunters who come in at 9 a.m. opening day and say there aren’t any deer out there. You need to scout and find where the deer activity is. Look for trails, evidence of them feeding and scrapes and rubs for bucks. If you have a permanent stand and leave it in the same spot for 15 years, you may not be as successful as you could be.”

Josh Severtson works at the Smokey Hills Outdoor Store. He said there are still shortages in some calibers of ammunition.

“It’s not back to normal yet on the inventory side of things, but it’s getting better,” he said. “We definitely have more guns than we did at this time last year.”


He said he is looking forward to hunting with family and friends near Nevis.

“The food, the cookouts, maybe a fire or two,” he said. “If there are any deer shot during camp, a couple of pieces are taken and cooked on the grill or the smoker.”

He said he usually stays in his stand from sunup to 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. until dusk.

“I’ve seen deer all over,” he said. “A lot of wolves, too. We’ve talked to a lot of customers who have seen more wolves than deer on their trail cameras so far this year, especially north of town, up towards Itasca.”

Some hunters use cellular trail cameras to view live feed. “It sends pictures to your phone so you can watch from wherever you are,” he said.

Severtson said the Smoky Hills, Two Inlets, Paul Bunyan and Huntersville state forests are popular places to hunt.

“We’re blessed when it comes to the availability of public lands for hunting,” he said.

Safety precautions and rules

Drought conditions combined with leaf and pine needle litter in the forest have raised the fire danger level to a range of high to extremely high. DNR staff recommended hunters not have campfires this year and are careful with anything that could cause a spark. Vehicles should be parked in cleared areas when possible to avoid contact with flammable materials.


Thorson said hunters should make sure their stand is in good condition and always wear a safety harness.

“Tree stand safety is one of the bigger issues for people having accidents,” he said. “When there is a firearm involved, that could lead to an accidental discharge.”

Hunters are required to register every deer harvested before processing, before antlers are removed and within 48 hours after taking the animal. Hunters can register deer online, by phone or in person. Information from deer registration helps the DNR track and manage deer populations.

Thorson said the regulation to use non-toxic ammunition that was going to go into effect at state parks this fall was delayed due to issues with availability in certain calibers.

“You are still encouraged to use non-toxic ammunition if you can find it,” he said.

Changes in bag limits

Thorson said there have been some changes in bag limits since last fall as a result of public comments and deer population goal setting.

“Make sure to check the interactive maps on the DNR website or in the hunting regulation handbook,” he said. “One change this year is the eastern half of the White Earth Reservation. There was a lottery for antlerless deer this year, so it’s more restrictive, trying to build the deer population up there. Also perimeter 184, the area north of Itasca State Park and Lake George, has a one-deer limit this year where it was two last year.”

Chronic wasting disease testing

Hunters in perimeter areas 184 and 197 will be required to do mandatory testing of harvested deer Saturday and Sunday for chronic wasting disease. Testing stations will be at the north end of Itasca State Park, Lake George and Walker.

“It’s the same areas as last year,” Thorson said. “The information is on our website.”

Wildlife staff will be taking lymph nodes out of the necks of deer and sending them in for sampling at a lab. Hunters can get their individual results in a couple of weeks.

Thorson said there have been no positives in wild deer in this area so far. “This is the second of three years of planned surveillance of hunter harvested deer,” he said. “It’s a disease that’s slow to incubate, so we’re not out of the woods yet.”

As winter cold bites deep, MPR News is celebrating the best of the season through a new series called Winter Play.

Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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