Officials have yet to analyze Minnesota's firearms deer harvest by region, but one thing is clear: Harvest in much of far northern Minnesota was down significantly -- 10 to 30 percent in some areas.

Declines include 22 percent near the International Falls area; 27 percent in the Orr area and 30 percent in the Baudette region.

Other declines included the Grand Marais area (13 percent), the Two Harbors area (12 percent) and the area just north of Duluth (19 percent).

"And in most of those areas, 2010 was a decline from 2009, so it's been a couple years in a row of declining harvest,'' said Jeff Lightfoot, Department of Natural Resources regional wildlife manager in Grand Rapids.

"We've had a series of severe to moderate winters. As a result, we have fewer deer in the north than a few years ago.''

Hunter success generally improved farther south. Harvest was up 14 percent near the Iron Range (permit No. 176); up 41 percent in the Hackensack-Longville-Remer area (permit No. 172) and up 28 percent in the Hill City-Aitkin area (permit No. 171).

Harvest too low?

Several years ago, the DNR held a series of public meetings to discuss goal-setting regarding the deer population. "In almost every case up north, the result was a call for a reduction of 10 to 20 percent in our deer population,'' Lightfoot said. "We've been managing for that.''

But some hunters may be having second thoughts now, he said, as deer populations have fallen. "They supported reducing the deer population, but now we might have to consider going the other way,'' he said.

Grouse huntin'

Just three weeks remain in Minnesota's ruffed grouse season, and hunting has been a bright spot.

"The season started very, very slow, but as the leaves went down and we got better temperatures, things improved quite a bit,'' Lightfoot said.

"It wasn't gangbusters, but it wasn't bad,'' said Ted Dick, DNR ruffed grouse coordinator. "The action was definitely better later.''

And, barring bad weather, good hunting will remain.

"I saw a lot of grouse while deer hunting,'' Lightfoot said.

He said the current lack of snow in the woods helps concentrate birds, and he suggested that hunters look for aspen interspersed with young balsam, which provides the birds thermal cover.

Dick said he still expects the harvest to drop this season.

"I would be surprised if drumming counts didn't decline next year, too,'' he said, indicating the bird's boom-to-bust cycle is beginning its drop.

The season ends Jan. 1.

Dick warned that, even though the fisher-martin trapping season is over, late-season hunters with dogs should be aware that other trapping continues.

Grouse plan comments

Hunters have until Dec. 19 to offer comments on the DNR's new 10-year ruffed grouse management draft plan. It sets out the long-range vision for ruffie management, including habitat goals and efforts to curb falling hunter numbers. Hunters can see the plan and offer comments online at The comments will be reviewed in January, and the final plan is expected by February.

Ice fishing begins

Minnesota's ice anglers are venturing out onto ice in parts of the state, but some of the experiences haven't been pleasant.

Two ice anglers and their ATVs drifted away on ice on Upper Red Lake during high winds, forcing the sheriff's department to rescue the men. And two fish houses fell through ice near Perham.

"People venturing onto the ice should use extreme caution,'' said DNR conservation officer Chris Vinton of Perham. Ice thickness varies, and some lakes still have open water, he reported.

Did you know?

• Snow-free ice caused some ice sailors to take to lakes in the Foston area, reported conservation officer Dan Malinowski. It's the first time he has seen that activity in his area.

• Fire burned 900 acres of a state wildlife management area near Bemidji. The blaze was started by an adjacent landowner who lost control of a fire.

• Canada goose hunting has been very good in the Fergus Falls area.

Doug Smith •