Minnesota deer hunters were out in force for a warm opening weekend, but the unseasonable conditions restricted deer movement and lowered the harvest of whitetails compared to a year ago, observers said.
“I’m surprised it’s a little down, but I’m not going to read too much into it,’’ said Craig Engwall, president of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.
Going into the season, wildlife biologists for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said the state’s deer population was up from a year ago — a count widely supported by hunters who watch deer movements throughout the year.
Adam Murkowski, big game program leader for the DNR, said preliminary deer kill numbers indicate an opening weekend harvest of 66,130 deer, 7.4 percent lower than a year ago. Even though many more antlerless tags are available to hunters this year, 67 percent of the deer harvested this past weekend were bucks. In 2015, 68 percent of opening-weekend deer harvested were bucks.
Murkowski said the preliminary counts for opening weekend represent a conservative estimate. Also down compared to a year ago, but only slightly, were license sales. A DNR report said 415,627 deer licenses of all kinds were sold through Friday before opening weekend. That compared to 419,035 for the same period a year ago.
A partial review of the state’s DNR conservation officer reports supported the notion that deer were somewhat immobilized by the temperatures, which were warm enough to spoil venison in some cases if the meat wasn’t iced or refrigerated in a timely manner.
DNR Conservation Officer Tom Hemker of Winona said in his report that the heat caused exhaustion in some hunters, some of whom shed their blaze orange clothing.
In the area west of Hutchinson, Conservation Officer Jen Mueller reported that the warm weather “brought lots of people out for the deer opener, however little success was seen.’’ East of Hutchinson, Conservation Officer Brett Oberg wrote: “Hunter activity was heavy, but several hunters were out of their stands early because of the lack of activity.’’
Up north, Conservation Officer Mark Mathy of the Cass Lake area also reported that deer hunting was slow, “possibly due to extremely warm temperatures.’’