More deer.

That, in a nutshell, is what most of the state’s deer hunters and members of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association want, says Mark Johnson, MDHA executive director.

He says the Department of Natural Resources lowered the whitetail population too much, which, combined with recent severe winters, has dropped deer numbers in many areas to unacceptable levels.

But more deer is only a start.

“We’d like more deer, more communication [from the DNR] and more input,’’ Johnson said.

He made those recommendations — and more — in a recent letter to DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. Landwehr responded Friday:

“We fully understand that most hunters want more deer, and we also agree that deer numbers are currently low across much of Minnesota. We are taking steps immediately to increase deer numbers where they are below goals. Hunters in most of Minnesota will see a very conservative deer season next fall …’’

With more than a half-million whitetail hunters, deer management remains a hot topic following the lowest ­harvest in 15 years last fall.

The agency held six public “listening sessions’’ this spring around the state to get input from hunters as it re-examines statewide deer density goals set in 2005-07. The DNR announced new goals for southeastern Minnesota last week (see, completing a process that started in February. It’s the only region where deer density goals will be reviewed this year, but large swaths of central, north-central and northeastern Minnesota will be reviewed next year. The process will conclude in 2016.

Johnson, who leads the 15,000-member group — the state’s largest deer organization — attended all six listening sessions. Hunters, he said:

• Want to see more deer, and they want the DNR to start the process immediately.

• Feel current deer population goals are too low and are skeptical the current estimated deer population is correct.

• Are frustrated and confused about why many permit areas seem to be consistently managed below stated goals.

• Are willing to have less opportunity now to increase the deer herd.

• Want greater input in the deer goal-setting process.

Landwehr noted that the DNR must consider a cross-section of interests when setting deer densities.

Johnson acknowledged that satisfying everyone is difficult, because hunters, motorists, farmers and foresters often have different perspectives. But while there may have been too many deer in the early 2000s, which led the DNR to reduce numbers, Johnson said the agency has lowered the population too far.

“Our harvest went from around 250,000 to 170,000 last year,’’ he said. “That’s a huge swing.’’

Again, Landwehr doesn’t disagree.

“The pendulum perhaps swung too far in reducing the populations the last time we did goal setting,’’ he said in an interview. Two consecutive severe winters have exacerbated the problem.

In his letter to Landwehr, Johnson offered specific ­recommendations, saying the DNR should:

• Discontinue “intensive harvest” and “managed” designations — which allow hunters to kill more than one deer — at least for the next two years. The only exception should be urban areas, where deer numbers must be controlled. Paul Telander, DNR wildlife section chief, said there will be no “intensive harvest’’ zones this fall, except in urban areas. “We’re not getting rid of the tool, we just won’t use it this fall,’’ he said. There will be some “managed’’ zones.

• Annually survey bow, muzzleloader and firearms deer hunters to collect their observations, including number of deer and other species seen, and amount of time hunters spent afield. “It wouldn’t give you scientific data, but it would give you anecdotal observations, which can show trends,’’ Johnson said. His group intends to survey its members this fall.

• Work with farmers who are experiencing deer depredations to mitigate those problems rather than simply reduce the overall deer herd in ­problem areas.

• Boost communication and interaction with hunters.

• Focus on improving deer wintering areas, which are critical for deer survival, especially during harsh winters. In the north, upland white cedar — key wintering cover — is being logged along with aspen. Retaining that cedar could help deer survive harsh winters, Johnson said.

• Target some state parks and game refuges, as well as Camp Ripley, for trophy deer hunting, with separate hunting licenses.

In his letter, Landwehr didn’t respond to Johnson’s specific recommendations, suggesting that the DNR and deer hunters group meet two or three times in the next year to discuss the ideas.

Meanwhile, Telander and Landwehr said the DNR’s revised deer density goal-setting process used in the southeast was successful. The DNR will increase deer densities in five permit areas and will maintain existing goals in four permit areas. Deer densities will be lowered in three permit areas where populations already are above the goal.

The DNR selected a 21-person citizen advisory team, then accepted comments at public-input meetings and online or through surveys. The agency approved eight of the nine team recommendations without revision and slightly revised one because the DNR said deer densities were too high.

Johnson said he was encouraged by the process.

“Is it perfect? No, but it’s a very good step,’’ he said.


Doug Smith