Despite mostly fair weather and a good number of licenses sold to hunters, the opening weekend of Minnesota’s traditional firearms deer season ended with a shortfall of whitetails.
The two-day harvest of 62,957 deer was 14.5 percent below last year’s opening weekend total of 73,759.
“It’s a little perplexing,’’ said Erik Thorson, acting big game program leader for the Department of Natural Resources. “I don’t have a good explanation for it.’’
The biggest slump occurred in northeastern Minnesota, where hunters filled 21.5 percent fewer deer tags than they did last year. Thorson said there was chatter among some hunters in the Arrowhead region that deer weren’t moving a lot.
Weather shouldn’t have been a factor. The worst conditions of the weekend were in southeastern Minnesota, where it rained from Saturday afternoon through Sunday. In those deer permit areas (300 series), the harvest declined 15.5 percent from a year ago, Thorson said.
The best success rates were in the central farmland region (200 series of deer permit areas), where the year-over-year decline in harvest was limited to 11 percent.
Thorson said the sluggish start to the 16-day season betrayed projections that called for at least a 10 percent overall increase in the number of deer taken by Minnesota hunters this fall. Nearly two weeks of mainstream hunting remain, but a slow start on the biggest deer hunting weekend of the year is difficult to overcome, he said.
Going into this year’s deer season, wildlife managers reported stable populations and increased abundance of whitetails in many areas of the state. In step with those observations, archers and other early-season hunters this year exceeded 2017 harvest levels by double-digit margins.
“We were up in archery and special hunts,’’ Thorson said. “Usually that’s fairly indicative of what’s to come.’’
Before Saturday’s hunt began, a total of 392,056 deer hunters purchased licenses from the DNR. Those year-to-date license sales were down 2 percent compared to last year, but sales lagged by as much as 10 percent only one week before this year’s firearms season began.